Some visitors seemed a little taken aback, but others joined right in with the birthday celebration. One family played along with the whole thing, asking how long Simmons and Chen had lived there, then turned chilly when asked questions by a reporter. Centex employees sat on the periphery, but no one seemed to question who they were or why they were there. If the concept proves successful, the company expects to employ it again at other developments. “Where does the reality end and the … good God, reality begin?” mused Jim Garfield, a senior publicist for Roddan Paolucci Roddan, the Palos Verdes Estates-based advertising and public relations company that created Home Life. “It’s exciting, scary and really unique, all at the same time. You sit at your desk and wonder, will people come, will it work, will people find it interesting and, most importantly, does it get the client’s story out?” The client seems to think so, though Larson drew a line between Home Life and reality TV shows “Big Brother” and “The Real World.” “This isn’t reality real estate,” she said, as the actors rehearsed at a walk-through on Thursday. “If you come back next week, Camille wouldn’t have been voted out of the house. We didn’t want to do a gimmicky thing, we just wanted to do something different.” This seems odd – and the company acknowledges as much – but with the formerly white-hot real estate market looking decidedly cooler of late, nothing’s too unusual to hook buyers. Just putting in leather couches and baking cookies won’t do it anymore, at least in Centex’s mind. To make the home-buying experience more real, the company felt it had to employ a very unreal strategy. It feels like reality TV, except there’s no TV. Call it reality reality, then: reality filtered through a highly choreographed scenario. It’s completely engineered to make the viewers feel like it could be them eating breakfast together and debating what sort of dog to adopt. Schnoodle or cockapoo? Not a retriever – everyone’s got those. Like many families in Santa Clarita, they’re young – so young that when 13-year-old Danny Devan asks Chen, who plays her mother, which birthday they’re celebrating, Simmons glosses it over. The actresses are 13 years apart in age, which “Dad” nimbly dodges, saying, “Darling, let’s not talk about your mom’s younger days, shall we?” They’re also multiracial and very good-looking. Simmons, a Tasmanian who did a stint on “Baywatch,” looks unusually like his fake kids, who are of German and Filipino parentage. Chen, who’s awaiting news on whether her television pilot got picked up, hails from Taiwan. In just about the only bit of reality involved, Danny and Colin Robert are, in fact, brother and sister. This could also explain why they’re so good at pretending to argue. The kids were all smiles and Mom and Dad were happily celebrating her birthday for the fourth time when Kevin Miller sat down at their table. The Santa Clarita resident, a real estate agent by trade, came out, curious to see the show. He spoke to Chen, likening the experience to a play in which the audience takes part. He then spoke to Mom and wished her a happy birthday. “It warms up the house,” he said after the scene played out. “It makes the whole thing seem more intimate than `Here’s the brochure, here’s the floor plan, go look around.”‘ That taps right into a key part of consumers’ minds, according to Debbie MacInnis, vice dean of research at the USC Marshall School of Business. Buying a home becomes one of the most complex, emotional decisions a person makes, so any way to hook a wavering shopper becomes an advantage. “You imagine yourself in this situation,” MacInnis said. “If you have a beautiful experience, that gets people to think, oh, I want to live like that!” And, by extension, “I want to buy this place.” With houses sitting unsold longer these days, it might not be such a crazy idea. “The market isn’t what it was last year, that’s for sure,” said Linda Slocum, a local Realtor with Fred Sands of Valencia. “Most of the new home builders have inventory now, so maybe they feel that this is something they have to do. Some of them are having little barbecues or things like that, but that’s pretty standard. There’s nothing like this, though.” But, hey, that’s California for you. In the state that gave birth to Hollywood and Disneyland, the major purveyors of moderated reality, this isn’t such a big stretch. As her actual kids pretended to celebrate their fake mom’s birthday, Musette Caing leafed through a beauty magazine and laughed that this sort of thing would not fly back in Michigan. Very California, she said, very Disney. “It’s like watching a live TV show, only there, you’re only watching from one angle and here, I can go in the other room, do anything I want, see what I want,” she said. “It’s almost like you’re a ghost.” [email protected] (818) 713-3737160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBasketball roundup: Sierra Canyon, Birmingham set to face off in tournament quarterfinalsThey’ve been hired to lounge around a model home, read magazines and occasionally pretend like they’re having breakfast. Welcome to the new reality of real estate. Dallas-based Centex built four model homes, filled them with furniture, then took things one bizarre step further. The company hired four actors to play the role of a family, in a role that’s half improv, half sales demo. Centex has 166 homes to sell in its Milestone development, starting at $507,500 and heading into the $600,000 range, and figured it needed just a little something extra to entice people to come check things out. On Saturday, Home Life made its debut for a public audience, with more than 100 visitors streaming through the faux family tableau. SANTA CLARITA – The scent of baking scones wafts through the house as children’s feet pound the floors. “Dad” rushes to get things ready as “Mom” lounges on the couch. It’s a birthday party for Camille Chen. “Husband” Jaason Simmons has breakfast in the oven and there’s about to be a surprise: He and the kids remodeled the den into a game room and won’t Mom, a notorious poker fiend, be pleased. Except Chen and Simmons aren’t married, the kids aren’t theirs, they don’t really live in the house and they’re all Centex Homes marketing director Amanda Larson’s employees.