The Endlessly Promising, Completely Harmless, and Totally Banal Pastime of Searching Zillow

Short Fiction. Property hunting is a slippery slope. Photo Credit: Corduroy Graphics

~~~

She’s not actually trying to move. Well, maybe she is if the right property comes along. That’s what she tells herself at least. 

It all begins with that subtle nudge of dissatisfaction in her two-bedroom bottom floor apartment. The bathroom sink keeps clogging. The once charming natural wooden floors are too difficult to keep clean. If only her bedroom window didn’t open up to that noisy street. It’s those little nuisances which pull her to Zillow, then Trulia, then Apartments.com (and occasionally Craigslist) and propel her down the road for something new

She sets her filters — curating away the bothers of her present living situation — and then adjusts the sliding price bar to a moderately reasonable range. So begins the hunt, combing through apartment after apartment, duplex after duplex, and house after house (if only she’d get so lucky). 

After losing hours bouncing around to the desirable nooks of town, she refines her taste, instinctually knowing when a property just won’t quite work. It doesn’t have enough storage. The appliances are out of date. If she doesn’t absolutely have to, she really doesn’t want to share a wall with random neighbors. 

Every so often she discovers the perfect spot that ticks all her not-so-nebulous boxes and she can’t help but snowball into visions of her revamped life. It’s renovated but it still has character. It’s in the city but not oppressively in the city. She imagines just how it will feel walking through her new home and what memories will be forever associated between those walls. 

But she can’t pull the trigger just yet. She would need to find a new roommate, and not the current one who always sulks back to her room anytime friends come over or the one before that who left a trail of stale coffee mugs in her wake. She starts to second guess if she should even go through the hassle of moving after all. Honestly, her roommate is adequately avoidant and at least the floors hide the grime well. By this point though, it’s too late. She’s waited too long. The special property has come and gone, and her fantasies of a life not lived have moved on without her. 

The search persists during lulls at the desk job she wants to leave and between bites of a grain-based dinner. She finds herself perusing the sites just to see if anything new has popped up since she last checked the hour before. When the usual (just slightly imperfect) suspects are all that remain, she sets up notifications to ping her email the instant her exact tastes are posted. She can’t afford to wait around, not in this market. Still, she can’t help but keep browsing the sites for the thrill of potentially discovering a hidden gem that maybe just so happens to be mislabeled as an apartment when really, it’s a triplex. But the fates never quite align for her to make the leap and another potential solution to end her perpetual sifting floats away. 

She scrolls on.

~~~

When the pings slow down and the surprises run dry, she plays with the innocent price bar and expands her budget ever so slightly. Like the magic that is money, a new crop of suspects instantly pop onto the screen. This is what she’s been missing. She was being conservative before. A little reaching never hurt anyone who doesn’t even keep a spreadsheet of their expenses. 

Next thing she knows, she’s hundreds, thousands outside the stretch limit of her stretch limit, gazing at photographed properties that are laughably aspirational. That minimalist single-family dwelling with the double balcony, quartz counter tops and 7-foot central glass window looking right at a pool (and cabana for good measure) is everything her life goal of worriless evenings has to offer. She tells herself this is just for fun but by that point, she’s already down the rabbit hole.

Is she an oversized cottage with refinished craftsman beams and sliding barn doors? A traditionalist yet still forward thinking. Is she a quirky and colorful bungalow with avant-garde angles? A free spirit but savvy enough to attain this many rooms under one roof. What about a warm McMansion with a secret home theater? Or an industrial edifice more fit for gawking than living? You are your domain. Why shouldn’t she keep looking?

She’s worked hard. She’s paid her dues. Why doesn’t she deserve the life of a gutted Victorian historical with Tiffany fixtures and a restored Wedgewood oven range? 

She pockets those versions to one day be revisited and steadies herself back to her current lease’s existence. One double-click zoom closer in on the map. One scroll down the list of thumbnails. One refresh on each open tab. She keeps going because for all she knows, that next click could be the necessary step closer to her preordained future. 

~~~

Through sheer persistence and a just a little bit of luck, she inevitably finds her new checked box and successfully stakes her claim. She hires movers and settles into a fresh space in a four-unit building that is cleaner than it will ever be from that point on. Her new home is perfect, equipped with a floral clad front stoop, custom bathroom tiling, and a cozy nook next to a built-in shelf of half-read books. Not to mention it comes with two new roommates who show real promise. 

It’s just over halfway through the one-year lease when she realizes that little ants like to congregate along the sliding door leading to the micro backyard once it gets above a certain temperature outside. Now that it’s crossed her mind, she should follow up with her landlord on the leaking dishwasher, if only she could get a text back. She might not share a wall with anyone anymore, but she still lives under a stranger and from those semi-regular thuds above her room at odd hours of the night they must be constantly rearranging their furniture. And she’s in her room a lot. The new roommates are nice, but it’s become pretty apparent that they click more with each other than with her.

She’s not actually trying to move, but soon enough she’ll spiral down into a vortex of scrolling through patio decks and suitable square footage. A round after that — with one leg up and a tax bracket higher — her budget will have grown and so will her list of non-negotiables. The hunt continues. It always would. It always will. 

Maybe next time she’ll live alone. Maybe the time after that she’ll be able to buy. 

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