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In Nashville there sits a $1-million, 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom, five-bathroom house. A series of staggered geometric forms cover its stark, modern exterior.
Step inside and the house is dripping in designer logos. Louis Vuitton logos stenciled in rainbow shades cover the walls. A massive golden Louis Vuitton logo sculpture supports the ceiling. Chanel logos trail up the stairs. Bedspreads, a shower curtain and an entire wall shout the Supreme logo in bright red.
This gem of a home in Tennessee was brought to the public’s attention via the @zillowgonewild Instagram account. “I’m so confused,” pop star Kevin Jonas commented on the post for the “real hype house.”
The Instagram account arrived as an early Christmas present to the world on Dec. 23, and has since attracted 556,000 followers. Its 100-plus posts (typically submitted by followers) share the wildest, weirdest and most wonderful of Zillow with its fans.
“Either they're millennials looking to buy or it's like Pinterest: You like looking at houses, maybe for inspiration, maybe for aspiration,” said the account’s owner, Samir Mezrahi. “Maybe you're looking in random towns you wish you would live in or want to move to someday.”
Mezrahi’s identity isn’t exactly a secret — any internet sleuth or Gen Z could piece it together — but the @zillowgonewild account doesn’t make it obvious, either. There is also no connection between the wildly popular account and Zillow itself, although Mezrahi said some employees of the online real estate company love the account.
"While we haven't been involved in this particular account, we know a lot of people have taken up 'Zillow surfing' as a form of escapism during the pandemic,” Zillow spokesperson Viet Shelton said in a statement. “During a difficult time when a lot of us are thinking about where and how we want to live, we appreciate the Zillow love, and welcome all daydreamers."
During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, traffic to Zillow’s for-sale listings was 50% higher than it was in 2019, and continues to be well above the same period for 2019 . Last March, as stay-at-home orders expanded, the creation of Zillow 3-D virtual tours also spiked, rising 750% from February, as sellers embraced the new technology. Those lucky enough to have their own four walls grew tired of them and itched to go elsewhere — even if it was vicariously.
So many of us have spent the pandemic staring at screens in a doomscrolling spiral that Zillow surfing has become a perfect antidote, Mezrahi said.
“I think there has been some flock to the suburbs,” he added. “And people are thinking of getting out of the city or moving to other places. It's definite. And it's interesting to see the demographics of the account: It's a few percent New York City” — where Mezrahi is based — “but it's really spread out around the U.S. So it's not just big city people. It's people everywhere.”
That geographic spread extends to the account’s content too. A seller in Normandy, Tenn., turned a school into a sprawling mansion. In Las Vegas, a basement diner inside a $2-million house features an underground tunnel that leads to a private nightclub. One follower, Texas-based dancer-choreographer Lynzy Lab, dubbed a $3-million waterfront estate in Belleair Beach, Fla., the “Axe Body Spray of mansions.”
Followers and fans devour @zillowgonewild content with relish. “Your account brings me so much joy,” one user commented recently. “I look forward to all of your posts!”
“I just posted a house with a terrarium,” Mezrahi said, “And people are tagging all their plant friends. Different home styles remind people of different friends, so it's just very relatable.”
Mezrahi excels in relatability. His personal Instagram account, @samir (which boasts 107,000 followers), has a Highlight feature titled “$4.” “Hey, I’m Samir, I’m a loser and I spend $4 on iced coffee every day,” he says in a string of identical videos.
It’s no wonder the Instagram savant is a master of social media: In his day job, he’s BuzzFeed’s deputy director of social media. His LinkedIn profile lists him as the “Head Salad” of the viral meme account Kale Salad, which he also runs. And he’s the self-proclaimed host of “Celebrity Home Shopping,” a regular two minute “show” he posts across Instagram and other social media platforms where he reviews celebrity homes.
“It's been the first thing I've done in real estate and I really enjoy it,” Mezrahi said of “Celebrity Home Shopping.” “Maybe it's my passion. … I've grown a fun audience with that. Some celebs have responded. People kind of come to me now for the take on celebrity homes. And then a natural extension is Zillow and fun homes online.”
His online success might have something to do with his wit, which is drier than L.A. in the summer. When asked how seriously he takes himself on a scale of one to 10, Mezrahi said, “Probably zero.” But his viral secret sauce is based on specificity.
“Just be concise with what you are,” he said. “And just dig into that. There's so many accounts out there, and it's easy to get caught up in trying to be too many different things. So I think you can just be what you are and be good at that, and you'll find an audience.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.