The housing market has been a notorious hellscape this past year. The median rent in cities across the US has risen to ridiculous heights, with basic accommodation being inaccessible to most young people looking to move out of their homes. But ironically, apartment-hunting videos have claimed a permanent spot in our TikTok and YouTube feeds, with the TikTok hashtags #apartment hunting and #apartmenttour garnering 261.4 million and 1.9 billion views respectively.
There’s something deeply enjoyable about getting an inside look at how other people live, about tapping into a lingering dream that seems increasingly out of reach for many young people — living on their own.
As rents and inflation continue to rise, a growing number of Gen Z-ers find themselves unable to afford their own apartments. A 2022 study found that about 30% of Gen Z in the US between the ages of 18 and 25 still live at home with parents or relatives, largely due to how difficult it is to afford rising rent prices. With so many young people at home, Gen Z’s taken to exploring the fantasy of living on their own on social media.
Enter apartment-hunting videos.
How the vision of a dream home has us hooked
“Whenever I envision my future, I always imagine living alone in a big space. While watching these apartment vlogs, I get inspiration for what I would like in my future space,” said Sundus Abdi, 21, who currently lives with her parents in Birmingham, UK.
As someone who always shared a room, these videos bring her imagination to life, watching spaces with interiors and layouts she often dreams about. “There is definitely a sense of fantasy for me,” she told Insider.
This sense of wish fulfillment is a big factor for many. Apartment-hunting videos open a window into what their dream living spaces might look like.
That’s where creators like Taylor Bell, 25, come in.
Bell’s most recent NYC apartment tour video garnered 2.8 million views — almost 15x her subscriber count. In it, she gives viewers a detailed look at the well-appointed $ 3,750-a-month apartment she shares with one roommate in lower Manhattan. As Bell explains, the pair rented a large one-bedroom and then put up a flex wall to convert their apartment into a two-bedroom space. Bell pays $1,875 for her portion of the rent.
“I think apartment hunting videos give viewers a type of ‘guilty pleasure’, they get to take a peek into other people’s private lives,” Bell told Insider.
Caleb Simpson, 30, agrees.
Simpson is the NYC-based content creator behind NYC Diaries, a YouTube channel with nearly a million followers that features the living spaces of young New Yorkers. Most of Simpson’s videos start with him asking random strangers how much they pay in rent. He’ll then ask to tour their apartments.
“I mean, I think that’s the hook right? Like, what’s the person’s reaction going to be?” Simpson told Insider.
The 30-year-old, who once featured his own $7,000 a month apartment on the channel, says he tries to approach his apartment tours as if he’s visiting a friend.
“I walk into these homes like, this person is already my best friend, and I’ve known them for 10 years, and I’m going to treat their apartment as such,” he said. Simpson doesn’t tip-toe around the space — his signature move is trying out each of his subject’s beds.
Simpson has featured expensive apartments on his channel, but it’s often the clips in which he’s talking to someone living on the super cheap that reel in viewers. In a recent video, Simpson spoke to a woman who lived in a $ 500-a-month apartment in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn — a neighborhood in which the median rent is $2,900 a month.
The video featuring T-Mobile sales associate Egypt’s pink-tinged micro-space garnered more than 360,000 views.
“These are the people that do the most with what they have, and its really impressive and very cool to just look at because they have very minimal space, but still manage to balance out their money with necessities, decor, etc. and they always manage to be the coolest people to be around!” noted one comment on the clip.
He also focuses on finding unexpected living situations — and has profiled people who live on boats, in vans, and even in an ambulance, on his channel.
When it comes to why he thinks these videos are so popular, Simpson said, “People are generally curious about how other people live — especially in New York City.”
Scratching that voyeuristic itch also motivated Bell.
“Before I moved to NYC, I remember being curious what the lifestyle of a conventionally successful 20-something in NYC might look like. I stumbled upon a few apartment tours that showed floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Empire State Building and thought wow, it would be cool to live like that for a couple of years,” she said,
“I suppose that because I’m now in that same position, I’m eager to show what it looks like for me,” she continued.
Bell’s video shows how glamorous a NYC apartment can be, but her clips also belie the serious compromises some young New Yorkers make to live “on their own.” Because she and a roommate have converted a one-bedroom apartment into a two-bedroom living space, they effectively have almost no shared living space. =
From aspirational to attainable
Bell’s cramped living quarters are a reality for many wannabe New Yorkers, who are forced to convert spaces meant for one person to living arrangements for two, three, or even four people in order to afford rent.
And that’s one of the most Perhaps the most practical service these videos provide for young people is delivering an unfiltered truth about the rental market and what living on your own might look like.
Mohuya Khan, 24, is an artist and content creator who is born and raised in NYC. She’s made numerous videos about her apartment hunt and space makeover, and says viewers are drawn to her content because she showcases an attainable lifestyle.
In one of her most popular videos about apartment hunting, Khan lays out exactly what sort of financial information renters are expected to provide in order to secure housing. As she noted, this can be especially difficult for a lot of young people who are gig or creative workers, and who likely haven’t managed to put away much in savings yet.
Khan told Insider she enjoyed watching influencers’ high-end apartment-hunting videos but found them discouraging because she knew she didn’t have the funds to live like them.
“I’ve noticed that there is a big division in content with apartments that are very luxurious and kind of ‘unattainable’ to the immigrants, younger people, and blue-collar workers that make up NYC, and then there are the ‘realistic’ videos that give you more insight on apartments that would be more affordable for the ‘everyday” people,” Khan said.
“I’m not knocking the hustle. If you’re rich, I want you guys to live in a rich apartment. You know you can pay $14,000 a month if you want. That’s great, you know, that’s always a dream,” Mohuya said in a recent video. “But it’s also not realistic. For these people that want to live in the city, who want to move out into the city or are coming from Oklahoma or another country and are watching these videos and they’re so discouraged they don’t think they can make it because these apartment tours are only highlighting the rich ass apartments.”
“I started creating my apartment hunting and NYC content because I knew firsthand how important it was to give a fresh sense of hope to Gen Z, people of color, and people who come from lower-mid level income families, that they can realistically move out and chase their dreams.”
Student Yusra Malik, 20, who currently lives at home in Karachi, Pakistan, appreciates Khan’s approach.
“A lot of the time, I watch apartment tours to compare the living costs between a foreign city and my hometown, and to get inspiration for what I would want my own home to look like one day.”
It’ll have to do for now, because “my dream to own a house still remains a fantasy,” she says.