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Picture this: it’s Thanksgiving. Your family is all together, food is in the oven and it’s just about time to sit down and eat. You get a phone call – someone wants to see your house. But before the visitors arrive, everyone has to be out of the house and there can be no trace of the holiday meal.
“We did the best we could to cover everything, put things in the refrigerator, no dishes in the sink, stuff like that,” said Dareda Mueller, who lived it. “We had everybody turning on lights and getting everything all prepared and ready, and then we needed to run to the closest coffee shop. And I mean, you end up having a laugh about it and say ‘wow, that’s a Thanksgiving we’ll never forget.’”
Dareda and her husband, Robert, were house managers. They lived in vacant homes on the market to be sold. In exchange for lowered rent, they’d give the homes a cozy, lived-in feel – and keep them meticulously maintained. Their homes were routinely inspected and something as small as a piece of paper left in a trash can could earn them an infraction. If someone called for a viewing, they’d have to leave the house with no trace that they were there – aside from all their belongings. And if it wasn’t a good time? Didn’t matter, the Muellers had to accept the showing no matter what. “No” wasn’t an option. When the house sold, they’d pack up and move to their next show home.
And despite all that, they loved it. They enjoyed the adventure of moving from home to home, Dareda said. But how does someone end up living like this? For Robert and Dareda, it started on a 50-acre farm in Greenville, Illinois, called “Secret Acres.”
Dareda moved into this home with her family when she was a teenager. There, she spent lots of time outside playing basketball or tennis, swimming and tending to her horses. From the outside, it would appear Dareda lived a life of luxury. From her perspective, it was always primarily a life of faith.
“I have been a Christian all my life,” Dareda said. “I got saved when I was 5 and got to see God do a lot of miracles and wonderful things.”
When she was 28, she met a young pastor named Robert Mueller.
“He had a great smile and real friendly, real outgoing, great character,” she said. “And also had a very strong relationship with God. I definitely felt attracted to that about him. Very much so.”
They were married within a year and Dareda moved into Robert’s small bungalow about an hour from Secret Acres. It didn’t feel like a downgrade. She had a wonderful husband who shared her commitment to serving the Lord – the rest were just details. For Robert, visiting his in-laws was a little different.
“It was like entering a different world,” Robert said.
In the 1990s, both of Dareda’s parents died a year apart. Dareda and Robert inherited Secret Acres, another horse farm and a handful of other properties. The Muellers moved their three sons into Dareda’s childhood home and were suddenly living an entirely new lifestyle. They were rich.
Over the next few years, they did their best to make the most of their newly acquired wealth. They tried to invest wisely, they turned the horse farm into a bed and breakfast to help generate more money. But they had some fun too, like when they purchased a vacation home in Mexico and a hot tub for Robert’s birthday. They gave a lot too – after all, they believed this blessing came with a purpose.
For a while Robert continued to pastor at a small congregation about an hour away. But managing their property and assets was basically a full-time job so eventually he stepped away from his ministry to focus on his family. The more time Robert spent in this house, the less it felt like his. He couldn’t shake the feeling he was just maintaining another man’s dream. One night he broke down and told Dareda how he felt.
“I just immediately said, ‘okay, then we’re moving’,” Dareda remembers.
The decided together to move to Lake of the Ozarks – about three and a half hours west of Greenville in rural central Missouri. Dareda had a childhood connection to this place too, it was where her family vacationed when she was growing up. But for the Muellers, this home represented more than that.
“When we first got married, we lived in his home,” Dareda said. “Then we moved to my home, my family home. The Lake of the Ozarks home became our home. It was the first home we had together that was the two of us. So, it was special for that reason.”
It was also a gorgeous, ornate, million-dollar home – fully stocked with high end luxury furniture. They planned to sell off some other assets, including Secret Acres, in order to afford their new place.
But things didn’t go quite according to plan. Green Acres was gorgeous, but it was in a small town that didn’t appeal to many buyers. They also made an investment that didn’t pan out like they had planned. Their funds were draining just maintaining the properties they hoped to sell in addition to their new home. And then, 3 years after the move, came the 2008 financial crisis.
Within a few years, they were struggling to even put food on the table.
“We lived in a million-dollar home so nobody would’ve ever dreamed in a million years that we would be struggling,” Dareda said.
The bed and breakfast, Secret Acres, everything was eventually parceled off and sold. Finally, they knew they had to sell their Lake of the Ozarks home. Even that didn’t offer the financial stability they hoped for.
“We had to do a short sale on the home at the lake and sold it for less than what I owed them,” Robert said. “That was really hurtful.”
Buying a home wasn’t an option at this point; they would have to rent. They planned to sell their furniture to scrape together a little more money for a move. A real estate agent they knew offered a different path.
“Don’t you dare sell that furniture,” Dareda recalls the real estate agent saying. “She said ‘I can use that furniture to get you guys into an amazing show home.’ And I was like, what’s a show home? You know, do tell.”
A show home would allow them to maintain the lifestyle they were used to – for the most part. They could still live in a big, beautiful house, keep their furniture, and have plenty of space to host visiting friends and family. Plus, a break on rent didn’t hurt.
Their first show home was in Tampa, Florida. It wasn’t quite what they were expecting.
“It was older and it was dirty,” Robert said. “The rugs had dirty spots that hadn’t been cleaned. I was kind of disgruntled. I was like, I’m not really sure I want to live here.”
The team from the house managers program told them to hold off judgement until it was decorated. They knew that a home is more likely to sell when it’s nicely furnished and feels lived in. That was the philosophy behind the whole program. They had whole teams whose jobs it was to set up homes and make them appeal to buyers.
“Oh my gosh. It was like night and day difference,” Robert said. “And of course, that’s what sold homes. They would use our furnishings to make a home sing like that.”
The house looked amazing, and it had to stay that way. Part of the deal was keeping the house immaculate.
“You couldn’t even have your shampoo out in the shower,” Robert said. “You couldn’t have your soap sitting out so we just had a little caddy with all your shower stuff, which had to go under the cabinetry so it wasn’t sitting out.
They left no trace that they lived there. Dishes never went in the sink, they were immediately put in the dishwasher. Clothes never sat on top of the washer, if they weren’t in the machine or the dryer, they were immediately hung up or put away. Items were only moved to clean under them, then immediately returned.
In their first inspection in that first home, they received one infraction – for that piece of paper crumpled up in the trash can. Dareda vowed it would be her last write up. Ten years and 25 houses later, she was right. She was eventually hired by the house management company to supervise other house managers in the program. This life became routine – Robert said you just get used to it.
By 2022, homes weren’t sitting on the market long enough to require live-in house managers and the program was paused. Dareda still works for them, though, managing inventory and equipment for other staging services. Robert has a job at a financial company and works from home – now a simple two-bedroom apartment.
“We don’t keep things as perfect as we did,” he said. “But I think if we had more space we would, because we like to live that way.”
To hear more about the Muellers and their unconventional living situation, check out this episode of “Home. Made.”
Learn more about the host of Home. Made., award winning journalist Stephanie Foo on our host page.
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STEPHANIE: Dareda and Robert Mueller pulled up to their new home exhausted. It had been a long road trip - from the Ozarks in Missouri to Florida. And now, the Muellers stood famished and completely broke in front of their new home. A rental. One they hadn't seen before this moment. And Dareda says they were not impressed.
DAREDA: It was a small home. So the first thought was, “oh my gosh, how are we gonna get our furniture in here?”
STEPHANIE: Everything they owned had filled one and a half semi-trailer trucks. They had to fit it all into a house half the size of what they were used to. And the property managers basically told them to hurry up and move in.
DAREDA: And they told us in a couple of days we had to have everything unpacked and put away. And we were like, are you kidding me?
STEPHANIE: But, they had some assistance. Home stagers. People whose job it is to make homes on the market look beautiful. They were on hand to help the Muellers arrange their furniture in just the right places. Make everything look good. And not just good… perfect.
After they were in, it was up to Dareda and Robert to keep the place looking tidy. Because the property manager could pop by for a surprise inspection – anytime. And they did. They’d show up, and inspect the house, room by room, practically inch by inch.
DAREDA: In fact, this is how strict they were: they found one piece of paper that my son had wrinkled up and threw away in the office. And they found that and marked us down on that.
STEPHANIE: Oh my gosh. What were the consequences of that?
DAREDA: Well, they'd write you up. And if you had three write-ups, you were out of the program.
STEPHANIE: Oh wow. That's really stressful.
DAREDA: I mean, it was.
STEPHANIE: Dareda and Robert had signed up to live a very different kind of home life. A home where perfection was the norm. A home where they could be asked to move out with a week’s notice.
A home that would never be theirs to own. A home that would show them both what mattered in life, and what didn’t, when you’ve lost everything except your family and a truck and a half full of furniture.
This is Home. Made. An original podcast by Rocket Mortgage about the meaning of homes, and what we can learn about ourselves in them. I’m Stephanie Foo. In this episode: when your home is just for show.
In her teens, Dareda’s family moved to a 50-acre farm in Greenville, Illinois. She lived in a big house and spent lots of time outside, and would play basketball or tennis, go swim in the big pool, or walk around the small lake. Her dad called this place “Secret Acres.”
DAREDA: And of course we had horses. And so that's something else you would see a teenage Dareda do. A lot of times I would just go back and groom my horse just to be with him.
STEPHANIE: In the summer, the family would holiday in a small condo in Lake of the Ozarks. They owned other properties too - including a second horse farm not far from home. The family was wealthy. But Dareda didn’t really care about that. She was devoutly religious, and her commitment to her faith mattered more than anything else.
DAREDA: I have been a Christian all my life. I got saved when I was five and got to see God do a lot of miracles and wonderful things.
STEPHANIE: And when she was 28, she met a young pastor named Robert, in a church parking lot.
DAREDA: He had a great smile and real friendly, real outgoing, great character. And also had a very strong relationship with God. I definitely felt attracted to that about him. Very much so.
STEPHANIE: Robert owned a small bungalow in Belleville - about an hour from Secret Acres. They were married within the year and she moved in. She exchanged a life of luxury for a life of faith. They started a family and had three boys. Robert says they would visit Dareda’s parents regularly.
STEPHANIE: What did it feel like for you to visit?
ROBERT: It was like entering a different world. Especially when it snowed, it was the most gorgeous sight to look out over the atrium windows and to see the snow covering the hillsides.
DAREDA: Oh, yes. The atrium was spectacular. I remember Christmases sitting out there and looking out over the lake, hoping that the water would freeze so we could ice skate. Yeah.
STEPHANIE: Robert often talked with his father-in-law about finances and all that he’d amassed: his businesses, his properties, his investments.
ROBERT: One of the things that Dareda's dad talked about, the zookeeper who would feed the lions in hopes that they wouldn't eat him. And that's how he, he saw having a lot of things. He said, eventually you're controlled by the things you own, and you have to count the cost before you buy something.
STEPHANIE: This piece of advice would prove true soon enough.
STEPHANIE: In the 1990s, both of Dareda's parents died a year apart. Dareda shared the inheritance with her brother. The big house in Greenville -- Secret Acres -- went to her. So did the horse farm, and a handful of other properties.
Dareda and Robert grabbed the boys and moved into her childhood home. And overnight their lifestyle changed. They were rich.
STEPHANIE: Over the next few years, they took advice from family friends and tried to invest their money wisely. They converted the horse farm into a bed & breakfast and called it “Green Pastures.” They bought a vacation home in Mexico. For Robert’s birthday, Dareda had a hot tub installed in the atrium.
DAREDA: The kind with all the bells and whistles. And, oh my goodness. Seventh heaven.
ROBERT: And that was exciting.
STEPHANIE: It was all very exciting - not just the hot tub. While they enjoyed this lavish life, the Muellers also believed there was a higher purpose for this newfound wealth.
ROBERT: It was like it was ours for a reason, for God to help us be a blessing to other people. And also to enjoy. And there were people that we helped, gave to, provided for, to help them better their lives as well.
STEPHANIE: Robert continued to pastor at a small congregation, and Dareda often helped. It was an hour’s drive away now, though. So it took more of their time. And then there were three growing boys at home that needed raising. And then there was all the properties that demanded their attention too.
ROBERT: At one time we had seven homes. And I'd like to say as a multiple homeowner, that it's not all it's cracked up to be. I mean, there's a lot to maintain and do when you own property.
STEPHANIE: It was overwhelming. So Robert stepped away from his ministry work to focus on his family and their investments.
As they settled into this new reality, a sense of unease grew in Robert. Secret Acres felt like it wasn’t his. It didn’t feel like home.
ROBERT: There was nothing there for me ministry wise. I was just maintaining another man's vision. And it never ended. Soon as you fix a portion of the fences for the horses, they'd be all rotted and broken again in another area. Constant maintenance, constant upkeep. I enjoyed being there because it was a fabulous place. But it wasn't my dream or my vision.
STEPHANIE: Robert and Dareda had become the zookeepers her father had cautioned them about.
Sitting out on the porch one night, he confessed to Dareda how he felt living there, in this home she'd known since she was a teen.
ROBERT: And I, I literally almost cried telling Dareda that I felt like I was going to die. Because there was nothing there in Greenville for me.
DAREDA: It was a little bit of a surprise to me. I thought, man, you should feel so blessed and so honored because this is such a beautiful place. But when my husband was struggling with that, when he sat out on that front porch and told me, “I can't keep living another man's dream,” I just immediately said, okay, then we're moving.
ROBERT: And so we made the decision to move to the Lake of the Ozarks.
STEPHANIE: Lake of the Ozarks is about a three and a half hour drive west of Greenville in a rural part of central Missouri. The idea of moving there excited Dareda. It meant a good, healthy life for the family.
DAREDA: I mean, honestly, it was a dream come true. To live in the place that I had been vacationing in since I was eight years old.
STEPHANIE: It wasn’t just that, though. With this move, they felt like they’d be buying something that was truly theirs.
DAREDA: When we first got married. We lived in his home. Then we moved to my home, my family home. The Lake of the Ozarks home became our home. It was the first home we had together that was the two of us. So it was special for that reason.
ROBERT: You were in a foyer with a marble floor. It had a beautiful, very wide staircase that went down to the lower level, and the most beautiful chandeliers you've ever seen in your life.
STEPHANIE: It was lakefront property, too. There was a dock for a boat and even better: the house came fully furnished. High end, fancy stuff, like a massive, thick glass dining table. Designer office chairs. Persian rugs.
ROBERT: A giant four poster bed, with bamboo and brass. We'd never had such nice furniture.
STEPHANIE: They moved in 2005. But this place where they belonged came with a huge price tag.
DAREDA: I remember we couldn't hardly believe what we had just done. Like, did we really buy a million dollar home? Yes, we did.
STEPHANIE: They needed to make some decisions. Like Dareda's dad had said, "you have to count the cost before you buy something."
ROBERT: It was expensive but our, our plan was to sell some of the other assets that we had and have that as one main asset.
STEPHANIE: To pay for their new home, selling the Secret Acres property seemed like the most obvious choice.
DAREDA: Because it was kind of, it'll be like an exchange, you know, that property for this property. But what happened was that property in Greenville never sold.
STEPHANIE: They’d miscalculated. Secret Acres was a nice property, but it was in a small town that didn’t appeal to enough buyers. It sat on the market without any offers. That was only the beginning of their problems.
DAREDA: We had made an investment at that time, that we had felt like we were gonna be able to get enough income from that but, that didn't happen the way we thought and it just kept spiraling.
ROBERT: We were stretched in a lot of different ways and eventually, our funds, uh, dwindled because we're trying to maintain everything.
STEPHANIE: Then came the 2008 financial crisis.
DAREDA: I mean, we lost when everybody else lost. I'm not gonna say it wasn't difficult. It was difficult. It was one thing right after the next. But we just trust God and, and move through.
STEPHANIE: It was a bad time to be selling real estate, but they didn’t have a choice: They needed to shed some of their properties. They parceled off Green Pastures - their bed & breakfast - and they sold the lots. Dareda’s brother bought Secret Acres. It helped, but they weren’t getting ahead.
DAREDA: It was like, we didn't lose, but we didn't gain, you know what I mean? We were just even, even Steven on that.
STEPHANIE: They limped along for the next three, four years. Their finances got so bad, they started worrying about whether they could even cover their food bills.
DAREDA: This one day we went to the grocery store there. And, uh, we were trying to figure out what are we gonna eat?
ROBERT: We had bought a few things. We thought at the last minute, oh, we need a bag of beans. We really didn't have much money.
DAREDA: Digging in our car and digging in my purse.
STEPHANIE: Wow. It got to be that bad where--
DAREDA: Oh yes. Oh my goodness yes. We lived in a million dollar home so nobody would've ever dreamed in a million years that we would be struggling.
STEPHANIE: Some of their friends helped however they could. Like the owners of their favorite Thai restaurant.
DAREDA: She provided meals for us. She didn't charge us.
ROBERT: She took us to her back storage and gave us all kinds of things, from toilet paper to meat to other foods. It had to be three or $400 worth of, you know, grocery items that she gave to us.
DAREDA: And her husband was so sweet. He had a container of tips that were in a jar beside him, and he dumped all those tips in our hands and he said, you guys here, you take this.
ROBERT: I mean, how do… how do you explain things like that? Just God reaching down to let us know how much he loved us through someone else. He still had our backs.
STEPHANIE: Dareda felt the same. But she felt humbled too.
DAREDA: I think one of the hardest things for me is that all my life, finances were not a huge struggle for me. I was always blessing my friends and I just thought it was always my place to always pay for every meal. What was hard for me is whenever friends started having to help me. I was not used to that.
STEPHANIE: Robert and Dareda were now living that old saying: house rich, cash poor. Only now they weren’t even house rich. The only thing left to do was sell the Ozark home.
ROBERT: And so we had to do a short sale on the home at the lake and sold it for, for less than what I owed them. And, uh, that was really hurtful.
STEPHANIE: Right. That was your forever home.
ROBERT: Yeah. Definitely.
STEPHANIE: Tell me a little bit more about that feeling of having to give up that dream.
ROBERT: Hmm. I think frustration, maybe more embarrassment. Yeah. Because none of us want to feel like we've made mistakes or that I failed.
STEPHANIE: Because your father had built the family fortune with his own bootstraps, was it difficult to watch, everything that he had built, just sort of dwindle away?
DAREDA: Yes. That's always been hard for me because that's why I wanted to be such a good steward of everything. It was heartbreaking to realize that all that money had, you know, just almost like, poof, disappeared, and, feeling like I let my dad down.
I had to give myself a, uh, just a good talking to that, "Dareda, everything you did, you were trying to keep the finances in the family. You were trying to make all the right decisions.”
STEPHANIE: The house sat on the market for months before they found a buyer and agreed to that short sale. In that time, Robert and Dareda wondered where they would go. Friends mentioned a church in Florida that needed a pastor. That felt like the right move.
ROBERT: Because we're Christians and we're trusting in the Lord, trusting in God. And after so many years of not being in ministry, I was really looking forward to it, and to a new life in Florida.
DAREDA: And, uh, it's kind of crazy cuz we absolutely knew nothing about Florida and definitely not Tampa Bay area at all.
STEPHANIE: Buying a home was off the table. They’d have to rent. Even then, money would be tight. They still had their furniture though - that wasn’t part of the short sale. If they sold that, there’d be more cash for the move. But a realtor they knew had another idea.
ROBERT: She saw the picture of all of our furnishings and she said, don't sell your furnishings--
DAREDA: Don't you dare sell that furniture. She said, I can use that furniture to get you guys into an amazing show home. And I was like, what's a show home? You know, do tell.
STEPHANIE: As strange as it might have been, the idea made sense to them. Living in a show home would let them continue living in a big beautiful house, rather than a small apartment. Their lifestyle wouldn’t have to change very much. There would still be room for friends and family to visit.
DAREDA: We love that. We love entertaining.
STEPHANIE: But better yet, if they agreed to live in these show homes, and stage with their own furniture, they’d get a break on rent.
DAREDA: Then instead of you, living in a rental home, that would be $3,000 a month, it'd be more like $1,500 a month.
ROBERT: That sounded very good to us.
STEPHANIE: So that was the appeal. After losing their dream home, they could still play house.
In April of 2012, the Muellers loaded up one and a half 18-wheelers with their boxes and their designer furniture and moved to Tampa.
DAREDA: It was a nice home in a nice community.
ROBERT: But it was older and it was dirty. The rugs had dirty spots that hadn't been cleaned. I was, I was kind of disgruntled. I was like, I, I'm, I'm really not sure I want to live here.
DAREDA: We didn't even know how we were gonna pay to be there.
ROBERT: And their comment was, wait till we decorate it, and then tell us what you think. So I did, and when they finished decorating it with all of our furnishings--
DAREDA: I mean, they surprised us. And they showed us how they could take an old home that looked like, are you kidding? Who would wanna live here? And take our furniture and turn it into, oh my gosh--
ROBERT: --oh my gosh. It was like night and day difference. And of course, that's what sold homes. They would use our furnishings to make a home sing like that.
STEPHANIE: There’s a generally accepted idea in real estate that a home is more likely to sell when it’s nicely furnished and feels lived-in. That was the philosophy behind the in-home house manager program Dareda and Robert had signed up for.
DAREDA: It was like, okay, this is gonna be a new adventure.
STEPHANIE: A new adventure, sure. And a lot of work too. Because the house can’t feel too lived in. It had to be immaculate. Dareda took that to heart.
DAREDA: You cannot have people walk into a show home and you've got clothes everywhere and dishes piled up in the sink. So there was never dishes in the sink. They always went straight in the dishwasher. We never had laundry put on top of our washer dryer. It was always in the washer, in the dryer or hung up.
ROBERT: You couldn't even have your shampoo out in the shower. You couldn't have your soap sitting out, so we just had a little caddy with all your shower stuff, which had to go under the cabinetry so it wasn't sitting out.
STEPHANIE: The mirrors always gleamed, the floors always shined, the windows always streak-free.
DAREDA: The way they decorated everything had to stay specifically that way. Everything turned just right and attention-getting. You've got plants, you've got books, you've got candles, you could not move it other than to clean under it and put it back.
STEPHANIE: They lived like ghosts, constantly making sure there was no trace that a family actually lived there.
DAREDA: You feel like you're living in a magazine. Better Homes and Gardens kind of a thing.
STEPHANIE: That seems like a tremendous amount of press-- like I mean, maybe I'm kind of a filthy animal, but I could not keep my house perfect all the time where people could just come in and look at it.
ROBERT: You just kind of get used to a certain lifestyle of keeping it clean.
STEPHANIE: And keep it clean, they did. When that crumpled piece of paper was found in the garbage -- the one that got them written up in that first inspection in that first home -- Dareda ensured it would be the last.
STEPHANIE: So, have you only gotten that one strike?
DAREDA: Yep. That's the only one. I've always believed in doing an excellent job in everything I do. Over the top. And, if it didn't shine, I didn't want it to be my fault that it didn't shine.
STEPHANIE: Her otherwise perfect inspection record didn’t go unnoticed. Within a couple of years, Dareda would be hired by the company to supervise other house managers in the program.
STEPHANIE: Meanwhile, Robert’s pastorship at the church wasn’t bringing in much. The congregation was new, and it was small, and they didn’t have much money to offer him. What began as a $300 a week payment fell to $30.
ROBERT: And, uh, you know, $30 a week was just enough for gas to make it there.
STEPHANIE: He’d eventually step down, and they both found other work wherever they could. Dareda would nanny, sell fragrances. They worked as shift managers at a fast food restaurant. Anything to pay the bills.
And then they reached out to their three sons, who by now had grown up and moved away. They asked if they could move back in, find work, and help pay rent for a while. They did and Dareda walked them through the unique rules of the house.
DAREDA: Our rule was you can never, ever turn down any showing. None. There was no discussion. We have to make sure that we follow the instructions to a T.
STEPHANIE: That meant that, whenever a realtor booked a showing, they’d have to disappear at least fifteen minutes before the tour.. And they could only return fifteen minutes after everyone had left.
DAREDA: All the kids were really good about getting on board and realizing that this is what we have to do in order to have a roof over our head.
STEPHANIE: Did it get sort of panicky and hectic sometimes?
DAREDA: There were definitely a few times that it was challenging.
STEPHANIE: Dareda remembers one home - it had a pool, surrounded by pine trees. The needles would always fall into the water, and Dareda would always skim them out. One time, Dareda got a call when she wasn’t home: they’d be a showing in a few hours. And there was no way she was going to let pine needles clutter the pool.
DAREDA: And so I rushed back and I got the blower and I'm blowing the, the pine leaves off of the deck and I get the skimmer and I'm getting it all off, you know? And then I was like, oh my goodness, they're gonna come and they're not supposed to see you. So I sneak out the back through my neighbors, you know. And I'm out of breath and I'm so hot, but, I did my job and I did all I could do, you know, if they find a few needles. It's not, cuz I didn't try.
STEPHANIE: Then there was that one year when the phone rang in the middle of cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Robert, Dareda, their three sons, a handful of guests... they'd all need to get out, quickly. And leave without a trace.
DAREDA: We did the best we could to cover everything, put things in the refrigerator, you know, no dishes in the sink and stuff like that. And we had everybody, turning on lights and getting everything all prepared and ready. And then we had to run to the closest coffee shop. And I mean you end up having to laugh about it and say, wow, that's a Thanksgiving we'll never forget. You know?
STEPHANIE: But mostly life fell into a rhythm. On average, a show home would sell and they would move every six to nine months. The company would cover the moving costs. Stagers would help decorate. Again and again and again.
ROBERT: The shortest… the shortest was three weeks.
STEPHANIE: Wow. That's very short.
ROBERT: That's very short. They paid us to move out quickly, but to turn around and move into a home, decorate it and stage it and get everything away, then three weeks later, turn around and repack it was pretty challenging.
STEPHANIE: Yeah. I can imagine.
ROBERT: But, you know, I felt, I always felt like that was part of a second job. It was like having a second job.
STEPHANIE: Right. It sounds like a full-time job.
ROBERT: Yeah. But it really, it didn’t seem that bad to us.
DAREDA: It's like earning a badge every time. A badge of excellence. You did your job, now we're gonna move you to the next place.
STEPHANIE: After a few years of this, their sons had enough.
DAREDA: There was a time that my oldest son tried to show us some different, two bedroom, two bath apartments, because they thought life would be so much easier. And Bob and I were just not at that place at that time.
STEPHANIE: Why weren't you in that place at that time?
DAREDA: Because we were actually enjoying the adventure of moving from home to home, if you can believe that.
STEPHANIE: Mom and dad stuck with the program. The boys did not.
DAREDA: And the last home we all lived in together… it was a beautiful mini-mansion kind of home. When it was time to move out, they moved to their place and we moved to the next show home.
STEPHANIE: Something about this permanent state of living in an impermanent way appealed to Robert and Dareda. And it taught them something about what was important about a house, and what wasn't.
Like, take the furniture they’d carried since Lake of the Ozarks. What once felt special and priceless had become cumbersome and heavy. When the staging company offered to replace their furnishings with something lighter and more modern, they accepted. They kept a couple of office chairs, a piano… but everything else - the brass and bamboo bed, the thick glass dining table, the persian rugs - they let it all go.
ROBERT: This has all been a process to become less and less attached to things.
ROBERT: And I think that's something God's doing in me for what he has planned for us in the future.
STEPHANIE: Over the course of ten years, Robert and Dareda lived in 25 different show homes. By 2022, the market had changed. Vacant homes weren’t vacant long enough to need live-in house managers. The staging company paused the program.
Dareda still works for them, managing inventory and equipment for other staging services. Robert works from home for a financial company. He hasn’t been a traditional pastor for some time, but he says if an opportunity came, he would take it up again in a heartbeat.
Home now is a simple two bedroom apartment - the kind of place neither of them ever thought they could live in comfortably.
ROBERT: We don't keep things as perfect as we did, but I think if we had more space we would, cause we like to live that way.
STEPHANIE: Do you see yourself owning a home in the future? Is it something you dream about?
DAREDA: Oh yes. Yeah. Yeah, we wanna own a home again. Just not sure where. Not sure when.
ROBERT: But I don't know that I'll be as attached to it as I used to be after having gone through the journey of losing things, losing homes, living in 25 homes you don't own.
DAREDA: It doesn't have to be huge, but it has to be welcoming. One that we can clean up and easily --out we go. And know that it's not gonna be a big deal.
ROBERT: And I would like it to have a hot tub. That's really important to me.
STEPHANIE: You would like a hot tub. So some things are still important.
ROBERT: Some things are still important.
STEPHANIE: You’ve been listening to Home. Made. by Rocket Mortgage. My name is Stephanie Foo. You can reach us at rocketmortgage.com/homemade, or find a link in the show notes to this episode.
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Viewing 1 - 3 of 3
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Brandon Smith was raised by a family of public servants, a couple of wrong turns after college landed him in prison. While in prison he became a volunteer for Fire Camp, and helped California tame its wildfires. And it helped him find out where he belonged.
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