Real estate, reality, and HGTV

OK, right up front here, I’m going to say some less-than-flattering things about a rather sacred cow, to some. I’m talking about HGTV and its plethora of shows on buying, selling, renovating, and decorating houses and apartments. My wife and I watch some of the shows now and again and she likes certain ones.

Me, well I tolerate them. We watch them on Netflix, so we get to avoid the incessant commercials (seven to nine minutes worth for a 30-minute show).

My problem with HGTV and many of the shows is that they present a very unreal, overly pricey, irritating, and taste-free approach to houses, interior design, and real estate. While I freely admit that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and taste is purely subjective, all the shows seem pretty stuck in a pricey frame of reference.

For instance, according to the hosts of one show, any kitchen that is done without granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances is tantamount to living in a moldering slum replete with rats, cockroaches, and cheap Wal-Mart furnishings. I had no idea. Formica is obviously the devil’s own countertop. And white appliances are a crime against all that is good and pure.

According to another show, it’s totally cool to pay more for a one-bedroom condo at or near the beach that might be used for a couple weeks every year, than many people can pay for a primary residence. In fairness, they do find some real deals.

But they’re not necessarily in places you’d want to vacation. And, with rising tides, you have to wonder just how long they’ll remain beachfront before being underwater (literally). And if, after you buy said vacation home, why do so many of the buyers feel compelled to immediately “update” things like ripping out perfectly functional kitchens because the appliances are actually not stainless steel?

Why does one have to spend another $20,000 on stainless appliances? Why must countertops be granite or industrial diamond or hand-poured artisanal concrete all at $700 per square inch? Does that make the beach better in some manner?

On another show, we get to go along for the ride as long-suffering real estate agents take newbie buyers out to look for their first place. The problem is that these buyers are usually afflicted with a) annoying personalities, b) totally insane expectations, and/or c) completely different tastes and desires (in the case of couples).

So the show can go from looking at houses to couples’ counseling very rapidly. Also, since when is a starter house supposed to have granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances, a home theater, and a large perfectly landscaped lot? Am I kidding? No.

It’s like this generation of young buyers has no idea that the homes they grew up in took their parents years of saving, trading up, and renovating to achieve.

And why oh why, must paint colors be such an issue? So many buyers roll through a property barely able to keep from retching over the color of the walls. Umm, that can be changed. It’s called paint and a brush. So purple walls aren’t your gig? Cool. Paint them. Paper them. But stop rejecting whole properties because you can’t get by a color scheme (even if it was chosen by someone on strong medication).

Another reality gap in many of these stories is simply trying to figure out how some of these people can possibly afford some of these homes. We all suffered the 2008 housing collapse in various ways and many people didn’t, in point of fact, make it through.

Sadly, we’re all too familiar with stories of families losing homes to huge, unaffordable mortgages. So now I would love the show hosts to explain how a pair of 20-somethings are going to be able to afford a $350,000 starter McMansion in the ’burbs when neither one looks like they have a job that pays more than $20K at best. Oh right, they’re all secret Lotto winners. Sorry, carry on.

Even more goofy are the young couples who are buying houses and planning their over-the-top weddings at the same time. I recall one where they had to cut back on wedding expenses to help renovate their home and the bridezilla was clearly unhappy with this turn of events.

Another issue I have is with the design sense of some of these so-called interior designers. The “designers” sometimes create rooms that remind me of bad art galleries from the 1960s.

The designs are especially silly, busy and pretentious when you notice that the new homeowners invariably have two to four kids under age 6 or multiple large dogs. I’d like to see that sleek new living space a week down the road.

If I let our four cats free in some of these rooms, I’d give them a life span of maybe 20 minutes before the fake fruit was half eaten, the fuzzy furniture was shredded, and the shiny glass objects were shattered. Well, at least the shards would look artistic.

On one show, you learn about irritating buyers and crazy prices in different countries. One that stuck in my mind was a young woman who described her job as fashionista/blogger (she gets paid to get dressed?). She wanted to move in with her boyfriend in Paris and she was very picky about being in the correctly fashionable neighborhood.

Plus, she needed extra large closets (a serious rarity in most of Europe) to hold her huge collection of vintage clothing (which she looked very silly in). The prices of various rentals she was shown were in the New York City nosebleed stratosphere and the real estate agent barely concealed her loathing and disdain for this young American throughout the ordeal.

Finally, the fake drama on all these shows just gets old really fast. There’s one in which a real estate agent and an interior designer compete each episode to either renovate or sell a family home. The winner is based on the ability of the designer to update and fix all the problems with the house on a budget that’s never big enough.

She always encounters “unexpected” problems and all the while she and the real estate guy snark at each other while the homeowners bicker and complain. One spouse usually is desperate to move and the other to stay. Again, I think many of these folks need marriage counseling, not new homes

One show features what I call the Whine Cam where family members talk to the camera about their feelings and issues. These usually involve crocodile tears and laments over paint color and the crazy cost of diamond countertops.

Finally, many of these shows are shot and set in Canada (but they never tell you that) and the cities they work in have what can only be described as oddly high prices. We’re talking 100-year-old decaying duplexes where you can buy one side (not the whole building) for upwards of $400,000 and still need to spend another $75,000 to $125,000 to make it safe and livable. Really?

Does no one in Canada ever take care of, or update, their homes? And seriously, why Canada? Why not Atlanta? Houston? Berne? I know production costs are less north of the border but their housing costs have nothing to do with ours. They are, however, very polite.

HGTV is a fact of life. It exists and lots of people watch the shows and get various ideas. My very smart and creative wife says she enjoys seeing the different ways that people find to make their homes unique.

She gets ideas and just enjoys the before and after shots. Those are kind of fun where you go from graffiti-coated crack house to sexy suburban home in a mere 30 minutes. With enough money and special effects I suppose anything is possible.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg has owned exactly two homes in his life. He says that neither one would qualify to be on an HGTV show; neither had granite countertops and the only stainless steel in the kitchen were the pots and pans.