Why Are We So Obsessed With Property Porn?

Ogling LA mansions when you can't afford a one-bed IRL? It can only mean one thing - Netflix's ‘Selling Sunset’ is back for a third season...

05.08.2020

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Since moving to Los Angeles last year, me and my husband play this game where we walk along sun-drenched streets, lined with palm trees, staring up at the most affluent houses - sorry, mansions - in the neighbourhood and try to guess how much they're worth. It doesn't stop there; we also guess how many bedrooms and bathrooms they have, whether there's a pool and how many square feet we're talking. We take it in turns to guess, the other one googling the property to reveal the answers. Fun, right? And thanks to Selling Sunset, the Netflix reality series about the cut-throat world of high-end Hollywood real estate - which returns for a third season this month (August 7th) - I'm pretty good at it, too.

For the uninitiated, Selling Sunset - from the makers of The Hills (what else?) - follows the lives, loves and ludicrously luxe properties of seven glamorous female realtors at The Oppenheim Group. Once voted the number one real estate agent in the Hollywood Hills / West Hollywood area by The Wall Street Journal, TOG, led by founder Jason Oppenheim and his twin brother Brett (think a younger, more tanned, more er, successful Bros) has an impressive roster of celebrity clients including Meryl Streep, Orlando Bloom and Ellen DeGeneres.

These are the brokers behind the sale of the largest home in the Hollywood Hills (a cool $35.5 million), who are currently listing a $75 million (seven bed, 10 bath) residence in Beverly Hills. That property's two-bed guest house alone is three times the size of my current apartment.

Is it any wonder the show has helped spawn a generation of property porn addicts? While my little “round the houses” game (and indeed, binge watching the show itself) could be described as a guilty pleasure, it feels more like a spectator sport. Because everybody's doing it.

"I’ve spent Covid walking my dog in a way I never did before; I choose certain streets so I can look at my favourite houses," my friend Lauren, a lawyer, tells me. She regularly WhatsApp’s Zillow (the US equivalent of Rightmove) links to mates to compare their dream houses and plays the lottery, you know, just in case. While making, "wild and crazy plans about what we’d do when we win."

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At a time of such economic instability and financial insecurity, when millennials are a lot less likely to buy a home than previous generations were between the ages of 25 and 39, one might conclude that spending time ogling mansions, on our TV and phone screens, isn't the healthiest activity right now. That it could be damaging to dream of walk-in wardrobes, home cinemas and marble bathrooms when you probably wouldn't even be allowed into an open house to view a property, let alone put an offer in.

But as my friends and I recently discussed, Selling Sunset is all about aspirational escapism, and who doesn’t need a bit of that in 2020? "Who doesn’t need hope and dreams to get through the day?" adds Lauren. "Not only are the houses amazing, the characters are fascinating. The way of life for these realtors is compelling."

Love them or loathe them, there's no denying the real (excuse the pun) selling point of the show is the women - a mix of former models, actresses and reality stars - navigating their next-level LA lives in between business meetings and bottomless brunches. These ladies sure know how to work hard and play hard. Last season, Mary managed to sell her wedding venue...On. Her. Wedding. Day.

But with stakes this high comes a level of back-stabbing and bitching that can make Made In Chelsea look like an episode of Friends (Christine vs Chrishelle; Mary vs Christine; Heather vs Amanza; it's exhausting trying to keep up). Chuck in a load of botox (and tell-it-like-it-is Queen B Christine quite literally does when she throws a “Burgers and Botox” open house event) and you've got yourself an addictive new season featuring one OTT wedding (Christine), one shock divorce (Chrishell from her This Is Us actor husband Justin Hartley) and more sky-high heels than you'd find at the Met Gala.

It was when lockdown really kicked in that my obsession with the show reached lofty new heights. Panicking about the lack of work available to a freelance writer, I contemplated re-training (as many people in LA do!) as an estate agent. I mean, between the commission (if you sold a $40 million house, you'd pocket $1.2 million) and the glamour (open houses are basically cocktail parties; the office a catwalk), what's not to like?

But then I imagined Christine “nice doesn't sell houses” Quinn flicking me out the way with her Rapunzel-length hair extensions and telling me I need botox (or worse) and me hiding under a desk with the Oppenheim office dogs, Niko and Zelda. And that's when I realised watching the drama unfold from my modest two-bed apartment in Venice Beach isn't so bad after all.

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