Argument: fake “House Hunters” does a disservice to the realities of American homeownership

Responding to the recent news that the HGTV show House Hunters may be fake, one writer suggests this does a disservice to the realities of American homeownership:

So what’s the problem? By now, the onus is on the viewer to consume all “reality television” with a chuckle and a grain of salt. The genre’s underlying appeal is often rooted in its escapist, aspirational qualities (or, at other end of the spectrum, its indulgence of our basest schadenfreude). But House Hunters was always much more about showing us an attainable reality than a fantasy. The show (and its many iterations), in which people just like us (juggling budgets, worried about school districts, pulled between city and suburb), go shopping for the best home their money can buy, not only glorifies the dream of home ownership, but makes it seem achievable. (If that IT guy and his elementary school teacher wife can successfully get out of their dingy apartment and into a new home with the requisite granite countertops, “marriage-saving” double vanities, and bedroom-sized walk-in closets, so can I!) This plays right into our inexplicably unwavering attachment to home ownership: Despite the collapse of the housing market, polling continues to demonstrate that we regard owning a home as the cornerstone of the American Dream—a perception that undoubtedly played a role in the home-buying craze prior to the bubble’s burst.

Showing houses that aren’t even for sale at prices divined by its producers, House Hunters is presenting dangerous misinformation about the home-buying process and deleting all of the accompanying complications and consequences. It’s turned what is actually a messy, frustrating, often dead-end process into a seamless (and perhaps necessary) path toward fulfillment. What’s more, it seems likely that viewers use the prices, locations, and home criteria discussed on the show as barometers for their own house hunts because the information is presented as fact. No, House Hunters does not explicitly condone selling one’s soul for a white picket fence, and other HGTV shows like My First Place and Property Virgins do delve into money and home-inspection woes from time to time. But doesn’t HGTV have some obligation to portray the housing market as it is, or, at the very least, offer a pronounced disclaimer about the producers’ creative and logistical liberties?

Maybe they could fix this whole mess and wipe the slate clean with a good old fashioned “where are they now” episode, showing us the truth after those mortgage payments start taking a toll.

So the main worry here is that House Hunters makes homeownership seem too easy and could lead too many people into more decisions? Perhaps we need an extra paragraph here extolling the virtues of renting

I’m not sure what to make of this argument. Homeownership is indeed an American value. One could argue that HGTV itself stands as a giant beacon for homeownership and a consumerist lifestyle. Is this necessarily bad? Does HGTV simply reflect the interests Americans have or does it insidiously push people toward too much homeownership and consumption? Are impressionable kids and adults watching this channel and then going out and spending beyond their means? I don’t think we have the public data to examine this (though some marketing company may have this information).

In the end, I suppose it comes down to this: do you think HGTV has a moral/ethical/social obligation to also show the downsides of homeownership?

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