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The Reality of Remodeling

Home improvement TV is not the real world

It all started with a guy named Bob.

Bob Villa, the man behind PBS programming’s staple This Old House, pioneered home improvement TV long before reality home improvement TV was a thing. This Old House debuted on February 20, 1979, before some of today’s home improvement reality TV personalities were born!


Today there are 30 home improvement shows on HGTV alone, which makes sense as HGTV does stand for Home & Garden Television.

When the world was under the stay-at-home order, TV viewership and the desire to update our homes increased. The perfect pairing for home improvement TV!

At Rosie on the House, we are thrilled that homeowners are inspired to start home improvement projects! There are some great, inspiring, and educational home improvement shows out there.

When watching these shows, keep in mind that first and foremost, these shows should be considered entertainment. The networks they appear on are looking for ratings, and they will go to great lengths to get them and that is the problem. It’s one thing to find inspiration and ideas, and another to think that what you see on TV is what you get in reality. In most instances, real life is not what is depicted.

“Oh, the lengths to which we could go on this topic,” says Bruce Stumbo, Project Manager, Rosie Right | Design. Build. Remodel. “Basically, it boils downs to a few things. But one, the pricing is very unrealistic. They must get a lot of items donated or provided at cost to the show because in almost every one of the shows I’ve seen, pricing is at a minimum, half the realistic cost. Also, the timelines. While we are very tight on our schedules, some people get an unrealistic expectation on how long a project will last in the span of watching a show for 45 minutes.”


Trendy vs. Classic

These shows do a great job promoting remodeling, educating the public on the latest home improvement trends, and encouraging them to get their weekend warriors on. But be cautious of falling into the trendy trap. Remember Shabby Chic? Barn Doors? Live, Laugh, Love? Keep Calm & Carry On? Well, don’t get carried away with what’s trendy. Trendy doesn’t last.

The Price is Not Right

The remodeling jobs on home improvement shows in comparison to what real jobs cost around the country generally doesn’t line up. Compare what you see on TV to the costs in your area through the Cost vs. Value Report.

“I often mention ‘non-reality’ TV and talk about how unrealistic timelines and budgets are on those programs,” says Rochelle Horn, designer, Rosie Right | Design. Build. Remodel. “It does provide a smooth way to discuss budgets.”

Some homeowners who appear on shows do receive appliances and other items from the show’s sponsors. They may also be paid a fee for their appearance. Services may be free, too.


Do a Google search on home improvement shows (not the one with Tim Allen, which was one of Rosie’s favorites). You will find plenty of articles about homeowners featured on shows who forked out much more money than budgeted.

Location, Location, Location

This Old House remodeled a house in Encanto in Phoenix around 1986. Other than a couple of Extreme Makeover – Home Edition episodes and a Hoarders episode, we are not aware of other home improvement shows filmed in Arizona. For an Arizona homeowner to find inspiration, that can be a problem. Sure, you can get décor ideas, but the materials and techniques used are not generally recommended in our hot, dry climate. Many of these shows are filmed in Texas, the South, Canada, and Southern California. Plus, the cost for the remodel is not indicative of what we have here. Again, look at the Cost vs. Value Report.

Time is Not on Your Side

Have you seen homeowners or contractors featured on these shows stand in line at city offices waiting to have permits reviewed for work on electrical changes, relocation of plumbing, and removal of walls at their houses? No. Filing and paying for permits goes on behind the scenes and can add quite a bit of time to a real-life renovation.

“We have leads that will call and want an addition or a kitchen done in one week. Their comment is ‘they do it on TV’,” says Tom Sertich, Kirk Development Company, a Rosie-Certified Partner. “They are not aware that materials have been ordered, plans have been drawn, and permits have already been received before work begins on reality shows. Most of our customers who watch these shows understand they are only shows and watch them for cabinet style, countertops, space design, and landscaping.”

Kitchens cannot be designed, demolished, and completed in a week, as often portrayed. It can take months. In the economic climate and material shortage we are in today, it can take nearly a year for all the materials and appliances to arrive, not to mention the labor needed to complete the project.

“The most misleading and frustrating things are the obvious misrepresentation of cost and time,” says Jeff Knorr, JKC Inc. General Contractor, a Rosie Certified Partner. “The second most misleading and frustrating thing is the complete lack of showing or acknowledging all the front-end work and time that goes into getting a project started such as plans, permits, etc.”

Picture Perfect

In many cases, the final reveal of the houses is staged with brand-new furniture and accessories. Sometimes they are custom-made. The homeowners do not get to keep that stuff after the remodel unless they pay for them. So, you must account for those costs in the project estimate.

There are also instances where the home was left unfinished after the wrap. These shows are scripted and the producers choose what they want you to see.

Don’t Mess with the Mess

These shows don’t accurately capture the realistic amount of noise, 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.

The Aftermath

There are stories all over the internet about homeowners who were featured on these shows and could not afford to keep their renovated homes. The costs to maintain them were so outrageous. According to Desert News, the monthly utility bills for an Arizona house featured over a decade ago jumped from $500 to $1,200 and the property taxes quintupled. By 2009, the house went up for sale (after failing to sell it two years earlier), lowering the original asking price from $1.8 million to $800,000, and then finally selling at $540,000.

So, if you are going to up the ante on bells and whistles, make sure you can afford their upkeep and the increased property values they may bring with them.

And, if there is a casting call for homes in your area, be cautious about jumping on the opportunity. Know what you are getting into before signing on the dotted line.



LIVE FROM THE SAHBA HOME AND PATIO SHOW IN TUCSON! Shows on HGTV and other home improvement channels are good for inspiration. But the reality is there’s more to a remodel or upgrade they don’t show you. Rosie points out those things you need to know that help or hurt your project. Plus common mistakes homeowners make with the air conditioning system, homeowner questions on a hot water issue and solution to a sewer smell that didn’t work.


Photo Credit

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