Browsing for Apartments I Don’t Need Is the Escapism I Look Forward To

In the middle of a pandemic, the weekly Listings Project newsletter gives me a reliable source of daydream fodder.
Bettina Makalintal
Brooklyn, US
Photo: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz via iStock/Getty Images Plus

In the past month, I've entertained the idea of moving to the "hamlet" of Kerhonkson, New York, where I've never been but where a small black cabin with its own backyard brook gave me visions of, dare I say, my potential "cottagecore" life. I fantasized about moving West for a jewel of an apartment with arched doorways, pale green countertops, and a single pink tile set in its otherwise jade green bathroom floor. I briefly considered a memorably cheap but otherwise forgettable place in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.


Every Wednesday morning, these real estate listings drop into my inbox like small reminders from the real estate gods that it's not all bleak out there. If what you find on Craigslist are turds, and what you find in the New York City go-to of StreetEasy are more like lightly polished turds, then what you find on the Listings Project are the rare diamonds in the rough. 

The weekly newsletter, which was started in 2003 and links out to a website, lists its purpose as a "compilation of vetted real estate listings and other opportunities geared towards artists and creatives, [and] is rooted in collective self-care and community building." What that looks like is beautiful homes across the country that seem to all have a real person who cares behind them—unlike the robotic barrage of Craigslist posts. In continued pandemic life, the weekly Listings Project drop is an unexpected source of joy and one of the few things I can reliably look forward to. There it is, every Wednesday.

Listings Project includes just enough listings that you could read through them all in one motivated sitting. I find lease takeovers for "sundrenched," rent-controlled apartments in Brooklyn that I didn't know were possible; sublets in Los Angeles bungalows from people who split their time across multiple cities; and sales of Hudson Valley homes you can tell are the dwellings of "creatives." Instead of fixating on price (which is often still far out of my budget), I yearn for the vintage sinks, the clawfoot tubs, the original wooden molding encasing a giant, selfie-worthy mirror—mind you, I am not in the market to move, much less buy a home. That applies now, and any time in our dim futures. 


I can, however, dream, and in the absence of leaving my house for gatherings, events, and in-office work, each Listings Project newsletter is like being airdropped into a slightly different life, one softened by the glow of appealing apartment photos. I think about how good a plate of food would look next to a perfect kitchen's picture window; I imagine the cool breeze I might feel on a summer night on a private deck; I long for enough light to keep my plants alive.

This isn't a new hobby (I have always enjoyed a good night on Zillow), nor is it a unique one: "Millennials Love Zillow Because They’ll Never Own a Home," writer Angela Lashbrook penned in OneZero earlier this year. "Millennials are less likely to buy a home than previous generations were between the ages of 25 and 39, and it isn’t because we don’t want to," she explained. "Research shows that we do. But as homeownership becomes less of a reality and more of an illusion, many of us resort to merely imagining ourselves in our own homes via the internet." 

Lashbrook's piece found widespread viral acclaim because of just how relatable it was. Sources told Lashbrook that looking at listings helped them set goals and stay inspired, or allowed them to daydream about cities they'd like to live in. One source even described using StreetEasy as a way of feeling grounded about their inability to afford a pretty home: "The only thing that makes me feel less mad about all the pretty houses I walk by that I look up to see I can’t afford is how fugly the interiors are via StreetEasy." 

Now, that same type of escapism through real estate remains, except there are more things from which I would like to escape. My apartment seemed nicer when I saw it less, but now that I spend days at a time inside, I see, feel, and hear all of its flaws. On a larger scale, cities like New York, already unreasonably expensive, now feel even more so in the midst of a collapsing economy. As closed businesses spur huge spikes in unemployment, the gap between the rich and the rest of us feels wider than it ever has during my lifetime. 

But that doesn't mean I can't try their lives on for size in my head, and it's easier to feel the escape through these listings because they're already shown as perfectly curated, fully formed homes. Unlike the blank slate of many listings on StreetEasy or the messy, poorly shot dwellings on Craigslist, Listings Project apartments are well-designed and full of character; I can make out a mental image of who might live there, and graft my own fantasies on top. I can even—if it makes me feel better—scoff at their poor choices of decor. 

With just about everything else I looked forward to now canceled, next week's newsletter is one thing that's certain.