Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.
We’ve all seen the home improvement shows where the sweet young couple buy a decrepit house with a kitchen so ugly that even 1960 wouldn’t take it back. In 30 or 60 minutes, that ugly house becomes a true dream home, with every detail perfect, right down to the color-coordinated stand mixer and coffee maker in the now gorgeous kitchen.
It’s reality TV today, at least in the home improvement business. But is this the reality?
“We live in a world where home improvement is fun,” says Angie Hicks, founder of Angi, which provides contractor referrals and reviews. She loves watching home improvement shows, but she knows they don’t paint the whole picture. “A lot of steps are left out in this entertainment because it would obviously be a bit boring.”
Boring steps that are usually left out include researching owners before deciding on renovations, drawing up plans with architects, consulting engineers on structural issues, getting estimates from multiple contractors , then choosing one and obtaining permits from local building officials, all of which can add months to a project.
“It’s not sexy. It’s not exciting. That part doesn’t make good television,” says Christy Biberich, an interior designer and remodeler in Los Angeles, where she worked on the HGTV show ” Brother vs. Brother,” in which twin brothers Drew and Jonathan Scott lead two teams of renovators to compete to increase property value. But, she says of the initial planning, “It’s something that’s so important to the results of your project.”
“It’s definitely apples and oranges,” she said. “On a TV show, everything is already set up.”
Home renovation: fantasy versus reality
The time frame is often significantly reduced, with a bathroom or kitchen renovation taking a few days and a whole house renovation completed in weeks or months. Castle Building & Remodeling in Minneapolis made a YouTube video of a bathroom remodel called “Bath Remodeling Not As Seen on TV” to show all the steps involved and explain why a simple bathroom remodel actually takes 21 to 30 days – after design and product selections are complete.
The home improvement costs you see on the shows may not be accurate either. Costs vary widely by geographic area – a roof in Colorado must withstand snow and ice, while a roof in Florida must withstand hurricanes. Materials that need to travel farther can cost more, and labor costs always vary by city. Additionally, home improvement shows often have discounts on labor and materials.
“The shows are great for inspiring you and getting you excited about transforming your own home,” says Biberich, who owns her own design and renovation company, Christy B. “Use the shows as inspiration and motivation for your projects, then make sure you do enough planning and preparation before you start your project.”
Here are eight things you see on home improvement shows identified as fantasy or reality.
Home improvement projects come with unexpected and often costly setbacks
Life isn’t as precisely scripted as “Love It or List It,” which forces designer Hilary Farr in each episode to curtail her plans after a surprise problem with the plumbing or the foundation or some other less exciting part of the house. eating away at the renovation budget.
To tell the truth, the TV project is likely to have fewer surprises, since the real plans were made before the filming of the clip. Nobody knows what you’ll find when you open up the walls and floors, but it’s often something expensive, especially in an older home. “There are so many things going on that you can’t predict,” says Biberich. “The fact is, the renovations are over budget.” Putting aside a contingency fund, which our TV owners never seem to do, is a smart move.
The house looks like a magazine cover when finished
A home improvement project usually ends with everything in your home covered in dust. All your pots and pans stay in the living room, and no one brings fresh flowers or just the right throw pillows. After the contractors are done, the home shows likely bring in cleaning crews, window washers, and designers with props, all costs that aren’t included in the initial renovation budget.
Adding the right furniture and accessories can make your home look like a magazine cover.
These accessories do not come with a retrofit job. But if you’re willing to shop and spend the extra time, you can make your home just as enjoyable.
Contractors show up on time and work late into the night to complete the job on time
The TV crew is only working on this project (and there may be people working that you don’t see on screen). Your contractor is juggling your renovations with several other projects, and you may not be his priority. Also, he doesn’t work at night.
Changing flooring, finishes and fixtures can transform an ugly home
This is where the shows are true to life. Although the changes made by the teams are not as simple as they seem, knocking down a wall, changing the tiles or replacing an old wallpaper can make a big difference. “There’s a lot of great educational stuff you can get from these shows,” Biberich says. She finds the shows make smart choices and show good use of space.
A major home improvement project can be completed in 60 minutes
Many projects featured on home improvement shows can’t even be done in 60 days, and actual renovations almost always take much longer than on TV. Schedules are a frequent fight between owner and contractor, and municipal inspections required at various points in the project can also cause delays.
The stress of a major home renovation can bring homeowners to tears
Many episodes show homeowners overcome with emotion as they struggle to make decisions, deal with unexpected and costly setbacks, and live with the chaos of having their homes turned upside down. Renovation is extremely stressful and can also test family relationships. In real life, you are likely to continue to live in your home during the renovation and experience months of chaos.
You can choose materials while the project is underway with just one visit to a store
Purchasing the exact materials you want to use in your renovation can take weeks or months, and you’ll probably have been looking at pictures for months before that. “In real life, you have so many endless options when choosing your finishes,” says Biberich. Also, many items need to be ordered and can take weeks to arrive, which you should plan for.
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