Business
June 13, 2024

Zillow Gone Wild: Bringing Real Estate Listings to TV

Scrolling for online real estate listings on social media has become a popular American pastime.

By
Nourhan Sandouk

Remember when the stay-at-home orders expanded and many of us spent our time staring at screens in a doomscrolling spiral? (What a memory.) Well, since then, scrolling for online real estate listings on social media has become a popular American pastime.

Enter: Capitalism. More specifically, America’s arguably favorite home real estate “social media” site: Zillow. Seeing an opportunity to turn America’s real estate home scrolling epidemic into a business venture, then-BuzzFeed Social Media Director Samir Mezrahi launched the soon-to-be uber-popular Zillow Gone Wild Twitter (now X) account in December 2020.

Zillow Gone Wild started growing as a real estate phenomenon, a place to go if you're in the market for a UFO-shaped house, a cruise ship with close to 3,000 bedrooms, or just about anything else. 

Mezrahi, who also runs the popular KaleSalad Instagram and X accounts, started Zillow Gone Wild as a side project, initially launching only on Instagram but soon expanded his offering to Facebook, X, TikTok and a newsletter.

"It was, like, prime pandemic. Everyone's working from home. Companies are saying you can live wherever you want," Mezrahi said. "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."

Now that Mezrahi’s accounts have gained followings and popularity, he’s on to a new goal: Figuring out how to make more money off the internet. 

Aside from the HGTV executive producer credit, most of Zillow Gone Wild’s revenue comes from ads; one was made for The Bachelor, posting what looked like a typical listing, but it was for the show’s house. Other paid fake listings were for PopTarts and Royal Caribbean. Mezrahi was paid to promote fake listings for a house made of PopTarts and the new Icon of the Seas cruise ship.

He said that even with all this wild fame, the account still brings in “very little” money. One of the things he's trying to gain money through is his newsletter, which has a paid classified section. Another? Join the production team of HGTV’s Zillow Gone Wild TV show. 

Bringing Real Estate Listings to TV

Inspired by the Zillow Gone Wild account, HGTV expanded its programming lineup with a series hosted by Jack McBrayer, who viewers might recognize as Kenneth from 30 Rock.

Zillow Gone Wild the show features 24 out-of-the-ordinary houses across the country. While uncovering each house’s quirky characteristics, viewers follow McBrayer through the backstories behind the homes from the owners, sellers, buyers, and real estate agents. Then, each property is ranked based on its creativity. For example, if three houses from the same geographical region get featured,  they may get rated on things like their commitment to the theme or “wackadoo” (aka eccentric qualities).

The first episode takes place in Nebraska and features a renovated missile silo and a fairytale cottage. Later episodes take McBrayer to California, Nevada, and New Orleans. 

The season finale features the weirdest homes and proclaims which house from the season was the “wildest” of all. Viewers also get a chance to vote and win $25,000 by correctly guessing which home will be crowned the “Wildest House” from the series. 

Another interesting thing is that McBrayer didn’t know what any of the homes looked like before viewing them. “I was not allowed to look at the Instagram page so that I would be authentically surprised at everything that we saw during the tours,” he said. “I do like saying yes to things that scare me a little and take me out of my comfort zone, and I've never done anything like this.”

So, What’s the Purpose of Zillow Gone Wild?

Zillow Gone Wild, the show, and Zillow, broadly, are examples of how an internet-based service can double as entertainment. They also mark a significant development in the world of online real estate content creators who find entertainment value in digging into real estate listings.

“Millions of people are obsessed with scrolling through outrageous and over-the-top properties on social media while dreaming about where they would like to live,” said Loren Ruch, HGTV’s head of content.

“Zillow Gone Wild will take the fascination a step further by giving fans a cheeky glimpse inside the most unusual homes on the market, offering those unexpected ‘wow’ moments that will keep viewers coming back for more,” she added.

The show approaches marketing uniquely, such as finding different ways to understand buyer preferences. While it may fall under the realm of “reality” TV, it still gives authentic content by giving backstories of the properties, which is something any agent can do to tune into the desires and preferences of target audiences. But what makes HGTV’s show stand out from other real estate content marketing is its focus on “wild” listings and buyers with “unique” tastes.

In the end, Zillow Gone Wild is, to some extent, primarily for entertainment, just all “reality” real estate shows. Nonetheless, it sets itself apart from the crowd by offering tips and tricks for real estate agents looking to stay competitive.

By
Nourhan Sandouk

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