A California marketing company wants to pay your mortgage for up to a year. But there's a very big catch: You have to let it paint your house, and in not-so-subtle colors.
Think eye-popping neon and bold letters.
The company behind this outlandish campaign launched its first so-called billboard house last month in Buena Park, Calif. One section of the front wall is green, the other orange. The company, Brainiacs From Mars, slapped its own logo right above the garage. There also are logos for Facebook and Twitter and a photo of an alien.
Now, Brainiacs is looking for more homes. And where better to find people desperate for mortgage money than the Bay area?
"We knew Florida would be good for this," said David Le, spokesman for the company. "People are hurting everywhere, but there are so many people in Florida who need help."
Brainiacs started the project last spring, largely to promote itself and its pledge to customers to bring "out-of-this-world attention to your business." The project has made headlines across the world, rated a mention in a Jay Leno monologue and boosted traffic exponentially on the company website, according to a "Case Study" posted there.
Brainiacs plans to paint at least 100 homes by the end of this year and as many as 1,000 total.
Here's how it works: Homeowners in California are getting their nearly $2,000 monthly mortgage paid for by Brainiacs until the paint comes down. That could be a month or a year, depending on how long the company wants to leave the ads up. The house will be painted back to normal colors when the project is over.
Brainiacs has received 40,000 applications through its website, dominated by the states hit hardest by the housing crisis: Florida, California and Nevada. About 215 of those are from Tampa, Le said.
Anne Cribb and her husband, Chad, have applied to make a billboard out of their home at 611 N. MacDill Ave. in Tampa. They're keeping up with mortgage payments now, but it's a struggle, Anne Cribb said, and she's motivated by the chance to get ahead.
She doesn't care what the painting scheme looks like, as long as it's tasteful.
"It would need to be something G-rated, of course," she said. "Beyond that, I don't think my neighbors would care too much. It's not permanent."
Even if the Cribbs' neighbors don't mind, though, homeowners on other streets might, and the city of Tampa most certainly doesn't welcome billboard homes, said Thom Snelling, in the zoning department.
"The property owner and the sign company would be knowingly violating city ordinances," Snelling said.
Painting a sign on your house would not fall under Tampa's definition of a billboard, he said, but it is what the city considers an "off-site" sign, and there's an ordinance against that.
"For example, I can't advertise doughnuts on the side of a building, if I can't buy doughnuts there," Snelling said.
Le said he's aware there will likely be zoning issues in some areas, but he thinks the company can work something out.
"Once people hear that we're helping people pay their mortgage, they like the idea better," he said.
So what happens if homeowners choose to go ahead and break zoning laws?
There's a potential civil penalty, such as a lien on the home, preventing a sale until it's paid off. But it could take months to work through the process of issuing a zoning violation and as long as the homeowners remove the paint, there's no penalty at all.
"Well, this company will paint the house back when they're done," Cribb said. "It doesn't have to stay up long. Any time would help."
Le said the plan right now is to paint homes with his company's logo only, but other companies already are calling wanting their logos on houses.
Could a Coca-Cola or Viagra house appear soon in a neighborhood near you?
"We just don't know that yet," Le said.
Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione said she doesn't mind if homeowners paint their homes bright colors, but she would have concerns over the content of the signs.
Also, she said, homeowners in deed-restricted communities — such as New Tampa, which she represents — would not be eligible.
"If you have deed restrictions, there are certain pre-approved colors you have to choose from, and neon green is not one of them."
How to apply
It's a long shot, and you risk violating zoning codes, but here's the website where you can apply to have your home painted as a billboard in return for the monthly mortgage payment:
www.brainiacsfrommars.com; click on "Contact."