Too-Great Expectations

Counting pennies to pay for expensive home improvements

How HGTV's home improvement shows create unrealistic expectations for homeowners

We've all seen it. Turn on HGTV, and before long you'll run across a family in distress after a home improvement project gone wrong. They've apparently been wronged at the hands of an "evil" contractor who took their money and ran, leaving behind a half-finished master bath or floor tile that began to come up the moment they began walking on it. Never fear...Mike Holmes and the Knights of Home Improvement are here! Before you can say "prime time," half of the house has been gutted and miraculously recreated using top-of-the-line products fit for Windsor Castle with no price tag in sight.

The Ravages of Reality TV

Ah yes...even home improvement cannot escape the ravages of "reality" TV. What the majority of these "save the day" shows forget to pass along in their search for ratings is the fact that some of these "wronged" homeowners tried to get their original contractor to complete a $50,000 dream renovation on a $5,000 budget. Many shows simply do not divulge all of the costs that come into play when you want your home redone right. Just like the old saying about square pegs and round holes suggests, it can't be done. You get what you pay for, and if you aren't paying much, don't plan on getting a whole lot in return.

Miracle Makeovers and Magical Gnomes

While some of the contractors who carried out the original work featured on some home shows may have been dishonest or underqualified, expecting someone to perform miracles you don't intend to pay for can make even the best contractor look like a bad guy. Home improvement programs have done both homeowners and contractors a great disservice by neglecting to dig into the underlying causes of many "botched" renovations. Miracle makeovers that seem not to have a price tag give homeowners the impression that good renovations are completed by a team of magical gnomes who only expect a shady spot in a corner of the garden in exchange for their efforts. Viewers have become detached from the fact that home improvement has a price, and excellent home improvement has an even higher one. They also fail to recognize that the majority of contractors are honest, hard-working people who expect to be paid fairly for their efforts, and that the building materials don't grow on trees bordering the homes of the magical gnomes they expected to complete their renovation.

Who foots the bill?

Many people simply expect too much for too less, and home improvement programs do little to accurately represent contractors or educate homeowners. In the case of many hugely-popular shows, the studio foots the bill, so viewers are never exposed to the actual costs. Contractors come across looking like the bad guys, and homeowners don't receive the information they need to secure quality work by offering a fair and reasonable price. HGTV and friends could better serve their loyal viewers by exposing the realities of renovation. Using materials only the Hilton's can afford without second-mortgaging their lives away only provides greedy eye candy for overly-hopeful homeowners. It simply isn't possible to get granite tile on a linoleum budget, but at least people in the latter category should know how to get the best linoleum money can buy. They should also be able to sleep at night knowing the Mike Holmes and company won't have to come and reinstall it for them in two weeks. When you know what your money is worth, it's a lot harder to be disappointed when you get what you pay for.

Of money and miracles

To return to the realm of the realistic, it would be much more helpful if home shows were to show homeowners how to set and work within a realistic budget, rather than jump in with a "miracle" cure worth more than the value of their home. Many renovations fail because people fail to correctly anticipate costs. When the money starts running out, they start cutting corners. Homeowners need information which can give them a better idea about what their home improvement project should cost so they can form realistic expectations. Home improvement programs would also do well to help homeowners determine how to identify qualified contractors who are likely to do things right the first time.

You need the right glasses

In the meantime, HGTV and friends could do us all a favor by letting us know what these "miracle" renovations really cost, and what led good ideas to go bad in the first place. It would also be great if all contractors weren't made to suffer at the hands of homeowners who want something for nothing. In short, we've all got to stop watching home shows through rose-colored glasses, and trade them in for green ones that reflect the actual cost of quality home improvement.

Posted by: Ahmed Muztaba
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