Obsessively browsing houses on Zillow is the newest pandemic pastime

People are finding that browsing homes online is a self-soothing way to whittle away time in quarantine.
Zillow House Search
Scrolling through houses on websites like Zillow can be a soothing way to pass the time, some say.TODAY illustration / Getty Images

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/ Source: TODAY
By Rheana Murray

If you've found yourself browsing multimillion-dollar houses online to whittle away the hours in quarantine, you're not alone.

Searching for greener pastures is nothing new, but it appears that the coronavirus pandemic, with millions of Americans stuck at home, has caused a huge uptick in the number of people considering a move — or at least dreaming about it.

And as Glamour pointed out, scrolling through listings of beach bungalows or mountain houses can be quite the self-soothing activity these days, according to plenty of people on social media.

The numbers support the trend. Realtor.com's chief economist, Danielle Hale, told TMRW that their website's monthly traffic hit an all-time high in June, and that numbers continue to go up. Zillow, one of the most popular sites for browsing, says traffic to its for-sale listings is up 41% since 2019.

"It's impossible to know what's precisely driving the huge increase in traffic to for-sale listings," Amanda Pendleton of Zillow Home said in an email. "It could be coming from buyers looking to move after being stuck at home for months, or simply from aspirational viewers seeking an escape through real estate. It could also be summer home shoppers who aren't able to tour open houses in person, so have turned to online home shopping instead."

While it's not yet clear how many of those searches will translate to actual house sales, it does appear that millennials are the ones buying — and thus, likely the ones searching, too. Pendleton pointed to Zillow research that shows 36% of people buying homes are millennials, making them the largest generational group of buyers. And, of course, most millennials start their home search online.

Pendleton noted that traffic to Zillow's rental listings is also up.

Anne Demme, 31, of Portland, Oregon, is among those who can't stop browsing rentals. She said the pandemic has caused her and many of her friends and family members to rethink where they live.

"I've actually been thinking about this a lot lately ... this idea of home," she told TMRW. "What we need from our homes has changed really rapidly and all of us are facing a lot of ambiguity in what our lives will look like in the weeks and months to come. … What could be next for me? What could that look like, and what do I need from my space? Now I look at a space and I’m like, could I fit a spin bike in here? Is there a yard to take out my dog? Could I set up a home office? I’m seeing home through a new lens and thinking about what life is going to look like for the next few years.”

While some people are seriously searching for a new place to call home, others are just browsing — and half the fun of window shopping is not being restricted by budget. Many people on social media are fantasizing about homes they could not realistically afford, like palatial farmhouses in the country or oceanfront homes with private beach access.

Either way, it’s the possibility that makes the search so fulfilling.

As Demme says, “I’m always like, what’s out there, and what could life be like in a different place?”