Chip and Joanna Gaines. They’re a dynamic duo: builder/contractor, real estate agent, interior designer/decorator — all in one delightfully friendly couple! They show prospective homeowners three house options. They help them through the budgeting process. They plan and implement the redesign and renovation and then furnish and decorate it beautifully. They finish the job in a relatively short period of time — and on time.
On tv, this all happens in 30 minutes. Amazing progress is made during commercial breaks. Few surprises. Happy new homeowners.
Home & Garden Television — now known as HGTV — launched in the early 1990s and focuses on real estate, renovation, home décor and house flipping. Before that, the only show dedicated to home improvement was the PBS series “This Old House.” But HGTV’s popularity exploded and now viewers have many binge-watching options.
And these reality shows have turned real estate agents, builders and interior decorators into household names and empires: Fixer Upper’s Chip and Joanna Gaines, Property Brothers Drew and Jonathan Scott, Flip or Flop’s Tarek and Christina, to name a few.
Let’s get real
How realistic are these scenarios played on tv? They’re popular and addictive, but do they set up unreasonable expectations for homeowners, home buyers and home sellers? What are the biggest misconceptions that these shows promote when it comes to home renovations?
“There are sooo many,” says Stacy Allwein, an agent with CENTURY 21 Redwood Realty. Her husband runs the renovation side of their business and together they have been investing and selling homes since 2006, “long before the popularity of the tv shows.”
Stacy has watched the evolution of home buyers as HGTV has soared in popularity.
“The biggest thing I see is that HGTV makes it seem like it is easier than it actually is to renovate and flip houses,” says Stacy. “They do not include many of the costs when they show purchase price, reno costs and sales price. Rarely do you see monthly carrying costs (insurance, loan payments if a lender is involved, etc.). In reality, the profits are not what you see on Flip this House.”
Buyers’ standards in décor have also risen considerably as they are inundated with picture-perfect homes, not only on television, but also on social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. Joanna Gaines is one example of a reality tv star becoming an enormously popular design influencer with her sophisticated upscale farmhouse aesthetic. The finished homes on Fixer Upper feature her company’s (Magnolia Market) furnishings and décor, not the homeowners’ real possessions, which might be worn and vintage. If the buyers want to keep the house looking as lovely as Joanna has created, they must purchase the items, which typically isn’t included in the budget mentioned on the show.
“Some buyers expect their homes to look like an HGTV home and if it doesn’t they are not willing to make concessions on their ‘must have’ list,” Stacy says. “When there’s a low inventory in the market like there is these days, buyers have to have more realistic expectations.”
The shows also have their share of purported behind-the-scenes shenanigans including allegations of faking scenes, shoppers hunting for a house that in actuality they have already purchased, staged scenarios and fabricated tension between couples.
And that annual HGTV Dream Home Giveaway? Sounds fabulous! Unfortunately, since the contest began more than 20 years ago, only a few winners have been able to actually keep these luxurious homes once they realize the tax burden. In order to live in the lap of luxury, you need to already be wealthy!
When it comes to home renovations, the timeline is probably one of the most unrealistic expectations that viewers may walk away with. Your real-life contractor is probably juggling multiple projects, not just yours. The television contractors have a vested interest in solely focusing on a single project for the show.
Not only do real estate costs vary widely depending on location, but so do renovation costs. And keep in mind, these tv contractors’ rates may be reduced in exchange for the exposure they are getting by appearing on television.
Those outlandish budgets for seemingly commonplace people have become a running joke. “Ted is a part-time turtle rehabilitator and Marie blogs about invasive plants. Their budget? $1.3 million.”
If you like to binge-watch reruns from the past, keep in mind your current real estate market, factoring in fluctuations. Is it a buyer’s market or a seller’s market? This is important to understand when shopping for your next home.
On television, the value of the area in which the house is located is shown as secondary to the sparkling new kitchens and bathrooms and that amazing patio. When house-hunting, keep in mind that bathrooms and kitchens depreciate in value, but the land under the house should increase in value. Without continued investment, your house will eventually become dated; make sure its location is tried and true, or obviously up and coming.
Another thing about location, location, location: Those adorable Waco-based Fixer Upper homes would cost five times as much in Washington, D.C. As a comparison, the median price of a home that sold in Waco, Texas (where Fixer Upper is filmed) in October 2020 was $132,000. The median price of a home that sold in the Washington, D.C. region in October of 2020 was $675,000.
Unlike the 30-minute shows you watch, you probably won’t find the house of your dreams after looking at just three houses. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
On the bright side
Despite the misconceptions, HGTV remains hugely popular. Have these shows been at all helpful to the real estate and home renovation industry?
“In my opinion, HGTV has made things a little more exciting for buyers, as long as they are realistic,” says Stacy.
“They also help sellers have great ideas to get their homes prepped for sale. I have one client who has redone a house in one year that could be on HGTV. I am so proud of this young teacher and her husband. They could have their own tv show: How to Redo a House on a Budget!”
The bottom line: Enjoy the entertainment. Tune in to HGTV for inspiration, but set aside unrealistic expectations.
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