Home Improvement Shows: How Real is Reality TV?

updated May 5, 2019
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(Image credit: Katie Gard)

By now we’re all well aware that most reality TV is anything but a reflection of reality (just take a look at how many writers are listed in the credits). But what about those home improvement shows we love so much? The ones that feature nice, normal people, realistic homes and this thing (maybe you’ve heard of it) called a budget. They seem pretty legit, right?  Right? Let’s take a look. 

One thing you may have noticed about this type of show is that each episode is structured the same way. For example: couple needs house, couple looks at three houses, couple picks a house over a picturesque table laid with coffee and croissants, then calls their realtor with the happy news. Easy! If you’ve ever turned on HGTV, you probably know I’m referring to House Hunters, the show that was outed last year by a Texas woman who was featured on the show. She claimed that the producers of House Hunters only cast buyers who were already in escrow on a property, and then had them “tour” two other homes, sometimes ones that were not even on the market. 

Then there’s my favorite guilty pleasure, Property Brothers, where two twin brothers (a real estate agent and a contractor) show demanding buyers their dream home before revealing that it’s priced far above their budget. Then, after that reality check has brought down their expectations, the brothers help them find, buy and renovate a lower-priced fixer-upper. Each episode is the same: the buyers tour some less-than-desirable homes, pick from two design plans and finally get to pick up a sledgehammer and knock down a wall or two for the cameras (because I’ve never watched an episode that didn’t mention the term open-concept). 

Now, imagine you were cast on a reality show. What’s the very first thing you would do? If it were me, I’d watch the show! So, how are these people so surprised every time their “dream home” turns out to be beyond their financial reach?

And don’t even get me started on the obviously scripted banter in Love It or List It, the show that pits a designer against a realtor to see if a family who needs a new space will stay in their renovated home or buy one of the realtor’s finds. 

I get it. The producers are making TV, and they don’t want to waste time filming people who don’t end up buying, so they find ones who already have and work backwards. Or they need a climax to the episode, so they conveniently discover toxic mold in the walls of a renovation project that throws off the budget and the timeline! Oh no! Is it so wrong to do a little clever editing to make the show a little more like TV and a little less like reality? 

Some would say yes. They argue that these shows make it look too easy to find the perfect house or pull off the perfect renovation. That we’re so saturated with half-hour makeovers, when it comes time to knock down a few of our own walls, it’s a lot harder than we’re expecting. That may be true, but I say, if we’re forming all our expectations and getting all our information from television, even if it does claim to be reality, then there may be a bigger problem. 

We’re probably better off appreciating these shows for what they are: entertainment with some helpful home improvement tips. Real or not, I know I’ll keep watching for the décor and especially for the drama.  

What do you think?  Are these shows real or fake, and do you even care? 

(Image: Adrienne Breaux / Matt’s Modern Minimalist Austin Retreat )