Why Are Renovations so Cheap on HGTV? Are They Intentionally Deceiving Us?


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Every person has a guilty pleasure and for homeowners who enjoy DIY projects, that guilty pleasure comes by binge-watching home renovation shows on HGTV.

From house hunting in the city to beach house renovations on the coast, the work done on these shows is enough to inspire homeowners everywhere to start a new project.

But so often they find that what they see people getting for the amount they invest in their renovation project, that amount is nowhere near close to what getting that kind of work done on their actual home, by a licensed contractor, is going to cost.

So what begins as excitement often gives way to the hard reality that home remodeling is expensive.

So why are the remodeling and renovations budgets you see on shows on HGTV and other networks, like DIY and Discovery+, so much cheaper than what you’d see in the real word?

Renovations seem so cheap on HGTV because they leave out a lot of the details like design work, which is expensive and paid for by the homeowner. In addition, HGTV is sometimes able to provide discounted services to homeowners and will sometimes pay labor costs themselves if needed to meet their production schedule, all of which paints an unrealistic look at what renovation & remodeling in the real world is really like.

Here’s the standard rule for “reality” TV in my home:

You must understand that there is little to nothing in reality TV shows that has anything to do with the real world or reality in general.

As aspirational as the homes on HGTV can make us, it’s important to remember that not everything is as it seems.

When it comes to the overall renovation prices on the channel’s TV shows, viewers don’t take into account a variety of factors that go into real-life renovations, like obtaining permits and paying for labor.

There are also only 30-40 minutes worth of footage shown per episode, so viewers are rarely if ever exposed to everything that goes on during the renovation.

Let’s look at why renovations on HGTV are so cheap and what you can learn about and apply to your own remodel project.

By the way – before we get too far along here, if you want to connect with other homeowners and builders and get more great ideas for your home to make your space the best join my free private Facebook group, Remodel Reality here.

Are Renovation Costs on HGTV Accurate?

The shows you see on HGTV make it feel like getting that dream renovation project is actually attainable.

You see Chip & Joanna exploring properties in Waco, Texas with their latest clients looking for a property that they can totally remodel from top to bottom.

The budget discussion segment for the remodeling project on the show comes up and the couple tells Chip & Joanna that they’ve got $75,000 to work with to do renovations, and when you see the final reveal at the end of the show you’re blown away – just like everyone else is – at the amount and quality of work they’re able to get done for what they spent on the property.

If you’re anything like me, this has always been extremely confusing, especially when you’ve talked to local contractors in your area that is most decidedly NOT Waco, Texas and the estimate to do a remodel job similar to what you saw that couple do on HGTV is at least 2 times as much.

There are so many factors that go into figuring out why the quotes on HGTV just don’t make sense, and we’re going to explore the biggest ones below.

Behind the Scenes of an HGTV Show

It’s easy to forget that the shows on HGTV are just as staged as any other reality TV show.

But, when we forget this fact, it becomes just as easy to feel blindsided and frustrated when you see the price tag on the latest invoice from your contractor.

What they don’t show you on these TV shows is a number of hidden costs you may not be aware of, like permits, the cost of labor, the products and brands they use, and sometimes expensive repairs and hidden problems within the home’s structure. Another cost not many people take into account is the staging they do to make the house appealing to their audience.

Let’s talk about each of these things and how it affects the perceived cost of a remodeling project vs. the real-world cost of a remodeling project.

Plans and Permits

Permits are what ensure the work being done on your home is safe and sustainable for years to come.

And depending on the state you live in, permit requirements will vary.

Failing to get the required permits for a renovation may result in accruing fines, as well as giving you a much harder time when it comes time to sell your house.

Permits are also a “boring” topic when it comes to the renovation process. For that reason, it’s not surprising that HGTV doesn’t spend any screen time on their shows talking about them.

Labor Costs

Another renovation cost HGTV notoriously leaves out is the labor costs that come with hiring contractors and subcontractors.

Instead, the show tends to focus more on the actual design and renovation process.

The cost for general contractors can be from $1000-$100,000 or more depending on the work they’re hired for. With a cost as hefty as that, it’s unsurprising that HGTV chooses to omit these costs most of the time.

Design Firm Costs

Some shows are centered around the host’s design company like, Jennifer Todryk’s show, “No Demo Reno”.

But for many others, the design firm is not the center of attention, and there are costs associated with hiring designers to create the outcome you see being put together on the show.

The cost to hire a competent interior designer to do that work can run from $2,000-$10,000 depending on the scope of the project.

Products Used

A cable channel as big as HGTV also opens doors to lines of brands and companies that partner with them.

These partnerships usually involve letting the channel’s productions use the partner’s products on screen for free in return for free advertisement.

These partnerships allow the budget for a show’s renovation to have a bit more wiggle room as they don’t have to worry about buying specific renovation tools or household appliances.

Hidden Issues

While HGTV productions do a good job highlighting unforeseen issues most of the time, there are some instances where an issue arises that they don’t show during an episode.

As viewers, we only see around 45 minutes of weeks or months-long renovations. Of the one or two surprises the homeowner experiences in the show, there are likely two or three more that we have no clue about.

Sometimes it’s not something that is really “shocking” like termite damage, or wood rot in the subfloors.

It could be that the work that’s being done is there to replace old work that isn’t up to code – a very non-glorious, uninteresting part of the project but nevertheless has a big effect on the renovation budget.

And in many real-world situations, those extra issues are quite costly and can really stretch a tight budget.

Home Staging

Alas, we get to the one part of the show that makes watching the process worth it.

The end product shows us the result of the hard work put in throughout the entire project. What it doesn’t show the viewer is the price tag that comes with hiring home stagers or buying the products shown at the end of the episode. The cost to stage a house can range from $657-$2,542 depending on if you stage it yourself or hire a professional designer instead.

Location, Location, Location

It’s been said by legions of realtors and agents that the 3 most important factors concerning real estate are:

  1. Location
  2. Location
  3. Location

The same thing is true when it comes to doing a remodel or renovation for your home and comparing what the market is like in your local area, vs. where those shows actually operate.

The renovation budget needed to do the kind of work you’re looking to do can vary wildly in location where your home is compared to where the show is taped.

For example, say your home is in Florida, where I live.

The costs for real estate and construction are a lot more than they are in another state, like Mississippi for instance.

So if I’m watching Home Town with Ben and Erin Napier, the costs for their project in a small Mississippi town are going to be less than they are in a city like Orlando.

Same thing goes for Waco, Texas. If I’m watching what Chip and Joanna Gaines are doing on Fixer Upper in Waco, the property values per square foot compared to the property values per square foot in Miami are going to be a lot different.

Moving Out Expenses

Some shows are great because they send you on vacation like, Extreme Home Makeover.

Others are great because they do all the work after you’ve purchased a home and are doing your renovations before you move in like Fixer Upper.

But for most others that are renovating and remodeling existing spaces on homes where the homeowners are actually residing in the home, there’s the associated cost of moving out while HGTV does their thing.

This could also mean that there are storage expenses for your furniture and belongings too.

Other Things HGTV Doesn’t Tell You

Holding back from showing the hidden costs of renovating a house isn’t necessarily to make you feel slighted.

After all, producers and editors need to determine how much footage from an entire renovation to squeeze into a 30-40 minute time slot.

However, the end product still turns out to be deceiving as there are some things about these shows that those who work at the channel won’t tell you.

Rooms Are Often Left Undone

Have you ever wondered why the kid’s bathroom sometimes doesn’t even show up during the final reveal?

Or why they don’t take the cameras into the guest rooms? Or upstairs?

Although some shows boast doing a full home makeover, oftentimes there are rooms that weren’t even touched by the production team or contractors on the show.

So a house that looks beautiful and spacious on the outside and like it’s worth a lot of money, may have unfinished rooms on the inside to reflect the seemingly low ending cost at the close of the episode.

Most “After” Shots Use Staging Furniture

For most HGTV shows, the production team hires professional designers to come in and stage the home, and this should come as no surprise.

While the homeowners have the opportunity to buy the furniture used during staging, the ending cost calculator that we see as the viewer doesn’t take into account the amount of money needed to pay for all of the staging furniture.

House Hunting is Already Finished

On shows like House Hunters and others that center around buying a new home, it’s typical for the homeowners to already own the property they pick, even before they “look” at other houses.

For that reason, the amount the house is worth may, in fact, be more than how much the owners actually paid. As such, this can affect the overall costs of any renovations they occasionally choose to do in the end.

How Accurate Are End Costs on HGTV Shows?

The ending costs that show up at the close of an episode for your favorite HGTV shows typically aren’t accurate for the everyday renovator.

For starters, labor costs and the cost of the products used throughout a renovation is very much a regional market. For example, you’re going to expect to pay a lot more for a renovation in a Manhattan home than you would in a more rural area in the Midwest.

Beyond that, big name companies like HGTV also have access to brand partnerships that allow a trade. In exchange for using another brand’s products or services, HGTV then provides them free or discounted advertising in return.

In other words, you shouldn’t take to heart the logistics of your favorite HGTV series. There are too many factors in play that allow those low renovation costs to be present in the show.

Final Thoughts

So that’s why it’s not a good idea to get too caught up in the renovation budget you see on those HGTV shows.

Just think about it:

If you see luxury vinyl tile at Home Depot for roughly $4 per square foot, and know it’s going to cost at least another per square foot to have it installed, and have a house that’s 2500 square feet, you know it’s going to cost just ,500 to redo your floors.

And that’s on the cheap end of the spectrum!

So how is that these HGTV shows – and many other like them on the DIY Network, Discovery+ ,etc. can show a big scale project with a full kitchen remodel that only costs $50,000?

Then you think about the subcontractors who are doing your drywall, painting, framing, electrical and tile work, among other things, and it’s easy to see how quickly the price tag in the real world will start to increase.

The numbers just don’t add up.

The real world explanation for what actually happened for that renovation project in many instances is about as “real” as other “reality” shows known for being less than authentic.

Next Steps

Want to join others who are creating the most amazing home redesigns & renovations and get more tips, tricks and hacks on how to make your home the best it can be?

Join my brand new free private Facebook group, Remodel Reality to connect with other people like you to make your space the best!

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Rob Orr

Me and my family have lived through a nightmare of a remodeling project gone wrong, making countless mistakes including placing trust in the wrong hands. Despite these setbacks, we took matters into our own hands for many aspects of the remodel, ensuring quality workmanship guided by expert advice. Through my personal experiences, I've created RemodelReality.com. My mission is not only to share the pitfalls we encountered but also the successes we achieved by combining our efforts with trusted professionals. By sharing both the highs and lows of our journey, I aim to help others navigate their own remodeling projects with greater confidence, ensuring they benefit from our lessons learned.

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