Why House Hunters Shouldn’t Rely on 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.

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

My wife and I have watched a lot ofHouse Hunters,” especially the overseas version, “House Hunters International.” In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the skinny: Presumably real homebuyers 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 buying an actual house, however, it’s misleading to the point of being dangerous.

What’s good about ‘House Hunters’

In nearly every HGTV show focused on buyers — whether it’s Property Virgins (first-time buyers), regular “House Hunters” or “House Hunters International” — homebuyers confront a very real-world problem: being forced to balance needs and wants. For example, buyers must 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. According to a Hooked on Houses blog piece 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 fake building custom choppers or living at the Jersey Shore, who cares? But if wide-eyed first-time homebuyers 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: Financing a house isn’t nearly as camera-friendly or fun as looking at one. But it’s nearly as important yet rarely mentioned in “House Hunters.” Price is important, but so are terms.
  • The devil is in the details: How does this house compare in price with 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? Negotiation also is critical in homebuying, but you don’t see much haggling in “House Hunters.” It’s frustrating to watch the would-be 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 salespeople, agents are motivated by transactions: The faster 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. Perhaps something like, “Warning – this show is complete B.S. Buying a house properly takes longer than 30 minutes.”

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

Are you a “House Hunters” fan? How does the show compare with your experiences with real estate? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson
Stacy Johnson @moneytalksnews
I'm the founder of Money Talks News and have spent the last 40+ years in the personal finance trenches. I'm a CPA, author of a few books and multiple Emmy recipient. I'm ... More

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