HGTV: What’s Real and What’s Unreal

24 May 2016

The HGTV network was born 20 years ago, and it’s been a big ratings smash ever since.

Among its hot successes: “Property Brothers,” “Fixer Upper,” “Love It or List It,” and “Flip or Flop,” where faded and even junky homes are transformed by knocking down a few walls and installing stainless steel refrigerators and granite countertops. Of course, even before HGTV came along, Bob Villa paved the way with “This Old House” on public television.

So how much of this HGTV reality show remodeling is really real and what’s not? Can you demo and redo in less time than it takes to lose 20 pounds or recover from a facelift? Is the money spent actually enough to do the renovations shown? And does it really matter if you love the show?

Here’s what we think and what people in the business of remodeling told us.

What’s Real

It's Entertaining

rosie on the house bathroom remodelHGTV is highly entertaining, and the network has found great remodeler-types to star in its shows. We found that out when our booth at a Phoenix home show a couple of years ago was next to the stage where Drew and Jonathan of “Property Brothers” were “performing.” We were really amazed at the crowds that they drew.

It's Educational

The network also does a great job of promoting remodeling, educating the public on the latest home improvement trends, and encouraging homeowners to grab a sledge hammer and do the demo themselves whether it makes sense or not. And even though HGTV might not always be too realistic, don’t let that stop you from watching or from dreaming about remodeling your own home.

What’s a Little Unreal

1. Unrealistic Prices

We’re often amazed at the low prices quoted for remodeling jobs on HGTV, particularly compared to national surveys of what jobs cost around the nation. “I just can’t believe a lot of times when they say something will cost $15,000 that it’s not really representative of all the hours and time that’s put in behind the scenes,” says Christine Cox, an interior designer with BC Renovations.

Some homeowners who appear on shows do get appliances and other items from show sponsors. They are also usually paid a fee for their appearance. Some services are thrown in for free. On the “Property Brothers” for example, homeowners are not charged for the services of the show’s design team.

2. Locations

You can find out a lot about renovation done in other areas, particularly on some series episodes filmed in Canada like “Love It or List It” and “Property Brothers.” But that means that many times you wonder whether the techniques used would work for your home in Arizona. And if a show takes place in Waco, Texas, as does “Fixer Upper,” the quotes for the remodel are probably quite a bit less than prices in Arizona.

3. The Timing

Have you ever seen homeowners featured on HGTV as they stand in line at city offices while waiting to have permits reviewed for work on electrical changes, relocation of plumbing and removal of walls at their houses? Filing and paying for permits is something that’s going on behind the scenes on those shows and that can probably add quite a bit of time to your real-life renovations.

And many times in a real remodel, you can wait weeks for cabinets and fixtures to arrive. Sometimes discussion of problems like that is used to add a little bit of drama to the program. But the crisis is over in minutes while in real life you wait four weeks for a designer bathtub.

One remodeler told us about a client and avid fan of HGTV who had to sell her house in California to relocate in Arizona. “Her plan was to sell her California house after school was out and then buy another house and remodel it in time for the kids to start school in Arizona in the fall,” says the remodeler. “She was surprised to learn it would take her five or six weeks alone to close on the new house.”

4. Staging and the Furniture

Some HGTV shows, like “Fixer Upper,” have indicated that houses are staged with special brand-new furniture and accessories that families do not get to keep after the remodeling unless they pay for them. But other shows do actually include the price of furniture in cost estimates for the remodels.

5. The Mess

remodeling dustVery few if any homeowners actually live through the remodels while staying in homes that are the focus of HGTV episodes. So the network doesn’t really capture the realistic amount of dust and dirt that remodeling can create or the frustration of not being able to use a bathroom for weeks or a kitchen for months.

We did ask representatives of HGTV to grant us an interview before doing this column, but they declined. They did send a press release noting that they ranked No. 8 among primetime viewers ages 25 to 54 on the list of top 10 cable networks in 2015.

According to general manager Allison Paige: “The ratings momentum we’ve seen at HGTV reflects the impact that star talent and addictive program formats have on our key audiences, especially the upscale female audience and the millennial audience.”





    Print this page