We all know that home renovation reality shows are everywhere today. It’s hard to flip through the channels and not see one. Typically there are two or three running at any given time. This trend has certainly not hurt cable ratings. I read that HGTV, at the end of 2013, was the second most-watched cable TV channel by the coveted 25–54 demographic. On one hand, this genre has been good for developing enthusiasm for home improvement projects. Homeowners today are excited about the idea of transforming their interior and exterior spaces. In addition, they’re coming to us with some interesting ideas and are open to trying new technologies and materials. On the other hand, though, the movement is painting an unrealistic view of how professional, well-built renovations come together as well as how Builders and Homeowners interact.
The first issue is cost.Home renovation shows are building some high-end renovations at times, for half of what they would typically cost. For a Homeowner with remodeling experience this is not always an issue. These Clients understand what real-world, high-end construction typically costs. Real numbers, however, sometimes come as a shock to Homeowners who have never completed a renovation project. It’s difficult to say how the shows are achieving such low costs. We can assume that the networks are helping to offset the costs and that sponsorships play a role.
The second issue is timing. Reality shows are completing significant renovations in unrealistic timeframes, sometimes building major renovations in as little as two weeks. In these cases it’s probably safe to assume that the work is not up to the highest building standards. Even with high-definition TV it’s difficult to see the true quality of the craftsmanship in the end result. We can assume that all of the materials being sourced are readily available or rushed by a manufacturer who has a sponsorship arrangement. In addition these shows have multiple crews coddled together and working on top of one another through all hours of the night. The reality is that a custom renovation may have special-order materials that require lead-time. Homeowners may live in an area that requires more time for permitting. And you simply can’t work your crew all night every night and have them working on top of one another. It’s not safe, it’s not good for the quality of the work and it’s not sustainable. Even though the host may be there every week, there’s a reason that TV work crews change from episode to episode.
The last issue involves how unexpected twists on jobs are projected and how the Client and Builder interact. It’s clear that home improvement reality shows are scripted with a formula that almost always includes a surprise problem midway through the project. Although renovations will sometimes involve the unknown, and issues can and do arise along the way, the way they’re dealt with on TV is often inaccurate. Pre-job inspections and estimates by an experienced Builder should provide a fairly solid assessment that includes the potential issues and costs associated with any home renovation. And contingencies should be accurately set aside. For example, if your electrical panel requires updating, this can and should be assessed before starting the project, and included in the estimate.
I’m sure that, as with any trend, reality TV will one day be replaced with another form of programming. Until then we should all take “reality” with a grain of salt.
Kelly M. Wright
Wright Building Company