Randal Longo woke up Wednesday morning to dozens of phone calls and emails from strangers across the country: From his office in Mount Pleasant, he quickly realized, he’d unwittingly set loose a viral sensation.
The object of the Internet’s fascination was a home the real estate agent had never seen himself. It was a run-down bungalow with an address in a quiet neighborhood a few minutes from downtown Columbia — and a mystery that captured the fascination of millions of strangers.
The boom in interest cascaded overnight, but it started brewing a few days earlier, when the property’s listing on Zillow began circulating around the Midlands. A few days later, a Twitter user in the panhandle of Idaho came across the post, which has since been removed.
Bekka Supp had "serious questions," she wrote Monday, about the "nightmare house" for sale in Cayce. And to be sure, the listing she found raised more questions than it answered.
"Upstairs apartment cannot be shown under any circumstances," the description reads. "Occupant has never paid, and no security deposit is being held, but there is a lease in place. (Yes, it does not make sense, please don't bother asking.)"
The Internet would bother to ask. It started with more than 100 retweets on Supp’s initial post and a series of questions she posed from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, where she flips houses, hosts a podcast called Debate Club about "nerd stuff" and writes on the side.
She’s never been to South Carolina, she said, but after the listing was shared from one person to the next on Facebook — starting with "a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend" — she was intrigued.
That curiosity boiled over as bloggers and news outlets also wondered about the month-to-month tenant upstairs, about the terms of their lease and who would make an offer on a $130,000 fixer-upper without asking who was living there.
The pop-culture blog Pajiba riffed on the listing first. By the end of the day, Teen Vogue had written a post, too. Then, on Tuesday, the website Mashable and a horde of other news outlets posted stories of their own.
Internet sleuths found few answers. An old rental ad noted a "professional artist" living upstairs, but didn’t say much else. The trail of evidence online was thin.
So the rest was left up to speculation and imagination, leading more and more people to the Zillow page. It had accumulated more than 1.3 million page views by Wednesday afternoon, when the site's count was reset.
Longo decided to pull the post after getting close to 100 messages in the wee hours of the morning, including one from Zillow if the listing was real and another from a Columbia real-estate agent whose phone was also flooded.
"My phone is really blowing up," Longo said. "It seems like the Internet is really blowing up. This is all taking me by surprise."
For his part, Longo said he doesn’t have many answers to the Internet’s questions. His company, iSave Realty, essentially acts as a middleman for homeowners who want to sell, giving them a cheap way to get a house on the Multiple Listing Service database.
He’s never seen the house, and he’s never seen a listing like the one he pushed out. The owners have agreed to reword the post, he says, while they consider whether to list the property again.
"What I know is basically what’s online," Longo said. "He’s got some mystery tenant up there that apparently he can’t answer many questions about, which is kind of strange."
Public records in Lexington County don’t do much to resolve the mystery, either. Property records show the house hasn’t been sold since 1997, when a couple from the Isle of Palms bought it. And they haven’t filed a lawsuit to evict anyone since 1998.
Efforts to reach the owners were likewise unsuccessful: Numbers tied to their Lowcountry address have been disconnected.
Like Longo, Supp says she’s been getting lots of messages asking what she knows about the house, though she, too, has few answers.
Supp, 34, may have been the unwitting source of a flurry of attention for a house across the country in a state she’s never been to, but now, she says she’d like to visit and see the mystery through. Plus, she said, she’s always wanted to see Charleston.
"It would be kind of cool," Supp said Wednesday afternoon, with a list of flights to Columbia open on her computer. "At the same time, I don’t think I’d want to do it by myself."
Later in the day, she said, she bought a ticket.