Exploring the Impact Real Estate TV Shows Have on the Industry

Real estate pros weigh in on whether the televised depiction of the industry mirrors the real deal.

The rise of HGTV has made everyone a real estate and home industry expert. Or has it? From “Fixer Upper” to “Million Dollar Listing,” shows involving real estate and home design have left (sometimes unrealistic) expectations or assumptions in the minds of home buyers that industry pros like Amy Duong Kim, senior broker at Duong Kim Global - Compass and agent Steve Sloboda of Windermere Real Estate must navigate on a daily basis.

ESTATENVY caught up with Kim and Sloboda to learn more about the effects of these shows on the real estate industry as a whole.

“Prior to the last four or five years, about one-third of my clients would talk about something real estate-related they saw on television, but going through a transaction now, I'd say at least 75 percent of the buyers and sellers I work with will reference something they saw on a real estate-related show,” Sloboda said.

“When I work with a buyer making their first single-family home purchase or first-time home buyers especially, it’s often the first thing people gravitate toward,” Kim explained.

It’s natural for buyers and sellers to make use of what is depicted as a real-life setting to gain some background information about how the transaction process will progress, but placing too much stock in how things happen on television can skew expectations too far from reality, both agents warn.

“While these shows do a fine job of representing the market they're in, there's too much variation market to market for them to be used as the benchmark everywhere,” Kim said.

Sloboda agreed. “Residential real estate transactions can be roller coaster rides of emotion,” he said. “I know for a fact that one of the most popular shows doesn't even start filming until the buyer has CLOSED on one of the featured houses. Because of that, most of the conversation between the show subjects and their real estate agents are scripted or directed by the show producers.”

The practice of condensing lengthy transactions into a single episode skips over a lot of essential procedures and steps in the closing process, giving viewers the misconception that things move a lot faster than they actually do. The same can be said for shows that focus on home improvement, as well.

“The cost of labor and home renovation is completely different than what they’re doing on shows like ‘Fixer Upper,’” Kim said. “In that sense, these shows give an unrealistic view of what can be done within a certain budget. Renovations can’t be done quickly and easily. When you want to redo a kitchen, television makes it seem like it can be done in a week, but in real life, it can take several months. Ordering cabinets alone can take six to eight weeks! The timing and effort involved aren't as easy or seamless as television makes it out to be.”

“I think the biggest misconceptions about the industry that come out of these shows are how easy they make it all look,” Sloboda said. “The agents featured usually have large teams working with them behind the scenes. Reality shows usually center around the glamour and glory without mentioning what it takes to get to that point.”

Of course, these shows do get some things right, Kim and Sloboda said.

“The basic house walkthrough with an agent on a show like ‘House Hunters’ is usually similar to the way the average buyer house tour goes. Renovation and home flip shows also include people who have to watch their budgets and can get themselves in over their heads sometimes,” Sloboda said, pointing out the reality depicted in these situations more closely mirrors real life than elsewhere.

Kim also noted the huge influence these shows have on design trends in the industry. “I’ve seen a million white kitchens by now,” she joked. “I’m excited to see other things.

To navigate the unrealistic expectations that emerge in the minds of buyers and sellers from these shows, agents must approach every transaction armed with an abundance of market research in order to paint a clearer picture for their clients.

“Buyers and sellers that base their expectations on what they saw on TV can be blindsided by the actual reality of a typical real estate transaction,” Sloboda said. “In order to better demonstrate their worth, agents must come prepared with accurate stats, real market trends and neighborhood-specific data to either validate or correct what their clients have been conditioned to expect.”