As seen on TV: Home makeover shows have totally upended homeowners’ expectations


By Jennifer Barger

When Kuangchi Chang and her husband, Robert Peterson, were planning a kitchen renovation in 2015, they drew on a lot of professional help. And we’re not talking only about the contractors who transformed the den and sun porch of their 1970s Colonial into a sleek white-and-gray cucina. Chang, a confessed HGTV fanatic, watched countless episodes of rehab shows such as “Property Brothers,” “Love it Or List It” and “Flip or Flop” to get ideas.

“Those programs helped me imagine how I could completely rethink our layout,” she said. “We moved the kitchen to a completely different area in the house, installed an extra window and turned our old kitchen into a family room. I probably wouldn’t have thought all that was possible without HGTV. It got so I’d rewind the TiVo to show Robert a fixture or tile I liked on some episode!”

Chang and other homeowners, real estate agents, and home buyers and sellers find themselves in a housing market that’s almost as influenced by reality TV as it is a property’s good bones (or good school district). Real estate agents, designers and market watchers say design trends, selling practices and budget expectations can all be colored by factors such as photogenic Chip and Joanna Gaines’s farmhouse-rustic rehabs on “Fixer Upper” or the aggressive pricing strategies on “Flip or Flop.”

HGTV’s widespread influence is not surprising: Since the network was launched on basic cable in 1994, its viewership has skyrocketed higher than offers in a North Arlington bungalow bidding war. According to the most recent Nielsen ratings, HGTV is the fourth-most-watched cable network in the United States, averaging more than 1.6 million viewers overall.

Similar channels (DIY) and shows (TLC’s recently returned redecorating juggernaut “Trading Spaces” and Bravo’s flashy “Flipping Out”) are also capitalizing on reality real estate and rehab’s popularity, and it’s no wonder anyone who is selling, renovating or buying property has had their expectations influenced by these shows.

“I think HGTV represents the idea that if you improve or upgrade your house, you’ll improve your life,” says Baltimore blogger Kate Wagner, who runs the tongue-in-cheek website “It’s appealing, but in many ways it’s escapism. Remodels and real estate transactions aren’t this easy in real life.”

Mandy Mills of Compass is one of the many real estate agents who have experienced the network’s effect on home buyers and sellers.

“When we go into an appointment with a new client, my partner and I often joke that we live in an HGTV world,” Mills said. “In any property we show, everything has to be together. It’s not what people expect when they’re paying D.C. prices. The way reality TV depicts homes going from grungy to beautiful means that we stage nearly every listing we sell.”

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