Reality Home Schooling


Like many home enthusiasts, I’m a fan of HGTV and now Magnolia Network. For those interested in home remodeling, decorating, or interior design, the channels are as delicious to us as jerky treats to my Labradors. I particularly enjoy Fixer Upper, Renovating Galveston, and Bargain Mansions.


In watching the international version of House Hunters, I’m always amused by how naïve—perhaps entitled—Americans are when moving to other countries. Couples looking for flats in London whine that the properties don’t all have bathtubs, walk-in closets, full-sized refrigerators, and open-concept design.


I’m reminded of the scene in Agatha Christie’s “Evil Under the Sun” where Vera Miles’s character tells the hotel proprietor, played by Maggie Smith, that she wishes she had a shower that worked as “snappily” as the one she has in New York. Smith’s delivery is priceless: “Well, we can’t expect American plumbing when we’re in the Adriatic.”


Having had several unpleasant (read, infuriating) experiences with contractors, I can honestly say that they’re not all as nice as Chip and Joanna Gaines. Other than a television show contractor, I’ve never known any who delivered a turnkey job on time, much less a massive renovation that is expertly staged. Of course, the networks haul in as much labor as needed to make sure it happens—unless it not happening is part of the drama.


Which I can live without. I’m a terrible reno-show fan. I usually watch to see what the place looks like before they start, go back to whatever I’m doing, then come in to see how it turned out and critique their work.


I’m fascinated by the lack of vision people on these shows suffer. When a couple views a house that checks all their boxes and then nixes it because they don’t like the living room wall color, I don’t know whether to laugh or feel sorry for them. Painting a room isn’t difficult or expensive—I’ve done it many times. Then there are the folks who won’t buy a particular house because their couch won’t fit. Although we all know they’ve already selected a house, this just makes them sound plain stupid.


I’m also surprised by how many people invite a television crew into their homes without first cleaning up the place. Love It or List It is a prime example of the slovenly condition some people live. As the co-hosts walk through the house, stuff is spilling out of a cabinet, toys are scattered all over the living room, and clothes are heaped on the bedroom floor. A backhoe would be needed to scrape up the piles of books, paper, cardboard boxes, and whatever else is propagating on the dining room table. Countertops are often cluttered with stuff that belongs in any respectable kitchen’s junk drawer.


I find Realtors on some shows irritating in their apparent lack of understanding regarding budgets. Yes, I know all the homes are already purchased, but that’s not the point. They present the showings as if they’re not. Budgets are reality—even for reality television. If I told an agent that $450,000 was my absolute maximum budget and they took me to a property listed at “just” $524,000, I’d find another agent pretty darn quick.


Speaking of budgets. I’m truly surprised how often television designers use some of the budgets they’re given to have art created. Art is a personal thing. And having bought and installed wallpaper several times myself, I know how many choices in the world there are: infinite. Having wallpaper specially designed and printed seems a huge waste of money better spent elsewhere…but not on tiles handmade by the designer’s good friend.


In addition to being thoroughly entertaining, these shows are very real versions of homeschooling. The primary lessons one should take away from them are that old homes often have asbestos, need rewiring, have plumbing issues, at least one room that doesn’t have hardwoods under that old peach shag carpeting, and that wall you want to remove for your open-concept living/kitchen area is always going to be load-bearing.


A very important lesson many have learned the hard way is that just because Chip and Joanna, Erin and Ben Napier, Tarek El Mousssa, or The Property Brothers can tear houses apart and put them beautifully back together doesn’t mean you can.


Class Dismissed.