HGTV raises expectations of Delaware home owners

Mia Burch of Long & Foster in Greenville says every single person watches HGTV, even renters.

By Kathy Canavan
Special to Delaware Business Times

More than two dozen HGTV shows draw millions of viewers nightly — “Property Brothers,” “Listed Sisters,” “Fixer Upper,” “Love It or List It,” “House Hunters,” even “Tiny House Hunters.” The splashy TV do-overs create ripples in Delaware’s real estate market.

Charles Renschler of Mann and Sons in Rehoboth said he often hears a buyer mention, “Oh, I wonder how HGTV would rearrange this kitchen.”

But reality shows are not realistic, real estate agents said. As one put it, “I get people all the time who think, if they spend $500 on renovations, they’ve added $5,000 in value.”

The shows have a mixed effect in the local market, said Mia Burch of Long and Foster in Greenville. They do help sellers see which renovations work. They do a good job showcasing design ideas for move-up buyers who have the cash for major facelifts. But they can give false hope to first-time buyers on a budget.

“Every single person watches HGTV. Even renters watch HGTV,” Burch said. “These TV shows make it look like I can have a $10,000 renovation budget and I can turn this piece-of-junk house into a nice little house. They don’t explain that you can’t just hire anyone you know. You need a legitimate licensed contractor. If you do it the right way, $10,000 will buy you half a powder room — maybe.”

Burch, who pays for home staging for her sellers, does use HGTV to help sellers assess how their homes stack up to the face-lifted ones buyers spot on the shows: “It’s the best way to look at what’s in and what’s not in,” she said. “I ask sellers, ‘Do you watch HGTV?’ and they say, ‘Yes.’ And then I say, ‘With the condition your home is in, do you think we can get the most amount of money for it?’ And they say, ‘No.’”

Will Webber of Will Webber Homes in Newark said he knew a doctor who decided to retire because he once saw a patient every 15 minutes but, lately, he had to take 30 minutes per patient. He told Webber he spent the extra 15 minutes helping patients unlearn what they read on WebMD.

Webber said HGTV is the house equivalent of WebMD. He said his 20 years as a licensed broker takes a back seat to HGTV nowadays.

“As a Realtor, I’ve been reduced to the guy who has all the keys to the houses. People will get into my car and they’ll say, ‘Ha. Ha. I know the drill. I watch ‘House Hunters,’” he said.

Since the advent of HGTV’s tricked-out renovations, buyers’ approaches have shifted, many real estate agents said. Webber gave an example: “People think it’s a reasonable thing to start 50 percent off just to see what the seller says. Did you learn nothing from the three other houses you didn’t get?”

Like Burch, Webber said HGTV skips the hard stuff : “Reality TV is not real. Here are the steps to owning a home — find a Realtor you trust, find a good lender who will approve you, find a reputable title company, and, absolutely vital, find a good home inspector. No bridge loans — unless you’re buying a bridge. These are the steps reality TV ignores.”

Webber often has to explain you can’t have an open concept floor plan in a ranch. He’s met buyers who were convinced they didn’t need a building permit to add a deck or a pool. One seller’s house smelled like “mothballs and little old ladies” but she was convinced the place wasn’t selling because she needed to paint the front door a different color.

One buyer was angered because she was downsizing and the closets in the house Webber showed her were smaller and there was no room for her big furniture. “Define downsizing,” he said. “By definition, isn’t that a smaller house?”

Steve Crifasi of Patterson Schwartz in Greenville said HGTV overall has been great for the industry. “It’s opened up the eyes of both buyers and sellers,” he said. “It really has.”

Some buyers with unrealistic expectations become concerned that not every house is the “after picture,” Crifasi said, but the shows do help buyers visualize what can be done with a house.

He said the series also show sellers what buyers are looking for: “It reinforces what we tell sellers all the time — clean it out, upgrade, redo your bathrooms for that first impression, because buyers want as much of the ‘after picture’ as possible — unless the seller discounts the house dramatically.”

Crifasi said a little sweat equity won’t just bring a higher price; it will get more buyers to your door. “The hassle factor is huge. People don’t want to deal with doing things to a house. They’re busy. They have jobs and kids. They’d rather pay another $100,000 for a house that’s totally done than deal with a contractor showing up at 7 a.m. when they’re just getting out of bed,” he said.

Bob Miller of Luke Real Estate in Wilmington said motivated sellers who want to get top dollar are often watching HGTV shows long before their listing appointments. “It affects the sellers, giving them ideas to make their space more appealing to a buyer,” Miller said. “Staging does help. It’s the basics too — decluttering, painting, freshening things up. Cosmetics are a big part of how fast a house will or won’t sell.”

Miller and several other agents say actually they don’t watch much HGTV.

As Crifasi put it, “It’s too much like work. When I come home, that’s the last thing I want to watch.”

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