On any given weekend in my house, at least a couple of hours will be spent watching the designers, craftspeople and entertainers on HGTV or its spunky sister station, the DIY Network. The premise of these home-centered television networks is that somewhere, sandwiched between long commercial breaks for paint, faucets, flooring warehouses and something called “Slab Jacking”, you’ll find programming about real people making real decisions about their homes. Sometimes those decisions are about buying a home, while other times they may be about selling or remodeling a home. In all of the situations, experts are brought in to help and a camera crew just happens to tag along, so the rest of us can enjoy the unfolding drama from the comfort of our couches.
Home improvement programming has been around for a long time and is generally considered reality TV, but a lot of the real life is lost between cuts. Here’s a quick guide of some of the more popular programs.
House Hunters – The formula is simple but always entertaining. Each episode begins with someone unhappy with their living situation, so they call an agent and look at 3 properties. After weighing the options, a home is chosen. Of course, this show is over-simplified and leaves out the long weekends the buyer spends in their agent’s car driving from listing to listing. What you do get is a sense of home values and styles in different regions, the humor of buyers’ reactions to homes, and the excitement new home owners feel as they take the keys to their dream home. You rarely get the type of tension home shopping can bring. The big climax of the show is when an offer is made: the narrator might say something like, “Though their offer was rejected the first time around, the other buyer ultimately backed out and they ended up getting the house for X amount.” But I don’t think they usually talk about it at all. For that kind of tension, you need to check out Property Virgins. The best part of the half hour happens in the last 30 seconds when you see how the new owner redecorates the home in their own style.
Property Virgins– Similar premise to House Hunters, except these first-time homebuyers walk through the basics. The best part about the show is the excitement (and sometimes clumsiness) of the virgin house-hunters. The worst part of this show is when would be homebuyers have unrealistic expectations for their first home.
House Hunters International – Comparable to House Hunters but everyone has accents and the kitchens are shockingly small.
Designed to Sell – Did you know that your spare bedroom filled with Grandpa’s taxidermy and the vintage 1950’s kitchen can be a turn-off to potential buyers? Valuable lessons like these are a just a few of the gems I’ve picked up on Designed to Sell. Each episode features a home which has been racking up days on the market but no one is interested in buying. That’s where the army of carpenters and designers step in. When they’re done, the house that looked like Grandma’s musty basement now looks like the lobby of a hip hotel, and they only spent a few hundred dollars. I love this program for the inspiration but find it short on reality. The listed prices of these improvements don’t seem realistic, and I often wonder if the costs include the lifetime of carpentry skills, design training, garage filled with power tools and time required to do the job. If you are looking for design ideas and hope for a home that isn’t attracting buyers, you’ll find some great ideas here, but take the true cost of those improvements with a grain of salt.
Real Estate Intervention – Being a real estate agent takes a lot of diplomacy, and this is never more important than that moment they suggest a market-friendly price to a home seller. On Real Estate Intervention, that diplomacy generally fails, sellers are unrealistic, and a stern man with a menacing mustache steps in for an intervention. He dishes out tough love to the seller and paints a clear picture of market reality. In a half hour he is able to change minds and make the seller feel good about the decision they made.
This Old House – This PBS staple wrote the book on home improvement programming. With TOH you’ll trade commercials for pledge drives, but you’ll also get a more cerebral home improvement viewing experience. TOH does take patience, as it takes a full season to complete a home improvement project instead of 30 minutes on other programs. If you are looking for the same quality instruction in a more digestible format, you can check out the spin off, Ask This Old House.
Be warned that the home improvement bug often bites soon after watching any of these programs. After a long HGTV bender, I find myself wandering through the paint sample aisle and making trips to home improvement stores that aren’t on my way home from the office. Sometimes life does imitate art and the voice in the back of my head keeps saying, “They make it look so easy.”
What about you? Do you find home-improvement shows useful or do you think they set unrealistic expectations? What are your favorite home-improvement resources?
by Justin Waskow