Why are we so obsessed with watching real estate-focused reality TV shows?
In the mid-1980s — I was barely 20 years old (yes, I am in my 50s now) — I was hooked on watching Bob Vila, the host of “This Old House” demonstrate how to cut ceramic tile or install a bathroom faucet. “This Old House” is one of the earliest home improvement shows aired on national television. I purchased my first home when I was 26 years old. It needed a renovation. I wasn’t about to cut tile or install a faucet on my own, yet I watched with intrigue.
Today, HGTV is the third-most-watched cable network, with more than 38 million viewers tuning in each month. The new series “A Very Brady Renovation” was the highest-rated series premiere in HGTV’s history, with 8.1 million viewers.
“Our programming is the comfort food of TV,” Kathleen Finch, chief lifestyle brands officer at Discovery, said in a phone interview. “Nobody dies, nobody gets hurt.”
Finch oversees the management of HGTV, Food Network, TLC, ID, Travel Channel, DIY Network, Cooking Channel, Discovery Life, American Heroes Channel, Destination America, Great American Country and the company’s Digital Studios Group in the United States.
HGTV’s top-rated series include “Flip or Flop,” “Property Brothers: Forever Home,” “Good Bones,” “My Lottery Dream House,” “Island Hunters,” “Hawaii Hunters” and "Mexico Life,” said Audrey Adlam, senior vice president of communications for HGTV, DIY Network and Great American Country.
Is it the real estate aspect of these shows that is so enticing? Or is it the personalities and the drama that keep us coming back? I asked.
“Both,” Finch said. “Viewers love our talent. They can’t walk down the street without being mobbed.
“Viewers also love the real estate,” Finch added. “We give them something to dream about.”
Owning a home is the American Dream. Whether you are a first-time buyer or a serial homeowner, there is nothing like the feeling of being handed the keys to your new home. There is nothing like walking into your home for the first time, lying down on the bare wood floors and doing the angel dance. (Yes, I do that every time I buy a property, and I recommend it to all my buyer clients.)
If you’ve never purchased a home, real estate-focused reality shows are aspirational.
“We live vicariously through the experiences of reality TV stars,” said Nelson Marban, an agent with Washington Fine Properties in Washington. “It’s the equivalent of playing house with people that aren’t in a room with you.”
Marban will be featured in an episode of a new HGTV series, “What You Get for Your Money,” to be aired in November. The episode is a reenactment of his experience helping one of his clients find and purchase a home.
“Most of these shows are not shot live,” Marban said. “It would be too expensive.”
He explained that the element of re-creation can be seen as fake. But, he said, from his experience, the reenactment was very factual.
Marban did confess that he is not a fan of real estate reality shows.
“They create a lot of expectation in the eyes of the consumer,” he said. “I have had clients want a flashy party like the ones on ‘Million Dollar Listing.’ ” I have to tell them that’s not how it works.”
These unrealistic expectations are common among home buyers nationwide.
“I have actually had new buyer clients ask me if I was going to show them only three houses before they had to make a decision,” said Terri Hess, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Columbus, Ohio.
In the HGTV series “House Hunters,” buyers are shown three homes and must select one to purchase. In real life, the buyer has already visited multiple listings and is under contract to purchase their home of choice.
“We are in the entertainment business,” Finch said, when asked about the criticism of HGTV’s programming. “We celebrate family, the American Dream; we take the old and sad and make it lovely; we make people feel good.”
There is no question that we all need lighthearted and uplifting entertainment these days.
“There is a lot of bad news,” said Mike Aubrey, the former host of HGTV’s “Get It Sold” and a real estate agent with Compass in Bethesda, Md. “These programs give viewers an escape into something that gives them a full and happy heart. People need comfort.”
I may not be able to clamp a two-by-four to a sawhorse and subjugate a jigsaw into making a perfectly clean cut — as Bob Vila hoped I would — but I am a back-seat driver to every regretful contractor I have hired. Thank you, HGTV.
Jill Chodorov Kaminsky, an associate broker with Long & Foster in Bethesda and a licensed real estate agent with CORE Real Estate in New York City, writes an occasional column about local market trends and housing issues. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misidentified a new HGTV show. It’s called “What You Get for Your Money,” not “What’s Your Money Worth.”