5 real estate shows you're jonesin' for -- and why

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | May 25, 2016

Modern dining roomDo you live for the day you finally have the home of your dreams? Do you indulge this pursuit of perfection by sometimes -- okay, frequently -- binge-watching home renovation and real estate reality shows? As long as you keep in mind that these types of reality shows -- like many others -- often provide more "show" than "reality," you can remain pleasantly entertained in between contracting for remodels, obsessively checking Realtor.com for the latest listings, or taking multiple weekend trips to The Home Depot.

Showmanship and illusion may play a bigger role than you realize in hooking you to return to watch more episodes. Nothing illustrates this quite so well as a recent lawsuit against the very popular cable show, HGTV's "Love It or List It," which pits designer/show host Hilary Farr against cohost David Visentin, an actor and real estate agent. Each host's objective is to win over the homeowners -- Hilary, with her renovation, designed to keep the family happy in their current home, or David, with a new house, better suited to meet their growing challenges.

The homeowners' suit alleges -- among more serious allegations of shoddy workmanship and how the bulk of the money for their renovations was disbursed to the TV production company -- that the show is a staged dramatization and that the hosts and general contractor, Eric Eremita, are paid actors, not renovation and real estate professionals. Faithful viewers may have to stay tuned to CNN for the big reveal of what's truth and what's fiction as this legal drama unfolds. Nevertheless, it's not really a secret of any home improvement TV reality show that footage from days or weeks of renovations is edited and massaged to create an interesting episode-length story, or that some show hosts have acting chops, too.

Popularity of home improvement shows depends on who's watching

The popularity of renovation, real estate, and home design shows appears unshakeable despite these kinds of revelations. Sidereel.com, an online viewing platform similar to Hulu and Netflix, currently offers nearly 150 different programs in this genre.

Many of these types of shows have been airing for years on network and cable stations like PBS and TLC including "This Old House" -- formerly "The New Yankee Workshop" -- and the BBC's "Gardener's World," which have been on since 1979 and 1968, respectively. Today, HGTV and its companion cable station DIY Network dominate the market for programming dedicated to all things home improvement and house hunting. For serious fans of the genre, you can stream previous seasons of certain shows from a variety of sources, even those series that ended several years ago.

While back in the day viewers might have tuned in with a genuine desire to learn about DIY home remodeling and gardening, today's viewers may just as likely watch because they have a crush on popular show hosts such as Nicole Curtis of "Rehab Addict" or the charming remodeling twins, better known as the "Property Brothers," Jonathan and Drew Scott. Despite their reputations as serious eye candy, all three hosts are licensed professionals: Nicole Curtis and Drew Scott are licensed real estate agents and Jonathan Scott is a contractor and designer. It did not hurt their TV careers, however, that the brothers were also former actors prior to finding their niche as renovation TV show hosts.

5 of the most popular home buying and renovation TV shows

These current, popular reality TV home shows cater to many interests, and each has a loyal following. If you accept that what you see on TV may be missing many hours of the tedious, frustrating, and costly parts of remodeling and home buying and selling, then these shows can also provide ideas, motivation, and lessons in the kinds of obstacles you may encounter.

  1. Property Brothers: Buying, redesigning and renovating fixers. Drew and Jonathan Scott help convince homebuyers to choose a proverbial "diamond in the rough" with the aid of a computerized vision of what it can become. Then they proceed to transform it into the home of their buyers' dreams all while encountering the usual gritty pitfalls of older house renovations.
  2. Fixer Upper: Home renovations for the frugal fixer. Married couple Joanna and Chip Gaines, owners of Magnolia Homes, a design and remodeling business in Waco, Texas, specialize in remodeling seemingly hopeless houses for home buyers with less-than-robust budgets. Chip, a real estate and construction professional, finds the fixers and does the construction work while Joanna manages the design work and endearingly criticizes Chip.
  3. Rehab Addict: Saving and restoring old homes. For the serious DIYer or DIY wannabe, Nicole Curtis comes to the rescue of old homes slated for demolition and shows you the good, bad, and ugly sides of hands-on home restoration.
  4. Design on a Dime: Home decorating for the budget-conscious. There have been many shows dedicated to home decor over the last few decades but Design on a Dime, which first aired in 2003, is one of the few still in production. Current host Casey Noble shows you clever solutions for designing with style on a budget of only $2,500.
  5. Million Dollar Listing: Luxury real estate sales. Whether you have millions burning a hole in your pocket and want to whet your appetite or you prefer laughing at first-world problems of luxury property owners and real estate agents, this Bravo channel hit show is heavier on entertainment than educational value. If you like the lifestyle, then you'll be treated to high-end homes -- and high-stakes real estate deals -- in Miami, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.

Regardless of why you tune in, the takeaway is this: be inspired, but before you actually buy, sell, renovate, or decorate your home, consult with an experienced local professional, especially if you're a newbie.

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.