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What's wrong with '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.

By Stacy Johnson Jan 25, 2012 12:50PM

This post comes from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyLike 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: Homebuyers and a real-estate agent walk through three houses. Then the buyers choose one. As the program ends, it fast-forwards 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 homebuying, however, it's very misleading.


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, homebuyers 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 compromise.


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 partially faked. A post on Hooked on Houses said some of the buyers are already in escrow on one of the three homes. 

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 contacted HGTV's media relations department and asked for a comment. Here's part of the response I got back:

As you know, the pursuit of the perfect home involves big decisions that usually take place over a period of time -- more time than we can capture in 30 minutes of television. ... We're making a television show, so we manage certain production and time constraints, while honoring the homebuying process. To maximize production time, we seek out families who are pretty far along in the process.

For a more in-depth look, here's the application to appear as a homebuyer on the show and the buyer FAQs. Post continues below.

It shouldn't be a surprise that the show is partially staged. 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.

If you're faking building choppers or living on 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. While financing a house isn't nearly as camera-friendly or fun as looking at them, it's nearly as important but is rarely mentioned on "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's 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 homebuying is negotiation, and not much goes on in "House Hunters." It's frustratingto 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 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.

Maybe HGTV should have a warning label, as so many products do these days. Maybe something like "Warning. This show isn't real. Buying a house properly takes longer than 30 minutes."

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Jan 25, 2012 4:14PM

Of course, it wouldn't actually hurt to listen to what the buyers say during the show... Many times I've heard them talk about all of the other properties they've looked at - it's just narrowed down to the top three picks by the time the show is aired. Nowhere has anyone ever said they only look at three homes before making a decision, just that they are only showing three in the time they have. This goes hand-in-hand with the response from HGTV - they're looking for people who have already been involved in the search and know not only what they are looking for, but how to get it, as well.


Anyone with half a brain knows more is going on than just what is on the show. Most of the people I know that watch are more interested in the homes themselves than the people looking to buy them.

Jan 26, 2012 1:21PM
LOL .... the article is almost as funny as the show!  I want House Hunters purely for entertainment purposes. I find it particularly funny when a couple is looking for their "perfect vacation home" with a $600,000 budget and they nit-pick over silly details in a house that I would give my "eye teeth" for.... let's get real ...the show isn't meant to be instructional .... it's entertainment .... pure entertainment.
Jan 26, 2012 10:15AM
It's fun to watch.  But really - why does literally everyone on the show want stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, an open floor plan, & a double sink vanity in the bathroom?  It's laughable & predictable.  And two people who need 2,000+ square feet to live in?  Do they ever mention insulation, double paned windows, cost of heating & cooling?  Nope.  It's all about the granite countertops.  
Jan 26, 2012 12:06PM

My wife and I have been watching this show for years, our friends and family, we found out watch it too. Have to admit its fun seeing what other people are paying for similar homes around the country. It kind of gives you a snap shot of how the rest of the country and the economy is doing. Actually have a hard time understanding how a young couple have a 500K first time homebuyer budget, but I guess in large cities that what it takes to have a nice home,

thats not in gangland. But the show is fun to watch and the writer of this article must think the average American is an idiot, because we all know the boring parts of buying a house, and this show just shows the fun parts.

Jan 26, 2012 10:35AM
Give me a break!  What does he expect from a 30 minute show, minus the commercials?  I look at it as if they're showing the top 3 choices and then they go from there.  Anyone who thinks that home buying is a transaction lasting 8 minutes from beginning to end is obviously not in touch with reality.  I love the show, especially the international version.  Get over yourself!
Jan 26, 2012 10:19AM
My husband and I always thought you could have a drinking game while watching House Hunters - take a drink each time the home buyer says that they have to have marble counter tops, when they say they have to have wood floors, when they say they want a space for entertaining, when they say they want a fixer upper but complain when they're shown a house that needs work.  The list could go on.  Personally I like the show.  It's much better than all of the other reality shows out there.
Besides, I like to live vicariously through the home buyers who buy a house at the beach Island with a palm tree
Jan 25, 2012 5:39PM

i enjoy watching House Hunters International.  It is a great way to see the kind of housing available around the world.

I don't like the regular House Hunters.

Everyone buying says the same thing.

I need granite countertops.

I need stainless steel appliances

I need walk in closets.


Jan 25, 2012 6:01PM
Seriously?  You watch this show as a tutorial for how to buy a house?  I hope you're not trying to find the love of your life by watching how they do it on "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette".  Clearly, all of these shows are presented as entertainment, not instruction.  
Jan 26, 2012 1:40PM
I sort of stopped watching it, I got tired of all these early 20's something brats with huge budgets that piss and moan about the color of one of the bedrooms. "oh, I couldn't POSSIBLY live in a house with a blue bedroom, and I really NEEED 3 closets for just my clothes. The kitchen cabinets aren't the right shade of black..." and they show an under budget home that meets almost all of their requirements, but needs small cosmetic upgrades, but they always seem to go for the one that is over their budget with some stupid fluff thing that they just 'can't live without' like a pool.

And believe it or not, there are a lot of people who do in fact take their home buying cues from shows like this. My parents rehab houses and I can't tell you how many times a potential buyer has asked for something completely ridiculous while offering some insulting amount of money because these HGTV and DIY shows make them think they can.
Jan 25, 2012 5:09PM
Staged or not I don't care.  I just like looking at the houses and being thankful that I'm not moving.
Jan 26, 2012 10:04AM
Well Duh!  Anyone with half a brain knows that it takes way more to purchase a home than what it shows on the television.  It's fun to watch and guess which house someone will pick and I don't even care if they "fake" consider 2 other homes.  I watch for entertainment purposes not for knowledge on buying a home.  I also watch design shows on HGTV but I don't intend to redecorate my home based on some of the designs I have seen.  It's entertainment people and if it bothers you, don't watch.
Jan 26, 2012 11:44AM
What difference does it make anyway?  Most of the buyers are young and not yet acquainted with the real world.  Anybody with half a brain knows that in buying a house, you pay the most attention to location and size, because those are two things that are difficult (or impossible) to change.  Yet nearly all the buyers walk into houses screaming things like, "Eeewww, it has LAMINATE countertops and LINOLEUM floors!" when talking about a house in a perfect location and size that they can buy for $75K under their budget.  Then they rant, rave and enthuse over a 800 SF house that is "move in ready" with granite countertops and wooden floors and no one ever says anything like, "You are expecting your first child.  This house is in a bad school district, it is too small and too expensive and you won't be able to afford to add onto it.  Your child will have to sleep in your closet."
Jan 26, 2012 10:21AM
I'm so shocked!! You mean not everything you see on tv is real? What is more shocking to me is that someone would actually use what they saw on tv as a guide!! Get a life people-it is known as entertainment.
Jan 26, 2012 11:11AM
The show has worked well for me - I was able to purchase hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place, at a very reasonable price!
Jan 26, 2012 12:38PM
Does this writer see everything i see?  The buyers frequently mention having seen a hundred or more homes. And do any of ous that watch these shows really think the process is done in 30 minutes? The international  show is kind of unreal, but the scenery is beautiful.  And some of the first time buyers act like such spoiled brats.   
Jan 26, 2012 12:35PM
Who cares!  It's called entertainment, it's not supposed to be educational television on every single thing they show.  I have a friend who was on a House Hunters episode based in Seattle.  Yes, they had to be under contract for one home and then pick two more to visit and 'decide' on.  The shooting schedule was 3 days.  There were legal requirements on releases that had to be fulfilled for the real estate companies to give permission for their properties to be shown, especially for the ones that were NOT purchased.  In the end, it was an entertaining show.
Jan 26, 2012 10:23AM
I like watching House Hunters. Not because I am interested in buying a home, but it is entertaining, and gives ideas as how to decorate. It takes a lot more time to buy a house than 1 hours we all know that. I hope they never take the program off of the tv.
Jan 26, 2012 9:43AM

I love to watch House Hunters because I love looking at houses.  However, when the show begins with 2 twenty-somethings who have been dating for a couple of months and have decided it's time to "take their relationship to the next level" and buy a house together, I quit watching.  Next level, really?  It's way easier to get a divorce than to get out of a mortgage.  I also get irritated by the ones who look at a 1000-square-foot house and complain that the master bedroom in one is a good size but the living room is too small.  The next house, the LR is great but the master bedroom is tiny, and her clothes and shoes won't possibly fit in that tiny walk-in closet.  Space inside a house is finite, people!  And then she walks into the kitchen, but is SO disappointed because stainless steel appliances were absolute must-haves!  I do think that the desire for granite countertops and SS appliances are largely driven by these shows, and that expectations are way out of line!

Come to think of it, why do I watch this show?  Sometimes I do turn the sound off and just look at the houses, so I don't have to hear the stupid comments. 


Jan 26, 2012 11:37AM
and another thing about House the granite and stainless steel industries underwrite the show??  EVERY couple whines for granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.....PHOOEY, stainless steel belongs in the OR...not the kitchen.  And granite, no one seems to know the hidden facts.......  
Jan 26, 2012 9:24AM
I watch "House Hunters" on a regular basis and I have to wonder what show the author is watching.  On the show, they mention that the couple has seen many houses but they only show the three they are most interested in.  They mention short sales and the pitfalls of them.  They talk about bidding and making an offer.  I understand that this is all compacted into a 30 minute show but come on.  I enjoy the shows very much and just don't see why the author is so up in arms about it.
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