There’s a certain something about home renovation shows that keeps us glued to the TV. They provide us with inspiration for current or future projects (Fixer Upper). They tell stories that tug at our heartstrings (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition). They also give us hope that even the most demanding renovations can be completed in a blink of an eye (Property Brothers). 

We often see rooms or even entire houses get transformed in what seems to be a matter of days, and the final reveal always appears perfect. How do contractors on these home renovation shows manage to wrap up projects so quickly without issues? How do they obtain permits without delays? Do their renovations stand the test of time? Will the updates actually increase the value of the property? Will the flipped property sell?

The reality is many home renovation shows can set unrealistic expectations if you’re looking to buy, remodel, or flip a home and are depending on the work being done at rapid speeds, without any issues, and on (an often modest) budget. Surely, with the help of trusted professionals, you can avoid delays on your renovations, budget creep, and errors. However, if you think you can flip a house overnight, your reality might not look as rosy as it does on TV. 

Let’s look at four misconceptions about home renovation shows and how what you see on camera translates to real life.

Two workers working on a home renovation

Misconception No. 1: You can renovate in record time

Let’s start with the most common misconception home renovation shows can perpetuate: speed. You can absolutely get a project done fast, but usually not in the amount of time these shows make it seem. We often don’t see the behind-the-scenes chaos that makes what appears on TV look like it happened in a jiffy. Even HGTV admitted to sometimes playing fast and loose with timelines for the sake of entertainment.

“When we’re telling a real estate or renovation story for television, we may abridge and adjust timelines to help manage production and time constraints,” HGTV said in a statement to Kiplinger. “In some cases, a program is a competition series or a crazy experiment designed to play out the ‘what if’ fantasy of our viewers. Today’s viewers are savvier than ever and know the development of an entertaining program does require the occasional use of a creative license.” 

So what’s a realistic timeline? Well, that depends on the size and complexity of your home reno project. It could take a few weeks for a small project to be properly completed. For  a major home makeover, it may take between nine and 18 months, according to Tom Cumming, President and Owner of the custom home building company Severn Woods Fine Homes. 

This timeframe often takes into account delays caused by factors outside our control, such as weather, availability of supplies, and unexpected damages or issues uncovered in demolition. Overall, the phased process involves laying out the plans for the project (depending on the scope of the project, you may need to start with an architect or engineer), finding a designer or contractor and/or builder, obtaining permits, coordinating with subcontractors or trades, and then doing the actual renovation. These are all important steps you rarely see on reality shows, which often (and understandably) fast-forward to the “glamorous” portions.

Two workers using tools at a home renovation site
Image via Pexels

Misconception No. 2: You don’t need professionals 

Shows like Save My Reno and Trading Spaces do a great job of emphasizing how there’s a do-it-yourself solution for nearly anything. While there’s no denying it can feel empowering to take matters into our own hands, not all projects should be left to DIY. 

You may watch Trading Spaces and feel motivated to redo your own living room in one weekend, but it’s important to remember the DIYers on these shows only do some of the work you see on camera. The producers almost always place professionals on set to supervise or actually do the work off camera to help supervise and expedite the process. 

If your project is more complex than a superficial change, such as painting or landscaping, you should consider hiring a professional. They’ll help you avoid irreparable damage and protect you from injuries.

Two assorted colour padded chairs near side table
Image via Pexels

Misconception No. 3: Custom built will last longer 

Shows like Custom Built, which ran for one season in 2015, highlight just that—custom building. It’s true custom furniture offers unlimited opportunity and you won’t see your pick in another home, but this always doesn’t mean it’ll be better than an in-store find. Just like anything when it comes to home renovations, quality comes from good craftsmanship and patience. 

“[My room] looked so pretty, they decorated it to look like a fairy woodland with huge tree murals on the walls and a night sky of stars hanging from the ceiling,” claimed someone who participated in one of these home renovation shows in the early 2000s.  “But it held up really badly, all the murals on the wall peeled off and it looked bad pretty quickly.”

So how can you help ensure you’re choosing the right professional, specifically when it comes to custom furniture? 

  • Do your research. 
  • Set up consultations with designers. 
  • Compare prices. 
  • Ask for references or a portfolio of work and consider any reviews.
  • If a company has a showroom near you, go for a visit to get a sense of what the quality of their products are like. 
  • If your custom piece is made out of wood, be sure to pick the right wood for the climate you live in. 
An exterior of a single-family bungalow home
Image via Curtis Adams

Misconception No. 4: Your flipped home will always sell 

We’ve seen brothers Drew and Jonathan Scott, stars of Property Brothers, transform fixer-uppers into dream homes over and over again. Not only does flipping a home seem fun on TV, but the end also comes with rewards. Property value goes up and the flipped home sells in record time. Is this always the case? It may not be.

According to people who have been on or worked on these shows, homes being transformed are not always located in high-value neighbourhoods which can make them harder to sell (at least at the anticipated price). 

Before you begin a renovation or flipping project, you should have a good understanding of the market where you want to buy—the history, neighbourhood trends, average sale prices, amenities, and more. You'll also want to understand how your renovation costs and intended sales price intersect and whether they align with your particular housing market. A local REALTOR® will have the market data, real estate knowledge, and professional insights on contractors to help you along the way. 

Even though these shows may take some liberties when it comes to what they air about the design and construction process, the inspiration they provide is anything but inaccurate! 


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