Designer Talk: Unrealistic Expectations From Home Remodeling Shows

by | Design & Remodeling, Designer Talk

Karen Bruns

Have you ever wondered what professional designers think of the projects on home remodeling shows? Mosby Building Arts designer Karen Bruns is deeply experienced and enthusiastic about improving homes, and she shares these thoughts after a recent Saturday afternoon spent watching HGTV.

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION! Suspense hangs in the air as a young couple waits to see their fixer-upper for the first time. During “the reveal,” the camera zooms in to catch their shocked expressions.  As they tour from room to room the camera catches them expressing delight and surprise:
“This is incredible!”
“Oh, this kitchen….!”

watching hgtv

After the wonderful transformation has received full attention, the scene then jumps ahead in time to capture the couple actually living in their remodeled home. The couple is still thrilled:
“Living here is even better than we imagined it could be.”
“Living here is one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given.”
But wait – something seems off. The couple is wearing the exact same clothes and accessories they wore in the big reveal! Did they film both scenes on the same day? Of course they did.  This is entertainment; HGTV has never claimed to be reporting the news or filming a documentary.

Enjoy these shows for what they are. We watch because we love the adventures of charming hosts as they transform a dump into a beautiful home. But don’t look too closely or take it too seriously. HGTV has not denied taking liberties with their programs. The scenes are staged and shot to achieve the desired dramatic effects that make for good TV.  The story arc requires a home in dire need of help, and a whirlwind of creative and construction activity that always hits a mid-project “uh oh!” moment such as, “I just found out that the neighborhood association doesn’t allow the paint color we’ve just put on your entire house!” The problem resolves quickly for the beautiful big reveal, and our hearts swell with happiness and inspiration. What’s not to love?

But please remember that this is show business. What you see on camera is for the camera, and has little to do with reality. The host works with a hammer in hand when the camera is on, but other workers take over when the camera is off. On camera, the materials look good from a distance but what about up close? According to tradesmen who worked off-camera on these projects the work during the show was rushed and often sloppy.  And homeowners sometimes receive a large payment so they can make necessary changes and corrections to the home once the crew has left.

Unrealistic Project Pricing

One of the most unrealistic things about home improvement shows is the pricing of the projects. Remodeling shows exclude labor costs, and seldom disclose materials that were donated or deeply discounted in exchange for television exposure. These standard practices create unrealistically low price tags.

fixer upper

I saw a recent episode of Fixer Upper that featured a $30,000 full kitchen remodel in Waco, Texas.  Waco is located half way between Dallas and Austin, Texas. Using Remodeling magazines 2016 Cost vs. Value report (a realistic and reliable price barometer), we learn the average cost of a mid-range major kitchen remodel in Austin is $55,962. Texas is part of the West South Central region, where the average price is $59,999.

Cost vs Value defines a midrange major kitchen remodel as a 200 square foot kitchen with 30 linear feet of semi-custom wood cabinets, laminate countertops, resilient flooring and standard appliances. If you add granite tops, wood floors and upscale appliances to the work scope it can easily double that amount. So it is absolutely possible Fixer Upper did the kitchen we see on the show for $30,000. But for the sake of a good story, they left out the $25,000 worth of free or reduced rate labor and materials.

As much as I enjoy a good home remodeling soap opera, I think our reality is better than the “reality shows.” A reputable builder – like Mosby Building Arts – will perform jobs without the drama. Mosby investigates existing conditions, building codes, neighborhood covenants, and other potential problems ahead of time to avoid those “uh oh” moments.

We work with clients to fine tune an all-inclusive scope of work so the client knows the job will come within the budget 95% of the time. The other 5% is generally because of the client’s decisions to make a change during construction. The time frame for the project is also predictable because Mosby has a 98% on-time completion rate.

So in our remodeling program it’s: LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION! (Cue sounds of crickets chirping.)
No drama?!
Mosby Building Arts is okay with that.