Real Estate Themed TV Faces Pressure To More Accurately Portray The Industry

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With real estate themed TV shows more popular than ever, according to experts, most portray an inaccurate picture of the industry.

According to Dr. Adam Leffler, Managing Partner at Bargain House Network, real estate themed TV shows are “focusing more on the entertainment aspect and nowhere near enough on the education aspect.”

He added, “This puts viewers in a dangerous position, in my opinion, because it’s giving them an unrealistic perspective on how the industry works, leading to poor decisions when they try their hand at real estate investing based on what they saw on the 100th cookie cutter TV show about house flipping.”

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Real Estate Themed TV Shows

Shows like Selling Sunset, for instance, focus more on the drama between real estate agents, rather than the ins and outs of actually buying a home. The agents’ personal lives are the nexus of the series, so that viewers don’t actually learn anything about real estate, despite it being a real estate themed show.

And Leffler isn’t the only one who’s been critical of the influx of unrealistic real estate TV. Real estate agent Kit Lockett recently criticized HGTV’s Property Brothers for inaccurately portraying the difficulty many face when trying to access funds for renovation.

Lockett told Insider, “Property Brothers is so unrealistic. It’s not that easy to qualify for a renovation loan. In fact, most loan types do not allow buyers to use the money to renovate a home.”

Renovation loans fall into their own category, separate from a standard home mortgage. The three main types of renovation loans are the FHA 203(k) loan, insured by the Federal Housing Administration; the HomeStyle loan, guaranteed by Fannie Mae; and the CHOICERenovation loan, guaranteed by Freddie Mac. Each type has its own set of requirements and restrictions, but none of that is discussed on Property Brothers.

In addition, realtor Zachary Tuohey of Sand Dollar Realty told Insider that he dislikes HGTV’s Love It or List It for similar reasons, as many homeowners struggle with finances when redesigning a home, but that struggle isn’t depicted on the show.

“Love It or List It sometimes drives me crazy because they seem to only feature upper-class homeowners who appear to have limitless options,” said Tuohey.

For the average viewer, though, a show like this isn’t beneficial, making it seem like anybody can redesign their home to the same standards that they see on the show.

Bess Freedman, CEO of Brown Harris Stevens, also told CNBC that the rise of real estate themed reality TV has been “horrible” for the industry because of how they portray brokers. And finally, writer Jeff Somers for Lifehacker describes his friend’s experience on a real estate themed reality TV show as “entirely staged.”

“The only thing you can rely on is that you’re probably being lied to,” wrote Somers. “Buying or selling a house is more complicated than looking at three homes and having a conversation over a glass of wine, buying a fixer-upper probably isn’t a bargain, and the Property Brothers are not going to spend weeks in your house personally hanging drywall and grouting tiles.”

Misleading Viewers

Unfortunately, most of the real estate themed TV shows airing today don’t get into the details of what it’s actually like to buy, sell, or renovate a home. While the shows may provide great entertainment, they are also misleading the average viewer.

Instead of the current slate of real estate TV, Leffler wants producers to focus more on what he calls “edutainment,” combining education and entertainment. On Leffler’s network, many of the real estate themed TV shows fall under this category.

For instance, Funding Faceoff educates viewers on what makes a good vs. bad deal, with real-time negotiations happening on screen. Show creator Lori Greymont said, “I live by the philosophy that great deals are made, not found, and we demonstrate that in every single episode. I believe that brings incalculable value to viewers because it teaches them how to structure a good deal where others may not see one.”

Although the more realistic real estate shows aren’t the majority, other networks also have a few. For example, Tuohey told Insider that HGTV Canada’s Holmes Makes it Right includes good renovation information and educational content. The series follows contractor Mike Holmes, who helps homeowners correct renovation mistakes made by dishonest contractors.

“I have a background in construction, but Holmes still expands my knowledge of codes and violations that I would otherwise have been sure to miss,” said Tuohey.

In addition, A&E’s Zombie House Flipping focuses on certain aspects of house flipping that other real estate shows ignore. Nicole Espinosa, aka The Short Sale Queen, who is also one of the show’s hosts, says she wanted the show to portray the reality of the real estate industry, especially the process behind flipping properties.

“I’ve made mistakes, like anyone else in the industry, so I know first hand how damaging they can be to your financial stability,” said Espinosa. “So when A&E approached me about this show, I insisted that we show everything — ugly warts and all, so that we give people the right advice. This was important to me because most people have a lot of financial misconceptions.”

As a whole, financial literacy in the United States is quite low, so when real estate themed reality TV reinforces financial misconceptions, there are damaging real-world implications. Many states already have financial literacy bills in place, in which they’ve incorporated a financial literacy program into the K-12 public school curriculum.

As of April 2022, 23 states in the US have some sort of personal finance education mandate, with many states soon following. Georgia, Michigan, South Carolina, and others are working to pass similar legislation.

According to CNBC, data shows that students and parents across the country want increased personal financial education in public schools. In California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, and South Carolina, 80% or more of those surveyed supported having financial literacy courses.

Because of this increased desire for financial literacy, we’re beginning to see more programming that reflects this shift. While there are still a number of popular shows, like Netflix’s Selling Sunset, that focus primarily on real estate agents and their personal drama, we’re also getting more TV that focuses on the investing side of the industry.

As more people learn about investing and personal finance, we’re likely to see even more of a change in real estate themed reality TV. In just a few years, we’ve already seen a massive increase in the number of real estate themed TV shows that exist, and now, with rising inflation, a volatile real estate market, and increased interest in real estate investing since the pandemic, TV viewers should expect a more realistic depiction of the industry to come.