‘Zillow Gone Wild’ Brings Wacky Real Estate Listings To HGTV – LAist

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The real estate social media space is packed with influencers focusing on specific niches like luxury mansions, mid-century moderns or inexpensive yet promising fixer-uppers.

Within this crowded universe, Zillow Gone Wild is a place to go if you’re in the market for, say, a home in Kansas City, Mo., shaped like a UFO; a striking, angular residence in Kalamazoo, Mich., designed in the late 1940s by Frank Lloyd Wright; or a recently built cruise ship with close to 3,000 bedrooms. (Yes, there is an actual Zillow listing for this property.)

“Waking up to an ocean view in the actual ocean is the new best way to wake up,” says Samir Mezrahi, Zillow Gone Wild‘s creator, in his deadpan TikTok commentary on this particularly mind-boggling property listing.

Mezrahi’s prominent account, which has several million followers across platforms, has now been spun off into an equally wild reality TV show. The nine-episode series premiered on HGTV Friday, and is out now on Max.

As on social media, the Zillow Gone Wild TV show is aimed at a general audience and focuses on homes that defy everyday expectations in some way — whether visible from the outside in the architecture, or hidden inside as part of the home decor.

“It has to be something we’ve pretty much never seen before,” says Mezrahi, a former social media director at Buzzfeed, in an interview with NPR.

Setting a “wild” tone

The first segment of the first episode sets the tone: Homeowner Andrew Flair shows off the converted U.S. military missile launch facility in York, Neb. The unusual property has very thick steel doors and no windows.

A door rises from a grassy flat area

The exterior of a home converted from a disused missile solo in York, Neb.

“It’s all underground, covered in concrete, and if, for some reason, a bomb goes off, you’ll be safe,” Flair says on the show.

And in episode three, homeowner Kitty Reign tours viewers around the Pirates of the Caribbean-themed residence in Las Vegas she’s selling. This swashbuckler’s paradise comes with a decorative wooden helm (“Everybody plays with it!”) and a tavern (“Kind of our own little secret pirate nightclub!”)

Hosted by comedian Jack McBrayer, who played Kenneth in 30 Rock, the show features 24 homes from around the country either up for sale or recently sold. But only one of them will be crowned the country’s “wildest” at the end of the series, as assessed by HGTV executives. Viewers who correctly guess the winning home can enter a pool for the chance to win $25,000.

A pirate-themed room has tree people in it talking

Kitty Reign and her wife, Jennifer, show host Jack McBrayer around their “Pirates of the Caribbean”-themed house, as seen on HGTV’s new series “Zillow Gone Wild.”

The judging criteria include creativity, commitment to a concept or theme and a quality McBrayer describes as “wackadoo.”

“That special thing that sets this property apart,” says McBrayer on the show. “We reward impracticality.”

The growth of an American pastime

Ogling real estate listings on social media has become an enormously popular American pastime in recent years. Saturday Night Live even did a skit about the trend in 2021. (“The pleasure you once got from sex now comes from looking at other people’s houses.”)

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Mezrahi, who’s based in New York, says he has long made a hobby of idly browsing Zillow. He started Zillow Gone Wild as a side project in the fall of 2020, knowing it would probably catch on. Mezrahi initially launched it only on Instagram, but soon expanded his offering to Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and a newsletter.

“It was, like, prime pandemic. Everyone’s working from home. Companies are saying you can live wherever you want,” Mezrahi says. “So people are moving, thinking about moving, or browsing Zillow just as a bored-on-your-phone thing. So I kind of felt like there was an audience of people out there that are also doing this.”

The rise of TV and online channels devoted to home buying and home improvement, together with the increasingly elaborate social media presence of individual real estate brokers promoting their listings, have further fed the trend.

“This is a time when a lot of people are thinking about where and how we want to live,” says Zillow’s home trends expert, Amanda Pendleton, in an interview with NPR. “And these social media accounts captured our imagination and redefined what a home can be.”

“Wild” listings can be challenging for real estate brokers

That “imagination capturing” quality is what makes Zillow Gone Wild so compelling on TikTok and TV.

But when it comes to actually selling a property, eccentric architecture and festive home decor aren’t necessarily virtues.

“As a real estate broker, you kind of get nervous about that, because the resale value is not the greatest when you’re making it your own,” says San Francisco Bay Area-based realtor Ria Cotton in an interview with NPR. “It may not be liked by other people.”

A man with blond hair and a bright-red sweater stands next to a gold staircase

Host Jack McBrayer taking in the sights of the “Golden Saxophone House.”

While having a marketable property is preferable, Cotton admits the popularity of social media accounts like Zillow Gone Wild shows there’s a growing appetite among homebuyers and potential homebuyers for the “wackadoo.”

“I think more and more people are kind of bored of the cookie-cutter way of doing things,” Cotton says.

Case in point: An unusual music-themed home in Berkeley, Calif., that Cotton recently brokered, featured in Zillow Gone Wild.

The facade of the “Saxophone House” is dominated by two massive, gold saxophone-shaped columns. On the TV show, new homeowner Adanté Pointer proudly shows off the gold treble clef ornaments on the balcony railings indoors.

“The gold accents really make it stand out,” Pointer says appreciatively.

The smooth jazz vibes and bling of the Saxophone House might not be for everyone. But Pointer says it’s perfect for him.

“I am an attorney, and oftentimes, people come to me to make a statement on their behalf,” he says on the show. “And when you look at the outside of this home, it’s definitely a statement piece.”

In an interview with NPR, TV show host McBrayer says if visiting all of the homes featured in the Zillow Gone Wild TV series taught him anything, it’s that even the wildest of homes won’t sit empty forever.

“For every house out there that is just head-to-toe rainbow-colored, there is going to be a buyer. For every home that is attached to the underside of a bridge, there’s going to be a buyer,” McBrayer says. “There’s a lid for every pot.”

What questions do you have about Southern California?

  • Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit npr.org.

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