NC native Caleb Simpson gained a massive social media following by asking: How much do you pay for rent?
Caleb Simpson has gained a massive social media following by asking a simple question: How much do you pay for rent?
Even though the 31-year-old Morganton native now lives in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, his content is all about what home looks like for real people.
Simpson creates video tours of everyday people showing him their homes. His video content is like a mashup of MTV “Cribs” and “Humans of New York.” He’s toured apartments where the resident pays $25 per month and celebrity homes that cost tens of thousands of dollars each month.
“I think it really goes back to the people,” Simpson said. “It’s really fun to just be able to get to know a new person every day, and kind of hearing their background, and you kind of know, like, their hopes and dreams, and what they’re working on and their backgrounds.”
“I realized a trend that was happening were these man-on-the-street trends,” Simpson said. “A YouTuber told me, when I was seeking out information, he was like, ‘Make something you want to see.’
“And I was like, ‘I want to see more. I want to see more of these people. I don’t want to just see the street interaction.’ So, that kind of led to the question, ‘Oh, can I see the inside of your apartment?’ Like, that’s kind of ridiculous. And then, we’d get a more personal look and [a] glimpse into someone’s life. And, ultimately, someone is way more comfortable in their home as well, so [viewers] get to see another side of that human.”
While Simpson’s current format was almost an immediate success, he spent years trying to perfect his video creation skills in several roles.
How Caleb Simpson’s North Carolina roots led him to New York City
Growing up in Morganton, Simpson was one of nine kids.
“I was home-schooled [and raised] in a very Christian family,” Simpson said. “So, getting out of the house and trying to go see the world and explore was kind of like something innate inside me.”
Simpson began playing tennis when he was 12 years old. His love of the sport led him to Methodist University in Fayetteville, where he studied business and minored in professional tennis management through the Reeves School of Business.
“I had opportunities to go travel and explore a little bit,” Simpson said of his time in Fayetteville.
However, Simpson quickly realized that the the business side of tennis offered a longer career thancoaching, and promised less wear and tear on the body.
After college, Simpson accepted a job offer from Tennis in Manhattan to manage one of the program’s clubs. He insists he had no intentions of moving to New York after college.
“When I moved to New York, I didn’t have any friends,” Simpson said. “So, I just thought, ‘Ok, well there’s no one here to distract me now.’”
The time alone after work allowed Simpson to refine his skill in shooting pictures on his cell phone, using a camera and learning YouTube editing skills with various softwares.
“The process was, I would get off work, and then I’d go home and try to learn one new video transition or watch one YouTube tutorial and try to apply it every day,” Simpson said.
How Caleb Simpson’s NYC apartment tours began
Before Simpson started his current YouTube channel, he worked in a variety of videography and photography roles in the music industry, for YouTubers, for Instagram influencers and for a cryptocurrency company.
One day, Simpson decided he would spend the day recording videos by asking two questions of people on the streets of New York City:
How much money they paid for rent in New York City
If he could see the inside of their apartment
Dozens of people rejected Simpson’s request.
“That first day that I did it … I thought it was a good idea and I did feel defeated that day,” Simpson said.
A friend finally gave in and let Simpson tour his apartment.
“I’ve gone viral in a lot of other ways as well over the years, and I just had never seen it kind of explode the way it exploded,” Simpson said. “So, I was acutely aware, like, ‘Oh, this is the thing.’
“I knew it right away.”
The initial rejections helped Simpson develop a thick skin.
“I kind of just try not to lean into that feeling and just like let’s just keep asking,” Simpson said. “Ultimately, somebody might say yes.”
Big city micro-apartments could offer solution to Raleigh housing crunch
In his tours of high-cost cities like New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong, Simpson’s seen some palatial homes and some micro apartments, smaller than 100 square feet.
“I think it would be hard to be accepted in Raleigh, or just North Carolina and more not big cities,” Simpson said.
Simpson said there are social pressures of having space and status, and micro-apartments can lack amenities like in-home washers and dryers.
“The more I look at homes and see how people live, I think it’s ultimately up to you on how you want to live and what fits within our lifestyle,” Simpson said.
Simpson said how micro-apartments could appeal to young professionals who are accustomed to dorm-style living in college.
“If it’s a more affordable option and it kind of gets them on their feet, I don’t see anything wrong with it,” Simpson said.
A Zillow study released earlier this year found a typical one-bedroom apartment in Raleigh costs $1,260 a month to rent, and a typical two-bedroom apartment costs $1,392 a month. The study found that it would take 3.6 full-time jobs at minimum wage to afford a typical one-bedroom apartment in Raleigh and 4.0 full-time jobs to afford a typical two-bedroom.
Luxury homes, how celebrities live and the future of his apartment tour series
A major milestone for Simpson came in November 2022: Simpson got to tour the home of “Shark Tank” star Barbara Corcoran.
Simpson said he got a direct message from Corcoran on Instagram.
“It was really a tipping point for me,” Simpson said of the tour. “Meeting her and doing the tour and everything was great, all the press we got around it.”
Simpson said Corcoran taught him two life lessons when they met.
“No matter your age, if you want to play in these worlds and participate, you should never stop paying attention and reaching out because she has all the money she needs, all the shows, everything and she just wanted to participate,” Simpson said. “[She] messaged me herself at  years old.
“So, I was like, ‘Whoa, I’m in my 30s. I should be doing this the rest of my life.’”
Simpson said the tour he did with Corcoran — which received 100 million views across his platforms — was “a green light for Hollywood and the rest of the world.”
For perspective, about 200 million people watched Super Bowl 57.
Simpson’s tour helped Corcoran’s social media accounts grow by about 150,000 followers.
“I saw an interview of [Corcoran] on the ‘Rachael Ray Show’ and she said like, ‘I went to Trader Joe’s the next day’ and everybody in Trader Joe’s was like, ‘I love your house Barbara.’”
Simpson said Corcoran also got an offer to buy her home even though she wasn’t looking to sell.
“She told me, ‘I’m pretty sure he would have been willing to pay anything,’” Simpson said.
Simpson said he feels a responsibility because of the attention his video content generates for the people featured in his videos.
“I knew once I was in somebody’s home, if I was able to get access, I was like, ‘I need to treat this person like my friend,’” Simpson said.
For example, Simpson said an artist whose home he visited was able to sell thousands of dollars worth of art after his tour.
A signature of Simpson’s videos is when he flops onto the bed of the home’s main bedroom. He then typically ranks its comfort on a 10-point scale.
“What could I do inside the home that would be silly and fun and kind of push the boundaries of what they would be ok with and what the internet would like?” Simpson said. “And, I thought like, taking a shower or jumping in their bed. That would be ridiculous.”
One of Simpson’s goals is to tour Oprah Winfrey’s home.
“I definitely bring it up as much as possible when I’m in certain circles,” Simpson said.
WRAL Out and About asked Simpson what North Carolina homes he would consider touring.
“I haven’t looked into that much,” Simpson said. “The Biltmore House is an iconic home that I think everyone loves to an extent, so it would be fun to kind of like do something creative and wild with them.”
Simpson said he is also interested in seeing small homes, micro-living and tiny yurts.
On Monday, Simpson released a video of the home of Los Angeles-based entrepreneur Robert Rivani, whose home is themed after “Game of Thrones,” Harry Potter and “Alice and Wonderland.”
“He had a throne in the living room,” Simpson said. “I mean, the ceilings were … it felt like you were in a church [in] his whole home.
“Just walking in there, I was like, ‘This is just crazy. It feels like an event space.’”
Possible TikTok ban in US
“Since I’ve been on TikTok, it’s been a conversation,” Simpson said of a possible TikTok ban in the U.S. “I think it bothered me a bit more earlier on because that was the platform I was having traction on.”
Simpson thinks lawmakers should find a compromise.
“I’ve researched it and I just think – 150 million people like the platform,” Simpson said. “We need to figure out a way to keep it when people like to use it, but that’s not my decision at the end of the day.
“So, I understand things come and go, and things will ultimately end, so all I want to focus on is making the best content I can and spreading it everywhere. And, at the end of the day, all platforms will most likely die.”
Simpson has also started experimenting with different kinds of content so he doesn’t get pigeonholed. He has done pizza reviews and played trivia games while driving around strangers in New York City.
Simpson also said he limits his screen time when consuming social media content.
“I do believe the American society spends way too much time on social, and we care about it too much, and we scroll too much, and we consume too much and we don’t really live our lives,” Simpson said. “And, I’ve fallen into that trap more early in my career, but now I’m more about creating content and having more real experiences.”
Future of Caleb Simpson’s apartment tour series
Simpson said he used “The Late Late Show With James Corden” as a model. Corden is known for his carpool karaoke segment, which was much different than a traditional late-night talk show.
“My version of it is to bring regular people into it because I think they are more of the stars than the stars themselves at this current state of the world and what we really care about,” Simpson said. “It’s more real, raw and authentic.”
Simpson did his best to explain why his apartment tour series has had such great success.
“There [are] lots of nuances that go into it,” Simpson said. “There’s a lot of psychology that goes into it.
“There’s a lot of format and packaging that goes into it, but yeah, it’s just been years of trial and error. It’s still hard to fathom, even now, just being like, ‘Oh yeah, my video just had 50 million people [see] it.’
“There [are] echelons of creators that kind of reached that pinnacle and it’s still like, I don’t really get it. I know it’s happening, but I’m like, wow.”
Simpson said he’ll continue to experiment, create and connect with people all over the world.
“Putting yourself out there as much as possible, I think, is the key,” Simpson said. “Like, I’ve done tons of different challenges and videos and stuff that really challenge the landscape of asking people for things or for help … if you push out the world a bit, how will it push back?”