Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.
We’ve all seen home renovation shows where the cute couple buys a dilapidated house with a kitchen so ugly that even the 1960’s they wouldn’t take it back. In 30 or 60 minutes, this ugly house transforms into a true dream home, with every perfect detail, right down to the color-coordinated stand mixer and coffee maker in the now gorgeous kitchen.
This is reality TV today, at least in the home renovation space. But is it real?
“We live in a world of home improvement as entertainment,” says Angi Hicks, founder of Angi, who provides referrals and reviews for contractors. She loves watching home remodeling shows, but she knows they don’t give a complete picture. “A lot of the steps in this entertainment are overlooked because it’s obviously going to be kind of boring.”
The usually overlooked tedious steps include homeowners researching before deciding which renovations to make, making plans with architects, consulting engineers on structural issues, obtaining estimates from multiple contractors, then selecting one and obtaining permits from local building officials, all of which It can add months to the project.
“It’s not exciting. It’s not sexy. This part doesn’t make good TV,” says Kristi Bibrich, an L.A.-based interior designer and remodel, where she worked on HGTV’s “Brother vs. Brother,” where twin brothers Drew and Jonathan Scott lead two teams of restorers competing to raise the value of the property. But she says of early planning, “This is something very important to the outcome of your project.”
“It’s definitely apples and oranges,” she says. “On a TV show, everything is already set up.”
Home Renovations: Fiction vs. Reality
The schedule is often extremely tight, with a bathroom or kitchen renovation taking a few days and a full home renovation to be completed in several weeks or months. Castle Building & Remodeling in Minneapolis made a YouTube video of a bathroom remodel called “Bath Remodeling Not As Seen on TV” to show all the steps involved and explain why a simple bathroom renovation actually takes 21-30 days — after the design and product selection is finished.
The home renovation costs you see on shows may not be accurate either. Costs vary greatly by geographic region—in Colorado a roof has to withstand snow and ice, while in Florida a roof needs to withstand hurricanes. Materials that have to travel longer distances may cost more, and labor costs always vary by city. In addition, home renovation offers often receive reduced labor and materials.
Bebrich, who owns her own design and renovation firm, Kristi B. Make sure you do adequate planning and preparation before starting your project.”
Here are eight things you see in home renovation shows, identified as fantasy or reality.
Home renovation projects involve unexpected setbacks, and are often very expensive
Life isn’t written as neatly as “Love It or List It,” which in every episode finds designer Hilary Farr forced to scale back her plans after a sudden issue with plumbing, foundation, or another less exciting part of the house eating into the renovation budget.
In fact, the TV project may have fewer surprises, since the real plans were implemented before the video was shot. Nobody knows what you’ll find when opening walls and floors, but they are often quite expensive, especially in an old home. “There are a lot of things that happen that you can’t predict,” Bebrich says. “The fact of the matter is that the renovations go beyond budget.” Dedicating an emergency fund, which our TV homeowners never seem to do, is a smart move.
The house looks like a magazine cover story when finished
A home renovation project usually ends up dusting everything in your house. All of your pots and pans remain in the living room, and no one brings fresh flowers or the right throw pillows. Once the contractors are finished, home fairs will likely bring in cleaning crews, window washers, and designers with accessories, all costs that were not included in the original renovation budget.
Adding the right furniture and accessories can make your home look like a magazine cover story
These accessories do not come with a regeneration function. But if you’re willing to do some shopping and spend the extra time, you can make your home look just as beautiful.
Contractors show up on time and work into the night to get the job done on deadline
The TV crew is only working on this project (and there may be people working that you don’t see on screen). Your contractor juggles the renovation with many other projects, and it may not be his top priority. Plus, it doesn’t work at night.
Changing floors, finishes, and layouts can transform an ugly home
This is where the shows are real in life. While the changes to crews aren’t as easy as they seem, tearing down a wall, changing floor tiles, or replacing old wallpaper can make all the difference. “There’s a lot of good educational stuff you can get from these shows,” Bebrich says. I found the shows make smart choices and make good use of the space.
A large house renovation project can be completed in 60 minutes
Not even many of the projects featured on home improvement programs can be done in 60 days, and real-life renovations always take much longer than they do on TV. Schedules are a frequent struggle between the homeowner and the contractor, and municipal inspections required at various points in the project can also cause delays.
The stress of a major home renovation can make homeowners cry
Several episodes show homeowners overcome with emotion as they struggle to make decisions, deal with unexpected and costly setbacks and live with the chaos of turning their homes upside down. Renewal is very stressful and can tax family relationships. In real life, you will likely continue to live in your home through the renovation period and experience months of chaos.
You can choose materials during project implementation in just one shop visit
Shopping for the exact materials you want to use in your renovation can take weeks or months, and you may have looked at photos for months before that. “In real life, you have a lot of endless options when you choose your finishes,” Bebrich says. Additionally, many items have to be ordered and can take weeks to arrive, which is something you need to plan for.
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