“If this isn’t every flipped house, then I don’t know what it is. Look at that kitchen,” Bryan Stanley says to the camera as he pans it around a newly renovated home kitchen. “The gray kind weathered kind of vinyl flooring, white subway tile….” He trails off, heading toward the sink. “Just the most basic granite or quartz, whatever the heck countertops those are. And dishwasher…” he starts to wiggle the dishwasher. “Not installed.” Indeed, it isn’t. He heads across the room to open a white cupboard and gently scratches the corner near the chrome knob. “Cheap cabinets. This is every time.”
It’s an incredibly satisfying roast of a hyper-specific thing that you may have never noticed, but once you do, you’ll see everywhere (that kitchen IS ubiquitous) that pits us (people who believe we have good taste) against them (bad, greedy flippers). This is what TikTok is perfect for, and of course, the video went viral.
Stanley does not do viral dances or comedy or any of the things TikTok stars are known for. He’s a 35-year-old home inspector in Kansas City, Missouri, who typically wears khakis and a collared work shirt with his company logo on it. He started posting videos of his home inspections last year. He’s been shocked by not only how many people want to watch his videos, but also seen how they have drummed up his business. He’s gotten several clients who reached out over TikTok, something that has never happened on Facebook or Instagram. “On Instagram, people don’t want your stock photos, or your vague ‘let me help you if you’re in the market’ messaging,” he told BuzzFeed News. “TikTok shows a person and a personality more than Instagram would for this kind of content.”
Across TikTok, content about real estate — tours of beautiful homes, roasting of McMansions, home inspectors, real estate agents, mortgage advice, DIY how-tos — is flourishing.
One reason for the explosion of this content is a pandemic-related surge even among people who aren’t anywhere close to buying a house. As people are trapped inside their homes, they’re compelled to both the escapism of browsing Zillow and the desire to fix up their current surroundings.
Another is that millennials are now on TikTok, and they’re buying homes. One of those slightly older people who fell into Real Estate TikTok is Cynthia Guerrero. “My husband and I became obsessed during the pandemic,” she told BuzzFeed News. “We had nothing to do so we downloaded TikTok. We watch TikToks together before going to bed.” While she loved watching HGTV and had had Zillow on her phone to browse for a long time, she wasn’t actively looking to buy a house. Then she saw a house tour of a newly constructed home in Forney, Texas, posted by a local real estate agent, and she fell in love. Her family will be moving in in April.
This isn’t even the only house that the agent, Joseph Felling, has sold over TikTok. Nicholas Pierce and his wife closed this month on a house outside of Dallas they bought with Felling after seeing a similar model home on his account.
In addition to those two homes he’s closed on, he has about 20 to 25 new clients that came over the app. “How did I get into TikTok? COVID times,” Felling told BuzzFeed News. “You’re sitting on the couch, listening to this whole thing about Trump is going to take it down, and I wanted to check it out. I started scrolling and said, Wow, there's something there.”
Felling’s videos are typically tours of moderately priced but attractive homes in the Dallas–Fort Worth suburbs with a caption like “This is what $350,990 will get you in Allen, TX” (residents of large expensive cities should be advised to view these with a trigger warning).
Viet Shelton, a spokesperson for Zillow said that this spring, the real estate app saw traffic on its site and app surge 50% more than last year. “Everyone’s looking for a little escapism and to daydream, and Zillowsurfng is a fun and easy outlet for that,” Shelton told BuzzFeed News.
“Most people with generation wealth built it with real estate. As a Black woman, I see that there's a huge gap in generational wealth."
The median age for a first time home buyer is 32, and according to app analyst SensorTower, about a third of TikTok users are 30 and older – it’s no longer just for teens. And improbably, home buying has surged during the pandemic, partly driven by low mortgage rates and new flexibility to work remotely. “We’re seeing lots of people using digital tools instead to shop for a home, and while it may be surprising that TikTok users are home shopping, if you look at who is buying a home, it makes sense,” said Shelton.
However, there isn’t exactly a deluge of realtors on the app yet. “In the spring of 2020, Realtors® were surveyed and only 2% were using TikTok professionally and 6% for personal use,” said Jessica Lautz, National Association of Realtors vice president of demographics and behavioral insights. “However, it is likely these shares have grown since the use of all forms of technology in real estate has increased exponentially during the pandemic.”
It’s not just home tours that go viral.
Quen Williams is a real estate agent in Austin who has gained over 300,000 followers in just a few months. Williams posts videos of herself talking directly to the camera, giving solid financial advice on steps to buying a home: how to get a mortgage, how much to put as a down payment, how to build credit, and how to pick an agent.
Williams told BuzzFeed News that while she sees people around her age (she’s 32) engaging with her videos the most, she also sees “younger people who have no idea what I’m talking about, but they’re like, ‘I don’t know what credit is, but I'm going to get my credit together and follow what you say!’” She sees it as a personal mission to teach financial literacy to younger people. “This stuff should be taught to us. I shouldn't have had to wait until I was 30 years old to learn about mortgages and finances when I went into the real estate world,” she said.
“I wish I was lying when I told you the staircase was dead fucking center in the front of this house.”
“My ultimate goal is for people to have financial wealth and freedom and build generational wealth,” she said. “Most people with generation wealth built it with real estate. As a Black woman, I see that there's a huge gap in generational wealth between white households and Black households, and the biggest difference in that is homeownership. I want everyone to know it is attainable.”
The pandemic has made Zillow surfing a perfect way to pass the time at home. With many jobs temporarily or permanently remote, young people in cramped apartments in expensive cities have started dreamily searching in faraway areas where a large house seems affordable. But the pleasure of scrolling through photos of beautiful houses has a flip side: the pleasure of harshly judging the garish interiors and poor design choices.
Eric Morris, 23, who goes by @cyberexboyfriend, has a popular series he calls “Roasting McMansions on Zillow” on TikTok. “Ever just not plan out your architectural design so badly you have to put two support beams right next to each other?” he writes, as he points out two oddly placed beams in the living room. In another video about the bathroom of a $5 million home, he impugns the “Elmer’s glued-on-ass stone” of the living room wall and says, “I wish I was lying when I told you the staircase was dead fucking center in the front of this house.”
A woman who goes by @leighinnyc critiques the opulent mansions listed for sale by women of the Real Housewives franchise on Bravo. A five-part series titled “Reasons I Love Teresa Giudice's Home” points out the absurd elements (windows that don’t match, a wrought iron gate to the kitchen, cabinets that don’t line up). The person behind it seems to have a professional knowledge of architecture, even though one certainly doesn’t need a degree to note that the house is tacky.
“I think people like watching [these] because it’s one of the few counterpoints to the HGTV zeitgeist,” Eric told BuzzFeed News. “Even on TikTok or YouTube, there’s one type of person and taste who dominates the culture in interior design. Like McMansion Hell before it, it mostly comes from a place of love and just helping people understand the rules before they break them or like why something looks cheap to others.”
Fuse Box TikTok exists, and it’s lit.
Part of the desire to see some home that’s terrible, be it a North Jersey reality show nightmare or Zillow shitteau drives the joy of the home inspector TikToks. Another home inspector, who goes by “Inspector AJ,’” notices that people enjoy watching videos of fucked-up houses with weird bad things that don’t pass inspection. In one with over a million views, AJ points out how the wrong kind of screws were used to install a cabinet. This is no Renegade dance, it’s not particularly funny, and it’s not based on a meme. It lacks most of the things that would normally make a TikTok video go viral — yet the comments are full of people who say they’ve had similar experiences with faulty cabinet screws or lamenting that their own home inspector wasn’t as thorough as AJ.
AJ has received dozens of messages from people who want to know how to become a home inspector after seeing him do it. AJ is excited by this. “The field is dominated by single white older men over 45, but it doesn’t have to be,” he told BuzzFeed News. “We’re getting a lot of female applicants under 30 who are applying for their license, and it’s exciting to see that change.”
Interest in craftsmanship and the less glamorous side of home DIY is also flourishing on TikTok. There’s more than one account that posts quality electrician work. One of these is a faceless electrician who posts videos set to popular songs of fuse boxes he’s installed, with special attention to his tidy work in arranging the cords. Yes, Fuse Box TikTok exists, and it’s lit. (Sorry.)
Hector Eduardo, a 31-year-old who documents his renovations of a 1920s house on @thegrovehousesocal, has had viral videos where he criticizes other popular DIY projects. One of these was talking about how bad an idea doing an epoxy finish on a countertop was — essentially painting faux-marble onto a kitchen counter (it isn’t food-safe, according to Eduardo). His audience loves watching the debunks of design trends, although “I’ve gotten some backlash because I shat on wood floors,” Eduardo told BuzzFeed News (he means figuratively shat, not literally).
None of the Real Estate TikTokers I spoke with aspired for social media success before TikTok. Compared to the aspirational home design and DIY images on Pinterest and Instagram, or the semi-staged renovations on HGTV, TikTok prioritizes more of a “real” version of how homes look — ugly cabinets, faulty wiring, leaky roofs, and all. And it turns out, this is just as compelling to watch.