Lies That HGTV's House Hunters Told Me
Sometimes when my insomnia comes out to play, I watch HGTV. I think it’s a comfort thing. Growing up, on any given Saturday, I’d come downstairs to find the housing channel on in the background as my mom painted her nails or folded laundry. Sometimes we watched long enough to catch an episode of Fixer Upper or The Property Brothers, but as far as I remember, most of the Saturday air time was devoted to House Hunters.
As most of us know, House Hunters is a prolific and long running series (198 seasons and counting) that chronicles the struggles of home buyers. The series follows individuals in various locations across the country (or abroad in House Hunters International) seeking their ideal new digs. In the past I’ve enjoyed watching it with others, as well as when I feel I need comforting. As viewers, we enjoy weighing in on the various houses and apartments, taking bets on which we think the Hunters will choose, and commiserating from afar over budgetary constraints.
Each episode begins with introductions; who the buyers are, what they’re looking for, and their budget. Their agents find and show them no more or less than three houses, and we follow them through each house as they either admire or bash various features. Tom and Stacey want a fenced-in yard and an open floor plan in Omaha, and they can’t spend over 300K. Tom wants a big garage. Stacey wants a claw foot tub. The hunters see the houses, talk with their agent, and then weigh the options over drinks. After one last commercial break, their choice is revealed, and then we see how they made their house their own a few months after move-in.
In early December, my partner and I began looking for a place to live in together. Due to Covid, we spent the last six months of 2020 apart, staying in the homes of our respective parents. He went home to Northern Virginia, where he had a position lined up with the family business, and I retreated to rural South Carolina, where a friend linked me up with an administrative position at a therapist’s office. After six months of distance, and no end to the pandemic in sight, we re-evaluated, and agreed it made the most sense for me to move to NoVa so that he could keep his better paying job.
About a month after we reached the decision, we began looking for a place to live. Our House Hunters introductions would have gone something like this: Jozie and N are a young couple looking to end their time apart and move into a spacious townhouse in the Northern Virginia area. Their options are limited by Jozie’s insistence on bringing her cat and her dog, and the fact that only one of them will have a reliable job when they move in. Cut to me talking about my hatred of high rise apartment buildings, “I feel like a rat in a box,” and my desire for an outdoor space. Then to N adding that he’d really prefer to have at least two bedrooms so that we can have an office. Then we sit side by side and express our shared hatred of carpet.
When we arrived at our first showing to see a townhouse in Reston, VA, I felt a sense of eagerness and romance. We liked it, and held hands as we discussed various pros and cons. Nice backyard, but too much carpet. Definitely a viable option, but not the be-all end-all I felt like I should have as a House Hunter.
We looked at more townhouses, a couple of small apartments, a handful of split level basement townhomes in the city (all eliminated in one fell swoop when we encountered a cat-sized rat in an alley). I started to lose momentum after the seventh or so showing. The House Hunters only look at three? Seems impossible, even though we don’t have an agent. Every place is either: too much carpet, no central AC, terrible parking situation, too dark, etc. No end in sight. Then! A split level near Old Town Alexandria with a yard! But we aren’t the first to apply, and we lose it. We try for our second choice, and again we're too late.
Did we even see a house hunter lose their first choices? Not in the many episodes I've watched.
I always knew the show had to be more fun for the viewers than it was for the filmed. They’re the ones who have to make the decision (not a task I’m good at or enjoy, I might add) and then live with the decision they’ve made. Finally, after scrolling endlessly through Zillow and seeing at least fifteen places, we narrow it down to two. The audience is made to believe that the hunters decided within an afternoon. I knew that had to be a lie.
I learned that the hunters chose their home pre-filming. All the bickering and weighing we see on camera is an act, or at least a reenactment, as they’ve already chosen their home. Suddenly, I’m not just envious of the people at the end of the episode, but I’m envious of them at the beginnings too. They know where they’re going to live. They’re just pretending not to have it figured out.
The lie shouldn’t surprise me. It’s one deception of many. Eventually, we agreed on an under-budget third floor walk-up with all hardwood floors and granite counter tops. But it took almost a month, and way more than three showings to find. Soon, it will feel like home. House Hunters has lost its suspense, but I’ll still watch. Now I’ve felt how they pretend to feel at the beginning, how they feel at the end, and the forgotten frustration in between.