Why we're spending our free time viewing houses online in 2020

illustration of a woman searching zoopla

If you’ve found yourself scrolling through Rightmove or Zoopla for hours this year (with absolutely no intention of buying a property) you’re certainly not alone.

‘Property porn’ has given people a much-needed escape from the anxiety-fuelled reality of 2020. 

With most of us being stuck at home for most of the year, property websites have offered an aspirational alternative to ‘doomscrolling’ (aka – surfing through glum news updates and bad-faith takes online).

Even if the houses we’re viewing are more than we can afford, the act of seeing what’s out there feels slightly more productive than sifting through Instagram and Twitter.

Emma Hanley is someone who has spent her free time viewing houses online in 2020.

‘Zoopla has become my new Instagram – I now spend hours scrolling through my dream (and way out of my budget) homes,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Spending more time at home than ever this year has given me a really clear idea of what would be important to me in a house (17 bedrooms, a pool and a housekeeper, obviously), but it’s also made it painfully clear what is causing irritation in my own flat.’

But what’s the psychology behind this new trend for browsing property sites in our down time?

Feeling trapped

‘In a year that most people are desperate to see the end of and are looking forward to a significantly better 2021, it’s easy to see how this “property porn” behaviour has amplified so much during the last nine months or so,’ explains behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings.

‘We have been restricted in so many ways this year, especially in our own homes. However much we may love our home, we can feel relentlessly trapped at times by our own four walls. So we have a longing to see inside other homes, to perhaps dream about or implement changes in our own homes when we get the opportunity.’

With various lockdowns meaning we’ve had no choice but to stare at our own four walls for hours on end, it’s easy to see the appeal of other homes and a change of scenery.

Longing for a new chapter

Considering the year we’ve collectively had, it’s hardly a surprise that we want a fresh start and a reboot. And it seems this desire to start over somewhere new has manifested itself into our property viewing habits.

Jo adds: ‘Buying or renting a new home has always represented a new beginning or the end of a chapter and the start of a new one. 

‘Viewing properties, when we have no intention of moving or couldn’t afford to, often also reveals a yearning – conscious or otherwise –  to make some sort of change in our lives or to escape from a situation that we feel stuck in or unfulfilled by.’

Trying to counteract feelings of anxiety

Counseller Philip Karahassan from Counselling Directory explains that property websites give us a way to channel excitement at a time when there’s little to be excited about.

He says: ‘We are trying to offset our feelings of frustration and anxiety onto the future, onto a new frontier. Something to get excited and passionate about as we don’t have the physical or emotional space to do so in the present climate. 

‘We can dream about buying a new property and having more purpose and meaning in our lives when, right now, Covid has left us feeling disempowered, out of control and flat. Not able to plan for the future or be excited about holidays, Christmas or life in general.’ 

Planning for the future 

‘From a psychological point of view, “property porn” can be healthy for us, when done in reasonable doses,’ says Sabrina Duda, a psychologist and head of UX at the human experience agency VERJ.

This is because when we are on a property website we explore and consider our future – not to mention have a reality check when it comes to price tags.

Sabrina says: ‘People relish in clicking through other people’s accommodation. They are wondering what kind of people are living there.

‘Taking a tour through other people’s flat is an enjoyable activity. It’s distracting and relaxing to look at beautiful interiors. Seeing the sometimes breathtaking designs in other flats gives us hope and inspiration for our own future.’


There’s absolutely an escapist element to these property pursuits, too.

Dr Pam Spurr, psychologist and self-help expert of drpam.co.uk, says: ‘In times of great distress people frequently turn to fun and pleasurable distractions that help them fantasise about “another life.” Looking at beautiful properties can take you out of yourself, lift your mood and help you escape from reality for a bit.’

While it’s important to be imaginative and hopeful for the future, Pam says it can be dangerous when we begin to obsess over it.

She adds: ‘When it becomes unhealthy is when someone starts obsessing over wanting their ideal property. They find can’t switch off, continually go back to the sites, and start feeling depressed about never being able to attain such a property.  

‘This is most likely to happen with someone who isn’t managing the rest of their life very well or has a tendency to be pessimistic about the future. 

‘In such a case they should either go cold turkey from the sites or time-limit how much time they spend exploring them. 

‘They should also start to check their inner narrative/voice that might be overly-pessimistic. And work on trying to be a little bit more positive about the future, challenging overly-negative thinking.’

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