Why House Hunters Shouldn’t Watch HGTV’s ‘House Hunters’

From cooking to custom cars, TV is full of “how-to” shows. But if you’re hunting for a house, don’t take HGTV’s “House Hunters” too seriously.

Like watching HGTV’s House Hunters? Fine. Just don’t emulate its method of house-shopping next time you’re in the market.

My girlfriend and I have watched a lot of HGTV’s House Hunters, and especially the overseas version, House Hunters International. In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the skinny: Presumably real home-buyers and a presumably genuine real estate agent walk through three houses. Then the buyers choose one. As the program ends, they fast-forward a few months to see what the happy homeowners have done with the place.

As entertainment, this half-hour show is fine. As a tutorial for house buying, however, it’s misleading to the point of being dangerous.

What’s good about House Hunters

Whether it’s Property Virgins (first-time buyers), regular House Hunters, or House Hunters International, in nearly every show, home-buyers confront a very real-world problem: being forced to balance needs and wants. For example, buyers have to choose between location and space, or price and features. The lesson? Unless your budget is unlimited, get ready to decide what’s really important, because you’re going to be compromising.

What’s bad about House Hunters

While House Hunters is fun to watch, there are reasons not to view it as instructional. First and foremost, the show may be entirely faked. From an article called The Truth About House Hunters on HGTV

For quicker turn-around, producers sometimes choose buyers who are already in escrow with one of the three locations shown. The other two choices that are filmed are only shown to allow viewers the option of making the choice themselves.

Did you catch that? The house hunters aren’t actually house hunting in some of the episodes because they already bought one. The producers show them two other houses, and they pretend to consider them. Then they pretend to deliberate, and pretend to choose the house that they already chose from the beginning.

I don’t know whether this claim is true, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me. After all, the word “reality” as used in “reality TV” refers only to a production style. The vast majority of “reality” shows I’ve watched seem to bear no resemblance to anything real.

When you’re faking building custom choppers or maybe living at the Jersey Shore, who cares? But if wide-eyed first-time home-buyers follow the prescription offered on HGTV’s House Hunters, they’ll be sorry.

How is the show misleading? Let’s count the ways…

  • Three houses? Give me a break: For most people, a house is the largest purchase they’ll ever make. If you look at only three before making a decision, you’re a nitwit.
  • Buying too quickly: In many cases – especially on House Hunters International – the buyers are moving to a new country sight unseen and buying a house within a very narrow time frame, sometimes mere days. Moving to another state – much less another country – then buying a house immediately is crazy. If you don’t have time to get the lay of the land, rent until you do.
  • Financing is half the battle: While financing a house isn’t nearly as camera-friendly or fun as looking at them, it’s nearly as important, and is rarely mentioned in House Hunters. Price is important, but so are terms. (See Are These Buyers Trying to Rip Me Off?)
  • The devil is in the details: How does this house compare in price to others in the neighborhood? Is the area employment base and population growing or shrinking? How are the schools? What does the inspection report reveal? There are many things that factor into the price of a home, and they’re rarely mentioned in these shows.
  • Where’s the negotiation? Also critical in home-buying is negotiation, and not much goes on in House Hunters. It’s frustratingto watch the would-buyers lament that their favorite house “ticks all the boxes,” but is $15,000 over budget. Result? They don’t consider it. Don’t they know that the listing price is the asking price, not the final price? Why isn’t the agent telling them?
  • Was this show written by real estate agents? Watch House Hunters, and you normally see knowledgeable agents and completely ignorant buyers following them like sheep. As with other types of sales people, agents are motivated by transactions – the sooner they make one happen, the sooner they get paid. That’s why buyers should use agents for information only. If house hunters aren’t knowledgeable enough to make their own decisions, they shouldn’t be house hunting.

Bottom line? It’s fun to look at houses on TV and it’s interesting to compare prices in various places around the country and the world. But while buying a house isn’t rocket science, it’s not a game show either – especially a fake one.

Maybe HGTV should have a warning label like so many products do these days. Maybe something like, “Warning – this show is complete BS. Buying a house properly takes longer than 30 minutes.”

Looking for some house-hunting advice that’s really real?

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  • Lorilu

    It’s fun to watch House Hunters and see the ways the real estate salespeople handle the buyers. No matter what flaw the buyer points out, the realtor always makes it seem like a minor fix, or turns it into a plus.

    There used to be a show that included the mortgage details, and it wasn’t pretty. The buyer would recap their deal, and it would often be no money down, and two mortgages are insanely high interest rates. That’s how we got into the mess our country is in now. People buying houses they couldn’t afford, to the point where they were mortgaging almost 100% of the purchase price–and at the closing, the realtor would crow, “congratulations, you’re a homeowner!”

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