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Meet the “Zillionaires” Who Bought Homes Off Zillow Gone Wild

Photo courtesy of ACRE Agency

For many millennials, surfing listings on Zillow is now a sort of pastime—this even includes celebrities like Vanessa Carlton. The turning point occurred in 2020, when browsing real estate online became a great escape from lockdown-induced cabin fever. This also happened to be what Samir Mezrahi, founder of Zillow Gone Wild, was doing back in December 2020. “It was prime pandemic time when every company said you could work from home,” he recalls. “There were a lot of people moving or thinking about moving.”

In his searches, Samir dredged the corners of Zillow, looking for one-of-a-kind houses: think grandiose mansions but also, bizarrely, American castles complete with drawbridges and moats, or houses with an indoor putting green on the first floor. The properties were eccentric, imaginative, or possibly just absurd. It got him thinking, why not show off Zillow’s wilder side?

Fast forward to the present and Zillow Gone Wild continues to boom with Samir posting once a day, which gains around one million views. Now, he doesn’t even have to comb Zillow anymore because fans will send him dozens of weird house listings every day. To meet demand across all of his channels (Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook), he now does themed weekly posts, like Mansion Mondays, Midcentury Modern Wednesdays, and Castle Fridays.

The most viral posts include a home in Gilbert, Arizona, previously owned by former LA Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, which came with a built-in aquarium, go-cart track, pool, spa, a hot tub, cold plunge, and more. Others include a home with a hockey rink, a property where future owners can swim with manatees, and this home that might as well straight out of Dune.

All the houses boast very specific design decisions. And yet most reactions have been celebratory, according to Samir. “People will leave comments like, ‘Who’s going to help me move into this house? Because this is my dream home,’” he says. Which is all well and good. But has anyone actually bought a home they found on a Zillow Gone Wild page? Apparently, many.

Meant to show off their store’s unique tiles, the original owners of this mid-mod home decked out every inch in tile, from each section of the fireplace to the columns, floors, and many of the home’s walls.
Meant to show off their store’s unique tiles, the original owners of this mid-mod home decked out every inch in tile, from each section of the fireplace to the columns, floors, and many of the home’s walls.
Photo: Drew Anthony Smith

Last year, Ashley Spencer was visiting family in Nebraska when she saw her dream home on Zillow Gone Wild. It was a two-story midcentury-modern in Minneapolis that was giving James Bond hideaway vibes. As lovers of mid-mod homes, she and her husband sprang into action, driving the five hours to see it in person. They put in a bid shortly after, and a month later they closed on the house.

“The house is the most unique midcentury home I’ve ever seen,” Ashley insists. It had originally been built for the architect’s sister and brother-in-law and was supposed to be a showroom for their business, a tile shop, so there’s tile everywhere, including a floor-to-ceiling mosaic. “The downstairs fireplace is completely checkerboard tile, but it’s all different shades of blues and pinks. It’s pretty wild-looking,” she says. One of the hallways has a built-in shuffleboard court. When friends and family visit, Ashley has no problem telling them the home was featured on Zillow Gone Wild. “It is a fun conversation starter,” she adds.

Tyler Semons bought his home in Sacramento, California, off Zillow Gone Wild for its location, not the aesthetic. “It was a super gaudy Dr. Seuss meets Alice in Wonderland type of house,” he explains. But the house looked nice from the outside and was in the coveted Curtis Park neighborhood, which he never thought he could afford in January 2023.

The intricate design details of the original interiors were made from “almost all caulking, believe it or not,” says Semons.
The intricate design details of the original interiors were made from “almost all caulking, believe it or not,” says Semons.
Photo courtesy of Tyler Semons
The interiors used to be a combination of Dr. Seuss and Alice in Wonderland.
The interiors used to be a combination of Dr. Seuss and Alice in Wonderland.
Photo courtesy of Tyler Semons

As it turns out, Tyler was able to afford it because his friend had bought it first and received negative backlash. “My friend posted online his intentions of renovating the house, and the internet descended upon him,” he says. “They didn’t like that he was going to flip the house, and he was getting all these nasty comments and messages. People were not on his side. They wanted it left untouched or turned into an Airbnb or museum of some kind.” Additionally, the magnitude of the renovation proved to be considerable.

Though beloved by the internet, many of the interiors’ features were DIY’ed and installed with wiring that was not up-to-code. “I didn’t want to change the house either,” Tyler continues. “The person had obviously put in 20 years of work—but it just wasn’t our style. And the truth of it is, when we got in there, we realized a lot of what had been installed wasn’t safe.” One of the biggest opponents of changing the house was his mom, who said that “changing that house would be the equivalent of putting down an otherwise healthy family pet.” But, luckily, she came around.

Semons wanted a modern look in the home and did not make stylistic choices that could affect its re-sellability, he says. “Though I hope people don’t walk in and think it now screams millennial style.”
Semons wanted a modern look in the home and did not make stylistic choices that could affect its re-sellability, he says. “Though I hope people don’t walk in and think it now screams millennial style.”
Photo courtesy of Tyler Semons
Semons and his girlfriend transformed the home to have an open-concept layout with a neutral color palette.
Semons and his girlfriend transformed the home to have an open-concept layout with a neutral color palette.
Photo courtesy of Tyler Semons

In the end, Tyler and his girlfriend, Marina, had to make the home livable, pouring their savings into renovations. “It seems like the people we encounter either really loved the house as it was, calling it a work of art, or people said it was weird,” he says. “We didn’t touch the basement or the detached garage though as an homage to the original owner.”

The previous owners left the furniture inside the building, but Kendra Gritsch isn’t entirely sure if they’ll keep the aesthetic.
The previous owners left the furniture inside the building, but Kendra Gritsch isn’t entirely sure if they’ll keep the aesthetic.
Photo courtesy of ACRE Agency

Over on Washington’s Camano Island, Kendra Gritsch and her husband, Tim O’Connor, bought a house they would eventually turn into an Airbnb known as Darkstar Woods in February 2024. Not far away from that property sat another house in the Super Adobe style with three-foot walls made from plaster and sandbags. It was supposed to be a sort of bonus house for the home Kendra bought, even though it was being sold as a separate property by the original owner. Locals call it all kinds of nicknames: the Tatooine House, Yoda’s House, the Hobbit Home, Moon Dome, Potato Shed. When the property went up for sale, Kendra and Tim snagged it with the intention of turning it into an Airbnb along with their other Camano Island property.

“I was really intrigued by the house,” she says. “It can feel like anywhere when you’re inside it. Mars. Camano Island. It really gives you this feeling like you can be away from it all.” The couple plans on adding the home to a collection of Airbnbs they hope to turn into a larger event or vacation space. Members of her family have already said they want to be the first to stay in the home once it’s ready for guests. “People either really love it or hate it. Some people ask, ‘You’re going to tear that thing down, right?’” she laughs. “It’s definitely not for everybody.”

In the end, this is exactly why people love to gawk at the houses on Zillow Gone Wild. “If it’s just a mansion listing, people will be like, ‘Eat the rich’ in the comments. But these homes that come with specific features or amenities, it’s then like, ‘Who’s going to come live here with me? This is the ultimate man cave,’” says Samir. His audience wants more playful, more fun, more aspirational homes. “People love it now when a home has a full library—they engage a lot with those posts.” Turns out, people like seeing their dream home through the account. “The house’s got to be nuts, but in a good way,” he adds.

Gritsch and her daughters, Rory and Quinn, sit atop the super adobe, proving its strength. “The building is solidly there,” she says. “The walls are three feet thick. You’d probably need a bulldozer to take it down.”
Gritsch and her daughters, Rory and Quinn, sit atop the super adobe, proving its strength. “The building is solidly there,” she says. “The walls are three feet thick. You’d probably need a bulldozer to take it down.”
Photo courtesy of ACRE Agency

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest