Title

If HGTV’s House Hunters Were Run by Social Scientists

5 changes.

March 3, 2016
 

Admit it. You watch real estate porn. Don’t worry - we will not judge.

House Hunters is the show that spawned an entire industry of real estate rubbernecking. Property Brothers (my wife's favorite), Fixer Upper, Love It or List It, the list goes on and on. 

25 million people watch House Hunters every month.  In 2015 there were 447 new episodes of House Hunters in 2015 - filmed by 15 production teams. (Each episode is filmed in 3 days). House Hunters, which started in 1999, has had numerous spinoffs - including Tiny House Hunters, House Hunters International and House Hunters Renovation (my favorite).

You might love House Hunters and other HGTV shows. They drive me crazy.

My fantasy is that a band of rogue social scientists will engage in a hostile takeover of the Scripps Network (the owner of HGTV).

We need more sociologists working in reality TV.

Once the social scientists take over, they will make the following 5 changes in House Hunters:

1 - Household Wealth:  House Hunters tells us how much the houses costs. They never tell us about the wealth of the house buyers.  How are we to understand the motivations and judge the decisions of the homebuyers if we don’t know about their income and assets? You might think that the people on the show would not want to share this personal financial information. I disagree. People will share anything to get on TV.  I’m always amazed that so many folks can afford so much house. Where is the money coming from? Are they buying way outside of their means, setting themselves up for a future of default? Or are they getting some money from relatives?

2 - Jobs:  House Hunters will mention the jobs of the homebuyers, but they never go into detail.  How much do the jobs pay? How secure are they? What is the risk that they new owners will lose their job, or need to move someplace else to stay employed?  What is the career expected earnings of the buyers? Do the buyers expect to exit the labor market to raise children? For how long?

3 - School District:  According to a study by the Brooking Institute, homes located within high-performing school districts sell for 2.4 times those in low-performing districts. This represents over a $200,000 premium for houses near good schools. For many home buyers, the quality of the school district is the single biggest determinant in where to search for a house - as well as the biggest reason that buying a house is out of reach. Why doesn’t House Hunters spend time evaluating the local schools in the context of the house search?

4 - Commute:  Everybody (even me) knows that real estate is all about location, location, location. Social scientists know that happiness levels are directly correlated with commute time. Long commutes are associated with higher levels of divorce, insomnia, loneliness, and stress.  Yet they never really talk about the length of the commute in the house purchase decision.  

5 - Local Housing Market:  House Hunters seems like a great opportunity to teach the viewer about the economic, social, demographic, and historical situation of the local housing markets of the houses that are shown. We want to know the median house prices in the neighborhood, as well as the housing cost spread. What is the historical house pricing picture? What factors are driving local demand and supply? What are the local homeownership rates, and how do owner occupied houses compare to rentals? Houses are an incredible window into the economy and culture of local areas. Why can’t the HGTV crew investigate the sociological, economic, and historical forces that are coming together in the house selling and buying transaction?

Watching House Hunters makes my head hurt, but I can’t turn away.  

And don't get me started on those HGTV renovation shows, where they finish an entire renovation in the length of time and budget that it takes most people to build a new closet.  Ugh.

What are your favorite guilty pleasures on HGTV?

How would you change House Hunters if you ruled the show?

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