An Interview With the Internet’s Favorite House Hunter

Its Complicated Meryl Streep kitchen
I’m not sure how the blog House Hunting came to me. One day it felt like my Tumblr dashboard was suddenly filled with beautiful houses: tiny wooden cabins in Washington, sprawling Victorian houses in Maine, well-lit loft apartments in Germany. They were the posts of House Hunting, a tumblr blog with over 40,000 followers that’s only existed for a little more than a year. Run by a young Seattle-resident named Raine, the blog is a simple exploration in property hunting. She doesn’t post links to the listings, just the pictures, location, and price per month.

As a young New York City resident I’ll admit I initially didn’t want to follow House Hunting. I know this sounds crazy, but following the blog—as charming as it was—felt like potentially opening a portal to a life (or lives) free from NYC real estate. Like: Moving to a place where I can have a cottage for $500 a month. Or a three-bedroom apartment for $1,900. Or maybe I’d become one of those people who lives in a tiny tree house in Big Sur by myself and blog about how much I love my #minimalist #carefree #life for you.

Because what ultimately makes House Hunting so charming and addictive is how each little property is a little tabula rasa, curated by someone who has taste and mystery. It’s like looking at Craigslist, but everything is fun and perfect. So I wanted to talk to Raine about why she started the blog, how it’s changed, what she’s learned about houses.

So I know you have in your bio for the blog, or the FAQ, that house hunting was started as an “anxiety coping mechanism.” Can you tell me a little more about that and what motivated you to start the blog/share it with people in the first place?

Growing up I moved around a lot, and most of the spaces weren’t mine, or at least weren’t permanent—I was shuffled around a lot. About two years ago, I ended up between leases living in these awful apartments in an awful suburb: six people had died in them recently, and they were just terrible and depressing. It made me really sad and anxious to be there, so I spent most of my time at home poring over real estate websites, dreaming about where I could be when I wasn’t there anymore.

I started by posting the houses on my personal blog, but it was really calming to go back over and sort by state or type of house so I made a side blog. I posted it on my main blog again and received really positive feedback, so I just continued from there. I’m not sure how it grew to be so big! I think I became more okay with telling people about it when I started receiving tons of messages about how it made other people less sad and anxious about their living situations, like it did for me.

I know that you’re super secretive of where you get your listings, especially when people are badgering you for specifics, but can you tell me more generally where you find these houses/photos? Are they just great Craigslist finds, do you go to real estate listings, friends send you stuff, etc.?

I use a bunch of different sources, including those. My favorite and most successful way of finding interesting listings is by finding smaller real estate websites, because they’re easily missed and fewer people come across them. I also have a few dedicated friends who send me links to great spaces daily.

Yeah I figured as much. Would you say you have a specific taste in houses/apartments? The blog is definitely host to a wide range of styles and locations but I was wondering if you’re drawn to anything specific, if that makes sense. Or if you have any specific qualifications for posting a house other than “I like this!”

There are certain style elements that I definitely look for, like wood floors, high ceilings, built-ins, wallpaper, et cetera, but it isn’t a dealbreaker if a house is missing some of those. I like places that evoke a certain feeling or idea, as if you can tell something happened there. Some of the places that I post are probably really boring to some people, but they feel safe or calming to me, so they get posted.  

Can you think of or link to some favorite listings you’ve found off the top of your head? Do any in particular really stand out?

Yes!!! There’s this one giant Victorian house that was just covered in different floral wallpapers, every single room, and there was a room in the attic that had giant mirrors and dormer windows so it looked like it went on forever. That’s probably my favorite post that’s gone up. There’s another that looks suspiciously like the American Football album cover house, somewhere in the Midwest, and a house in upstate New York that looks like an actual spooky haunted house, made out of bricks with super tall ceilings. I think about those ones a lot.

Have you ever been surprised by something you’ve come across in a listing, whether it’s a weirdly low-price, or a super unique listing?

Coastal cities and states are so expensive and it’s all I’ve ever known, so it’s always a little bit of a shock to see really beautiful mountain West/Midwest region two-bedroom apartments for $600 a month. Sometimes you can find those in tiny towns in Washington or Maine or something too. The weirdest and most unique listings are the ones that didn’t used to be houses—the first one that comes to mind is this giant church that had been loosely renovated into a house, and it had a big graveyard from the late 1800s as the backyard. Converted churches, early 1900s schoolhouses, and converted water towers are always crazy to see.

So I live in NYC and as you can IMAGINE it is really, really expensive here, so something I love about your blog is it kind of lets me take my monthly rent and fantasize about what my life could be living in, like, a four-bedroom house somewhere in the Midwest. Do you feel like through the blog you have a good grasp on how expensive real estate is across America?

That was one of my favorite things to do when I was living in the murder apartment. My $900 two-bedroom murder apartment could have been a $900 three-bedroom in a converted Victorian somewhere in the Blue Mountains. I think I’m getting a pretty good grasp on the actual cost of living across America, it’s still really shocking for me to see NYC, LA, or Denver rents. I don’t know how most people can afford to live in those places!

Yeah it’s really insane. But I think that’s why House Hunting being so vague about the actual origins of these places (i.e., they’re not linked to real listings) only makes that fantasy element stronger. It’s kind of like these spaces are unoccupied and available no matter the time period, I feel like it would be a bummer if I saw a listing, clicked on where I could actually rent/visit it, and see if it was gone, or something.

Definitely. I like that so many people have different ideas about what they would do with different spaces. I think the idea of house hunting is the best part of it. They’re available for everybody.

So I wanted to ask about the haters, because I think this is such a great blog and it’s bizarre to me that it has attracted so many anon weirdos and haters. Like it almost seems like if a really nice blog about HOUSES can get this much hostility than literally nothing on the Internet is safe from trolls. Why do you think the blog gets people so worked up? Is it just that you’re standing your ground and following your rulebook?

I really have no idea what it is. I only started receiving hate of any kind—directed at me, or directed at the blog—after I posted photos of myself. A lot of it is gendered hate. I think that people don’t like being told no by a woman, and feel entitled to space, both my space and the houses’ space.

The blog started as this means to sort of fantasize your way out of and cope with your murder-house living situation, but what is it to you now? Is it still as calming even with the unwanted ask-box commenters?

The actual house hunting act is still for me, and is as calming as it’s ever been. I think that Househunting the blog has turned into an experience for all of the people that follow it, a way for a ton of people to feel really different things about the same spaces, if that makes sense? Fifty thousand people see the same 1 bedroom farmhouse and feel something differently about it, and I like that. I like being able to provide that feeling. The rude people don’t bother me that much. I think that you have to have something pretty bad going on in your own life to take it out on someone you don’t know via the internet, so I mostly just feel bad for them and hope that they get their stuff sorted out soon.

You mentioned before about getting messages from other people who’ve found it calming, how often do you get that feedback? Has any particular piece of feedback stuck with you?

Ninety-nine percent of the messages I receive are positive, which is awesome. It might not count as feedback, but I really love when I get messages that are like, “That house is down the street from me! They have a really cool garden!” or “I went to a party in that apartment building, I met my best friend in the living room,” or “I never thought I’d see my town of 800 people show up on this blog.” People get so excited when they can connect with a space or city and it’s really fun to watch.

Do you ever see house hunting as becoming something bigger than just a blog? I noticed your Seattle guide, obviously that’s a little closer to home considering you live there, but it made me think you could map areas in a way that maybe other people aren’t.

Yeah, a close friend and I have a few things in the works right now. Nothing is totally hammered out yet, but a zine is in the works, and some exciting in-person stuff that we are working on. In the future I’d really like to make it more interactive, receive more submissions, meet people in person, take more pictures myself. Ideally it will evolve into a community (both online-community and where ever-I’m-at-community) based collaboration.

 

Hazel Cills is a writer living in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @hazelcills.

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