Practical Zillowing

Yesterday, I came across my dream home. I was browsing on Zillow through a slew of Washington Heights two bed, one bath, 500-to-700 square foot, 4th floor walkup apartments for rent in the $800 to $1500 price range, when I found the perfect fit. 

The guilty pleasure of scrolling through Zillow, a US based renter’s website, has occupied a large part of my free time this past summer. I have the routine down pat: I type Zillow into the search engine, click through to “rent NYC,” and set my preferences.

My most recent find had two cramped bedrooms (one for a roommate because I have a 30 Rock-based fear of living alone and choking on ramen), and had something resembling a strip of exposed brick, but upon further inspection, appeared to be a wall sticker. It was moderately priced, not too far from a subway stop, and felt perfect. 

Except it wasn’t. 

It wasn’t the type of place where one dreams of living in New York City. It didn’t look like Carrie Bradshaw’s Upper East Side townhome with a walk-in closet, or the Eat, Pray, Love firehouse. 

Even though this exercise in apartment hunting is purely for my own enjoyment—I don’t have any plans of moving to the city anytime soon, nor could I afford it—I always set filters before exploring my options. The alternative of unchecked boxes is too overwhelming, like going to a breakfast buffet instead of a bagel place, or listening to an artist’s discography instead of a singular album. What I’m left with when I filter aren’t dream homes, but realistic ones, and I’m a little embarrassed to say that I’d like to keep it that way. 

When I’m on Zillow, I’m in perpetual motion: modifying my searches, inspecting layouts, and crossing out possibilities. In doing this, I force myself to consider where I will be in five, ten, or fifteen years. Will I have a lucrative job? Will I be married? Will I know how to cook anything other than ramen? Attempting answers is daunting, yet deeply satisfying. 

I look through Zillow for the express purpose of “manifesting” my future life, whatever that may be. Or, alternatively, for the express purpose of figuring out what I want to manifest in the first place. 

I’ve started blaming this neurosis on what I like to call the “Covid and Gen-Z Mentality of Restlessness,” which is to say that I hope I’m not completely alone in thinking this way. I’ve had conversations with friends and seen numerous tweets and TikToks revolving around the activity of “manifesting,” which according to Oprah Magazine, means “bringing something tangible into your life through attraction and belief, i.e. if you think it, it will come.” In our ongoing period of social isolation, this pastime appears to be one of the only things keeping my generation sane.

It is precisely this freedom of manifesting that has made me reconsider my options and set fewer prerequisites. If I look at an unfiltered list of Zillow apartments, I recognize their existence at the present moment; I don’t need to verify their future affordability to enjoy their presence on my computer screen. At a moment when the world is placing so many constraints on my generation, it is an act of resistance to insist on dreaming and imagining alternative futures, perhaps especially those that seem the least practical and most impossible to attain. 

For the time being, I’ve decided to try and focus on the impractical and lavish margins of Zillow before I deem it unacceptable or naive to do so. This is the side where I splurge (in my daydreams and search box) on the French doors, original wood floors, and a whole damn wall of exposed brick. I shrug off my neuroses, arriving at a landscape of unlimited beds, baths, backyards, and square footage.

**Image Credit: Zillow homepage

About Elena Eisenstadt