It’s called “home porn,” those sensuous scenes of some broken-down shack transformed into a mansion worthy of the Duke and Duchess of York. And it all comes together in a few weeks at prices anyone can afford!
Home-improvement television has exploded since its humble beginnings in 1979 when “This Old House” debuted on PBS as a series that renovates historical homes. The show is still going strong with a cast of rock stars that captivate restoration groupies.
Boosted by the creation of the HGTV (1994) and DIY (1999) networks, television that spotlights homebuying and remodeling has proved increasingly irresistible for consumers. RemodelingMagazine, a trade magazine based in Washington, D.C., that serves the residential construction industry, reports that as of the fourth quarter of 2013, HGTV was the second most-watched channel on weekend cable programming among viewers ages 25-54, exceeded only by sports network ESPN.
For many viewers, home porn is just that — a fantasy of what a house can be, from antique hardwood floors to stainless-steel kitchens to backyards that rival Central Park. And for those in the throes of remodeling or shopping for real estate, it’s an education in construction and a source of ideas. Viewers exposed to new products are spurred to launch their own ventures.
Richard Bazinet, an agent with Realty One Group in Scottsdale, finds many of his clients are self-admitted “addicts” of reality TV, and their addiction has made them savvy about homebuying.
“No doubt,” he says. “They’re smarter.”
He also believes celebrity real-estate agents have given the profession more credibility, though he says he’s sometimes expected to be as animated as his TV counterparts.
The biggest misconceptions fostered on the small screen are in the time and expense required to either build a house or remodel one, says architect Brent Kendle of Kendle Design Collaborative in Scottsdale, whose projects span the Valley.
His high-end clients are apprised that a quality home can’t be built in a day at bargain-basement prices. For a complex blueprint, plan on more than two years from design to housewarming, he says, not the fast track of television. The intervening process that includes mundane details, such as numerous inspections, are often skipped over by filmmakers but are part of real life.
“I try to set (realistic) expectations,” Kendle says.
Professional contractors, in fact, have a love-hate relationship with home TV, says Craig Webb, editor-in-chief of Remodeling Magazine.
Sure, customers are inspired to refurbish their caves, and that generates business. But then reality sets in. For the sake of television, projects are compacted in time. Workers toil round the clock, which they don’t do in real life. Sponsors and crafts people often donate their products and services or offer a discount.
Try getting bargain appliances for your own kitchen makeover.
“It’s a two-edged sword,” Webb says.
Jewell Blair, who owns Jay B Designs in Glendale and is president of the Arizona North chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers, watches home television with an eye on the final results, not the building process. Among her favorites are “Rehab Addict,” “Candice Tells All,” “Property Brothers” and “Fixer Upper.”
She agrees viewers can get a skewed picture of the construction process. But her biggest complaint is that some of the featured designers put too much of their own stamp on their work.
“I find myself critiquing what I see,” she says, and what she sees too often is homes that look alike.
Interior designers have to be careful to reflect their clients’ tastes, she says, not their personal preferences.
Not every viewer wants a total makeover, says John Hernandez, visual merchandise manager for Crate and Barrel in Scottsdale, who follows such series as “Rehab Addict,” “Property Brothers” and “Flipping Out.”
What consumers can glean from TV are tips on how a few throw pillows, a new rug or a little paint on the wall can refresh a room without major purchases. They discover new color palettes (Jeff Lewis of “Flipping Out” has his own line of paint), as well as trends in decorating.
“I like that the shows are signing on to how everything doesn’t have to match,” Hernandez says.
Dare to have mismatched end tables, Hernandez suggests, or pair new chairs with an old dining-room table.
While Blair and Hernandez are checking out the inside of TV homes, landscapers are scrutinizing the outside. Phoenix landscape architect Wade Gendreau is a fan of such shows as “This Old House” and its hotshot landscaper Roger Cook. Gendreau likes Cook’s practical approach to yard renovation rather than showcasing over-the-top lawns most homeowners can’t afford.
What keeps Gendreau and his wife, Jenny, glued to the screen is their own remodeling of a 1938 Regency Revival in the Encanto neighborhood of Phoenix. He and Jenny are doing the work on their home themselves, making it a four- to six-year project. They devour home-improvement shows, including “Property Brothers” and “Love It or List It.”
“What I get out of them are a lot of great ideas — sometimes too many ideas,” Gendreau says with a laugh.
Chad Robert, owner of Exteriors by Chad Robert Inc. Landscape Architecture and Construction in Phoenix, savors shows that restore historical homes like the Gendreaus’.
“It’s important to save all houses,” he says.
And saving backyards? One series on Robert’s radar is DIY’s “Yard Crashers,” which ambushes homeowners shopping at home-improvement stores and follows them home to transform their sorry yards into outdoor living spaces in 24 hours.
That makes for great TV, but Robert warns that, in the real world, two days is not enough to create an awesome exterior. Plants take time to blossom and mature. Fresh landscape doesn’t always photograph well. Saplings and just-planted bulbs simply aren’t very telegenic.
Now home-improvement TV is launching a new trend. Such celebrities as Vanilla Ice, Ellen DeGeneres, William Shatner and Bronson Pinchot are getting into the act by hosting or sponsoring their own shows. That could give home porn a cache that will last for decades.
Robert says the appeal is simple: “Everyone’s always interested in improving their property. This teaches them about the process.”
Ranking the top home-improvement shows is difficult. HGTV and DIY don’t keep such data. Still, everyone in the business has an opinion. Here’s a list of 10 of the most popular shows, gathered from suggestions by professionals, bloggers and their network status in prime time. Check local listings for air times and days.
‘This Old House’
The granddaddy of them all, “TOH” debuted in February 1979. With a crew of carpentry, plumbing, electrical and landscaping professionals, as well as amiable red-headed host Kevin O’Connor, the series spends several weeks on air renovating older, often historical, homes. Following original host Bob Vila and then Steve Thomas, O’Connor won his current job after participating as a homeowner on the show’s off-shoot, “Ask This Old House.”
The hunt is on for three homes that will appeal to prospective buyers, from which they’ll select their dream house. But the stated format is a little misleading. Prior to filming, the choice has already been made, and the couple or family now owns the house featured in each episode. What’s a little deception among friends? The series is “narrated” by actress Andromeda Dunker, and it still gives viewers insight into how to search for and choose the right house for each buyer.
With hunky twin brothers Jonathan and Drew Scott as hosts, this show has become popular not only for its beefcake but its format in which real-estate agent Drew helps buyers find and purchase a fixer-upper, and licensed contractor Jonathan steps in for the renovation. This season, the show’s fifth, will film all episodes in the Lower Hudson Valley of New York state, though the series originates in Canada.
‘Love It or List It’
Also originating from Canada, “Love It or List It” takes couples and families through the decision to love their newly renovated home or list it for sale with the help of designer Hilary Farr and real-estate agent David Visentin. While the family lives away from the home, it’s a race between making over their existing house and searching for a new one to fit their needs. Will they love the old one or list it? The show is a face-off between designer and real-estate agent, who have been keeping score since the show debuted in 2008.
True to its name, this series based in Waco, Texas, finds homes in need of repairs around central Texas and then pitches them to clients looking for a fixer-upper on a limited budget. Hosts Chip and Joanna Gaines are, respectively, a contractor and a designer. The show is a relative newcomer, having its first season in 2014.
Michigan native and single mom Nicole Curtis hosts this show, which advocates restoring properties around Michigan and Minnesota rather than tearing them down. Curtis does much of the restoration work herself, bringing historical homes back to life. Curtis doesn’t gloss over the realities of home renovation. She has described her series in the press as “raw and real,” and she’s been known to sob as the wrecking ball came through on those properties she failed to save.
Network: DIY and HGTV.
‘Candice Tells All’
Personable host Candice Olson is an interior designer originally from Toronto who spotlights a different design principle with each home makeover. As its title suggests, Olson lets viewers in on her techniques but doesn’t gloss over the pitfalls and challenges she encounters.
California real-estate agent and interior designer Jeff Lewis hosts another show in which homes are bought, remodeled and sold. But this show is about more than walls and floors. Lewis and his staff sometimes flip out at each other as raw emotions, conflict and therapy become part of the landscape. Viewers watch as much for the drama as the decorating. Think Martha Stewart meets “All My Children.”
Landscaper Chris Lambton lies in wait at home-improvement stores for unsuspecting homeowners he deems worthy of a yard makeover. He pounces, follows the homeowners home and remakes their yards in 24 hours. Don’t try this at home. Real makeovers can barely get a petunia bed planted in 24 hours.
‘Holmes Makes It Right’
This do-over series features as host the often-acerbic Mike Holmes crusading against evil remodelers who botch jobs. He makes it right when walls fail, projects soar over budget or brand new homes cause more headaches than old ones. When a bungled barn roof threatens the safety of a group of rescue horses, Holmes has plenty of reasons to be grumpy.