My Childhood Home Was on “House Hunters”, and Watching the Episode Was Deliciously Unsettling

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I used to think I’d seen basically every episode of “House Hunters”. I haven’t seen all 194 seasons, of course, but don’t they usually go something like this?

A couple is looking for a house, and their desires are so out of sync we wonder how they even manage to order pizza together, nevermind make a decision that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. They’re only allowed to look at three houses. A surprisingly tolerant realtor puts up with their anger at having to see outdated tile. In the end, the couple somehow picks a house and, in the final seconds, we get to see their tight smiles and awkward friends as they gush over their new home. 

I have watched “House Hunters” for years, finding something compelling in its mundanity. It falls somewhere between “mindless pleasure” and “chance to mock strangers,” two things I generally enjoy. My relationship to the show might have stayed this way, but then something surprising happened. My childhood home was featured in an episode. 

I felt a little thrill when I found out, similarly to how I felt when I heard a former high school classmate was on “Say Yes To The Dress: Atlanta”. The world of TV, even reality TV, exists separate from my own little world. When the two come together, it feels deliciously unsettling, like seeing a dog wearing clothes.

The episode that features my old house is season 126, episode 6: Tennessee Couple Wants More Space in Chattanooga. On the show, Kristi and Rink Murray are looking for a bigger home. She wants to renovate, renovate, renovate, while Rick looks like he might be blinking H-E-L-P in Morse code at the screen. I have seen the episode three times: Once with my parents, once with friends, and once with my boyfriend before writing this article. Even if my former home hadn’t been featured, it still would have been a fun episode to watch. 

In the show, the Murrays are house-hunting on Lookout Mountain, a bedroom community of Chattanooga. The first house, a fixer-upper with an amazing view of the Tennessee Valley, wasn’t familiar to me. But the second house was also one I knew: I’d been to New Year’s Eve parties there, where I watched Mary Kate and Ashley VHS movies. 

Then, finally, came my house. We lived there for about four years, from around my second birthday to my seventh. The new house we moved to was bigger and had a pool, but the old house was where all my first memories lived. Leaving it was when I experienced—at the ripe age of seven—my first feelings of nostalgia. We had put our handprints on the bathroom wall and marked our growth on the back of the pantry door. I felt like some part of me had been left behind. While the house we moved into has changed over the years, the house we left feels frozen in some kind of childhood idyll, an enchanted place existing outside of time. We only moved four miles away, just over the state line in Georgia, but the house was on a dead end street and there was never any reason to drive by or see it. 

That is, until I was about to glimpse it on “House Hunters”. But as the moment neared, I didn’t feel excitement. Instead, I started feeling protective. I wasn’t worried about what they’d think—I just felt a sudden desire to keep the house all to myself. 

The segment begins with an exterior shot as we learn the basic stats: bedrooms, bathrooms, price. My swing isn’t on the tree anymore, but other than that, it looks exactly the same. The inside of the house, however, had not gone untouched in the years since I lived there. My first shock was at how small it looked to me now, which is funny considering the Murrays were looking for more space. It turns out a great way to feel like you have a ton of space is to be a six-year-old person.

The living room looked the most unchanged. Every other room showed signs of updates from previous owners. The kitchen was opened up into the den, giving some future resident a much bigger kitchen. The bathroom my sister and I took baths in had been made into an ensuite, and the jungle wall art a friend of my mom’s had done was long painted over. Plus, an entire room had been added. 

The first time I watched it, I bristled as the Murrays speculated about future add-ons and renovations. It is fine as is! But something changed as I rewatched the episode a second time. The rooms stopped looking less like the rooms I remembered and more like the house it is now. The house that lived in my brain for the past 24 years was cleaving away from the house that existed in “House Hunters”. 

I also found my protectiveness had begun to fade. Seeing the rooms in their modern state had helped me turn over rocks and find memories I had long forgotten: The time my grandmother told me to hug a tree with her and insisted I would tell my own grandchildren about it one day. The spot I would hide and spy on my parents having dinner after I had been put to bed. As the actual house became more real to me, my memories of it when it was mine also sharpened. 

By the end of the third rewatching, when the Murrays picked house number three, my house, it felt no different than if they had picked another house, or no house, or if the producers had come off camera to announce they were actually lizards come to earth to learn about humankind through our house-buying habits. It felt like what happened on the show had nothing to do with me once again. I was back to being a passive viewer, whispering my judgements while I played Candy Crush on my couch. My childhood home was mine again, no matter who lived in it.