Home shows don’t reflect the reality of building a new home. Who doesn’t love a good drama, especially one they can imagine themselves a part of? With that in mind, it’s no surprise that home and garden shows enjoy loyal viewership and that HGTV has earned a spot as one of the top ten cable networks. It’s great fun to curl up on the couch and follow the excitement of a home being built or renovated, of obstacles being overcome, and of a happy couple swelling with pride at the project’s completion.
The only problem is that some people let their homebuilding expectations be influenced by what is, in reality, a scripted drama driven by product advertisers. And while no one would admit to falling under this spell, the influence can be both subtle and pervasive. Take the example of schedules. In TV land, problems with building permits always get solved by airtime, and you rarely see significant delays from bad weather or from special orders that were botched by the distributor. In fact, the timetable for a typical TV project can be as different from that of a real home build as the prep time for a microwave dinner is from that of a gourmet meal. (Outcomes will likely differ, too.) Intellectually this is a no-brainer, but if someone watches enough projects being finished in a weekend, they could be emotionally set up to think instant gratification is possible.
Even with guaranteed sunshine and 100 skilled tradespeople working 24/7 to rush the project to completion, what kind of quality do you think you are going to get? Contrast that to the professional builder, who creates a detailed construction timetable that gives all the trades sufficient time to do top-quality work without tripping over one another. The difference in schedules is a difference in priorities and mindset. The show producer has to meet a shooting schedule; the builder has to take the time needed to create a home that will satisfy the clients for many years to come.
Then there’s the budget. From what we have seen, the costs on a TV project seldom reflect the actual labor, overhead, and product costs builders have to grapple with. Given these shows’ broad audience, some manufacturers pay to get their products on screen. Others may discount the price or loan a product during filming then take it back later. These deals are seldom disclosed.
Not only that, the experience of watching enough $5000 professional-style ranges being installed can make a homeowner feel cheated if they’re denied one—even if the budget will only support one-half that price.
The bottom line is that the producers of these shows are under pressure to create dramatic tension and to keep advertisers and product sponsors happy. They’re not looking at your budget, and they are not thinking about your ultimate satisfaction. A professional builder—someone who has real skin in your game—is focused on both.
None of this is meant to slam the producers of these shows, who no doubt try to serve viewers by showing what’s possible in an entertaining way. So watch and enjoy—you may even pick up some useful decorating tips. Just remember that it’s entertainment.