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Renovation-porn: how the housing crisis is driving a new boom in influencer content

While most millenials are struggling to even put down a deposit, Instagram and YouTube influencers are monetising their deluxe home renovations. 

Most millennials can’t afford to buy a house. Nearly 10 per cent fewer own homes than Gen Xers and baby boomers when they were the same age. They’re crippled by student debt, low wages, and inherited economic problems from older generations – all issues that have somehow still left them vilified by baby boomers all over the world. Despite some sign of falling house prices, many have been boxed out of the housing market, the effects of which will likely be felt for decades upon decades to come. 

However, there is one group of millennials that has managed to harness the unfulfilled dreams of their peers to flourish in the midst of the housing crisis. Influencers, predominantly white, female, Instagram and YouTube stars, are finding a new lucrative subject in these unattainable properties by buying, rebuilding and renovating old houses for audiences near the millions.

Renovation-porn, or reno-porn, is popping up all over pre-existing influencers’ accounts. YouTube searches for “empty house tour” yield hundreds of results from established accounts in the last year alone and the Instagram hashtag #houserenovation comes up with over 300,000 posts. SunbeamsJess (450k YouTube subscribers), Nicola Chapman of PixiWoo and Real Techniques (566k Instagram followers), Gabriella Lindley, better known as Velvet Ghost (885k YouTube subscribers), and Poppy Deyes (1.1m Instagram followers) are just a small handful of the already popular lifestyle influencers who have recently bought and started renovating a property. Almost all of these influencers have purchased houses, not just flats, and are buying in central parts of London, Brighton, and Bristol; places where even dilapidated houses go hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Grace Beverley is one of the most high-profile examples of the pivot to renovation. With over one million followers on Instagram and two fitness brands (TALA and B_ND), she is the height of influencer success. At just 22, and still only a student, she recently bought an enormous three-floor house in central London, on which she told subscribers that she had put down a 20 per cent deposit. Grace says she’ll be spending the next year gutting and renovating (a process that she’ll be sharing with her followers). Her audience has excitedly inhaled this content, with videos on Grace’s YouTube channel about the house renovation amassing hundreds of thousands, and sometimes half a million views. And only a few months after creating it (and less than two months of regularly posting on it), her new Instagram dedicated to her renovation  – @chezgrez – already has almost 85K followers, more than many full-time influencers.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

LET’S GET THIS (RENOVATION) PARTY STARTED

A post shared by la maison de grezon (@chezgrez) on

Many of these influencer’s properties need a lot of work. On the low end there’s Gabriella Lindley, who merely wanted modern updates to the Nineties style of her flat. She entirely remodelled her bathroom with new tiles, tub, shower, toilet, and more. She also has plans to do improvements to other rooms – from simply painting and sanding walls and wardrobes to a full kitchen renovation. Between the average bathroom remodelling cost of £4,500, the cost of at least a 10 per cent deposit (the average flat price in Brighton is £284,588), and the rest of her planned work, Gabriella could easily be spending over £50,000 on her new flat. This reno-porn is on the cheaper end, with relatively little to do in terms of renovation and the flat already in a decent state (while still being out-of-reach for the vast majority of her millennial audience).

On the other end of the scale, you have Jessie Lethaby, known by her moniker SunbeamsJess. Buying in central London, Jessie uploaded a tour this weekend of her five-bedroom house, complete with five storeys, a spacious garden, and the reno-porn dreams of being in an absolute state. In her tour, she said that the house likely “hadn’t been redecorated since the seventies”, detailing how she planned to bash through bedroom walls, build several brand new bathrooms, add on a kitchen extension, and potentially dig the basement deeper into the ground. Already the average house price in London is £675,416, not to count the fact that this house in particular is centrally located. That, coupled with her plans to work with a surveyor, architect, and a variety of builders, means that Jessie could be planning to spend as much as half a million pounds before even moving in.

While it’s not certain why so many influencers are doing house renovations simultaneously, it may be a natural occurrence as they age. Grace Beverley, like SunbeamsJess, Gabriella Lindley and Poppy Deyes, was in her late teens when she became popular on social media, meaning that now – as she and other influencers creep into their mid-twenties and early thirties – they will start taking the bigger life steps they wouldn’t have taken at 18 years old.

But beyond the “why now”, the “why” is much clearer. For these influencers’ millennial followers, watching reno-porn is an aspirational exercise; a goal that many of them dream about but will likely never achieve. House content racks up thousands of likes, tens of thousands of followers, hundreds of thousands of views on social media, all of which can be monetised by that particular account. Through reno-porn, influencers are able to show off their good fortune, their beautifully decorated homes, and impressive incomes. And while nearly all of these influencers take the time to acknowledge their extreme privilege, it doesn’t negate the fact that their reno-porn is monetising the attention of a young audience for many of whom this will never become a reality.

This masochistic trend has spooky parallels to 15 years ago. At the height of the financial crisis – when people across the world were having their homes repossessed and forced back into renting after years of home ownership – shows like Homes Under The Hammer and Changing Rooms were exploding in popularity. In a BBC documentary about Noughties property shows, Changing Rooms presenter Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen explained, “It basically just developed a shop window of totally unachievable lifestyle porn… It’s what magazines had been doing for years and years and years.”

“You were actually a part of the experience, a part of the fun,” he said. “You were being invited along on the ride.”

Of course, the housing crisis isn’t the fault of influencers, nor should they be blamed for monetising their lives. Their livelihood depends on their ability to make content out of their day-to-day and requires them to constantly find fresh takes to avoid becoming irrelevant. That said, it’s hard to find reno-porn anything less than dystopian, and its enormous popularity is decidedly grim when you realise the age of the target audience.

Despite the dystopia, though, reno-porn is just beginning. Many of the influencers listed previously – and swathes more – are only at the start of their housing projects, guaranteeing us thousands of house update pictures and remodelling videos in the months to come. The brand sponsorships and free home products are already flooding in, from paid promotion for paint brands to sharing pictures of pricey gifted furniture. These influencers are not fully pivoting to home content, still posting their regular, glossy lifestyle images and videos as their reliable bread-and-butter. But while reno-porn may just be a side hustle for already-famous influencers, it’s one that’s working, and paying off.

Sarah Manavis is the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer.