Okay – I’ll admit. For those of you whose lives don’t revolve around the housing industry, the title to this blog is a little dramatic. Maybe it should be more like “Why HGTV is Ruining Your Renovation” or “Why HGTV is Ruining the Interior Design Industry”.
Someday, I’ll do an entire post on the public perception of interior design v. what I actually do on a day-to-day basis, but today I’m talking specifically about how networks like HGTV have not only tainted that perception, but also how they are ruining homeowners’ (like you!) expectations for home renovations and building new homes.
Aside from the fact that a simple Google search will bring up hundreds of articles on how every HGTV show is far from reality along with all the lies you are being told (like this one or this one), there are a number of reasons it’s directly affecting you and your home renovation:
#1. HGTV GIVES THE WRONG IMPRESSION ON WHAT TO EXPECT FROM YOUR INTERIOR DESIGNER
Every time I tell someone I’m an interior designer, I get this reaction –
“OH MY GOSH! I LOVE HGTV! I WATCH IT ALL THE TIME! DON’T YOU JUST LOVE JOANNA GAINES!? I NEED TO HAVE YOU OVER TO MY HOUSE! WHAT COLOR SHOULD I PAINT MY WALLS?
There’s a lot of enthusiasm centered around the discovery that I am an interior designer, which I sincerely appreciate, but it’s based on a false illusion of what interior design is. I typically spend anywhere from 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 years on a project, and my job entails a lot more than what is depicted in a 30 or 60 minute (not-so-)reality tv show.
A few months back, I got a phone call from a man who was looking at buying a new home. He was convinced this was the home for his family. His wife on the other hand? Not so much. The first thing he said to me is,
“I want the Joanna Gaines experience”.
I couldn’t help but chuckle and explained that only Joanna Gaines can provide the Joanna Gaines experience, and we provide the Fuchsia Design experience, so I asked for more details on what he was looking for. He wanted to send me the floor plan and real estate photos of the house and have me “quickly put together multiple 3D walkthroughs showing which walls could be removed and what their design options for the house could be”. Prior to this, I knew HGTV was skewing perception, but in this moment, I knew we had a problem. I can’t blame this man. He had watched a tv show, this was the impression he was given on what the process usually looks like when working with an interior designer, and then he sought out a professional to get the same experience.
Did you know it’s not uncommon for interior design host to be an actor/actress or untrained designer? Did you know that usually the designs shown on HGTV were not done by the interior design host, but rather that they hire local interior design firms to design and execute the spaces and the host gets credit for it? Even very little of the homes on Fixer Upper were designed by Joanna Gaines, but instead by design teams that were taught the formula to her aesthetic.
#2 HGTV PROVIDES UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS FOR RENOVATION BUDGETS
You know the drill. Their all-in budget is $300,000, and the home cost $250,000. Chip Gaines excitedly says, “that gives you a healthy budget of $50,000 for us to renovate your home!”
I feel terrible when clients come to me having tediously saved $50,000 for their home renovation based on what they saw on TV, only to find out that the kitchen alone is going to cost at least $120k for mid-grade products. Here’s the reality of HGTV:
All of the labor is free. The homeowners pay nothing for construction labor and interior design services which makes the cost of the renovation significantly less. Jonathan Scott from Property Brothers said in an interview, “the production company personally pays for the show’s renovations, including extra costs such as asbestos and bad wiring.”
With shows like Fixer Upper, they buy products in bulk and use them on multiple homes, so they get a much better deal than if they were buying for one home.
Manufacturers are excited about being featured on TV, so they will often donate products, appliances, and furniture to be featured on the show. You know those up close up shots of the Kohler faucet or the GE fridge? It’s an advertisement for that product in exchange for being donated. “The people who buy these houses are getting a steal of a deal because they’re getting hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of furniture and all this extra stuff, top quality materials from the decking to the tile, you name it,” Jonathon Scott told People. “And they’d never be able to get it for that price if it wasn’t for the show.”
Long story short, free construction labor, free interior design services, free products, and heavy discounts means that the total cost of renovation is a very small fraction of what it actually costs homeowners in the real world. This makes for a disappointing situation for homeowners looking to renovate, and tough news I regularly have to break to potential clients.
#3: HGTV Gives Homeowners Unrealistic Expectations on Construction Timelines
I get it – they have a 30 minute show, and they need to cram an entire renovation into it. But here’s what you don’t see in these shows –
Despite what you see on TV, the entire design for shows on HGTV is completed for the home prior to filming. So, when you see the homeowners deciding between two tile options, that tile was long ago decided on (usually without the homeowners input), and is already ordered and sitting in the garage. On shows like Property Brothers, homeowners are required to have already closed on their new property when applying, so when you see them looking at 3 different homes, that’s all made up for the show.
On HGTV, homeowners don’t have to wait for cabinets or appliances or tile to come in because everything is ordered and waiting to be installed. In the real world, lead times and back ordered products often hold up construction or dictate the schedule
On HGTV, labor is already lined up for the entire renovation. Often times, they have traveling crews that go from house to house to do the work. In the real world, there is a major labor crisis going on in the construction industry. A lot of industry professionals are retiring and very few are entering the trades. After the economy crash of 2009, a lot of tradesmen were forced to leave the trades and find other work. So, when we saw a huge boom in renovations and construction around 2014, there simply weren’t enough people to do the work. I have had situations in the past few years where I designed $150k renovations that we literally can’t find contractors to take the work. They have so many large scale renovations available to them, that they aren’t taking on “smaller projects”. This labor shortage causes huge delays. When you do find a contractor open to taking a project, it’s not uncommon for their waitlist to be 6+ months out. (Note: This is also why having free labor on HGTV is such a huge savings compared to reality. Supply and demand. When there’s very few skilled people to do the work, the cost of that work is higher.)
On HGTV, all permits have already been pulled. In reality, depending on what type of work you’re doing and what type of home you live in, getting permits for the project can take months of back and forth adding even more delays.
So – what takes 30-60 minutes to depict on tv, often takes months or even years of designing, permitting, wrangling labor, and constructing. A simple kitchen renovation often takes 6-9 months from beginning to end, so imagine what a full house renovation takes!
At the end of the day, HGTV is a network that creates entertaining TV shows. It should be no surprise that these “reality” TV shows are far from reality, so if you’re taking on a home renovation of your own, make sure to set realistic expectations rather than basing them on the fantasy portrayed on HGTV.