Willow Tufano became a homeowner earlier this year. This was newsworthy because Willow was 14 years old. She raised money to buy the house by selling stuff on Craigslist.
I spoke to Willow again last week and got an update. She’s 15 now, and her life over the past few months was sort of surreal. She got caught up in two dramas: America’s housing market and America’s media circus.
The housing market drama is in some ways more straightforward. The people renting her house recently left in the middle of the night and skipped out on the rent. She’s trying to find new tenants.
And, more significantly, she just bought another house near her home in Port Charlotte, Fla. This one — two bedrooms, one bath — cost $17,500. (The first one, which she split with her mom, cost $12,000, down from a value of roughly $100,000 at the peak of the boom.)
I wasn’t surprised that she bought a second house. She was clearly a savvy, ambitious kid. What struck me was how much Willow herself had changed.
When I talked to her this spring, she didn’t think about herself as remarkable in any way. But after our story aired, she became a minor celebrity. She went on Ellen. And Ellen DeGeneres kept telling Willow what an amazing kid she is.
“Everyone started calling,” Willow says. Good Morning America, Anderson Cooper, some show from Korea. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness.’ “
Willow was invited to give a talk at a college in Alabama. She was nervous; hundreds of people would be staring at her.
So when she flew to Alabama with her mom, Willow wore her bright yellow Pikachu costume. It’s basically like Big Bird marching through a bunch of Southern airports. Everyone was staring — which was the whole point.
“Walking through three big airports and having so many people stare, I felt pretty confident I could speak in front of 200 people and be OK,” she says.
Willow’s mom says it was that weird stunt and then going on to nail the Alabama lecture that cemented a change in Willow. She was no longer an unassuming kid with a weird hobby. Everything around her was telling her she was interesting. And she was starting to believe it. She was star material.
The inevitable next step: Willow decided she should have her own reality TV show.
“We are in the process of pitching a sizzle reel,” she says. “Clips of me. Little highlights.”
Willow says her producers (she has producers now) think her story has tremendous commercial appeal — the life of a teenage real estate mogul. Willow has fully cast herself into that role.
When Willow’s mom unilaterally lowered the rent on her first house to try to attract new tenants, Willow got annoyed. “I said, ‘Did you even ask me if I like those people? Or if I wanted to lower the rent to $650? I don’t think so.’ “
When I met Willow in March, she had no friends. But a reality TV star has friends. Now Willow has successfully collected a bunch.
“You have to scout and see who really is there for you,” she says. “Some people … try and mooch money off of me. … I would totally teach them how to make money. They don’t even wanna make an effort.
“I don’t want to be fake,” she says. “I’m going to be one of those people that loves their fans. If I have any.”
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