Question: I watch a lot of home improvement reality shows and get a bunch of ideas for my house. How real are the projects on these shows?
Answer: I am thrilled that you and countless other homeowners are inspired to start home improvement projects. There are some great, inspiring and educational home improvement shows out there. But reality TV is not necessarily our reality.
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 at 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.”
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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 remodeling jobs on home improvement shows in comparison to what real jobs cost around the country generally do not line up. Compare what you see on TV to the costs in your area through the Cost vs. Value Report (tucne.ws/costvvalue).
“I often mention ‘non-reality’ TV and talk about how unrealistic timelines and budgets are on those programs,” says Rochelle Horn, designer for Rosie Right, Design. Build. Remodel. “It does provide a smooth way to discuss budgets.”
Some homeowners who appear on shows 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.
Other than a “This Old House” episode in Phoenix around 1986, a couple of “Extreme Makeover — Home Edition” episodes and a “Hoarders” episode, I am not aware of other home improvement shows filmed in Arizona. For an Arizona homeowner, finding inspiration 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.
Timed for TV
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.
Kitchens cannot be designed, demolished and completed in a week, as often portrayed. It can take months. In the current economic climate and with the current material shortages, it can take nearly a year for all the materials and appliances to arrive, not to mention the labor needed to complete the project.
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.
These shows also 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.
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.
Bottom line: find inspiration, get ideas, be entertained and know that what you see is not the real world.
An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert since 1988, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie on the House radio broadcast, heard locally from 10 to 11 a.m. on KNST (790-AM) in Tucson and from 8 to 11 a.m. on KGVY (1080-AM) and (100.7-FM) in Green Valley.