Reality TV Week: House Hunters

House Hunters Title Card

Is it real? Is it Memorex? Does it matter?

What's 12 years old and follows a very familiar architecture that we've all come to know and love? No, not your parents' McMansion - it's "House Hunters" on HGTV. Most of you will probably be familiar with the show - probably moreso than I am, as I don't have cable and rarely watch television. However, this week I've gone ahead and watched about 10 episodes in a row (bleah!) in honor of the recent blog entry at They interviewed a former "House Hunters" buyer who accuses the show of being totally fake. General reaction on the web has not been one of surprise, although a few people have seemed reasonably disappointed.

Given the wooden "I love it"s and "I hate it"s and the incessant repetition of certain phrases, anyone with a brain could have figured out long ago that parts of this "reality" series were scripted. However, I've seen countless comments to the recent blog entries about this latest revelation that indicate a bevy of viewers who think "House Hunters" portrays the buying process as it really happens. I've also worked with buyers who have been die-hard fans of the show, so I'm sure this news is not the happiest in the world.

HGTV responded with a press release stating, in part,

We’re making a television show, so we manage certain production and time constraints, while honoring the home buying process.

... In other words, "seriously guys? You thought this was all real? Helloooo!"

So today just to be sure we're all clear I wanted to review the difference between "House Hunters" and buying a real house.

House Hunters Real Life
99% of buyers are under the age of 40. They are either engaged couples or married with kids. Over 25% of buyers are single women. The median age of repeat buyers is 53.*
Buyers look at 3 homes and choose one of three. The average buyer views 12 homes during their search.*
The only people involved are the buyers and the Realtor. Your home purchase should also involve a home inspector, an attorney, a home seller, the seller's agent, your mortgage lender (probably) and in many cases the seller's lender.
Buyers get the house that they choose in the big "decision" moment. Not every offer is accepted. Not every deal goes through. The show is designed for happy endings, so of course they won't show the offers that the buyers lost and the unreasonable counteroffers.
The negotiation process miraculously happens during a commercial break. Negotiating a deal on a house can sometimes drag on for a week or more.
Everyone likes stainless steel, granite and crown moldings. Buyers accustomed to renting for larger portions of their lives want move-in ready homes more than high end finishes.
Every bedroom is "decent size" and every closet is "nice and deep." Without a bed in the bedroom buyers have a lot of trouble gauging how large it actually is. Buyers are often impressed by the width of a closet but I often have to point out really deep closets if they aren't walk-ins.
"Paint is cheap" Repainting a 2 bedroom home can add upwards of $3000 to the cost.
Hetero buyer couples always joke that she will fill the whole walk-in closet with her stuff while he gets a tiny closet in the hall. ... Yeah, that actually happens all the time. I got nothin'.

*Source: NAR 2011 Home Buyers and Sellers Survey

Beyond all of the above, don't be disappointed if the following "House Hunters" clichés do not occur during your search for a new home:

  • The seller is nowhere to be found during your showing.
  • The showing goes in the order: Living room, kitchen, yard, dining room, bedrooms, bathrooms, closets, basement.
  • The kitchen always needs a makeover.
  • Entirely Stainless Steel Kitchen

    House Hunters Buyer: "It's lovely, but I wish it had a little more stainless steel..."

    Someone's unhappy because the appliances aren't stainless steel.

  • Someone's unhappy because the floors or counters are done in laminate.
  • Everyone (including the Realtor) gets a chance to confess their opinions about what everyone else involved in the search is doing wrong.
  • The agent "just happens to know" three homes that will suit all of the Buyer's needs. (Most of us here in Chicago have to do some searching first. There's a LOT of you and a lot of houses.)
  • You, as buyers, regularly find yourself jogging together, playing fetch with the dog in the park, or grocery shopping for cheese together.
  • Your agent is at the home and has all the doors unlocked and lights turned on before you arrive.
  • Your agent knows exactly where the property boundary falls when looking at a heavily graded, wild and unfenced section of yard.

So, go ahead and nickname your top three choices, or knock on the cheapo ceiling fans and laminate floors all your like. If you enjoyed watching the show for all this time don't let a silly thing like this ersatz scandal put you off of it. Just remember a few things as you do.

HGTV exists because it has some pretty stalwart and wealthy advertising sponsors. Most of those sponsors are either real estate brokerages, developers or home improvement stores. They have a vested interest in making you want to purchase real estate, and they definitely have an interest in cultivating your tastes so that you have an acquired disdain for lower-cost finishes. Pay attention to what the last words of every episode are. Assemble them into a mashup and you'll find they read like the cheesy sales pitch of a brand new Realtor. "We feel like real grownups now. This is the place where we'll spend the rest of our lives. It's nice to be finally starting our own lives." These guys are selling homeownership as a gateway drug to thousands of dollars in home improvement projects.

Nothing about "a wise investment of money" or "rents were just getting too high for us to afford." Nothing about "we want to be able to rent this out when we outgrow it" or "my parents left me a bunch of cash." No mentions made of struggling to save the down payment, comparison shopping for mortgage interest rates, or waiting for months on end for the bank to authorize a short sale. Only a few seconds spent on weighing the decision that will affect the next 5-7 years of your life and possibly much longer. If you're lucky, you'll get a hat tip to the enormous amounts of sweat equity invested in some of the homes to get them into their final, moved-in condition. All that is glossed over to give you the cherry-picked best parts of the home buying process: the pretty (faked) showings, the exciting moment of the (faked) decision, and the final shots of the happy couple in their new home.

Pocahontas Disney vs real

Pocahontas: Disney version vs Real Portrait. I'm just sayin'.

"House Hunters" is to the real home search like Disney films are to their original fairy-tale ancestors. Sanitized, abbreviated, and rearranged to create a happy ending. Everyone knows what Disney does to stories and yet their films are still extremely popular. I have no doubt that "House Hunters" will survive this latest bombshell in some fashion or another because of the enormous amounts of cash that it generates for its sponsors. Regardless of if it's real or scripted it's still an enjoyable show. But please remember that just as you can't live your life like a Disney princess, your home search will probably not go as seen on TV. If you're getting ready to go on a home search, please intersperse your viewings of "House Hunters" with episodes of "COPS," as for every glossy, TV-ready home shown on former, there's many more like the ones seen on the latter.


2 Responses so far.

  1. Adam Burley says:

    How is this a surprise to… oh, anyone? I’ve always assumed when watching this type of show that a) They’ve already narrowed down from 20+ options to the top 3; b) The buyers on the show are cherry-picked because they have the money to buy a house comfortably and fit the WASP / “friendly yuppie” look; c) The show doesn’t actually broadcast the people who didn’t find a place they liked / the place they liked didn’t fit the show’s “look” / the negotiations failed for one reason or another.

    I mean, comon, it’s TV…

    • Kay Cleaves says:

      I’d agree that it seems obviously fake to me, but then I only saw a few eps before yesterday’s marathon in preparation for this article. At that point I already knew they were faked so I can’t say whether or not I’d have picked up on it otherwise. But the extent of the whitewashing was kind of surprising. I mean, showing houses that weren’t even on the market was reaching a bit, and the HGTV excuse that local Realtors didn’t want their listings exposed to millions of viewers because of the risk of a bad review doesn’t hold water to me. The whistleblower in question lives in Texas, land of “we do everything for attention.”