I have this friend. He can’t stop looking at online houses. He bought a house almost two years ago, yet he can’t tear himself away from Zillow. Every day, there is a new one that is even more perfect than the one he saw yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that, all the way back to the home he purchased.
Okay, I admit it. It’s me and this is my dirty little secret. While others fritter away their online time with Facebook and pornography, I flirt with houses. I can’t help myself. I’m addicted with real estate addiction.
You won’t find my illness in the DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, but it qualifies, I assure you. It’s progressive in nature. It takes up more and more of my time with each passing day. I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at houses. It interferes with the rest of my life, including my social life. In fact, the only person I think really understands me is my real estate agent. The one who sold me my home two years ago.
I’ve seriously considered checking myself in for treatment at a reputable addiction center like The Recovery Village. But I can’t stop looking at houses. Even their facilities look like something I’d like to buy.
As the neat little rows of homes dance across my screen, I’m just a junkie getting his fix. My pulse races. I scroll rapidly through the images, pausing at a kitchen’s cherry wood cabinetry or a bathroom’s granite counters. From time to time I jot down a note.
There’s something slightly perverse about being able to virtually walk through a stranger’s home undetected. You don’t need a key, an agent, an appointment, or even a reason other than you feel like it. You just stroll through and look around.
I’m not the only one. There are millions of us, if Zillow statistics are any indication. In July alone they had some 141 million individual users. The same month saw only about five and a half million homes purchased. A whole lot of window shopping is taking place. A 2014 survey by a home loan association found that two out of three home buyers admitted that online property shopping was addicting. Yes, they actually used that word.
This interest in home ownership should be good news for the economy, but it’s not. Homeowner rates hit a 48-year low in 2015. Millennials don’t want to be tied down and houses are too expensive.
Ultimately, Zillow is about vicarious living. It’s no different from watching House Hunters or touring the Street of Dreams. Never mind that renting is perfectly fine. It gives one the freedom to bounce around, let someone else handle the upkeep responsibilities and landscaping. Even those who will never be able to afford it can fantasize about what life would be like in that house. Or that one. Or that one.
But here’s the downside. Dissatisfaction. Not only am I miserable because I know I’ll never be able to afford all the houses Oprah can. I’m unhappy with my own place that I just bought not two summers ago and put a lot of loving work into. Not for nothing did the Lord include a commandment against coveting thy neighbor’s stuff. Those 98 homes I walked through since the last sabbath eat away at my contentment with life.
Yes, the grass is always greener somewhere else. It really is. You can see it yourself on Zillow.