We won’t lie. The home improvement shows that have taken over the airwaves in the last few years can be pretty entertaining. In fact, we’ll admit to getting sucked into a five-hour marathon session of HGTV’s Property Brothers once or twice. (Hey, those guys are funny and endearing!) The problem is that some home improvement shows can be misleading at best, and downright deceiving at worst. There are quite a few aspects of buying, selling, flipping, fixing, and renovating that they don’t address on television.
1. Buying is more complex than it looks on television.
Finding a home isn’t usually as easy as viewing three houses and choosing the one you like best. Things might work out that way once in a blue moon if you’re lucky. But in reality, it can take a month or more to find that perfect home to call your own. The journey to the closing table often gets left out of the process as well. When a buyer’s offer gets accepted, they celebrate like the home is already theirs. The buyers on many of these programs have already chosen or already own the homes they end up with. That’s because what happens between presenting an offer and actually owning the home can take around thirty days or more, and producers typically don’t have that kind of time to invest in the filming of one episode.
2. Renovation takes time.
Some home improvement shows are good about giving realistic timelines. Others make it look like an entire kitchen renovation gets completed in no time at all. Through the magic of television, three people are able to complete the work of thirty in one weekend, which is completely unrealistic. What they don’t show is just how many contractors are working on a project behind the scenes or the fact that they might be working round the clock to make their deadline. This is their full-time job. Unless you have a ton of free time, expect your reno to take much longer than they do on TV.
3. It also takes more money than you think.
Renovation budgets aren’t necessarily realistic either. Sometimes the contractors and homeowners get discounts or freebies for featuring or talking up a certain product. Some talk about needing a contingency set aside for emergencies or unexpected issues that might arise, but most do not. It’s crucial to have some room in your budget for things you might discover during the course of your renovation, such as a damaged foundation, faulty wiring, or other things that absolutely must be fixed. Another thing they don’t tell you: all those fancy furnishings and decor used to stage the home don’t normally get left behind after filming wraps up. The homeowners have the option to buy the staging decor after the fact, but it seems to come at a premium.
4. Flipping a house is not "easy money."
Sure, there’s money to be made in flipping. But by no means is it easy money. There’s the issue of finding the right deal. And then there’s always the risk of over-improving the home and not making a profit—or worse, not even covering the materials and labor you put into it. Maybe you didn’t do enough improvement or the work isn’t up to par, and you can’t find any buyers. Flipping can be a tricky job, and it’s one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Just because a flip house is cheap doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. You have to take into consideration the house’s location, how much work it needs, and its resale value based on comps in the area. It’s best for a beginner to team up with an experienced mentor to learn how to do it properly.
5. The drama is ramped up for ratings.
Obviously, the most important thing for a television show is ratings. They can’t make money if viewers don’t find their show interesting. Home improvement shows have been known to crank up the drama to keep their audiences engaged. They make some issues that are actually quick, inexpensive fixes look like a huge deal. Here’s an example.
Contractor: This wall that we wanted to remove is a load-bearing wall, and that is the WORST POSSIBLE THING THAT COULD HAPPEN. Plus, the flooring we wanted is discontinued, and this box of tiles I bought has one that is cracked.
Homeowners: (near tears) Oh, no! How are we going to afford all of this? Now we’ll never have the home of our dreams. This is a nightmare. We should never have bought this home.
The show cuts to a commercial, and we come back to find that the contractor has come up with a simple solution to the ordeal.
Okay, so that example might be a little bit hyperbolic. But so are a lot of the emotions on television. Storylines are embellished, and sometimes "sob stories" are created by producers to create an emotional attachment for viewers.
If you do the job right, tackling a fixer upper shouldn’t be quite as drama-filled as it looks on TV. There’s certainly no harm in watching home improvement shows as long as you realize they aren’t always realistic. Just take these five points into consideration and hopefully you won’t have any unwelcome surprises when it comes time to do your own renovation.