400 Hours of Watching HGTV Does Not Make You a Designer

Real Estate Sales Representative with Remax Results

Our eyes are fixated on the screen, our blood rushes, and we hold our breath. Are you ready? Are you ready to see your dump of house transformed? YES, YES, YES!!!! The buyers scream, Ohhhh, we can’t believe it!!!” We cheer with them, our hearts are pounding, and we can’t wait to see the surprises inside.

Room by room they swoon, it gets better and better. The designer squeezed in every desire, it's almost a psychic dream come true. Sunlight pours in through enormous windows casting a cozy glow across sparkly granite countertops. Walls were opened up creating expansive airy rooms, clever spaces for entertaining friends and family. It's the fantasy of every homeowner, and homeowners to be to have a shabby reality transformed into a dream home. And, it's all done within an hour with time for commercial breaks.

It's not that I want to punch holes in your new shiplap, or watch your assets swirl down the drain. But, what you're watching is not how it works. It's hard to resist believing what your eyes show you. Believe me, reality makeovers are far from reality. What looks effortless is a whole lot of sweaty teamwork going on behind the scenes. There were clues that you might have missed along the way.

For example: “You only have a budget of $125,000, so we have to be very careful in planning.”

Or, "I've shown you three houses, talk it over and let me know which one you decide to buy.”

And my absolute favorite, “We found a problem with the plumbing that might cost you another $5000, so you will need to come up with additional funds, or we’ll have to cut it back somewhere.” Eye roll.

Hollywood is no stranger to sweat equity. In the early1950s movies were about soldiers home from WWII to marry the sweetheart who waited for them. After the wedding, he’d swoop her off her feet carrying her over the threshold of the only shack he could afford. She’d melt, “Oh darling! It’s everything I’ve ever longed for,” they’d kiss with violins playing in the background. The next morning he’d march off to work, she was in an apron, hair piled on her head with a plate of pancakes in hand, “Can’t wait until tonight darling.” He’d come home after a day at the office, she’d open the door with an enormous grin, a hot dinner on the table, the whole house was remodeled. There was new furniture, and every room was freshly painted. He’d say, “Well, it looks like you’ve had a busy day! I can’t believe what you’ve done with the place.”

Neither can I. Even as a child I would wonder how much coffee she drank to make it happen, and why she wasn’t tired and crabby like my mom would be. No one else seemed to notice that the bride was a contractor, painter, carpet installer, not to mention a fabulous cook with never a hair out of place, the forerunner of Martha Stewart. Seeing a home transformed appeals to our belief in magic. Most TV reality shows have a Realtor and a designer. The Realtor shows homes, and negotiates the offer. Spoiler Alert: they already purchased one of the 3 homes before the show, and applied to be featured. The application includes a profile, financial info, how much they intend to spend, with extensive contracts. Then the designer performs a whirlwind of magic with a little help from a plumber, electrician, carpenter, painter, landscaper, and decorator or Ikea. The buyers are always ecstatic and overwhelmed. Except, when they are not. That’s when the law suits start.

Here on earth, the process works a little differently. Amber Smith, lead designer for Chief Concepts in Minneapolis, recounted a call from a potential client, “I want to reconfigure the upstairs bedrooms, add a bathroom, and take out a couple of walls. You know, sort of like the Property Brothers, “giggle giggle. Her budget was exactly 1/4 of the actual cost. No Disney themed decor or furniture included.

Your budget comes first. All decisions are made around that budget. Decide on the scope of the work, what you have done. You know, and I know that you’ll always want more. If you are remodeling the kitchen, the dining room will look dingy unless you at least give it a coat of paint. It’s so tempting to be a victim of creeping scope, give yourself a reality check.  

Then assemble your 9000 Pinterest Boards that mix styles, colors, and themes for that ‘eclectic’ feel. Decide where to prioritize your money. Is it cabinets, tile, counter tops? What sized cabinets do you prefer, 36”, 42”? Will the cabinets you love support a huge slab of quartz or granite? There are a lot more decisions and details than you anticipated. If you are renovating the kitchen, pull samples of backsplashes, tiles, counters, flooring, cabinet doors, hardware, and paint colors. More than 3 choices will just confuse you, it confuses me too.

You should visit a stone warehouse. Most have a stone yard with hundreds of quartz, marble, granite slabs on display. Next is a visit to a cabinet shop, some have small sample sizes to take with you. The best thing that you can do is spread your samples in front of you, and try combinations. If by now you’ve hit overwhelm, stop torturing yourself and hire a designer. This is a good idea because:


  • Your General Contractor is not a designer. He handles plumbers, sheet rockers, electricians, carpenters, tile installers, window installation but not design.


  • A designer has resources, experience, and will be able to weed through the chaos of your Houzz, Instagram, Pinterest boards and pull a real design together to give the contractor a direction.


  • You don’t know where to prioritize your budget. Controlling a budget when you don’t know the cost of materials and labor, or where you can compromise without losing the look you are after, is bumping into your own walls. A designer will have options at different price levels on hand. It will be the best money you’ve spent saving you time, money, and from losing your mind.

Amber says, “I have found that in working with clients on selections, the best way for them to envision their space and truly allow them to see what they like, or what they thought that they liked, is to spread out samples and try combinations. Almost every customer that I work with says, “I know exactly what I want.” But, when we lay out their choices next to other options, they almost always have a change of heart and are surprised that they go with something else. It made sense and looked beautiful in their head, but not in front of them.” Expect that every remodel or rebuild has a timeline. You will want someone with experience to help you design, plan and execute a project so you will love it for years to come. You need someone like Amber on your team. Give us a call.


Posted by

Mary Jo Quay

“That’s what I do: I move people—H O M E.”

 Phone: (612) 384-1360


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Paul Antonelli
Antonelli Realty - Saint Cloud, FL
Broker Owner; Antonelli Realty

Ha ha. Great headline. You are right. I've seen so many design disasters. 

Feb 28, 2018 08:01 AM #1
Nick Vandekar, 610-203-4543
Long & Foster Real Estate Inc 610-225-7400 - Devon, PA
Tredyffrin Easttown Realtor, Philly Main Line

We have seen some of those HGTV homes come up for sale locally, quality of work done has not been good. Good advice and yes there always seem to be those moments when it is going to cost more than planned.

Feb 28, 2018 11:15 AM #2
Golden1 Agents
San Mateo, CA

Thank you for sharing this. 

Mar 01, 2018 02:52 AM #3
Debbie Reynolds
Platinum Properties - Clarksville, TN
Your Dedicated Clarksville TN Real Estate Agent

Great post. I like watching HGTV but fully realize it is fantasy. When they show close ups of the quality of work, many times it is terrible.

Mar 01, 2018 08:34 PM #4
Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667, kat@thehousekat.com, Broker, Blackstone Realty Group - brokered by eXp Realty - Kalispell, MT
The House Kat

These shows definitely make the process look magical and that's because if things happened the way they appear on TV, it WOULD be magic!  I'm happy Patricia included this post in her series of people in AR. 

Mar 05, 2018 03:07 AM #5
Mary Jo Quay
Remax Results - Edina, MN
I Move You Home

Thank you Kat, HGTV drives contractors and builders nuts. One flipper that I work with had to wait 3 months for the HVAC guy because he was so backed up.  How come that never seems to happen with the Property Brothers?  Because they are busy Dancing With the Stars and pre order everything from Ikea.


Mar 05, 2018 05:35 AM #6
Gene Mundt, IL/WI Mortgage Originator - FHA/VA/Conv/Jumbo/Portfolio/Refi
NMLS #216987, IL Lic. 031.0006220, WI Licensed. APMC NMLS #175656 - New Lenox, IL
708.921.6331 - 40+ yrs experience

While I love watching the TV shows .. they also drive me nuts, Mary Jo Quay.  I think they give buyers and remodelers a false sense of what is possible and what is not.  Not just in buying and design, but financing too.  Seems there's a neverending supply of funds (and Lenders willing to supply them at the drop of a hat) in TV-land.  Oh if it was only that way in real life, right??


Mar 08, 2018 01:17 PM #7
Michelle Cherie CarrCrowe Just Call...408-252-8900
Get Results Team...Just Call (408) 252-8900! . DRE #00901962 . Licensed to Sell since 1985 . Altas Realty - San Jose, CA
Family Helping Families Buy & Sell Homes 40+ Years

Just remember they are putting 6 months of work-after they find the house-into a 30 minute show.

Mar 29, 2018 10:16 PM #8
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