Has HGTV Ruined Real Estate?

There might be only one thing people love more than real estate–watching television shows about real estate. On a single day there is almost a full 24 hours of buying, selling, fixing up, flipping, flipping out, and refining houses.

At last count, there are 150 different shows on the very popular HGTV channel. Here are just a few of them:  “Fixer Upper,” “Flip it to Win It,” “Property Brothers,” “Bang for Your Buck,” “Love It or List It,” “Love It or List It Too,” “House Hunters,” “House Hunters International,” “House Hunters Renovation,” “Rehab Addict,” “Buying and Selling,” “Flip or Flop,” “Beachfront Bargain Hunt” and “Property Virgins.”

Then there is “Selling LA” and “Selling NY,” which might have been a spin-off of “The Housewives of fill-in-the-city,” but is especially come-hither for real estate brokers. Full disclosure:  I got sidetracked for 20 minutes while writing this column, watching a “Selling NY” episode where a candy titan [yes, that’s a thing] readied his spectacular $5.5 million, 4,400 sq. ft. apartment for sale, and a bereaved man went through the difficult process of selling his mother’s modest apartment on CPW, which had been in his family for 60 years. Only the commercials snapped me out of it.

Why do we watch, and how has it changed our view of real estate?

  • We watch because it’s ‘reality TV’ that is passably respectable. After all, many of us own houses, so we have a lot in common. If, on the other hand, Honey Boo-Boo decided to go house shopping, we might take a pass on that.
  • We watch it because we can get ideas about how to fix up our own houses, what’s valuable in the marketplace and what renovations cost. When Hilary from “LIOLI” (“Love It or List It”) maps out a five-room reno including new kitchen, finished basement, fourth bedroom and new furniture, paint, and lighting for $65,000, we think, “That is incredible what she just did in three weeks for $65,000! And with all that rewiring of the house and repair of half of the foundation! Of course it would be much more in Wilton, I know that—it would probably be at least $125,000 and take twice as long. Maybe even three months.” This is the fantasy part of RERTV (Real Estate Reality TV). Even in Canada, where “LIOLI” is filmed, and everything except sunscreen seems enviably cheaper, these are not real numbers. The labor, project and design fees are not included in the estimate of work. And I suspect that much of the decorating is donated or heavily discounted for ‘placement’ advantages, although I don’t know this.
  • We watch because it’s much easier than actually redoing our houses or buying or selling, and there’s always a happy ending. Let’s face it, it’s fun to watch things metamorphose from icky to wonderful. It’s fascinating to see Drew Scott from “Property Brothers” show people wretched homes that his brother Jonathan magically transforms into miniature castles on his computer, see Drew “negotiate” the price, then watch Jonathan play Henry Higgins and remodel the dump into a fabulous ‘princess’ of a home. All in 50 minutes! And they all lived happily ever after…

All this happy house hunting has created a myth about real estate. The myth is that an outdated house is not a good house. There are homes that are really good buys that are being sidelined at the get-go because of flowered wallpaper, 15-year old kitchens, or mothballs. I can think of six in Wilton, two in Westport and three in New Canaan at the moment that are incredible homes with great space, good systems, floor plans and locations, that are priced excessively low and still are not selling because they are ‘outdated.’

Buyers are online shoppers. The pictures are their guides, and if they see décor that is from the Nixon or even Dubya era, many will just skip it. They don’t want to do any work. They’ve seen the flips and flops, they’ve watched Hilary do her thing, and David come up with the ‘right’ house, they observed other ‘buyers’ turn their noses up at houses that don’t meet their expectations, and that’s the way it is. And they make those decisions in about eight seconds.

But here’s the rub:  they miss a lot of great houses that way. Many times it’s not the cost of the projects, but the energy required that dissuades people from purchasing a home that needs work, and they will be more open to a lesser house with better amenities rather than endure moving into something that doesn’t sparkle as much.

It’s understandable—life is busier than ever. People are working harder than ever—at home and at work. Moving, despite the 50-minute gift packaging that HGTV is delivering, is really hard work. And if you can afford the house you want that has all the bells and whistles you love, you’re golden.

But don’t dismiss the homes that might need a little spit and polish to make them shine. You might find that, once your eyes are open to them, the world looks a lot bigger.

Julie Carney is GMW.com’s real estate columnist. One of Wilton’s leading realtors, she heads up the Julie Carney Group at William Raveis. Her award-winning real estate career spans twelve years and sales exceeding $130 million. Her husband Bob Carney is a member of the JC Group and an award-winning journalist for 30 years. He contributes many of the columns to GMW.com.