You don’t tend to see a lot of people when you’re clicking through real estate listing photos online, and you definitely don’t see a lot of people dressed in full suits of armor. But if you happened to land on the page for 12227 East Tallman Road in Chattaroy, Washington, in the last day or so, that’s exactly what greeted you: a knight decked out in a 100 pounds of 16- and 13-gauge steel. He pops up throughout what’s otherwise a standard slideshow of wide-angle shots of the home, which, it should be noted, does bear more than a passing resemblance to a castle: There he is slicing some oranges with a sword; there he is playing street hockey. What exactly is going on here, and how did this knight end up on Zillow? (By the way, there’s also a video, and it’s even crazier.) To find out, I spoke to Jonas Elber, a realtor at RE/MAX of Spokane and the mastermind who put this 4-bed, 4-bath, 1-fortress listing on the market. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.
Heather Schwedel: So why is there a knight in these photos?
Jonas Elber: There’s been a couple other tours like this I’ve seen: There’s one with realtors who actually wear a Sasquatch costume and another one with a dinosaur in it. That kind of spawned the idea, but the knight was certainly more fitting for this castle scene. Similar virtual tours had all been still images, and I wanted to do something a little bit higher-level production and with video. So I took some time to hunt down an armorer with not just costume armor, but legit armor.
Why did you feel like this property required a special approach?
I’m not convinced that the buyer for this home is local, given the uniqueness of the front elevation. So I just felt a greater need to try to get as much exposure as I can and try to tap into those Renaissance and medieval fans. We’re really looking for the Renaissance enthusiasts that either want to have a second home that’s the castle or it might be worth moving there with working-from-home options and stuff like that.
I mean, the person who buys this home is not just going to be looking for a four-bedroom, four-bath house. I think it’s going to be somebody who’s a little bit more lighthearted and will enjoy living in a home that not only has a view, but is the view.
Do you know anything about this house’s history? How did it end up with this castle theme?
My client is the second owner, so I really don’t know for sure. But rumor has it the original owner was a retired mason and this was his dream project that he was working on.
You mentioned hunting down a knight to appear in the video. Where do you find a knight these days?
I started by calling our local theater company to see if they knew of anybody that rented out armor. And then I learned a little bit more that real armor, as high a quality as this armor is, is really tailor-fit for the armorer.
They didn’t know somebody, but thought they knew somebody that thought they knew somebody that finally introduced me to him. His suit is all period-specific between about 1490 and 1520 A.D., and he’s had each piece tailor-made to fit him.* I couldn’t tell you a retail value, but I mean, it’s thousands of dollars. He’s over in Renton, which is the other side of the mountains. It’s the other side of the state. He took a pretty much full-day drive to get here and to be a part of it for us.
Chivalrous! It seems like you would up with a knight who was a decent actor and even kind of a ham, so that worked out well.
It did. I storyboarded the whole thing out and wrote it. ’Cause we’ve done other real estate videos before, nothing quite this elaborate, but I know the more you’ve got it mapped out, the quicker it’ll get done and the more you’ll save on costs by being better prepared.
We had an hour to rehearse it before my normal film guys got there, and we pretty much stuck to the script, but some of the stuff—rather than just being in the shower, starting to dance in the shower a little bit—we all contributed to finally turning it into what it became.
He’s not in all the scenes either. We tried to find the balance of showcasing the house and showcasing the house with humor.
What was it like writing dialogue?
Well, everybody’s got a different sense of humor, but I did run it by a few of my closest friends and just basically said, “Tell me if this is too ridiculous.” And, you know, “Is this going to add or take away from my credibility?” And then, most importantly, I ran it by my clients before we did it and just said, “Hey, I want to represent you and the home the way that you guys want to be represented. Can I get your blessing on this script and idea?” And they were all on board.
Are they still living in the house? Did they have to sort of get lost for the day while you played medieval times?
They are, so they did. And then we just had a good time shooting in their house while they were at work.
You mentioned that the suit is really heavy. How uncomfortable was that for your knight?
I had to help get him into the costume, or not costume, but into the armor, ’cause there’s some pieces that he can’t fully put on while he’s half armored up. And then I had to help him get out of it. And he was a really good sport. It weighs over 100 pounds. And one of my jobs was in between takes taking his helmet off, opening up his helmet so that he could breathe. It’s already a hot day, but I could feel the heat radiating off him when we opened up that helmet. It’s a funny video, but it took a lot of physical work for him to run up and down the stairs and do that for us.
How hot was it that day?
It was over 100 degrees. It was toasty.
I was a little confused about the book he holds up in the video. Was there any special meaning behind that?
Well, Richest Man in Babylon, it kinda fits the era, but that book is also on the recommended reading list for two of my real estate mentors. One of them wrote the foreword to that book. So I knew that some of my real estate friends from across the United States, they would appreciate seeing that book.
So it was like a little real estate Easter egg?
Did you have to do anything special on the shoot to make sure you were safe while swords were in use?
They are sharp swords. I mean, they were slicing oranges. But the knight’s got sheeths for them and he handled the swords most of the time. One of the things was just protecting that equipment. Swords aren’t designed to be slicing oranges with, so they need to be cared for and treated afterwards.
Some of the comments we’ve gotten online from people who know more about armor than I do see the shower scene and say, “Oh my gosh, you don’t put water on armor like that, it’s going to rust.” So he really went the extra mile by being willing to get his armor wet and then taking care of it immediately after the shower scene.
Have you heard from any potential buyers yet?
We’ve just now been on the market for 24 hours. It’s starting to get not just views online but legitimate action from qualified buyers.
This home, when it was on the market before, it sat on the market. I want to say it was over 200 days. I want to say like 236 days before my clients purchased it. So it’s definitely moving a lot quicker than it did last time it was on the market.
We’ve got multiple buyers coming in from California, one coming in from Virginia. The phone’s been ringing, but we’re trying to weed out the tire-kickers and selfie-takers by asking for full approval letters before people schedule showings. So it’s taking just a little bit longer to schedule showings because each buyer before they can set their appointment needs to produce an approval letter. An approval letter is from their lender or financial institutions showing that they qualify financially to purchase a home like this.
Have people that are coming to see it mentioned specifically to you that they’re really into the Renaissance or knights and stuff like that?
We’ve had a couple of those, but we’ve also had interest from people in considering doing events there or hosting weddings or Airbnb, ’cause it could be used for any of those purposes as well.
It seemed like getting attention online was part of the goal here, and it worked. Do you think this is going to be a new thing in real estate, pre-engineering something to go viral?
Not every property needs to go viral and get viral exposure in order to sell, but I think that there’s going to be a higher demand on realtors to prove their worth through quality marketing with a little bit higher level of production than we saw five years ago.
When you have a house that has sort of this very unique-looking, how do you take that into consideration in determining how much to list it for?
Comping this one—comparing it to other properties that we’ve sold—was really hard. And so I did ask a couple of other realtors that I trust and asked a couple of appraisers that I worked with for their opinions too. That way, when the buyer comes and questions how we got the value, we can share with them the extra steps we take to get the combined perspective.
And how do you decide how much money you’re going to put into a video like this for marketing purposes?
Each listing I have has a budget for marketing and you’re just balancing, you know, what’s it going to take to do versus what’s the projected outcome. I don’t have a necessarily a strict percentage of my commission per listing that’s dedicated to what it’s going to take to do the job right.
Are most of the properties you sell more traditional homes?
No. I’ve sold a property with 26 stables, which was a little unusual. I just sold an old dilapidated school house up in Rice, Washington, which is very remote. I really enjoy selling and owning unique properties.
Do you have any other upcoming listings that you can see pulling a similar stunt for?
I do. But we’re just in the brainstorming phase. I don’t anticipate using the knight in any upcoming listings, because I’m not listing any other castles at the moment.
Correction, Aug. 19, 2021: This piece originally misstated that the suit of armor is period-specific to the years 490 through 510 A.D. It is specific to 1490–1520 A.D.