A month ago, Alysha and Nate Jackson weren’t really planning to buy a second house. But the internet had other ideas. Nate belongs to a few real-estate-investment Facebook groups, and one listing was getting a lot of attention: a $159,900 four-bedroom in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with shag carpet covering seemingly every inch of its 2,476 square feet — in the kitchen (teal shag), the bathroom (crimson), and even on its spiral staircase (Grimace purple).
The house — built, unsurprisingly, in 1975 — was listed on December 4, and quickly spread across the internet, to subreddits, Instagram accounts, and Facebook groups like the ones where Nate first saw it. Online, responses were mixed: Some people were impressed (“This amazing house looks like it comes with its own folk group”), while others were dismissive (“Bedbugs included with the carpet”). But in Orlando, Florida, where they own a much less flamboyant home, the Jacksons were taking it seriously.
“Nate was like, ‘Hey, I really love this house — do you want to buy it?” says Alysha. “I looked at it and I said, ‘Yeah, I do.’” She and Nate didn’t have solid plans to buy more real estate, but they are part of the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) movement and had long hoped to create more “passive revenue streams.” (When he’s not shopping for time-capsule real estate, Nate teaches people how to sell stuff on Amazon.) Plus, they both have family in Indiana. With the Fort Wayne house, their thinking went, they’d have a place to stay while they rented out their place in Orlando through Airbnb, cashing in on Disney World tourism. And when they were in Florida, surely they could find plenty of Midwest vacationers who would love to spend a long weekend in a delightful, architecturally significant ’70s rental with a wooded half-acre backyard.
The Monday after Nate found the house on Facebook, Alysha and Nate had a Zoom walk-through with the real-estate agent. Right afterward, they submitted their above-listing offer for $161,000, and had their offer accepted — all just two days after spotting the house listing on Facebook. A few days later, already in escrow, they started the drive up to Fort Wayne, their 2-year-old and 3-year-old in the back seat, to find out what they were in for.
The house, which they bought “as is” — not quite sight unseen, but pretty close — turned out to have definite flaws, and smells. The shag carpeting, approaching its fifth decade, has acquired some, uh, character, especially in the bathroom, where it runs right up to the rim of the tub. “It’s not sanitary,” Alysha says, “and there are stains.” On the second floor, sliding glass doors extend along much of the wall of the bedroom, but they lead to nowhere. To remedy the steep drop to the ground below, the Jacksons plan to put in a deck. And the dining room is totally off-limits due to a structural issue. “We’re not able to really walk in it currently,” she says. All in all, they’ve budgeted about $70,000 for renovations.
But the house, built by local architect James Sherbondy, captivated the couple with its angular ceilings, geometric white fireplace, and built-in furniture. Sherbondy designed a number of houses around Fort Wayne, including one catty-corner to the Jacksons’ new home. The Sherbondys, in fact, lived in their house from its construction all the way up until December 2020. “He wanted a family home,” Alysha says. “You can see how much attention to detail he put in it, how lovingly it was created.”
Some of the house’s features are a little eclectic: The galley kitchen has a rust-orange oven and a grill with a grease-drainage system that empties into a Mason jar under the counter (sadly, it’s out of commission). Another room has a trippy rainbow carpet. But other touches are undeniably artisan. Throughout the house, for instance, along the cathedral-like living-room ceiling and next to the breakfast nook, are intricately carved wood wall panels. One built-in credenza, decorated with a wood-carved bird motif, was built by mid-century designers Evelyn and Jerome Ackerman.
The house’s first wave of virality brought it to Alysha and Nate Jackson’s attention. Now, in its second wave, the attention is on them. When an Instagram account dedicated to “the best (worst) of Zillow lol,” as its bio puts it, posted the listing, and then the Jacksons’ personal account, the followers started rushing in. “It’s funny, because we did want to share our journey with people,” Alysha says, “and so we thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what if we get 10,000 followers or something? That’d be crazy; that’d be an insane goal to have.’” Instead, almost overnight, they gained about 15,000 followers, and now they’re up to more than 30,000.
The house’s Instagram page is “kind of my baby,” Alysha says. Helped along by frequent Q&A sessions in their Stories and a ’70s-style photo shoot with their two kids and dog, the Jacksons are embracing their minor internet fame — perhaps captivating some people enough that they’ll actually rent the place someday. They’ve asked their followers for input about their kitchen renovations — they plan to open it up to the living room and reshuffle the original cabinets — and have been filming an ultradetailed room-by-room home tour.
First up? Ripping out the carpeting — all of it. Wall-to-wall shag may be great for the ’gram, but it’s far less appealing when you’re cleaning up after two toddlers. The plan is to install new floors themselves: vinyl plank and perhaps an epoxy that mimics the look of terrazzo. Not all of their followers are happy about the loss of the shag. “We have people that are frustrated,” Alysha says, “but we’re still going to do what we need to do.” They’ll be documenting the entire process on Instagram.