There are more than 100 home renovation, design and build reality shows on cable television. If you’re a home rehab addict (as in the show of the same name on HGTV) you may have just a few of these on your DVR: Renovation Realities, Property Brothers, Love It or List It, Rehab Addict and Flip This House. Maybe you’re a nineties kid and like The Vanilla Ice Project. Couple these shows with the vast scope of additional programs online and on small networks and the biggies like HGTV and DIY network, and home renovation has become a part of American DNA.
In that vein, homeowners who decide to build an addition or undertake any significant level of renovation have high expectations. But are they in alignment with reality? Perhaps not. While shows of all stripes stretch that term to its limits, renovation reality television is quite literally closest to home.
Few people will look for a mate like The Bachelorette and fewer still will stage being stranded on a desert island, a’ la Survivor. But millions of Americans will actually undertake a renovation and look to these home shows for inspiration. They will set their expectations for timing, expertise, outcomes and price based on what they see. Angie Hicks, founder of AngiesList.com said in a US News and World Report Real Estate story, “We live in a world of home improvement as entertainment. A lot of steps get left out in that entertainment because obviously it would be kind of boring.”
What’s Real and What’s Not So Real
1. Crew size: In reality, it could take up to 30 people to finish a kitchen in a couple of weeks. The truth is very few home contractors for an average customer are going to be able to deploy more than half a dozen professionals at one time. Further, it isn’t technically feasible to have that many different disciplines on one project at once. See “Timing.”
2. Timing: The magic of television editing and staging give the impression that most things take days or short weeks. The reality is most things take many weeks and months and sometimes if very extensive, a couple of years from concept to finish. The sequence of events in an addition or renovation is what it is. You cannot install plumbing before walls are framed. Unlike T.V. it will not and cannot be all at once.
3. Materials: Not everything need be exotic in real life to look good, but plastic can look like crystal on television. In reality, these make a difference in terms of time to install, and sometimes cheaper materials are quicker. For example, laminate is quicker than hardwood. Brick siding more intricate than vinyl siding. If done correctly, it can all look good, just remember the camera can lie.
4. Drama Factor: Beyond the excitement of demolition and the cacophony of drilling, hammering and sawing, much of renovation is figuratively quiet. There are certainly phases of a project that can transform the state of a house over a short period, but there is a reason for the phrase “Like watching paint dry.”
5. Surprises: There are two reasons for the common scene of home owners’ jaws dropping when their contractor swings a sledgehammer only to discover a gaping structural deficit or untenably ancient wiring scandal. First, because it does happen. Second, because it makes for good dramatic tension between everyone. In reality, your contractor will have spent time in your house before planning and will have a lot of experience with homes in your area of your age and condition. There are indeed surprises, but rarely are good builders completely sideswiped.
6. Neatness: The “Before and After” shots of any television show are the most satisfying. This is true in real life, if you remember that they had entire cleaning and decorating crews to outfit the finished spaces. A good contractor will keep their work areas as neat as possible, but the reality is you and your stuff will be covered in dust, there will be some stray nails in your yard and the neighbors will get annoyed at the scraps in your driveway.
7. Budget: Here’s where real life can get it right more than on the shows, but only if you are with an experienced, trusted contractor. When you’re watching, oftentimes the people are surprised by cost overages and have to forgo some major changes. This should happen less in reality because via your lender and your builder, you will have a contingency fund. Usually this is about 15% of the overall budget.
Anyone who is even thinking of a home renovation will quickly become addicted to renovation television. This is perfectly ok, as long as fantasy and reality maintain fierce independence of each other. Much like you didn’t select your mate wearing a captivating gown in Phuket, Thailand, you won’t leave your house on Monday and come home Sunday to a new one. With the right design and build contractor though, you will turn your dreams into reality.