There are few acts more optimistic than shopping for a home. You walk through its doors, run your fingertips along its appliances and see your face reflected in its windows and mirrors. You consider untapped versions of your life, imagining yourself waking up every day in that bedroom, cooking every day in that kitchen and letting the years unfold between those walls.

Real estate agents understand this allure. The good ones package it up, serving it to clients in the form of property tours that show off not only a house, but also the life that a house can offer. And the really good ones are so adept at spinning the fantasy that they’re building careers on television out of it.

For a new story for The Times’s real estate section, which published this morning, I spent time with agents from shows like “Million Dollar Listing” and “Buying Beverly Hills” to understand how they became stars in their own right, and what that tells us about the state of housing in the U.S.

Late last year, I flew to Los Angeles to attend an awards show for some of Hollywood’s most famous real estate agents. Seated in the backyard of a sprawling estate once owned by Madonna, I watched as Mauricio Umansky, who stars on Netflix’s “Buying Beverly Hills,” cracked jokes and presented awards like “Stratospheric Sale of the Year.” (The winner was Kurt Rappaport, who represented Beyoncé and Jay-Z in their purchase of a $190 million Malibu pad last May.)

“This is the Oscars of real estate,” Alexander Ali, a public relations official, told me that night. He runs a company, the Society Group, devoted solely to promoting celebrity agents and the houses that they list.

Millions of us are hooked on his clients’ content. The most recent season of “Selling Sunset” brought in about 3.2 million streaming viewers per episode, according to Nielsen Media Research; “Buying Beverly Hills” drew 1.7 million per episode in its first season.

I also toured homes with some of the celebrity agents, and felt the seductive power of their extravagance firsthand.

One of my hosts was Aaron Kirman, who starred on CNBC’s “Listing Impossible.” We drove around Los Angeles while he pointed out houses owned by Chrissy Teigen and Leonardo DiCaprio. At a red light, he reached into his Range Rover’s center console, which is refrigerated and stocked with protein shakes, then helped me put my seat into massage mode, so a dozen nodules could melt away the knots in my back.

We pulled up to a $58 million home in Bel Air. The house, a temple of glass and curved steel, has nine bedrooms, 13 bathrooms and a central spiral staircase that alone cost $1.25 million. Usher borrowed the space to shoot his music video for “Ruin” just before this year’s Super Bowl.

I sat on the home’s plush sofas and stared at the soaring ceiling of its primary suite. Outside, its infinity pool glinted in the sun. And I wondered: In an alternate timeline, one marked by different life choices, could this have been my home?

In the real world, the dream of homeownership is more elusive than it has been in decades. Housing affordability in the U.S. is at a crushing low, with skyrocketing prices, elevated mortgage rates and a shortage of inventory for low- and middle-income households.

Instead of turning us away from escapist real estate television, though, these struggles seem to have increased the programs’ allure. The reason, one sociologist told me, is the “parasocial relationship” that viewers can form with celebrity agents: They feel like friends to us, and as a result, we live vicariously through them when we watch.

In one of the cruelest housing markets in history, Americans are turning to television to fulfill their real estate desires.

This weekend, The New York Times is publishing the first entries in a new feature called The Interview, the successor to David Marchese’s Talk column from The Times Magazine. The Interview will feature two alternating hosts — David, as well as Lulu Garcia-Navarro, whom you may know from her work on the podcast “First Person” and from NPR. Their conversations will also appear as a podcast, “The Interview.”

Below is an excerpt from Lulu’s first interview in the series, with Yair Lapid, the leader of Israel’s opposition party.

Israel is being accused of genocide, of war crimes. And as we’ve talked, you’ve defended the conduct of the war. And you’ve referred to yourself as an Israeli patriot. But can patriotism not also be defined as questioning the conduct of this war?

Of course it can. I assume what I was reacting to is what I feel is the betrayal of the intellectuals. Meaning that the intellectuals of the West, or some of them, have betrayed the idea of complexity. And the dialogue we have with the outside world is either with people who are chanting slogans they don’t really understand or who are determined to make this into a one-sided story.

What I’m thinking about actually is just what it means in a moment like this to effectively, even if you care about Israel and the Israelis, say this is not OK. You know, earlier you disparaged the young people in the U.S. marching for Palestinian rights, and you say that they’re clueless and misled.

I don’t think they’re marching for Palestinian rights. I think they’re marching against Palestinian rights. I think what they’re doing is against the best interest of the Palestinian people.

Doesn’t that dismiss their legitimate concerns about civilian deaths?

Well, I think they should understand that there is a reason why everything is happening, and the reason is Hamas. The reason is not Israel. I mean, not to be able to even track why what is happening is happening is a total lack of even, I don’t know, intellectual dignity or at least curiosity.

You can read, or listen to, the full interview here.

Click the cover image above to read this week’s magazine.

In this week’s Five Weeknight Dishes newsletter, Emily Weinstein highlights an easy new recipe that’s already earning rave reviews: roasted chicken thighs with hot honey and lime, which is ready in a total of 35 minutes. Emily also suggests roasted salmon with peas and radishes, and spicy shrimp patties.

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