Where do they get these people for House Hunters?
July 11, 2011 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Can someone explain House Hunters to me? Particularly the "International" version. I thought the housing market was dead flat?

This show is on HGTV here in the USA, everyday, usually several times a day (it seems like anyway).

The premise of the show is 1 or 2 people looking to buy a house; they examine 3 houses during the show, then proceed to buy one of them. The international show jas people buying a vacation/ retirement, or a home to move to overseas.

The thing is, more often than not, these are very expensive homes! $500k, $750k, $1million+ are not uncommon. 3,000, 4,000, 5,000+ square feet homes! I watched one about a couple buying a house in Costa Rica and the guy was complaining that the homes the realtor was showing them were not "on the beach". The realtor explained that Costa Rica has a nature preserve buffer and so they wouldn't be able to buy on the beach. This guy kept going on about "I'm disappointed I can't live on the beach"...?

Am I living in a different reality than this show? Foreclosures all around, job market crappy, and on this show people are bitching because their lakefront home in Slovenia doesn't have granite countertops. There seems to be no shortage of people / buyers to be on this show either. Did I miss the gravy train somewhere?
posted by dukes909 to Work & Money (43 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Am I living in a different reality than this show?

I don't know how to break this to you, but: yes.
posted by mhoye at 8:30 AM on July 11, 2011 [11 favorites]

Am I living in a different reality than this show?

Yeah, "reality." Most people don't have twenty-odd children or hoard or sing well or anything else you see on reality TV. They show you the exception to the rule because for the most part no one wants to relax and watch what is actually happening.
posted by griphus at 8:31 AM on July 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

Also, you know what sort of films were really popular during the Great Depression? Extraordinarily lavish musicals productions and screwball comedies about rich people and their problems in love.
posted by griphus at 8:32 AM on July 11, 2011 [13 favorites]

There are hundreds of millions of english speaking people. Finding 40 a season looking to buy a house that seems lavish and/or overpriced isn't that hard. Remember, the top 1% of american families have incomes of over 250k, but 1% of 300 million is still 3 million people.

Then bear in mind that many of the subjects aren't american and you get a sense of what's going on.

HGTV is shelter porn, that's what they exist for. People don't have fantasies about short selling a cape outside Cleveland, they have fantasies about restoring a chateau in the Dordogne.

(Actually one of the best things was watcthing the "house flipping shows" that were being filmed as the market was collapsing - seeing the flippers taking loses and being totally shocked by it)
posted by JPD at 8:32 AM on July 11, 2011 [11 favorites]

Look at table A-8 in the appendix - the market for higher priced homes is decidedly different than lower priced homes.
posted by milkrate at 8:32 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think a lot of it has to do with how the show is set up and framed. If you notice, within the houses in North America, it's often the very expensive cities over and over again - Toronto, Boston, Chicago. It is very rare, and perhaps not as good television, to see them look at houses in Michigan. (I specifically remember that episode, they showed a single mom a short sale house.)

Also, if you look at how they figure out how much they can "afford" it is often skewed. It is how much mortgage they qualify for, plus how much downpayment. It isn't actually "how much house you can pay for and be comfortable not eating Ramen the rest of your life." It's really rare to see people not max out to their limits (again, we recently saw an episode that they _did_ buy for half of their budget.)

So I think it's just the framing of the premise of the show, at least in North America. That said, I don't understand the International at all, nor how that girl in South Beach just bought a quarter of a million dollar townhouse fresh out of high school (if you saw that episode).
posted by librarianamy at 8:33 AM on July 11, 2011

There are several million millionaires in the USA.
posted by Perplexity at 8:35 AM on July 11, 2011

Am I living in a different reality than this show? Foreclosures all around, job market crappy, and on this show people are bitching because their lakefront home in Slovenia doesn't have granite countertops. There seems to be no shortage of people / buyers to be on this show either. Did I miss the gravy train somewhere?

Are you mystefied at airlines still selling First Class tickets? At Ferrari not going out of business? I hate to break it to you, but the foreclosures and crappy job market pretty much only affect the people who are already poor. Rich people are still rich, and they still want to spend their riches on expensive things.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:35 AM on July 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

A lot of the episodes are also several years old, especially the reruns. You can check at the end of the episodes and see the copyright.
posted by thebazilist at 8:36 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

From what I've heard, House Hunters is filmed backwards from how they lay it out- they find people who have already bought homes, and film them looking at 3 homes, including the one they already bought.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:41 AM on July 11, 2011 [10 favorites]

There definitely are low price range buyers on the show sometimes. I'd say it's more rich people because a) nice houses are less depressing to look at, and b) rich people probably have more time to waste with a camera crew.

My all time favorite was the American woman who moved to Norway, I think it was. NOTHING met her ridiculous requirements, so they went with secret option #4-they built a house.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:42 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: House Hunters is staged, in that the production company recruits people who are already on contract for a house. So yes, they can easily restrict it just to people in a certain price-range, if that's their desire - they're not pulling from a pool of all homebuyers, they're just pulling from a pool of "homebuyers that meet whatever requirements we want for this show" - price, location, story, etc.

and on this show people are bitching because their lakefront home in Slovenia doesn't have granite countertops

Given that the show is staged, the criticism is also pretty scripted. They are already on contract to buy one of the homes, so they have to fake criticisms that they probably don't really care about.
posted by muddgirl at 8:43 AM on July 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Here in the middle of the country, the overall housing market isn't that bad, whether it's for cheap houses, expensive houses, or in between houses.

The unemployment rate for white, college educated people over the age of 25 is only 7.1% right now (even less for folks with a graduate degree!), so if you are trying to sell a house that white college educated people want to buy, it's not really a problem unless you bought at the peak of the market in the most overheated areas where home prices have fallen drastically.

Based on what I've seen on House Hunters, there's a wide variety of people with a wide variety of price points. I saw one recently (Paris) where the apartment purchased was only around $150,000. And yeah, I've seen plenty of people buying $500,000 houses, or at least considering it. Sometimes they have a $500,000 budget and buy a $250,000 house that needs work. Sometimes they end up buying a $600,000 house somehow or another.
posted by wierdo at 8:45 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just as a data point, myself, my sister and a co-worker have all bought homes in the SF Bay Area in the last 6 months, all of which were fairly expensive (from high six to low seven figures).

If you are not looking to flip a house and you've got solid fundamentals (cash for deposit etc) its a great time to buy - prices and interest rates are super low.

If you're well off and looking for vacation properties its similar. Its not like the real estate market has disappeared. Its just slowed down and you're getting better qualified buyers.
posted by bitdamaged at 8:45 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are a couple issues here. The participants apply to be on the show, presumably to show the world that they can afford upgrades. So it's not like you're seeing a realistic, balanced picture of the real estate market.

Secondly, the show is basically fake. The "hunters" are usually in escrow by the time the episode is filmed. They're shown touring the house they've already purchased and two other properties. That's why it seems so easy and painless to simply choose one of three.

Third, in recent years, House Hunters has shown more episodes featuring foreclosures and short sales (in the U.S.) As for the International version, the really interesting episodes are the ones that feature non-US residents looking for homes. Americans looking at vacation homes are usually the lamest episodes.
posted by pourtant at 8:46 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My best friend and his wife were on an episode of House Hunters last season.

I can't speak to the International version, but in the domestic version, it really has nothing to do with reality. They were actually contacted by the show after they closed on their current home. About a week after they signed the papers, the show reached out to them and asked if they'd be interested in doing it, and they said they'd pay them $500 for the troubles, contingent on their episode actually airing. Apparently, there's a small percentage of HH shows that get filmed but don't make it to air.

They were filmed walking through three houses, one of which they already own, so they're going to accept one house and reject the others. They were coached to talk about things they did and didn't like about each property, and they said the filming schedule was grueling: "Ok, that was great guys! This time, express more disappointment in how small the back yard is. Ok, are we good on sound? Perfect, let's do this one more time. READY FOR TAKE NUMBER SEVENTY FOUR.......AND GO!". They said it was a pretty small crew: one camera, one person on sound, and the producer.

They came back about a month later, after my friends were about 80% through renovating their home, and followed up with them. The show is heavily edited to fit a particular narrative (like all reality shows). My friends weren't made to look like idiots or anything. I think by watching their episode you actually get a pretty good sense of their personalities. They did it on a lark, just to see what it would be like. They went in with no pretensions, and thought it was hilarious that they had to fake their way through looking at two different houses, and then look at their own house and point out the things they did and did not like, and then pretend to debate which house they were going to purchase.

The house they bought, I'm guessing, was around $260,000. On their episode, there was a lot of talk about their budget, what they can afford, how one house costs too much, etc. Keep in mind, this is all filmed after they've already purchased the house. It's just too much of a risk for the crew of three to come to you, film you for constantly for five days, and then it turns out you're not approved for financing or whatever.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:49 AM on July 11, 2011 [133 favorites]

Oh, and they never got paid the $500.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:50 AM on July 11, 2011 [94 favorites]

Best answer: Another data point, the area I currently live in was one of the worst hit in the nation measured by percent of houses in foreclosure. Yet the market for prime real estate - mega mansions with hundreds of feet of private beach each - never slowed down. In fact, numerous properties sold for record prices (8 figures) when the country was in the thick of the recession. The very, very rich basically got out of this recession unscathed, despite what their political posturing would attempt to have you believe.
posted by contessa at 8:58 AM on July 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

Also, HGTV probably focuses on high-end homes because they want to sell you, the viewer, on upgrades and new construction. Have you noticed that some of the most prominent advertisers on the network are Loews, Home Depot, paint companies and some national association of realtors?

HGTV is nothing if not a boon to the granite industry.
posted by pourtant at 9:07 AM on July 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: A tad off topic, but related to the 'scripted' nature of the show (the international version I admit to watching, mainly because I just like to see what sort of places there are in other countries, and to mock the people on the show)....

My wife and I are long past our 'drinking game' days, but we figure House Hunters would make a hell of a drinking game show... drink every time someone says:

"It's small"
"Man cave"
"You can make it your own"
"That's an easy fix" or "you can just take that wall down"
Something about child safety ("Honey, I'm worried the kids might fling themselves off this balcony")
etc, etc.

Also: How are these people glibly moving from one country to another? Work visas? etc...

And... I figure these shows (and many of the other home shows), have actually lowered the value of OUR house by helping establish inflated expectations of what buyers want in a house... it's all "open plan", "granite countertops", "media rooms", and "saline pools" ... and sorry to say, we have regular old house without any of those. When the time comes to sell, will we perhaps suffer due to the lack of granite etc? There's reality for you.

Still, I do watch.
posted by ecorrocio at 9:08 AM on July 11, 2011 [23 favorites]

ecorrocio, we do the same thing! May I suggest that you add "crown molding" to your list?
posted by easy, lucky, free at 9:12 AM on July 11, 2011

Response by poster: I loved (nearly) all of these answers, particularly the ones with insight as to how the show is made. Thank you!
posted by dukes909 at 9:14 AM on July 11, 2011

Am I living in a different reality than this show?

Amico, if it's any consolation, it's a question television audiences ask themselves watching these shows in at least three other countries I know of. They have these "buy a fancy house" shows on British tv, on German tv, and on Italian tv. And they still show them in Ireland too, can you believe that? at least recently, as far as I know.

Anyhow, the thing is, the people who are able to buy these houses, they do still exist! and not just on tv. Fancy expensive homes are not a market in crisis anywhere.

This sort of real estate porn on tv has also been blamed in the press for contributing to the whole mess with loans in UK and Ireland. I think that criticism may have a point. I guess they do keep showing them because they do 'work'. People love this stuff. And they keep making this stuff because it works well with the advertising I guess. So, well, demand, here's offer, meet and reproduce.

A couple of years ago, at the Edinburgh fringe festival, I saw an English comedian who did a brilliant routine that started from something he'd read about whatshername, Kirstie Allsopp, the posh woman in the posh duo presenting "Location, Location, Location", and ended up with a fascinating first person account of the collapse of the shipbuilding industry. He said he'd read an interview with Allsopp in a magazine where she explained that because of the times, the economic crisis, she was also trying to live a more austere life, without too much luxury, and then mentioned something like she chose simpler bath faucets rather than getting them in the most expensive material. I have a crappy memory and there's no way of doing it justice, but it was something like that. So this guy launched an awesome expletive-filled tirade about how she was one of those responsible for feeding the buying and selling frenzy and now she's trying to be frugal by having stainless steel in her bathroom instead of gold and marble, oooh.

(I liked her actually. I f'ing loved that show. I'm not defending it, it's morally wrong on so many levels, I know. Still, I know exactly why lots of people love this crap, and why these shows will NEVER die. It's the same reason I sometimes buy AD or Elle Decor or whatever glossy magazine with lots of pictures of fancy homes even though I live in a tiny studio. Or why I once spent an hour fascinated with my mouth hanging open watching 'teen cribs' in MTV, kids of super rich people in LA showing off their mega houses to the cameras, here's the chandeliers my mother likes, they come from paris, here's the game room where I hang out with my friends, here's our own private cinema etc. A part of me was 'no no no this is not happening I am not seeing a show with super rich American kids flaunting their richness in the face of the average American MTV viewer in 2011' and another, much more primal part of me was 'shit! your own cinema room! how awesome is that!'. So there. These shows will never die.)

posted by bitteschoen at 9:22 AM on July 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

I tend to watch HGTV with the MUTE on.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:56 AM on July 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Well, there was one in uh, Bulgaria? Romania? last week and the houses averaged US $20,000. Interesting. But you have to go now, before they get the euro.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:01 AM on July 11, 2011

I think another reason that there are so many damn episodes of HH is that it's relatively simple and cheap to film. Notice that the 'host' is not actually there most of the time - she just does the intro and cuts in a few times, but she is usually walking on a random street. Also a crew of 3 is pretty small and mobile, and there is no cost of hiring carpenters, designers, and all the types they have on most of their shows. So a day or two of shooting, plus travel and some post-production, and the supposed $500 for the homeowner has made a profitable formula.
posted by radioamy at 11:01 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like to watch the international show sometimes, because I like to see different ways people live. I don't think anything will beat the episode (HHINT-3A03H) where they are looking for a house in Fiji, and the second house is a 300 year old Javanese style house, brought over from Bali piece by piece and reconstructed (spoiler alert: they don't buy it so I spend a week fantasizing about buying it). A close second is the one where they buy a group of stones you can generously describe as house-shaped, way up on some hillside that is only accessible by donkey. I'd still like to see some follow-up on that one.

Thanks for the description on how it is constructed. So while I thought I was guessing at which house they would choose based on comments, I was actually subconsciously deciding at which showing they were faking seeing it for the first time. Interesting.
posted by mikepop at 11:07 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know if they've changed much about how they do the show, but several years ago the episodes used to feature a pretty obviously staged call from the realtor to say if the buyers' offer was accepted. I do remember a few episodes where the financing fell through, the sellers ended up selling to someone else for more money, or the buyers decided not to move, but that hasn't happened in quite some time. I imagine there's much less risk for the producers now to start with one home already under contract.
posted by stopgap at 11:33 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

ecorrocio, we do the same thing! May I suggest that you add "crown molding" to your list?

Or the part where the couple look at the closets, and the woman says "Oh, that might be enough room for my stuff! Or maybe just my shoes!" and the man looks all abashed because he has to take the smaller, more manly closet.

I love House Hunters, but I love Kirstie Alsopp more. You can take down this wall he-ah, or this over the-ah. Oh, those plummy vowels. Plus lovely English properties. And yeah, I suppose this is what I have instead of a mid-life porn habit.
posted by jokeefe at 11:34 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and recent episodes of Property Virgins have included a lot of homes which are short sales or repossessions, as well.
posted by jokeefe at 11:40 AM on July 11, 2011

@Chrysostom, the Norway episode was the BEST EPISODE EVER, at least if you mentally call the show "First World Problems, extra whiny edition" like I do.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:53 AM on July 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

ecoroccio, we do precisely the same thing. Here are a few of our favorite tired HGTV tropes to add to your excellent list:

--'Ooh, a walk-in closet!'
often followed by...
--'All my clothes will fit in here honey, but what about yours? Tee hee.'
--'I don't think there's enough room here for our furniture.'
--'We have to have double sinks!'
--'This bedroom on the first floor would be too dangerous for our child [Madison/Riley/Hunter].'
posted by yellowcandy at 12:03 PM on July 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

(I have to add "ooh stainless steel appliances" when its the the kenmore - plastic fridge with a thin sheet of stainless steel on the front)
posted by bitdamaged at 2:45 PM on July 11, 2011

A few more Xs for your HH Drinking Game Bingo Card:

"Electric stove? I really can't function without a gas stove" this is always said by the person who earlier says that s/he doesn't cook

"I have to have a master ensuite" aka because my ass is too good to share a seat with anyone but my spouse or I'm too damn ass lazy to walk 3 feet down the hallway

"It seems tight in here" which is a meaningless commentary and always seems very scripted (especially when the 9 year old kid says it)

"Perfect for a baby's room" always followed by a look of total panic on one of the buyer's faces.

The phrase that you won't hear:

"Starter Home" because it seems silly that a just married couple settle on a 2 or 3 bedroom house. No! They must have 4, 5, or more bedrooms and multiple bathrooms right now.

The other thing that I can't help but notice about the Buy/Sell house shows . . sell the house and you need to neutralize, de-clutter and make your house look as if no one lives there

Buy the house: traipse people through the most cluttered houses filled with personal photos and wallpapered and/or very colorfully painted walls. And no matter how many times you hear people say "Ew Carpet in the Bathroom!" there will be carpet in one of those bathrooms.
posted by jaimystery at 6:04 PM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Someone recently told me that her actor friend was hired to do a HH episode when a "real" couple backed out at the last minute.

All this info makes more sense out of the fact that everyone on the show is strangely even-keeled, and that they all seem to be able to make a decision from three houses. I'd been wondering how many episodes ended up on the cutting room floor because people just said, "none of these! I'm not spending my life in a hovel for the sake of this tv show!"
posted by hsoltz at 6:29 PM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

In addition to the items listed above, we drink when the kid is the putative decision maker ("Oh, Little Tommy doesn't like sliding glass doors, so this place is out!"), when the realtor is out of control (on one recent one, she was badmouthing her client for not having her - the realtor's - values and clearly not valuing the granite counters instead of his silly space needs for his workshop), when paint color is a dealkiller, and when the selectors are clearly chopping vegetables for the first time in the kitchen.

And then the ugly American abroad - well, that's just drinking straight through the demands for space, American amenities, and disregard of the glory of living abroad.

They actually fired the original host (Suzanne Whang, who had a resume and presumably cost a few sheckles) a few years ago, and it's been suggested that the new voice over lady is a series of computer-generated speeches, which is much cheaper.
posted by julen at 6:52 PM on July 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also, you know what sort of films were really popular during the Great Depression?

Hahaha, I was briefly thinking to myself - how can you Godwin a thread about HGTV?!?! Anyway. I have to confess we do watch these shows from time to time. It's interesting to see the odd show where the houses are interesting and different. Like the Berlin show, where they pointed out that it's traditional for houses in Berlin to have tiny kitchens and they never have appliances when you buy them. Said info will hopefully be useful to our friends who are relocating to Berlin ... if it's true, of course.
posted by zomg at 8:04 AM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

julen: "They actually fired the original host (Suzanne Whang, who had a resume and presumably cost a few sheckles) a few years ago"

Yeah, I miss her! Although I can't imagine she cost THAT much for about 15 minutes of work per episode.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:04 PM on July 12, 2011

I have friend who owns an apartment in Paris. He was contacted by his realtor to see if he would be interested in being one of the apartments the House Hunters International couples didn't pick. He decided not to do it because of the hassle.

Also, a realtor I'm working with in Nashville just shot an episode of HH which hasn't aired yet. We were with her when she got the call that she'd been chosen to be on the show. She was working with some newlyweds. Although at the time, they still hadn't actually bought (although maybe they were in contract on something?).
posted by kimdog at 6:07 PM on July 12, 2011

more often than not, these are very expensive homes! $500k, $750k, $1million+ are not uncommon [...] Am I living in a different reality than this show?

Depends where you live. In Sydney these days, $500K is effectively an entry-level home (small, out of the way, or run down); $750K-$1million would get you a regular middle class family house in at least a semi-desirable area. Cities like Mumbai, Tokyo, London & Berlin would be similar. Manhattan, too, for values of 'house' that equal 'apartment'.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:13 PM on July 18, 2011

There's a pretty amusing podcast that covers this very topic: Bitter HGTV Podcast.
posted by softlord at 6:17 PM on July 26, 2011

Yes, it's really not difficult to spend $1m on a house in London. The average flat price here is £259,000. The average deposit to secure a mortgage for first time buyers in London is £59k. This is why the majority of young people rent or share accommodation.

I live in Zone 3, which is some way out of the centre (albeit in an area popular with families) and while the rent on my room is cheap, houses round here easily will cost you $1m.
posted by mippy at 7:57 AM on August 2, 2011

Update: As of today, my friends still haven't been paid.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:04 PM on June 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

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