TikTok’s Caleb Simpson shows what people pay for rent in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles

Her 80-square-foot apartment did not have an oven. There is only one window looking out onto a brick building. To sleep, she pulled her bed away from the wall, showing it to TikToker Caleb Simpson. But it’s at least $1,750 a month in Manhattan.

For $6,000 a month, there’s a luxurious, sun-filled studio, and for $2,900, a cozy one-bedroom 400-square-foot. Simpson’s TikTok sees them all. His hilarious videos began in New York City, of him approaching strangers on the street to ask, “How much would you pay for rent?” It was quickly followed by, “May I take a tour of your apartment?” But it has since branched out to other cities and the TikTok chain has grown into an unofficial reference guide for The volatile apartment rental market, viewers told The Washington Post, mainly shows millennials and millennials what they can get for their precious rent across the US.

The consensus, more often than not, is not much.

Rent rose by a record 11.3 percent in 2021, and another 2.1 percent this year, while wages have held steady. Some viewers are grateful: Their apartment turned out to be sweet compared to others. Some find inspiration: If someone else can do a tiny apartment, maybe they can too.

“I’m curious about how much they’re paying: Like, do I feel better about how much I’m paying, or do I feel worse?” said Simon Morani, 39, a devout follower of Simpson’s tour.

Morani and her young son have outgrown their two-bedroom apartment on the edge of the Bronx, Morani said, and are ready for something new. Her rent has also increased from $1,650 when she first moved in to $1,700 last year, and again to $1,775 this month. But if there’s one thing I gleaned from Simpson’s videos, it’s that her apartment was burgled By New York standards, she said.

“It definitely inspired me to stay where I am,” Moran laughed.

The average one-bedroom rent is $2,170 in the New York City area, up 39 percent from where it was five years ago, according to data from the National Housing Conference and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In Los Angeles, it’s $1,747, up 36 percent from five years ago, and in the San Francisco area, it’s $2,665, up 7 percent.

Across the country, rents have risen to historic levels, according to David Durkin, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference, which estimates the country has 3.8 million short-stay housing units to keep up with the need. “As long as we don’t build enough affordable housing, we’ll continue to see rents go up.”

The videos act almost as an emotional affirmation, providing a rare window into the realities of her peers, and how they align with their own.

“I kind of feel like, as millennials, we all struggle,” Moran said.

About 44 million households in the United States rent. Of those, about 24 million — or 54 percent — are millennials and Gen Z renters, according to real estate research firm CoStar Group.

In the United States, most people don’t become homeowners until the age of 35. Meanwhile, Generation Z is new to the rental market.

“One of the reasons these videos are so popular is because the younger people who are watching these videos are the people who are struggling with it the most, they are personally having the problem of, ‘I can’t believe this is all I’m getting for this rent,’” Durkin said.

Rent prices have serious ramifications, Dworkin added, echoing Morani’s sentiments about the so-called millennial struggle.

Most people don’t become homeless because rents are high. But most people end up having to go into a much smaller apartment, spend less money, have less income, and have a lot more stress.”

Simpson, who was born and raised in North Carolina, did not set out to comment on the real estate or rental markets. Instead, the 31-year-old wanted to show Unique human stories.

Simpson said the apartment is a “window into personal life”. “People are very special. It’s an intimate part of a person.”

Some viewers are wondering if his series has aired – who would actually let a stranger off the street and into their apartment? But Simpson said the first videos he posted were completely real and spontaneous. He wandered around New York City, where he lived for 7 years, approaching random strangers with his familiar editorial: “Hey, how much would you pay for rent?”

He estimated that when he started seven months ago, one in 100 people were willing to offer him their apartment. With his videos going viral—having amassed 7 million followers on TikTok and another million on Instagram—one in 10 people have now said yes, he said.

Due to the series’ popularity, Simpson can now plan tours of the apartment. He receives direct messages, posts recalls when in a new area and coordinates his social networks, preparing for rounds accordingly. He said he tries to limit interaction with anyone he sets out on ahead of time — he even refused to see their apartments beforehand — until he’s standing on their doorstep with his camera.

Home tours are not a new concept. MTV Family, Architectural Digest, and Apartment Therapy have featured homes for years. But Simpson sees his videos as windows into everyday life.

“We want connections that are more real and authentic, and something that feels more like our lives than the lives of celebrities,” Simpson said.

Comments on Simpson’s TikToks are full of assumption, opinion, joy, and dread. The audience applauds someone’s decor. Others see exorbitant rent charges and wonder if they are witnessing inherited wealth. Sometimes, viewers comment with a sort of relief when they see a rare decent apartment at a reasonable price — and then insist it’s rent-controlled.

Caitlyn Mannes, 32, takes comfort in seeing that she’s not the only one lost in the maze of the rental market. Mannes, a national park ranger who lives in Port Angeles, Washington, has spent the past year looking for a place closer to Seattle.

“It’s an issue that affects the country, everything is already very expensive right now,” she said. “Some of the prices people pay are exorbitant.”

Other tips to glean from the series include hacks for living in small spaces, and for Manz, suggestions for outfitting an elevated space like her own.

But for some, the series offers a glimmer of hope — even in the form of a small apartment.

“There is evidence that there is an apartment I can afford, even if it’s the size of a shoebox,” said Nina Danger, 39, a Chicago-based artist. Others watching it are like, “Holy crap, can you believe these idiots pay this little money for this little?” And to me, that sounds like, oh, that’s worth it. I’m going to live and do my art in New York.”

Simpson has traveled to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Hong Kong, and Tokyo for apartment tours, and he has more destinations lined up this year. His favorite part of the series remains just meeting people, “and being able to chat about their lives, and get to know what they’re interested in.”

But he won’t stop asking the all-important question anytime soon.

As it turned out, he wouldn’t be shy about answering her. He told The Post he’s paying $2,800 in rent for his share of a three-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn.

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