Mike and Janine Callahan might have the coolest job ever.
The husband and wife work as "home managers," and their job is furnishing and living in multimillion -dollar mansions for sale around the St. Charles area.
The 7,800-square-foot home where the couple currently live, at 1334 Fox Glen Drive in St. Charles, is on the market for $1.5 million. It has a six-car garage with a "motor court" driveway (the owner's Porsche 718 Boxster is still parked inside), six bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a tennis court, and 2 acres of land. It's four times the size of the Callahans' townhouse in Geneva.
"Sometimes I walk in and think, 'Really? I get to live here?' It's like a fairy tale land," Janine said, while standing in a stunning living room with giant windows that overlook a backyard koi pond and waterfall. "It's a privilege for us to do this. ... It's like we're living someone else's life for a while."
The home manager service is offered through the Callahans' home staging business, Showhomes Fox Valley. They employ eight other home managers.
Realtors hire home managers to live in vacant luxury homes that they're trying to sell because it saves the seller money, Mike Callahan says. It lowers their staging costs, since home managers bring their own furniture.
The live-ins also keep a watchful eye on things. The Callahans said they've discovered gas leaks and frozen pipes in homes they've lived in, helping avoid damage and pricey repairs.
Home managers also help keep the homeowners insurance bill down. Insuring an empty house is more expensive than a lived-in house, and insurance companies keep a close eye on this detail, Mike said. He recalled a recent 9:30 a.m. Sunday visit from an insurance inspector who looked in the refrigerator and closets before determining they actually lived there.
"Afterward, the homeowner said to us, 'You just saved me $10,000,' " Mike said.
The nomadic home manager lifestyle works for the Callahans, empty-nesters who have been married 41 years and have four grandchildren. Mike's a former mortgage broker and Janine's an interior decorator.
They bought the Showhomes franchise in 2009 and began staging luxury homes, amassing a warehouse full of neutral-colored modern furniture -- the style that is most appealing to buyers.
"Some friends buy shoes. I buy sofas," Janine says, laughing.
They've lived in 12 houses over the past eight years in Batavia, Wayne, Geneva, Elburn and St. Charles. They've stayed as few as 45 days and as long as 16 months. Every time they move in, Mike carries Janine across the threshold. "It's just our thing," he says.
They've seen some really unique, high-end features, including beautiful swimming pools, a spiral staircase to a bedroom hidden behind a mirrored wall, a kids' playroom with a secret bookshelf door, and a castle-like home that had hallways with flickering candelabras.
"Each house has its own adventures," Janine said.
Friends, and especially their grandchildren, love to come over and explore each home they stay at. They host dinners and holidays just like they would if it were their own house.
Janine can set up her craft room and have a playroom for her grandchildren. It's where their one visible personal item exists -- a framed picture of her mother, who recently died.
The downside is they must constantly clean up after themselves -- like wiping out the sink each time they use it, keeping beds made and not leaving clothes lying around. They can't display personal photos, and personal items must be kept hidden from sight.
"You can't be spontaneous because it always has to be clean. The home must always be ready to show. You have to be ready to turn all the lights on and get out (for a showing)," Janine said, noting that it's not unusual for a Realtor to call at random times and say, "We're sitting in the driveway, can we come in?"
Even though they're devout Christians, she chooses neutral holiday decorations, like nutcrackers and snow villages, to create a feeling of home that appeals to any potential buyers.
"We're such a visual society that if someone is looking through listings and sees a vacant property, or something they don't like, here's what they do," Janine said, mimicking scrolling on an iPad. "We'll help the home win a beauty contest."