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More Like ‘Truth Hunters’

I’m starting to think that House Hunters on HGTV is the most important show on television right now.

Hold on, now — don’t run off cackling. I can back this up. Seriously. Give me a shot here.

If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it’s essentially a half-hour semi-documentary of home buyers, their real estate agent, and the process they go through in buying a new house or condo or vacation villa or chinchilla ranch or whatever it is they’re prepared to throw ungodly gobs of money at.

(And if you’re familiar with the show… well, it’s still exactly the same thing I just said. The format’s not going to change just because you happen to be aware of it, now, is it? Silly goose.)

Now let me be clear — I’m not claiming that this is the most entertaining show on TV. Far from it. Watching an overwrought Midwestern couple “ooh” and “aah” over the wainscoting in some outdated split-level ranch can give C-SPAN a run for its money on the old Snooze-O-Meter. You don’t watch this show for the “wow” factor.

(If you’re like me, you might initially watch it for the “holy bejeezus, I’m so glad that’s not me any more” factor because you just bought a condo in the last couple of years, and you’re never. Moving. Again.

I’m not kidding. I remember scouring the Sunday paper for real estate ads, and planning drive-by looky-loos through every stupid neighborhood in a twenty-mile radius around Boston. Including some in the middle of the bay.

Well. Some that should have been dumped out there, anyway. When your ‘curb appeal’ would improve if the whole block were surrounded by fish pee and sand bars, you might need to rethink the whole ‘selling’ business. Perhaps ‘burn down and collect the insurance’ would be a better angle. I’m just spitballing here.)

“Everything I’ve ever needed to know about human nature and the ways of the world, I learned from two half-hour fluff real estate shows.”

So why watch this House Hunters show? Because it’s important. Everything I’ve ever needed to know about human nature and the ways of the world, I learned from two half-hour fluff real estate shows. If I owned children, this is the first — and perhaps the only — television program I’d want them to watch. There are invaluable life lessons to be gleaned from this show. For instance:

Other People Suck

On each episode, the format is the same: the agent will tour his or her charges through exactly three potential homes, breezily pointing out the features and salient details of each.

And the prospective buyers will follow along, ripping each place a new backdoorhole as they go. No niggling little detrimental detail goes unremarked. This kitchen’s too small. The yard is too big. This sink’s the wrong shape. The carpet’s on fire. The bedroom smells like moose sweat. There are gypsies squatting in the basement. On and on and on they go.

What’s the take-home message from all of this?

Everybody sucks. The buyers suck because they’re always bitching. The agent sucks because he or she is clearly not doing the job. The current owners suck because, you know, like it or not, the bitchy lady is sort of right about the wallpaper color and the way the living room is set up. Who lives like that? Philistines, that’s who.

By the midpoint of the show, there’s absolutely no one to cheer for. Nobody represented in any way on the screen has a single redeeming or sympathetic quality whatsoever. Which may seem sort of harsh, and perhaps not a lesson you’d want passed along to the younger generation.

Sure, you say that now. But just wait until your kids have to deal with the staff at the DMV, or return something at a megamall department store, or vote for Congress. Yeah. You want them discovering the blank-eyed soulless stares of disaffected humanity then, or on the comfort and relative safety of your living room couch?

That’s what I thought.

Life Is Essentially Random

As the show careens into the final commercial break, there’s always a cliffhanger hanging through the ad spots — which one will they choose? Three possible buys, with good points grudgingly acknowledged and detriments nitpicked over like a trio of itchy raw scabs. This is where the audience can play along, and guess — based on the buyers’ comments — on which place they’ll end up making an offer.

There are often subtle clues and nuances to guide these predictions — what factors the buyers value the most, their initial reactions in each home, the tenor and content of their later on-camera discussions. With this information in hand, it’s possible to make a solid and well-informed hypothesis about which choice best matches their preferences.

It’s also possible to be WRONG roughly ninety percent of the time. Because what people say they want and what they then do is completely unrelated. ‘Low-maintenance’ empty nesters buy a palace. The guy who runs a dog kennel buys the place with no pets. The couple deathly allergic to peanuts moves into the Planters nut factory. Why? “For the view.” But you’re also blind! “Well, I guess it just felt right.

And there’s the lesson. When it comes to other people — or anything else, really — don’t bother trying to predict the future. Between chaos theory, butterfly effects, random chance, Brownian motion and the ephemeral whims of your average ADD-addled human, it’s pointless. You may know in your heart that the elderly librarian couple belongs in that quiet little brownstone condo — your freaking last name is Brownstone, you old cows, damn you for failing to take a sign from the universe! — but they’ll pick the South Beach party boat, anyway. You’ll never talk sense into them. Just slap on a thong and enjoy the ride.

There Are No Right Answers

The interesting thing about the three properties on each show is that none of them are really ideal for the buyers in question. Or particularly suitable. Or possibly even habitable.

It’s a Goldilocksian barrage of near-misses, almost-wases and maybe-coulda-beens. And the porridge is never ‘just right’. It’s always too expensive or too small or too far from the beach or too infested with vermin to really match. Or it’s not even built yet. That’s a popular one — just imagine what this will look like when the walls are up!

That’s no freaking help. I could imagine all sorts of things, if all I know is ‘walls are involved’. They could build a doctor’s office or federal penitentiary or a Great Something of China, and walls would be involved. In my imagination, all the walls are listing at a thirty-degree angle and oozing pus onto the floor. Is that what you had in mind, Mr. Century 21 man? NEXT HOUSE, PLEASE!

Of course, what you learn from this is that you’ll never get what you want. Ever. In anything. Oh, you might convince yourself after the fact that you got exactly what you were after. But if you had a camera crew following you around non-stop, they’d have you on film from the week before, saying snarky things about the overgrown bushes and the humid basement and the old outdated appliances.

If you’re lucky, you’ll just be talking about your new house. And not your girlfriend.

Everybody Lies

The tricky thing about the lying is recognizing all of the levels on which its happening. The surface fibbing is obvious. The buyers are lying to us — or themselves — about what they want. The agents are lying about being good agents, or listening to whatever ridiculous criteria their clients are spewing. Those are easy ones.

Then there’s the minute-to-minute lying going on. If you watch more then twelve seconds of the show, it’s patently obvious that most of it is staged. Not ‘falsified’, exactly, maybe — but if you believe for a moment that the cameraman just happened to catch the family strolling along the road casually chatting about the pros and cons of each place in a highly-structured and clearly-enunciated fashion, then I have three slightly irregular plots of Florida swampland I’d like to show you tomorrow. None of them are what you’re really after, but you have to buy one, so tough luck, mortgage boy. That really escrows the pooch, no?

More than that, the whole show is grossly misrepresenting the home buying process. These people see three properties in the space of a week or so, talk it through in one recap conversation, then make an offer?

Horse puckey.

When we bought this place, we’d seen a dozen or more properties before we pulled the trigger. The back-and-forth in negotiations went on all night, got heated, and the real estate agents had to finally get involved before a lawsuit came out of it.

And that was just me and my wife talking it over. Don’t get me started on the process with the seller, or the Leaning Tower of Paperwork we went through to get the deal sealed. And this was the easy one. I’ve blocked out most of the rigmarole from our first experience. I remember we looked at more than thirty places before we had an offer accepted, though. Those measly three in the show? That’s not even an appetizer in the real estate game. Pants. On. Fire.

No One Else’s Grass Is Greener

You might think HGTV would be satisfied with delivering these truths to our homes in the original packaging. But no. A while back, they launched a second vehicle, House Hunters: International, to follow potential buyers all over the globe.

The scenarios changed. The locations are exotic. The people often come from faraway lands, and buy in even farawayer locales. It’s a whole different ball game. But you know what stays the same?

People suck. Life’s unpredictable. Nobody ever gets what they want, and everybody lies. All over the damned planet, apparently.

I’m telling you, these programs are a goldmine. I’m just waiting for House Hunters: Intergalactic to tie it all together some day. Set your TiVos to ‘learn’.

Permalink  |  1 Comment

One Response to “More Like ‘Truth Hunters’”

  1. Adam Gaffin says:

    Hi, my name is Adam, and I’m addicted to House Hunters. …

    There are two constants in the show:

    Stainless-steel appliances. What kind of frickin’ barbarian lives in a house without them? Not the buyers on House Hunters (as opposed to the buyers on House Hunters International, who will sometimes go for Italian pied-a-terres that don’t have any toilets or windows because they haven’t been renovated in 300 years, but oh, the views!).

    An extra bedroom. Every single buyer wants at least one more bedroom than they need. 22-year-old couples just out of college with crushing debt and no kids always want four bedrooms (and needless to say, stainless steel appliances, either right in the “happening” downtown or by the beach).

    If you want a dose of bitter realism with your house hunting, you need to watch First Time Homebuyers, which is not afraid to reveal its buyers as neurotic morons who don’t always get the house – usually after the announcer makes sure to let us know they’ve looked at 3,512 houses over the past three years and have yet to find one that meets their impossible standards.

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