By Tim Reid
BUENA PARK, California (Reuters) – When they saw the house on El Dorado Drive in this Los Angeles suburb being painted a startling orange and green and giant billboards hung on the outside, Scott and Beth Hostetler’s neighbors were initially angry and confused. Some even considered calling the police.
But what they witnessed on Friday was not an offensive redecoration decision by the Hostetlers, but rather the debut of one of the more unusual schemes to arise from the housing crisis. In return for allowing the front of their four-bedroom house to become a garish advertisement, the Hostetlers are getting their nearly $2,000 monthly mortgage paid by the marketing company behind the project, Brainiacs From Mars.
In a residential neighborhood without heavy traffic, cars passing by the house slowed and drivers gawked at the vivid colors and a giant Brainiacs From Mars billboard.
Romeo Mendoza, the company’s founder and CEO, told Reuters that his ultimate goal is to turn 1,000 homes across the United States into giant advertisements for his marketing firm.
And in each case struggling homeowners will get their mortgage paid, for up to a year.
Mendoza said he chose the Hostetlers because they are nice people and he wants to choose the most deserving cases rather than homes on the busiest streets.
Since he advertised the scheme on his website in April 2011, Mendoza says he has had 38,000 applications, from as far afield as Russia and Japan.
There are a number of issues that could prevent the idea from gaining traction, namely zoning laws and other city codes that limit where advertising can be placed and sometimes regulate other aspects of a home’s appearance.
Most of the 38,000 applicants have come from California, Nevada and Florida – the three U.S. states hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis triggered by the collapse in housing prices after the 2008 financial crash.
GRAFFITI OR GODSEND?
Mendoza’s plan is to advertise his company’s name and its social media marketing tools on the front of people’s homes. In return, he hopes the quirkiness of the scheme will convince companies to hire Brainiacs From Mars to run their advertising campaigns.
He says he is already negotiating deals with some big firms. The payments to homeowners for the initial experiments are being funded by profits from some of his company’s other projects.
“But we have really hit a nerve, and we can’t let that stop us. Once people start seeing how it works, once they get it, the moment they realize it is paying people’s mortgages, they are always on our side, because of this economy.”
(editing by Christine Fosdick)