Guilty Pleasure: Home Renovation Shows
Until Trading Spaces caught my attention, I didn’t watch home improvement shows. Paige Davis, the host, was absolutely adorable. The show’s stable of designers worked miracles overnight on a limited budget, with notable exceptions, most by designer Hildi Santo-Tomas. While You Were Out was good too, mostly because of hunky Evan Farmer. After Paige and Evan left, I quit watching both shows and moved on to shows about food.
The pendulum of my interests has swung back. Home improvement shows once again dominate my TV viewing time. These aren’t the decorating shows of the past where paint, wallpaper, and fabric were used to transform a few rooms, with frequent complaints afterward about shoddy workmanship. Designers on the new shows gut some or all of the target home, knock down walls, and move plumbing fixtures. They do the work right — even when the extra cost means scaling back renovation plans to fit the budget.
Fixer Upper. Husband and wife Chip and Joanna Gaines fix up the cheapest houses in the best neighborhoods around Waco for white, moderately affluent couples. She’s the designer, he does all the work. They live on a small farm, homeschool their kids, and involve the whole family in their business. The kids play with baby goats, plant seedlings in the garden, and drop in to help with the renovation project. It’s all very wholesome, nurturing, and sometimes, just a tiny bit nauseating. I like this one, but it’s my least favorite of the four shows reviewed here.
Flipping Las Vegas. Scott and Amie Yancey have made a fortune flipping houses in the Las Vegas area. He’s a loud-mouthed tightwad who raises hell about the cost of unexpected problems. She’s his wife, a classy and beautiful designer who sneaks around behind his back spending money to upgrade interiors and enhance curb appeal. Scott goes ballistic, but after the house sells the first day on the market and they pocket more in profit than a lot of people make in a year, he forgives her and apologizes with dinner out and a nice gift. The shape the abandoned properties are in when they buy them and the apparent activities of the previous occupants are often the highlight of the show.
Property Brothers/Buying & Selling. Identical twins Drew Scott (a realtor) and Jonathan Scott (a handyman/contractor) have two similar shows in which they help couples who aren’t always white or rich. In Property Brothers, they find and renovate a fixer upper to be a dream house for a couple. In Buying and Selling, they fix up a couple’s home to sell for a bigger, better home. The brothers are the stars of both shows. They’re easy on the eyes and can do anything. You’ll see…just watch. Every episode features one or both brothers demonstrating their proficiency at something that has nothing to do with buying, selling, or fixing up real estate.
Love It or List It/Love It or List It Too. A couple is at odds over whether to stay in the current house or move. A designer works on renovating the house so the couple will stay. A realtor tries to convince the couple to list the old place and buy a home that better meets their needs. The cast and location (Toronto for the original, Vancouver for the spin-off) are the only differences between the two shows. My preference would be to have Hilary Farr, the designer from Love It or List It with Todd Talbot, the realtor from Love It or List It Too. The formula for each episode is the same, but the ending is often a surprise. This is my favorite show of the four, with bonus points for featuring a very diverse group of couples.
The finished houses across all four shows are remarkably similar. Walls are out, open floor plans are in. The kitchens have stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors, granite counter tops, and back splashes featuring glass tile mosaics. The same tile is repeated in the bathrooms, often as an accent stripe in a giant, glass-enclosed shower or around an extra-deep tub.
Renovation is expensive. Despite everything I’ve ever heard about the return on various projects, on these shows, the work always increases the home’s value well beyond the cost of the renovation. Love It or List It is the worst for inflating the impact of the improvements on home equity, but all are guilty to some degree.
The first takeaway message for me is to wait until right before I move out for any kitchen or bathroom renovations. Styles change with the wind. Improvements made today will look dated in ten years or less anyway. May as well wait.
The second takeaway message is unexpected problems requiring expensive solutions arise with every project. Full disclosure of problems on all four shows is unlikely to inspire many viewers to take on major home improvement projects. At least, not me. New paint is about as far as I’m willing to go — and even that’s a stretch. I still have my day job, but when it comes to home improvement projects, I’ve retired.