As I mentioned last week, I confess to watching a certain amount of television in my ofttimes. While I tend to avoid reality programing, I do admit that every now and then I flip on HGTV. A few of the shows I’ve seen in the past are, House Hunters, Love It Or List It, and The Property Brothers. Yet even though I realize that these shows are meant as entertainment, I still find my husband Thom and I asking ourselves: “What are those buyers thinking?” Or even worse, “Who can afford that kind of house—and why would they want to?” If you have ever watched one of these shows and reacted like us, you might also wonder if the messages being portrayed are actual “reality” and whether the shows should come with a disclaimer attached. With that in mind, I came up with five SMART disclaimers that I think every program on HGTV should include.
Disclaimer #1 Reality TV is entertainment—including those that feature real estate decisions. A simple google search will reveal what most of us suspect. Reality TV is usually just “scripted reality.” No one wants to call it fake and yes, there is usually a house involved in House Hunters, et al, but the reality is usually different than what is portrayed. In most cases, the chosen house has already been selected in advance and in some cases already purchased. Plus, the other homes shown but not “chosen” are sometimes not even for sale. And as for the script, even when it is the actual words used by the buyers, they often have to repeat what they’ve said over and over to get the right take.
Yet even when viewers know that such shows are “scripted reality,” they watch them anyway. Statistics report that even after 17 years of production, over 25 million people continue to watch House Hunters every month. That’s one reason why these shows are called, “real estate porn.” How did they get so successful? Producers speculate that people find comfort and enjoyment in their simple and predictable story line—along with a guaranteed happy ending, real or not. Perhaps these programs prove that people don’t really want reality, they want to be entertained.
Disclaimer #2: Becoming a successful house-flipper is extremely hard work with lots of risk. Because both Thom and I have a background in real estate we’ve had several people tell us how they want to become house flippers. Why? Because they see on several of these shows that the stars of the programs are making a bunch of money—and it’s fun too! And while some of the shows frequently throw in a problem that comes up in renovations, they downplay how often that happens and how much it really costs. They also seldom show how long it can take to sell the property even if it is fixed up. Never forget that every month you are unable to sell the property after the renovation, eats into your potential profits. Plus, precisely because of these shows, it is becoming harder and harder to find a property that you can buy low, fix up without breaking the bank, and then sell at a profit. If you still want to do it, just be prepared in advance for all the twists and turns that can happen—and have a big bank account to back you up.
Disclaimer #3 Just because a bank says you qualify for a certain amount, that doesn’t make it the best amount for your finances or your life. Banks are in the business of making money on the money they loan you—duh! They are not our family or friends. Instead, a bank will evaluate your income and your previous payment history and tell you what works for them. Unfortunately, some people seem to think that if the bank says they are “qualified”, that’s the amount they shoot for when home shopping. And shows like Love It Or List It often feature properties that are even more expensive than what the people say is their “budget.” My advice, from my real estate background, is to always factor what you can easily afford as a monthly payment—including all expenses—and never go above that amount. That’s never been stated on any of the HGTV property shows that I’ve watched but it would save people a lot of grief if it were.
Disclaimer #4 Buying a home or renovating nearly always takes longer AND usually costs more than tv shows ever. Of course, the attraction of these shows is that it not only looks like fun—it also looks pretty easy. Who wouldn’t want their home buying (or renovating) to go like that? But in the real world, it actually is very complicated to buy a home these days. On an average, buyers look at least ten homes (not three as shown on the programs). In addition, there are their dozens of details that must then be disclosed and attended to so it can also take months to complete the transaction. Renovations are similar.
For example, during a recent renovation on our rental home we came up with a workable timeline and ordered everything as scheduled. Unfortunately, even though everything looked good on paper, until the quartz countertops were delivered, cut and then placed, half of the renovation was on hold. Like a row of dominos, most renovations are a series that connect. When one piece doesn’t fall in place, all those that come after are frozen. Oh, and did I mention that although we estimated our renovation would cost $25,000—it actually ended up around $30,000. Unlike a 30-minute television show, real life takes time and considerable money.
Disclaimer #5 Watching shows like House Hunters can trigger our “keep up with the Joneses” desires and encourage us to buy and spend far more than we should. Ever notice that you often don’t need something until you see the commercial on tv or an ad in a magazine? Advertisers know that much of what we buy is unnecessary but many of us can’t resist the lure of buying something attractive when strategically placed in front of us. Programs like House Hunters does the same. Even if you don’t want to move and are perfectly happy with the home you have, the commercial advertisers know that you are a target for their product. That’s why Home Depot, furniture stores and local appliance companies are primary sponsors of shows like Property Brothers.
I tend to believe that many of us forget how susceptible we are to advertising, and how much we frequently compare what we have or don’t have with others. If our friends have a bigger and nicer home than we do, it is quite normal to start thinking we should have one too. If we watch shows like House Hunters International where the couple is buying a 2nd home in an exotic location, we start wondering why we don’t deserve one as well. Comparison is a trigger than advertisers use regularly, and anything that promotes ideas of buying and having something bigger or better is difficult to resist. Even when we tell ourselves we are only watching for the entertainment value, we must not ignore the seeds that are being planted in our minds.
Like many people, I might turn to HGTV now and then to see what is new. I’ve watched their Tiny Home Hunters and if anything, it helped me decide that a tiny home is just too tiny for me—no matter how cute they make it look. I think as long as we do our best to remember that these shows are meant to entertain us, not portray reality, they can’t hurt. But let’s never forget that although these shows don’t come with disclaimers, there are some things we would be SMART to keep in mind when watching.
Okay, your turn! Do you confess to sometimes watching real estate porn? Do you consider it just entertainment or did you think it was “real?” Does your personal experience confirm what the shows suggest or do you have a different version? Please share any thoughts in the comments below.
I would like to see HGTV provide more GARDEN shows. Used to love the Garden Guy. Seems all they show now are home renovation and real estate programs that are ridiculously over what most people can afford.
Mike Gavin says
I watch for entertainment. My wife is a certified interior designer. What always gets us is when, let’s say, on flip or flop, they totally gut and remodel the major portion of a house with high end finishes, and it costs $85,000.00. Good luck. That probably covers the kitchen, and that’s it.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Mike! You are so right. Doesn’t that drive you crazy? They always seem to make their renovation costs go MUCH further than anyone I know. In the few times Thom and I have remodeled it ALWAYS costs more than I expect (Thom is more realistic than I am). And even though I shop every expense like crazy, I can’t imagine that they don’t kick back some of the costs to the show. ~Kathy
I am a real estate house decor porn addict! And all your disclaimers ring true. I definitely have to call on the reality police to keep me grounded as I ponder my design style or stare too long at one wall or another while my brain absorbs the cocaine of House & Home. The renovation shows are less likely to fuel my imagination – I was married once to a home renovator person and I was indoctrinated into the real world of reno in my 20’s and 30’s. Thank goodness….but, it is good for a laugh, somewhat inspiring, and, needs to have caution flags all over it for moi. Thanks for sharing!!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Eileen! hahahaha….it’s good for us to recognize our addictions isn’t it. Those shows do make it seem so very attractive…but then, let’s never forget that is why they are doing what they do…they WANT us to keep watching. Although I must confess I turned on HGTV last night and a new one (or at least new to me) was Zombie House Flippers. Seriously! But while the show was mildly interesting, the show could have easily been reduced from 60 minutes to 30 and not missed a thing. Although the title was catchy, I won’t bother with it again. Let’s keep those caution flags flying! ~Kathy
We are in the sixth month of a kitchen addition that required removal of the original kitchen. Six months of cooking on a hotplate in the living room!
I have not seen anything that “real” on HGTV!
That said, my decisions along the way were assisted by a few pointers from “Love It Or List It.” I appreciated especially how they depicted major, unexpected, structural problems requiring budgetary sacrifices. That happened to us and I was less devastated knowing it was part of the process.
But there is far more “reality” to a home renovation than a brief TV show will choose to portray.
And I would never choose the gorgeous, photogenic white countertops all these homes get. My hubs and I are kitchen slobs! We tested samples by throwing butter and coffeegrounds all over them. No white for us!
The shows almost convinced me, as well, that “granite is out of date.” While trying to like quartz, I learned I like granite better. Fortunately I’m old enough not to care what people think… and for me, it turned out I like natural products better than what to me feels and looks like plastic.
You’re right: The primary purpose of the shows is to make us want to buy the next greatest look. And rip it out in five years.
I’ll just keep hugging my granite. Because, after six months of this torture, ANY kitchen feels like paradise!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Leenah. My heart bleeds for you! I know how challenging it can be to live in a home while renovations are happening. Oh my! That you are still sane and your husband is alive is a testament to your relationship! And I also agree about granite. I’m a sloppy cook too and now that I’ve had granite and know how forgiving it is (everything from hot pans to mess) I will never go with another product. As you said, some of that knowledge comes with age and experience. Thanks for sharing your thoughts AND so glad to hear you survived!!! ~Kathy
Jamie Hart says
After reading your post, I purposely watched several shows over the weekend (while quilting). I was laughing at the shows.
Having gone through a fixer upper renovation while living in it, I have first hand experience and know the shows are unrealistic on time and cost. It can irritate me that the estimates verbalized are not what we would pay.
My brother and I have a game of guessing when the wife (almost always the wife) will say “no, granite counter top?” “it does not have granite and that’s on my wish list”. Really? We laugh about it.
Then there is the bathroom missing double sinks. My mom would say, “I don’t want your dad in the bathroom when I am in there!”
And the vast majority of us can’t afford the $$$! I suspect that those who could afford it are not watching these shows.
But it is a guilty pleasure sometimes! And I have learned about design elements and other helpful ideas.
Thank you for your post, it was fun watching shows but I am going to return to listening to music while quilting
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Jamie! Hahahaha! You made me laugh because you nailed one of the big issues that happens with these shows–after a while the “complaints” are just about all the same. Of course one of my favorites is the graphic of a young couple on FB with a caption that says, “HGTV Be like….I volunteer at the YMCA on the weekends and my husband picks apples on Mondays and Fridays and our budget is $1.3 Million!” House Hunters International is the worst. It makes it seem like EVERYONE is looking for a 2nd home over a million dollars. Of course, I’d like to know those people so we could go and visit them! I don’t know if the audience is rich or poor but I do think show like this can be addictive…that’s why they are called “real estate porn!” Thanks for the laugh. ~Kathy
Diane Dahli says
I agree that those shows are unrealistic, and staged to make viewers envy the ‘star family’, and be misguided about how true renovating is done. I’ve been there (many times), and can assure you that the process is not pretty! My experience is that it takes a long time, with many frustrations and cost over-runs. I’ve always been happy at the beginning and end of the projects, but not necessarily in the middle!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Diane! I so agree. Planning isn’t the hard part…it’s those in between times that can suck the life out of you. What is always the WORST is trying to live through the renovation while living in the house. I think that is a leading cause of divorce (or at least it could be!) When you can’t cook in your kitchen or use your own bathroom, problems arise!!!! But yes, hopefully the end product makes us all happy. I sometimes think it would be interesting to interview those couples who had their homes remodeled a year later and see how they feel about it after time passes. ~Kathy
I really enjoyed reading this blog post, Kathy. I don’t know much about these shows, but, way back when, I remember staying at a friend’s place on a break in the US from our boat life, to watch their dogs for the weekend. That’s when I discovered HGTV. I loved it, because I enjoyed looking at the houses and the interiors.
Soon, however, the commercials got the better part of us. And this was many years ago. Now, we sometimes check out HGTV when we house sit in a home that has TV and cable. The ads have become more frequent and extremely annoying. So, while I agree these shows are/used to be entertaining, they now drive me crazy because of the commercials. And, it’s all presented so beautifully (although the dialogue often appears forced) and unrealistic… A bit like those YouTube videos about boat life and van life. 🙂
Tom @ Sightings says
My wife likes to watch those shows, but I avoid them just like I avoid fixing the crack in the patio and the off-kilter garage door.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Tom! These days if I do watch the shows it is similar to when I watch the cooking shows. Running through my mind is, “Oh that looks delicious!” Of course at the same time I know I’ll never ever do the same. Maybe you avoid those shows so you aren’t reminded of your home repairs? Because as we all know, they all (cooking or renovations) make it look far easier than it is when we do it. ~Kathy
Janet Mary Cobb says
When we owned a bit of a fixer-upper, some of these shows were more interesting but I haven’t watched one in years! I totally agree that they need disclaimers, for sure! As do all of the ‘reality’ shows. Unfortunately, I think the quick-fix, instant riches, “American Idol” 15-minutes of fame mentality has taken hold of American society.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Janet! I agree these shows are more interesting when facing a purchase or remodel. And like I mentioned in another comment, with our real estate background we used to regularly attend open houses in our local community for the same reason. It’s fun to see how others decorate (except when it’s horrifying over some other choices right?) But these days it gets old–especially because it is so formulaic. And I also agree that I think it triggers that “get rich quick” mindset that so many want to believe, especially when younger. Hopefully people learn the lesson before they get themselves into too much trouble. ~Kathy
Nancy Dobbins says
I confess to have binge-watched HGTV with my brother as we were hanging out together when he got out of the hospital. I do enjoy the design aspect of these shows, but the costs and expectations are totally unrealistic.
They are for entertainment only.
If you keep that in mind they are fun to watch.
Don’t expect to have a budget, then buy a house over that budget, and have a total renovation done and on budget in 7 weeks. Including the furniture (by the way, they take the furniture back after the filming unless you buy it…for staging only.)
And who buys a “starter home” for over $700,000. Really.
But I do also confess to now liking shiplap.
Hi Kathy, I’m reading this in the airport as Hans and I fly to the Big Island of Hawaii to work on his house in Hilo. As someone who enjoys some of HGTV, mostly Fixer Upper, our room addition for our master and old BR renovation, the show gave us some good ideas for the color scheme, etc. I recently painted our used brick fireplace white ala Joanna Gaines style and it was the right fit for our smallish house and brightened up the room. We know the ins and outs of construction…every time Hans wants to renovate, add or fix something in our 40 year old home, a can of worms inevitably opens and delays the timeline. What is fun now when we watch Beach Houses (or whatever it’s called) and Fixer Upper, we say, oh our room is like that now, or better/bigger. But yes, I totally agree with you that the concepts of most of these shows are to show conflict and I’m sure they are scripted to make the buyers be snarky, otherwise why watch? It’s good entertainment! Great disclaimers by the way!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Terri. Aloha, and have an amazing time in Hawaii…it must be spring break at your college???? And I think your approach, if you like watching the shows, is the best one. Use them for design idea. Thom and I used to love to go to model open houses for the same reason. You can get a lot of great ideas. But the only thing I think we need to watch against is that comparison driving us to spend money that we may not have just trying to match with we see others as having–regardless of whether it really adds to the quality of our lives. If we can keep that in perspective and be mindful, then enjoy the shows. And oh yeah, from what I researched they said that they ALWAYS encourage disagreement, in fact, that is usually one criteria they use to select the participants in the first place. ~Kathy
Dr Sock says
Kathy, as a non-TV watcher, I confess that I don’t know what HGTV is! But I am interested in houses, their design features, and how other people do their interior decoration. Before we bought our current house, I spent nearly two years looking at REALTOR.ca, the multiple listing real estate website here in Canada. It gave me a good sense of layouts I liked, how neighbourhoods and pricing differ, and what was available in my price range. I’m probably a bit unusual, because to me the land the house is on is at least as important as the house itself.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Jude! I actually agree that it can be fun to house hunt. And I agree that it is a good idea to look at enough houses so that you get really clear about what you like and don’t like. Far too many people get emotional about one house early in the search and buy it without even knowing their options. And shows like this that suggest that you can just look at three and make a choice don’t help. oh yeah, and the land the house sits on is also super important. ~Kathy
Wait, what? Those shows aren’t all true? We watch them now and then just for fun and I appreciate nice interior design. The home improvement shows that we find the most ridiculous are the ones that feature construction/repairs being down very quickly. Would you really want to move into a house where the cement foundation was allowed to cure for only a day? Yikes! And, yes, flipping isn’t for amateurs. We had some neighbors who bought a house to remodel and flip at the height of the real estate bubble (of course, they didn’t know it was the height of the bubble). They not only lost that house, but also their primary residence. When “everyone” is getting into it, it’s time to run away.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Janis! I know…I think that something I found really fascinating is even when people know it isn’t real they can binge-watch hours of the shows. And yes, they all follow the formula: Show three possible houses and pick one and in the end be totally happy 🙂 If it was only that easy huh? And I’ll bet most of us have horror stories of people who have lost a lot of money on flipping. And if someone wants to change you a “fee” to teach you how to flip houses, chances are they are just out to make money on the classes. Because after all, if they were making as much on the flipping why would they be wasting time teaching? As you say, “when everyone is getting into it, it’s time to run away.” ~Kathy
HI, Kathy – I have never watched a full episode of HGTV (but I’ve seen soundless snippets of it at that gym). I have often wondered why this type of TV programming is so popular. Your explanation makes sense. I agree with your disclaimers as well — they show much expertise and experience in this area.
I’m sorry to hear that there have been a couple of glitches in your recent home renovations. Hopefully, they have been sorted out and the rest has been smooth sailing!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Donna! Wow! You really don’t watch much TV do you? 🙂 And because you don’t, I doubt you’d ever make the mistake of overlooking any of the potential problems that might come from believing these shows are “real.” I’m also happy to say that our renovations came out fine. I was disappointed it cost more than anticipated but fortunately, because we are so rightsized 😉 we had the finances to get it done right. Things mostly followed the plan and it looks beautiful now. I think the designers in the show would approve hahaha. ~Kathy
Hi, Kathy – I am so glad to hear that your recent renovations turned out well and look beautiful. I am sure that the designers on the show would approve — perhaps they would like you and Thom to star in one of their segments. In that case, I would definitely watch it.
To confirm your opening statement, when I first saw your post I had to look up what HGTV meant. Sometimes I actually do think that I live under a rock… at least when it comes to television series! 🙂
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Donna! Hahahaha….I don’t think Thom and I are dramatic enough for those shows…although some of our friends might think differently. So I don’t think you have to worry about watching anytime soon…and I admire you for not watching TV. You are a good role model! ~Kathy
Hi, Kathy – It’s truly nothing to admire. I simply don’t like television. If I liked it, and resisted, that would be a whole different story. 🙂 Since I always have a VERY LONG To Do List (even in retirement*), I am not sure where I would find the time (unless I gave up blogging that is….!)
* Richard’s insert here is that I need to lose the To Do List because he watches TV and still finds that he has plenty of time to spare!
Great disclaimers that should be said like the commercials for drugs on TV, adverse side effects! Working on home projects is a lot of work. Hiring out is a lot of money. Then there is the invasion of your property by having lots of strange people in your home and the dirt and debris, too much reality that is not shown often!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Haralee! You’ve actually come up with another idea for a blog post. “Adverse Side Effects From Real Estate Porn!” How’s that for an eye catcher? 🙂 Yes isn’t it funny how they make it look so fun and easy on the programs. And I also found out that at least on “Fixer Upper” you don’t even get to keep the furniture. They just set the stage for the show and then go home. And they also seldom do more than a few of the rooms, and yes, you have to pay some of the reno money as well. And I’m also glad to see I’m not the only one who gets really perturbed with workpeople in my house! ~Kathy
The Widow Badass says
I’m with you. Having lived through (and in) a major renovation, I know first-hand of what can and will happen. There will be highs, like when the finishing touches are installed and vision starts to become reality. There will be lows, like when the contractor uncovers something that wasn’t budgeted for. There will also be a lot of scope-creep, like when your contractor advises you that now would also be a good time to fix up X, Y or Z, since everything is ripped apart anyways. Oh yes. These shows do touch on all that, although they usually try to make it either very dramatic or humorous.
I used to love to watch those shows when I had cable tv, but with a critical eye. After a while I got sick of how every Property Brothers overhaul ended up with the same generic design elements. (Confession: Masters of Flip was my favourite show to watch, for the cute couple’s dynamic with each other).
And I’m so sick of all that open concept!!!
I happen to like rooms. I find it useful to have rooms with a purpose – a purpose that is kept separate from the rest of the home’s activities!
I see this turning around in the next few years, and all those walls going back up again as people realize open concept means everybody is “up in your bizness” at all times in a shared home.
OK, rant over.
Yep, the purpose of those shows are to sell product and in order to do that you have to make people unhappy with what they already have.
But for those of us who can resist, they do make for some fun mindless entertainment.
Thanks Kathy, for a great read!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Deb! Hahahaha! I would never have guessed you had a thing against open-concept. It is being overdone these days. But as the owner of a small house it really works in our home to have an open living, dining, kitchen because that is the only way would would be able to get a bunch of people in our house now and then. Of course, I do have my very own office where I can create quiet and peace and so does my husband, so we both have our separate space. And fortunately there is just two of us and we are pretty much in each others bizness all day every day anyway. 🙂 If I had kids or other people living here I might feel very different. Having lived through the era where a “formal living room and a formal dining room” were always separate, I wouldn’t want to go back to that. But who knows where design will go next. But like you said, changing things to make it fit current fads can be crazy expensive! Thanks for your thoughts. ~Kathy