Thursday, August 23, 2012

It's a Plot

I like watching home decorating shows, as I know I have said before, but like other reality shows, they strike me as being heavily scripted.

Let’s take Property Brothers, for instance. The premise of the show is that a young couple wanting to buy a new house will have such an extensive wish list that they cannot buy a move in ready house and will be forced to buy a fixer. 

First our unsuspecting couple (who apparently have never watched an episode of the show) are taken to see a luxury house that has all the items on their wish list, and it turns out that the house is well over their budget. They wanted a large living room? This one is the size of a basketball court with 14 foot ceilings. 14 foot ceilings were not on the wish list, but never mind. They wanted a large eat-in kitchen with all new appliances and granite counters. Did they actually specify it had to have a Viking 6 burner range and Sub-Zero refrigerator? No, but this house has them. They wanted four bedrooms, but never said each one had to be the size of a tennis court. So surprise, surprise, they can’t afford this house, which in Property Brothers land means they can’t afford any house with a largish living room and nice new appliances of a more modest sort.

Next our disappointed couple is told that anything they really want in that house can be put into an older home in need of fixing up. Note that the key word is “anything”, not “everything”. Once the couple selects a house, only two or maybe three rooms are remodeled. They aren’t really getting a house like the bait and switch house for a much lower price; they are getting a house with some but not all of their wish list. 

Then we go on the hunt for a potential fixer upper. In each house, Drew and Scott tell the couple what can be done to make it look like their dream home. Scott confidently assures them that he can tear down or move walls, patch cracks, and refinish flooring, all before doing a thorough home inspection to see if the walls are load bearing, the cracks aren’t due to foundation problems, and the floors haven’t been refinished previously.

Two potential houses are selected and given cute names, like the Bug Infested Bungalow and the Cat Lady Condo. Scott reveals his remodeling plans for each house, again, apparently before a thorough inspection has been done. The remodel covers maybe a third of each house, which means the rest of the worn out carpet, undersized bedrooms, mildewed bathrooms and moribund yard will be left as is. For each house, Drew tells the couple what he thinks he can buy it for, Scott tells them what he can remodel it for, and the couple never think to ask what if the owners won’t come down that much on the price or what if that wall Scott is planning to move has all the duct work in it.

The next segment shows the couple waiting eagerly in a coffee shop or restaurant while Drew negotiates for the house of their choice. Despite the fact that they didn’t like the house to begin with, the couple is invariably on pins and needles. Suspense builds as the owners make counter offers or it turns out that there is another bid. Oddly enough, at this point the couple never says, “Well, if this doesn’t work out, there is always the Polka Dot Palace to fall back on.” No, you would think this was their move-in ready dream home instead of a money pit in the making.

The real tip-off that this show is scripted, however, occurs when Scott begins his renovations and something unforeseen happens. The wall that was supposed to come down holds all the ductwork for the HVAC, or the roof is leaking, or there is a crack in the basement wall. This happens every single week, which is probably a clue as to why Drew and Scott are supporting themselves via a TV show rather than a real job. Couldn’t they get Mike Holmes to do an inspection first before making promises to the unsuspecting home owners? I say “unsuspecting”, but the show has been on for a few seasons. By now you’d think buyers would know to beware, unless, of course, all of these problems are known before the remodeling plans are presented and they are all just pretending it’s a big surprise.

Interestingly enough, Income Property and Love It or List It have the exact same dramatic moment when unforeseen complications are discovered. They all use the same inspector, the one with the guide dog.

To add to the fun, the homeowners pick this point to request extras in the remodeling. I can’t really blame them, though, because they apparently are only given five minutes or so to look over the plans and pick one, instead of being able to discuss them over a period of days like normal people working with a contractor. So, yeah, there are bound to be a few forgotten items.

Finally, there is the big reveal. As on all decorator shows, the home owners use the same words and phrases: “This is not my house” (Well then I guess you are homeless. That’s not good.) “It exceeds my expectations.” (Of course. Anyone who purchases The Bug Infested Bungalow has low expectations.) Something is always said to “pop”, and if we are lucky it’s not something in the electrical system. Something else is said to “flow”. It sounds like the intro to Cell Block Tango.

If I ever have reason to go house hunting with The Property Brothers, this is what I will do. I will point out all the ways the first, move in ready house has expensive features I don’t need, to help them understand my wish list better. I will insist on hiring my own inspector to look at the houses under consideration before we make a bid or draw up remodeling plans. I’ll have Drew ask the home owners if they have a copy of the original plans, especially the as-built plans, although I won’t be surprised if they are not available. I will insist that the remodeling plans not include furnishings, since I have my own furniture and anyway, it will be easier to furnish the house a bit at a time than to replace flooring and redo bathrooms a bit at a time. All the remodeling money will be put toward removing walls, redoing bathrooms and the kitchen, and replacing or refinishing  flooring. Painting I can do on my own time. It’s true that won’t make the big reveal as impressive, but it will save time later on.

Of course, they are in Canada and I’m in Louisiana, so we will never meet. It’s just as well.

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