In an article about YouTube house tours, Jeffree Star's home

Do YouTube House Tours Show Off an Outdated American Dream?

Social media stars exhibit grand houses representing an ideal, home ownership, that is increasingly hard to come by for the average millennial. Millennials might not want it anyway.

July 3, 2020
6 mins read

YouTuber personalities — lifestyle vloggers, family-oriented channels and beauty gurus — reel in whopping numbers of views when they invite their subscribers into their homes. The house tour is almost its own genre of video, like the makeup tutorial or ever-relevant skin care routine. Unlike those videos, however, house tours are less about teaching and more about showing.

House tours provide a glance into the luxurious lifestyle a YouTube career can provide, showing that internet fame might be the truest fast-track to the traditional American dream of owning property.

Viral house tours are most often in the grandest homes, inviting viewers into McMansions and futuristic palaces in LA. They show off the kinds of “dream homes” one might ogle over on HGTV, except that the owners, rather than wealthy middle-aged couples with fancy titles, are millennials who’ve reached absurd amounts of wealth via YouTube.

Makeup-guru-turned-millionaire Jeffree Star, for example, showed off his palatial mansion in January to 24 million users. The property is quite an accomplishment for anyone, let alone someone who is only 34 years old. “Six years ago, I had $500 to my name,” he says in the beginning of the video, showing how internet success can catapult “ordinary people” to the crest of the almost otherworldly affluence represented by an eight-bedroom compound in Calabasas.

“No dream is ever too big,” Star prefaces his tour, on a backdrop of a massive backyard pool and columned patio. But if YouTube stars think sprawling mansions make up viewers’ wildest dreams, are they assuming that their audiences subscribe to the excessive consumerism that defines U.S. culture? And if so, are they right?

A professor of international relations at George Washington University, Amitai Etzioni, defines consumerism as “the obsession with acquisition that has become the organizing principle of American life.” Consumerism becomes a “social disease” when large amounts of people attempt to satisfy the higher human needs of affection, self-esteem and self-actualization through the acquisition of more and more goods and services.

Highly anticipated YouTuber house tours perpetuate consumerism because many of them can’t be beat for their opulence and the aura of “made it”-ness their tour guides seem intent on selling. The ACE Family, a young family of four who share vlogs to more than 18 million subscribers, recently uploaded a house tour lasting a full hour.

In this video, Austin McBroom and Catherine Paiz show viewers around their massive compound, which they explain consists of two houses combined together. Amenities like a Steinway piano that plays itself and a game room stocked with real arcade machines promote the belief that spending exorbitant amounts on in-home extravagances represents an exciting marker of career achievement.

However, millennials overall reject lives based around the materialism of older demographics. The benefits of minimalism have resonated with younger generations who realize that acquiring more and more things doesn’t guarantee fulfillment. Buying less means less debt, a smaller environmental footprint and less pressure to impress with newer and better things.

Millennials have a different set of values around money. These values have been shaped by a historic recession, a struggling job market and a record amount of student debt. Those between the ages of 18 and 34 prefer to spend money on experiences rather than goods, and to buy ethically and environmentally conscious products over others. The Tiny House phenomenon stands as the perfect counter-image to the grandiose homes influencers display to their following. Even though internet users gobble up tours of luxury homes on YouTube, millennials’ trending toward minimalism reveal that they aren’t entirely sold on the dream.

Owning a large house also just isn’t attainable for scores of young people looking to buy homes for the first time. A home-buying crisis faces millennials. Rising home prices and crushing amounts of student debt make it hard for the millennial generation to afford traditional homes.

Young influencers like James Charles, teenage YouTube couple The Traphamily, and beauty guru turned lifestyle vlogger Remi Ashten have all posted videos in the past year showing viewers their first homes. Each creator is no older than 25. For better or worse, as homeowners under 30, they represent an anomaly.

However, there is no denying that the house tours are seductive. While the sizes of each home vary, all of the properties are upscale, with luxe architecture and wide open rooms that will require an investment just to furnish. No matter what channel they are uploaded to, house tours attract some of the most views and thus become the most popular videos for any given creator. Commenters gush over the beauty of the home, their own jealousy and their pride at seeing a creator they’ve followed complete a landmark achievement of adulthood.

Owning a home has long been a hallmark of the American dream. Home ownership signifies the attainment of a certain level of economic and personal prosperity that America, “the land of opportunity,” promises. When YouTubers show viewers around their impressive homes, they do more than fulfill their duties as content creators. They’re selling a dream. That is why millions of viewers — subscribers and non-subscribers alike — click on these videos enough times for them to be a channel’s most-viewed video.

Perhaps the popularity of YouTube house tours has to do with the absurdity of watching a 20-something give a tour of a stately property that is all their own. Viewers are attracted to the story of affluence reached at such a young age, but they also know that this story is a fairy tale. With the top 3% of YouTubers making a total of around $17,000 per year, being able to afford a ritzy place is unlikely even for those that try their hand at success on the platform.

While captivating, YouTube house tours miss the mark. Out of necessity, but also out of changing values, millennials’ ambitions consist of what can’t be bought. Despite what the views suggest, for many, “dream houses” will not capture the American dream.

Imani Benberry, Columbia University

Writer Profile

Imani Benberry

Columbia University
English Literature and African-American Studies

Imani is a rising senior studying English and African-American studies at Columbia, where she is a student worker in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. She has fiction published in Quarto, and hails from Maryland.

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