The era of cookie-cutter homes is over

    In a hot housing market, the social media account ‘Zillow Gone Wild’ has made unique homes easier to find.

    Tyler Le/BI

    When Matt Kugizaki and Nick Levenhagen first saw The Rainbow House in Joshua Tree, California, they knew instantly that they had to live there. It was 2023, and the couple wanted a home in the Mojave Desert. But initially, they wanted something simple.

    “I remember telling Nick once when we were looking for homes that I want our house to be like a hotel — nothing on the walls, very plain interiors, no clutter,” Kugizaki said. “I envisioned very minimal and easy spaces for our dream home, preferably painted inside using one color and with maybe one statement wall. That’s it.”

    But when they saw The Rainbow House on Zillow, they had to go see it. Stepping inside, the couple were gobsmacked by the sheer number of rainbows. The 1,028-square-foot house had been thoroughly hand-painted over a period of two years by its owner, Patrick Hasson. Each room featured a different bright color with hanging light strings to match. Sixteen different rainbow skulls peppered the interiors. The garage, perhaps the standout feature, showcased rainbow lines that spilled out across the driveway — a real-life version of the unicorn-barfing-rainbows meme.

    The house was anything but minimalist — and yet it struck a chord with the couple. “We met the artist, who actually came to the house. He said he painted the house this way to bring more joy to the world. That’s certainly what we felt when we saw the house,” they told me. The couple bought it for $385,000 and plan to keep all the rainbow features.

    Kugizaki and Levenhagen immediately fell in love with the quirky features of The Rainbow House.


    Kugizaki and Levenhagen aren’t alone in their unexpected love for a kooky home. In fact, their house was featured in the third episode of the new HGTV series “Zillow Gone Wild,” which tells the backstories of unusual houses people just purchased or are looking to sell. The series was inspired by the popular Instagram account of the same name that Samir Mezrahi, a former deputy director of social media at BuzzFeed, created in December 2020 when he started noticing weird homes randomly listed on Zillow. “There wasn’t anything for the casual home browser looking for these,” he told me, so he began sharing the unique houses he found. The account immediately caught on; today it has nearly 2 million followers.

    While most people follow Zillow Gone Wild to gawk at the weird and bizarre features of other people’s homes, some are looking to buy. And being featured on the account gives listings a leg up. Mezrahi said that real-estate agents actively try to juice up the bizarre elements of their homes to get picked up. “If it’s around Halloween, for example, agents seem to use it as an excuse to cover the house in all these skeletons and spooky decorations,” he said.

    Thanks to a hot housing market and a growing boredom with cookie-cutter new-builds, there’s a newfound fervor for bizarre houses. More people are ditching the white and gray homes of the 2010s modern-farmhouse craze for something that can show off their personal style. And with Zillow Gone Wild and a host of other real-estate influencer accounts, a wild home is now easy to find.

    The homes that Mezrahi features aren’t necessarily bad, ugly, or anything built in bad taste. These are not the over-the-top McMansions that Kate Wagner shares on the blog McMansion Hell. As Mezrahi explains it, a wild house just needs to have interesting or quirky features; it’s the customization that matters. He cited a viral home in Gilbert, Arizona, that had been owned by the former Los Angeles Dodger Andre Ethier as the perfect example. The $20 million house came with a go-kart track, a golf simulator, a shooting range, a built-in aquarium, and much more. Other homes might have a single unique element like the giant peacock mosaic in one $2 million home in San Luis Obispo, California, or the McDonald’s-style playroom in the basement of an otherwise normal-looking $750,000 home in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

    These standout features make homes more likely to go viral, leading to more exposure and possibly a higher selling price. Nick Leyendecker, the founder and principal broker at Leyendecker Luxury Real Estate, said that if maximizing the sale price is the primary objective, the more attention a property receives from potential buyers, the higher the probability of success. When trying to sell a home, most real-estate agents try to garner attention in three ways: paid ads, organic sharing on social media, and earned media from news outlets — aka “organic attention on steroids,” Leyendecker said. “There is no such thing as too much exposure.”

    Homeowners with highly customized spaces often ask Mezrahi to feature their homes before they’re even on the market. “The homeowner that converted their swimming pool into a man cave was one that comes to mind,” he said. And when homes get featured, they often sell.

    There is no such thing as too much exposure.

    At the end of April, Leyendecker had a listing in Plymouth, Minnesota, posted on Zillow Gone Wild. The house was decked out with flashy, customized designs including a secret room behind a classic Coca-Cola machine door. Within two months, it sold for $2.8 million.

    This new trend flies in the face of previous wisdom that weird houses don’t sell. When Hasson, the previous owner of The Rainbow House, was preparing to place the home on the market, his real-estate agent warned him not to have high expectations. “My real-estate agent was like, ‘It’s a rainbow house and not the easiest to sell,'” Hasson told The Desert Sun. But then the listing was shared on TikTok and blew up. Within two months of being listed, it sold.

    Interest in outrageous homes has begun to expand beyond Zillow Gone Wild. A surge of other real-estate influencers and real-estate accounts showing off unique homes have cropped up. In a recent Zillow survey, respondents said that if cost weren’t a factor, they would want a home with whimsical features they had dreamed of as a child: 76% said they would want a home theater, 43% pined for a bowling alley, and 58% wanted their own personal elevator. The study also found that different generations favored different features. For example, 38% of those born in the ’50s dream of a home with a white picket fence, whereas only 21% of those born in the ’90s shared the same vision. Millennials preferred a hot tub and an elevator instead.

    Now that millennials are able to buy, those with the cash to spend are making those dreams a reality. And at a time when more people see into your home via social media, having cool features you can show off is a major bonus.

    Ashley Spencer and her husband, both in their 30s, were looking for an eye-catching midcentury-modern home at the end of 2021 when they stumbled across one featured on Zillow Gone Wild. The house’s interiors were covered in floor-to-ceiling tile — a showroom for the previous owners’ tile business. “For us, it’s really the Mid Mod architecture that drew us,” Spencer said. “This house was just so unique with all the colors, and outside the home is shaped like a bow tie because it was built on such a thin lot. The home has really cool angles.”

    They also loved that the home was in the woods and next to a lake. They traveled from Austin to Minneapolis to see it for themselves and made an offer the next day. Within a month, they closed on the house.

    When guests come over, Spencer loves to show off her 1955 home’s built-in shuffleboard court. “I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else,” she told me. Her guests are always amused to discover the home was listed on Zillow Gone Wild. “My husband was a little bit more reserved and nervous about sharing that the house was from Zillow Gone Wild. But I have no problem talking about it,” she said.

    Of course, not every wild home will be loved by everyone. But Leyendecker said that with unique homes, it’s always a matter of finding the right person. “Marketing exposure is just one piece of the puzzle — homes are a very personal thing,” he said, adding: “Even the most broadly marketable properties imaginable are a good fit for some buyers and a bad fit for others.”

    As the old saying suggests, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The beholders are just getting more ambitious.

    ‘The Rainbow House was a dream we didn’t know we always had,’ Levenhagen said.


    For their part, Kugizaki and Levenhagen don’t plan on ever selling their wild rainbow house. They feel like stewards of the home and promised the former owner that they would keep everything the same. “He really wanted to make sure someone wasn’t going to buy it and then keep the rainbow garage but then paint everything else over,” said Levenhagen. The couple agree that rainbows mean a lot to people for many different reasons. “It’s really important to a lot of communities including the LGBTQ community,” said Kugizaki.

    “It is in some ways just a house,” Levenhagen added, “but I guess you could say The Rainbow House was a dream we didn’t know we always had.”

    Michelle Mastro covers lifestyle, travel, architecture, and culture. When she’s not researching or writing, she’s hiking trails (badly).

    Read the original article on Business Insider


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