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Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News

Zillow Gone Wild: What happens when your listing goes viral 

The social media sensation drives plenty of traffic to the listings it features, but it may not help your sale.

November 5, 2022
4 minutes

Key points:

  • ZGW posts listings without notice, catching agents and sellers off guard.
  • Agents should prepare sellers for the inevitable snarky comments from ZGW followers, and for an influx of inquiries from non-serious buyers.
  • Embracing the perspective “all publicity is good publicity,” agents can benefit from the attention.

It usually starts with texts. You hear from friends, relatives, colleagues and clients eager to talk about your latest listing. No, they're not in the market. They're on the internet. And your listing has just been featured on "Zillow Gone Wild."

It's a fast track to getting thousands of listing page views. But for an agent, an appearance on social media sensation Zillow Gone Wild can complicate their business and relationship with clients. Not that they have a choice. ZGW simply pulls photos from Zillow and posts them on Facebook and Instagram, along with a link to the Zillow listing. "We both woke up to a bunch of texts," Dolly Langer, with Edina Realty in Minneapolis, says of her experience. 

"It did get publicity," acknowledges agent Pradya Martz with Keller Williams Citywide in Oberlin,  Ohio. "We are in this business to get attention to our listings, but I didn't know which way to think about it."

With millions of followers, Buzzfeed's Zillow Gone Wild – which is not affiliated with Zillow or any MLS – features distinctive homes listed for sale, from multimillion-dollar mansions to eccentrically decorated entry-level houses and everything in between. It launched in late 2020.

While the ZGW posts tend to be neutral or positive, the public comments are typically snarky or critical (and occasionally complimentary). Unfortunately, for most sellers, it's the critical comments that stand out. 

Tyler Hughes, with Alaska Realty and Investment in Palmer, Alaska, had to reassure his clients when they felt stung by complaints about the "dated" look of the home where they'd raised their children. "I told my client, 'You're going to get these takes. But it's still going to sell," Hughes says.

Langer also had to manage her client's response. "We really talked a lot to my seller because initially he felt like he was being made fun of," she says. "I told him, 'Nope, this is a huge compliment. In the end, you're on here because your home is interesting."

She would advise sellers and agents who find themselves on ZGW not to read the comments. "And if you do, don't respond."

Clients who value their privacy are particularly uncomfortable with the sudden national attention. Langer says her seller was "already concerned about people looking through his house for fun." So they had policies requiring pre-approval letters before showing the home, even before it hit ZGW. 

"If we had not had that in place, he either would have been overwhelmed with all the showings or we would have been scrambling to set them up. It was pretty intense," says Langer.

With a house featuring a castle-themed exterior, Hughes said his seller was prepared for some excess attention. "He knew there would be a lot of looky-loos." But the ZGW post resulted in at least ten times the normal response, he estimated.

Because the homes featured on ZGW appeal to very specific buyers, that mass of attention can be more distraction than help. "Zillow Gone Wild attracted people who were not on the market but just there to criticize," Martz says.

While the criticisms sting, having their home featured on ZGW can also give a seller an inflated sense of its value, Langer says. "The feedback (the seller) was getting from family all over the place was, 'You should be asking for more. Everybody wants this house.' … All of a sudden everyone is an expert."

While ZGW might not increase a home's sale prospects, it can help the listing agents with publicity, particularly when local media pick up the story.

Hughes said he was happy to get the listing because it was unusual. "I knew this one would bring at least local exposure. I wasn't expecting the national excitement," he says. "But this was really good for me, in terms of marketing and exposure. … I'm glad I have properties like this that get my name out."

Langer agrees. "The most important thing is to just really embrace it and view it as a positive thing, not a negative thing." But she wishes she had paid more attention to ZGW before her listing appeared. "That was a mistake because I could have prepped for it," she says.

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