Taking the Mystery Out of Remodeling – by Reva Kussmaul

Reality Television – Not!

Altered Expectations

Ever since the War of the Worlds radio broadcast sent panicked listeners into city streets clutching rifles, sociologists have argued over whether the media directly influences its audience. Though that debate continues today, remodelers have their own evidence that TV can play a role in warping reality. Craig Knott, owner of Houseworks Unlimited, in Washington, D.C., says that because of what they see on TV, clients often make lavish—or even impossible—demands, all for half the price. “A lot of these shows tend to glorify the low cost,” he says. “Not just that it can get done in three hours, but that the costs are very low.”

That blend of extravagance and lack of realism is best suited for, well, his 6-year-old son. “It’s crazy,” Knott says. “He gets up on Saturday mornings [to watch]. I can only watch a couple [of episodes] and I can’t take it anymore.”

Ari Fingeroth, owner and project manager of Federalist Builders, also in Washington, D.C., has the same problem as Knott. “[When] I end up getting called in by a heavy DIY watcher, my prices and time lines blow the [homeowners’] minds so much that I never get a call back,” he says. Sometimes his clients know nothing of revisions, permits, or lead times for special-order items that could delay work and break the budget.

The team at Castle Building & Remodeling, in Minneapolis, fields so many TV-related misconceptions that it created a YouTube video to address those points. “Remodeling on TV isn’t real,” says the narrator in the video, before walking viewers through an actual remodeling job, step by step. The process provides viewers with a window into the process and shows them that, even if the job goes completely smoothly, it might take a month or more to finish a project. Troy Sinykin, Castle’s sales and design manager, says it’s important to educate clients before you break ground.

But not all remodelers share the same problems with the boob tube. Gregg Cantor, president and CEO of San Diego-based Lampert Design, Build, Remodel, says that reality TV doesn’t really affect his clients’ expectations. And although he agrees that TV shows oversimplify the remodeling process, he says they’re based on fantasy, and his clients tend not to dwell on it.

“Typically, we have a laugh with our clients, and then move on to discussing what we can do for them,” Cantor says.

Perhaps the biggest critic of remodeling television is one of its biggest stars. Mike Holmes, celebrated cynic and host of the HGTV program, Holmes on Holmes, says that he hate-watches remodeling TV all the time. According to Holmes, nearly every other remodeling show on television has at least a few glaring factual errors. “I watch many different shows and go, ‘Wrong, wrong, wrong,’” he says. Like many contractors, Holmes rolls his eyes at the types of renovation shows branded so often as “reality” TV. “Pros watch and go, ‘Oh my god, this guy has no idea what he’s doing,’” he says.

In fact, it was the bad influence of reality TV that got Holmes into the television business in the first place. In 2001, Holmes approached the executives at HGTV and spoke his mind. “I said, … ‘I can clearly see they’re doing it wrong on the television. I’m surprised you haven’t been sued.’” But instead of calling security, those executives offered Holmes a TV show of his own. That show, Holmes on Homes, became HGTV Canada’s top-rated program and launched the contractor’s U.S. television career. “My goal was to educate everyone out there,” Holmes says.

Although he is entrenched in the business, Holmes says that remodeling-themed reality shows often set expectations too high. “I think that homeowners … believe they’re going to get a Taj Mahal,” he says. “It’s unrealistic.”

An excerpt from an article in Remodeling Magazine 6/14: Remodeled Reality

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