Reality TV Shows Love Chicago

If you watch enough episodes of House Hunters, Property Virgins, Sell This House and Property Ladder, you’re sure to see just about every hip neighborhood in Chicago. These shows, all “reality” house-hunting or –renovating shows on cable channels such as HGTV, TLC and A&E, frequently feature Chicagoans either searching for, selling or trying to transform their residences into a dream home.

How much, though, do these shows teach us about Chicago’s housing market? Not much. They may be called “reality” shows, but there isn’t much realistic about it.

Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Ellen Podmolik wrote about a local couple and real estate agent who will be featured on HGTV’s House Hunters on Dec. 10. In her column, Podmolik writes that both the agent and homebuyers soon discovered that there was precious little reality in the “reality” TV show.

The premise of House Hunters is that buyers look at three homes and then pick the one that they like best. There’s supposed to be some drama, too, in waiting to see if the couple actually qualifies for and gets the residence of their dreams.

Not surprisingly, as Podmolik writes, most of this drama is fake. For instance, in the episode airing this week, the couple looks at three residences in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. But the buyers had made up their minds on what home they were going to buy before the episode filmed. Of the three homes they looked at, one was already under contract to another buyer.

In the story, the agent working with the couple said that House Hunters doesn’t really teach viewers anything about what buying a home is really all about. I can vouch for that. For one thing, most buyers will look at far more than three houses or condominiums before finding the residence that’s right for them.

There is one important lesson, though, that shows like House Hunters can teach viewers: These shows do a good job cluing viewers in on how much residential real estate typically costs in a given neighborhood. For the House Hunters show airing this week, the three homes that the buyers looked at in Lakeview cost from $355,000 to $415,000. It’s an accurate representation of what these types of attached, single-family housing cost in this neighborhood.

Next time you’re watching one of the cable home shows, remember that not everything you’re seeing is real. Remember, too, that this is a good thing: Do you want to watch buyers look at 15 to 20 houses before making a decision? Didn’t think so.