The inherent drama of buying, selling, or renovating homes is tailor-made for reality television. You don’t need to own a house to be captivated by the minutiae of managing the large and small choices these programs painstakingly document. Still, it’s common to feel somewhat suspicious of the heightened “reality” on display.
In recent years, in response to increased interest in renovations, as well as buying and selling, the most popular design and construction programs focus less on showcasing unattainable lifestyles and more on the decision-making process of homeowners. Canadian common sense thrives in this environment, and several programs produced on this side of the border are in steady rotation on the W network and HGTV.
One of the most recognizable personalities is Mike Holmes, with his programs based on the principle that bad contractors make good TV. Holmes takes on projects for homeowners who have been left in dire straits after hiring the wrong guy. Since his first program, Holmes on Homes, he has developed several others, including Holmes Makes It Right and Holmes Inspection.
He practices an extreme form of renovation, typically gutting the place so he can “do it right”. Occasionally, he needs to take the house down. Though Bryan Baeumler shares Holmes’ concerns with quality, he has a lighter touch.
On DIY Disasters, one of several programs he helms, Baeumler steps in to help people remedy the botched results of their own home improvements. In Leave It to Bryan he smoothly guides homeowners towards renovations that are structurally sound, if less glitzy than their original plans.
Property Brothers features Drew and Jonathan Scott, twins who combine their expertise in real estate and construction to work for people with limited funds and big dreams. Drew finds homes within their price range and Scott renovates them, with often beautiful results.
On Love It or List It, Hilary Farr and David Visentin present dueling scenarios to homeowners who must decide whether to renovate or move. Farr refurbishes part of their current house to show them what’s possible, and Visentin tries to entice them into buying a different house. The spectacle of dissatisfied homeowners and the potential for confrontation, usually with Farr, brings the drama.
All of these bona fide (and telegenic) experts spend a commendable amount of time on the unglamorous aspects of construction. Wet basements, defective roofs, sump pumps, missing support beams — just like real life, these homely realities might just usurp the granite counters of the homeowners’ dreams.
Real estate values and construction costs vary significantly from place to place and since in many cases locations aren’t identified, number-crunching is the least enlightening aspect of these shows. Otherwise, for the most part, authentic problems and solutions are presented in an engaging and informative way.
But if they make you feel ready to knock down some walls or draw up a contract, you’re watching them wrong.