The first 10 listing photos of a duplex in South Lake Tahoe, CA, are ho-hum. Then bam.
You get to photo 11: seven lovely ladies dressed in glittery evening gowns.
These women staring blankly ahead aren’t real. They’re mannequins. And there are many of them. So many of them. Posed throughout this otherwise nondescript residence.
Of course, the offbeat listing photos made for seriously sharable content. On the market for a couple of weeks, the home racked up hundreds of thousands of views on realtor.com®.
And the question everyone asked as they passed the link around was: Why? As it turns out, the answer is pretty straightforward.
One man’s passion for mannequins
Voices on social media called out the listing agent, Jesse Yohnka, for not cleaning the home up and—most importantly—took him to task for leaving the “creepy” mannequins in the listing photos.
Both Yohnka and the home’s owner say these initial reactions are off base. And after some initial upset feelings, they can now see the publicity in a positive light.
“I am the owner of the mannequins, and I’ve collected them for more than 20 years,” says Oscar Tapia, the owner of the duplex, which is listed for $650,000. The unit is split between floors, and Tapia (and his mannequins) occupied the top floor.
“Since I was a child, I always saw the mannequins in the windows, and I was fascinated with them. So I got my first one, and I started from there. I’ve bought more and more,” he says.
Now he has more than 150 full-body mannequins and some others that are just torsos or limbs. Many are housed in his three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit, including a few in his bedroom. The rest are stored in the attic space.
“All the time, I change it. I move the mannequins around and always have different faces around the house,” Tapia says. “I never feel alone in my house and always have company.”
Tapia says he doesn’t talk to them and doesn’t expect them to talk back. He simply appreciates their beauty and craftsmanship.
“I still learn so many things about them,” he says. “What people fail to understand is that these beautiful mannequins, they were the work of famous sculptors who left us the beauty of the human pose and the human face. The quality of mannequins embodies this.”
Many in his collection are decades old and could now be considered works of art. Some are worth upward of $1,000—even without their clothing, which Tapia purchases separately.
The mannequins caught the agent off guard—at first
Yohnka says he also respects the quality of the figures, with their expertly crafted features, but that wasn’t his first reaction upon taking on this listing.
“I was not aware of [any] mannequins. When I initially walked in, I thought they were real. Because they’re dolled up, they’ve got jewelry on. They don’t look like a mannequin you see nowadays,” he recalls.
“I did a, ‘Hey, I’m sorry!’ because I thought there were elegant ladies in there. As an agent, you don’t want to disturb anybody. Once I realized what they were, I was just intrigued with it.”
Yohnka appreciates Tapia’s passion for collecting and preservation.
“You could equate it to a baseball card collection or a record collection. At the end of the day, it’s just a collection,” he says.
Tapia tells us that the negative comments online stung.
“I did feel offended,” he says. “But later, I realized that nothing and nobody was going to change my way of thinking or living. I’m very happy with my private collection of mannequins.”
People also had plenty to say about the condition of the lower two-bedroom unit. Namely, why didn’t Yohnka tidy things up a bit?
“It was hard enough to just line up photos, much less go in and just start grabbing people’s clothes and moving it during COVID,” he says. “I told Oscar, there’s always going to be negative, but what other listing out there has millions of hits? You take the good and the bad. Overall, I think it’s positive for both of us.”
How to turn a viral hit into a sale
The intense interest has made it difficult to weed out who wants to see the property just for kicks—and who might actually want to buy it.
Mannequins aside, Yohnka thinks the place is priced right. And the location has proved popular with folks able to work from anywhere during the pandemic.
“It’s a good value for the current Tahoe market, which has gone insane since COVID, with all the [San Francisco] Bay Area money. Now that people can work from home, they’re coming up here in droves,” Yohnka explains.
Those big-city buyers in search of a year-round home, in what’s traditionally been a spot for weekend getaways, are displacing many locals like Tapia.
Built in 1962, the duplex is being sold as is, meaning that it has some deferred maintenance coming due, like a new roof and carpeting.
And ‘as is’ doesn’t mean the mannequins are staying. They’re going with Tapia to his new place, wherever that may be.
“The good thing about all this is that many people collect mannequins, and we can teach the people about the value of these pieces,” Tapia says. “It’s history. You need to take care of them, because they don’t make mannequins like this anymore.”
Yohnka says the listing has taught him something new about marketing.
“It has generated a lot of business for my office. We’ve had a ton of calls, and many have turned into legit buyers. I’m actually going to have Oscar stage my next listing,” he says with a laugh. “After 16 years in real estate, and this is what works to get my listing shown to millions of people? To have Oscar help me stage a home and get eyes on the property, I’m willing to do that.”