My Perfectly Normal, Totally Healthy Obsession with House Stalking on Zillow

Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash

I didn’t start getting weird about habitually cruising the Interwebz in search of the perfect home until I was stuck at home with a broken ankle in the summer of 2019. Before that, I may have occasionally glanced at homes for sale, but not with the regularity I do now.

Let me give you some backstory: we’ve lived in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco for about twenty years. The same one-bedroom apartment, in fact. It’s rent-controlled, so we can’t afford to move or we’d lose the low rent that has enabled us to stay in the Bay Area. As time passes, I find myself fantasizing about becoming a homeowner and yearning for more (or maybe just different) space.

We’d considered moving in the past to the Santa Cruz Mountains, which is close enough to still be able to work. We even put a bid on a home in Felton at one point, but we were outbid. Then, there were fires and evacuations, and we sort of shoved the serious thought of moving aside.

But being stranded in bed, I started checking once, twice, maybe even three times a day. And not just around Santa Cruz! Sometimes I’d look for places around the Russian River in Sonoma County or even as far away as the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Tuolumne County. Are you picking up on a theme here? MOUNTAINS. TREES. FORESTS. Maybe even a RIVER or a LAKE. Would it be possible to turn my love of mountain living in the heart of nature into a full-time thing rather than just a vacation?

When life screeched to a halt in March of 2020 (for a good three months in my case), I began to amp up my daily visits to real estate websites like Zillow and Realtor. I saved searches. Zillow started emailing me daily about sales rates in various zip codes I’d been stalking. They also would nudge me about homes I’d saved, that little heart emoji making them wonder if perhaps I’d like to TAKE THE NEXT STEP?

Morning. Mid-day. In the dead of night. All were good times to revisit real estate. I realized eventually that I wasn’t looking at real estate, really. I was looking for the ultimate full-time vacation cabin. House preferences: cathedral ceilings were a plus, especially if they were made of wood or even just had cross-beams present. Skylights with trees above were another bonus. Wooden walls? PERFECT. Just do NOT paint those bad boys white or you will lose me. You’ll also lose me with any ANGLED wood walls, which was a regrettable design kick in the late 1970s/early 1980s. I love dark wood but open rooms that get at least some sunlight.

I like the idea of neighbors, but I don’t want to have to see them from my back patio or really, any of my windows. Outdoor space is lovely as long as there aren’t NEIGHBORS just on the other side of that fence. Ideally, the home will back up to forested views, or perhaps a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains.

But perhaps most importantly, it HAD to have a hot tub, or allow for one to fit somewhere.

Today, as I waste yet another Saturday scrolling through house after house online, it occurs to me that I’d be better off just sticking with renting AirBnBs in all my favorite getaway places. Getaways are best when they take you out of your daily routine, after all. Would a place in the woods become limiting rather than dreamy after a few weeks? Or perhaps it would just become dull over time, the once-inspirational sweeping vistas eventually becoming just a backdrop to the daily grind.

But that really is an adorable Craftsman you’ve got there, Zillow, you temptress.

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