5 Myths About Homeownership You Probably Learned from TV Shows

published Jun 4, 2021
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From a very young age, HGTV was the foundation for most of my ideas on homeownership. Throw in an exorbitant amount of time designing homes in The Sims, and I had an all-American view of real estate that was largely detached from reality.

But thankfully, I also had parents who knew better. My dad, a part-time real estate agent and longtime DIY-er, has set me straight on a lot of these misconceptions over the years. So I’m here to do the same for you, dispelling five homeownership myths you probably learned from TV shows.

Myth #1: Homeownership is, by definition, a better investment than renting.

On “Marriage or Mortgage,” a Netflix series helping couples decide how to spend approximately $30,000, real estate agent Nichole Holmes is always quick to point out that these couples can afford a mortgage for less than their current rent.

That much is usually true, but it overlooks the myriad other costs that pile up: property taxes, utilities, insurance and maintenance. And those are just the expected costs! 

These concerns are usually waved off in the name of “equity.” But every home amounts to a different financial situation. Run an honest look at the numbers. You may only break even, or even lose money, when you go to sell the home.

Myth #2: Your home is guaranteed to go up in value.

This might be the most pernicious myth of all, and it plays right into the last one. Virtually every home purchase on these shows is made on the assumption that home prices will only ever go up, and appreciation will offer a nice payday down the line.

But appreciation is far from guaranteed, and even when it does happen, inflation is a big part of that. And what if you end up selling during a downturn, or market forces make your home less desirable? You can’t predict any of this, and it could leave you in a tough financial position.

Myth #3: Bigger is always better.

Americans have been steadily increasing the size of their homes for decades. We see it on every house-hunting show: Couples positively blown away by the sweeping great rooms or multi-acre yards they can get for their money.

But I’m here to tell you, bigger is not always better. Bigger is also harder to clean and furnish. Bigger is also more expensive to heat and cool (hello, utility bills!) And bigger houses and lots mean more property value to get taxed on. So be realistic about what you can keep up with, financially and emotionally.

Myth #4: You should spend every last penny you have on that down payment.

It seems almost guaranteed at this point that David Visentin, the realtor on “Love It or List It,” will only win over couples when he shows them a home just ever-so-slightly over their budget.

And couples are usually all-too-eager to oblige, stretching their savings to the absolute limit so they can have everything on their checklist. While this is tempting, it’s ill-advised. Homeownership is likely to throw all kinds of expensive surprises your way, so you need to budget for an emergency fund and protect it at all costs.

Myth #5: You need a designer and contractor for every renovation.

Something that always shocks me about home renovation shows is the amount of money people spend on bathrooms. $15,000? For a room barely larger than a closet? Truly astounding.

While these numbers are accurate, they assume you’re having the space professionally designed and letting a contractor handle all of the work. That might be your best bet, especially if you’re not handy. But this is not the only way! You could update the fixtures yourself rather than doing a full renovation. Or you could design it yourself but hire professionals, like a plumber, for the hard stuff. It’s not all-or-nothing.