House-Flipping Shows – Why Are They So Popular?

Entertainment & Creativity Lifestyle Impacts

A recent check of the programs available from my local cable provider on the HGTV network1 showed 114 different show series related to house flipping or remodeling. In 2016, HGTV overtook CNN as the third most-watched cable channel in the United States, behind Fox News and ESPN2.

house-flipping
Envisioning a new style for the house
Photo Credit: Enrique Hoyos

The reasons for watching are numerous, but people report interest in a few topic groups:

Remodeling Ideas

This is by far the most common interest point. I confess that it is my motivation for watching these shows. Many of the shows focus on complete remodels of out-of-date homes. But we can take away individual ideas for remodeling portions of our own homes.

Of course, the magic of editing for television often makes such remodeling projects look far easier than they actually are. But those who have some degree of skill in the types of work needed can usually understand how to accomplish the transformation.

And if these professionals can transform houses so much in need of repair, we gain hope that a small transformation of our own nice home is feasible.

But Beware …

However, there are significant downsides to house-flipping / home improvement shows. Autumn Fuchs, in a 2019 article entitled “3 Reasons HGTV is Ruining Your Life” lists her thoughts on the downsides:

  • The wrong impression of what to expect from an interior designer
  • Unrealistic expectations for renovation budgets
  • Unrealistic expectations for construction times

House-Flipping Journey

Nearly all of the home renovators on these shows encounter some type of major and unexpected problem. Maybe it’s termites or wood rot. Maybe it’s an unanticipated drainage problem in an otherwise inviting back yard. It might be improper – and maybe even dangerous – repairs done earlier.

We wonder how the renovators will fix this surprise problem – usually a very expensive repair – within the project’s budget. And we silently worry that any project we undertake might reveal some similar crisis.

Satisfaction

While we may find new ideas for remodeling our own homes, and facing some trepidation at possible obstacles, house flipping shows leave most of us with one satisfaction. No matter how much we think we could improve our own homes, they never look as bad as the shows’ disasters. 

Rotting floors, sagging rooflines, plants growing up through cracks in the floor, and even entire beehives – complete with copious amounts of honey – populating inner wall spaces. Our homes have none of these calamities. No matter how much we would like to make upgrades, we take satisfaction that our home isn’t nearly as bad as that one.

This article was developed using Scrivener

My Favorite House-Flipping Shows

While I have watched several of the series dedicated to house-flipping and remodeling, there are currently three on my ‘favorites’ list. My wife actually watches this type of show more than I do. She is usually the one who discovers a new interesting series.

Home Town

Home Town features Ben and Erin Napier, residents of Laurel, Mississippi. Laurel suffered some economic hard times after the local timber industry declined. However, the town, which reached its population peak in 1960 and has been in decline until recently, has experienced some growth from people seeking small-town life. 

Ben is a woodworker with a degree in history while Erin, a Laurel native, is an artist who started her career in corporate graphic design. The couple met in college and their first remodel project was a 1925 Craftsman-style home for themselves.

Ben and Erin specialize in renovating older homes with an eye to affordable housing.

house-flipping home town
Erin and Ben Napier
Photo Courtesy of HGTV

One of the unique aspects of this show is Ben’s interest in the history of each of the houses they renovate. The show begins with him giving a little history of who occupied the residence for the longest time and something about their work and contribution to Laurel.

Overall, this is my favorite of the house-flipping shows I watch. I’m happy that it has been renewed for another season.

My only critique is for some of Erin’s designs. She tends to like to paint the exterior of houses blue, which doesn’t really appeal to me. She gets good marks for trying to repurpose old items in remodeled homes but sometimes she goes too far, in my opinion. 

Boise Boys

This series attracted my attention because it is set in Boise, Idaho – my hometown. I moved away from Boise nearly 20 years ago and only visit occasionally. So I enjoy seeing the changes in the city.

The hosts of Boise Boys3 are Luke Caldwell and his friend, Clint Robertson. Clint is the carpenter and Luke is the designer.

Boise Boys Luke Caldwell and Clint Robertson
Photo Credit: Todd Meier

They come from vastly different backgrounds. Luke is a Boise native with a background as a touring musician. He got into house-flipping as a way to pay for an adoption.

Clint is an attorney, CPA, real estate broker and developer originally from Texas.

While there is quite a bit of give-and-take between the guys, it’s obvious they are friends. They make almost a Laurel and Hardy combination. Clint is burly with close-cropped hair and a southern drawl from his native Texas. Luke is a “man-purse”-wearing designer, married with six children; four of them adopted at-risk kids. He strikes me as a very caring individual and a doting father. It’s an impression born out by others who actually know him.

I really don’t find anything not to like about this show. The designs are good and I would be happy to live in most of the houses they renovate. 

I am a little shocked at the home prices in Boise now. They are markedly more expensive than when I left, but that has nothing to do with the show itself.

Fixer to Fabulous

This is the latest addition to my list of ‘favorite’ house-flipping shows. Set in Bentonville, Arkansas – the birthplace of Walmart – the show features husband and wife team Dave and Jenny Marrs.

house-flipping couple
Jenny and Dave Marrs have five children – four of their own and a daughter they adopted from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Photo Credit: Samantha Daniels, courtesy of Jenny Marrs

Dave is originally from Colorado and Jenny is from Florida. They met after college when they worked in the same company. They picked northwest Arkansas as their first home, although Jenny only intended to stay there for two years. That was in 2004, and they have become fixtures in the Bentonville community.

One question that comes up from viewers is what happened to construction manager Chase Looney’s eye. He wears a leather eye patch on his left eye.

Following the filming of the pilot episode in 2017, Looney was setting up a fireworks display for the July 4th holiday. The former firefighter was igniting some of the display when one mortar exploded prematurely near his face. The explosion cost him his left eye, but he was bolstered by the visits and support from Dave and Jenny.

While I have only watched a few episodes of this show, I really haven’t found anything I don’t like about it. Jenny’s designs are inviting and Dave’s construction makes sense to me. They are a ‘down-home’ couple just like the Napiers and I would trust either couple to work on my house.

This show has been renewed for a second season, which began airing on Tuesday nights last week.

Fixer-Upper

This was my first real exposure to house-flipping shows in recent times4. Fixer-Upper has now been canceled, but it was set in Waco, Texas. It featured husband and wife team Chip and Joanna Gaines.

While I enjoyed the show at first, I was ready to quit watching about the time it was cancelled.

I generally enjoyed Joanna’s designs, but Chip became increasingly clownish. It often struck me that he was a serious hazard on a construction site. One example was him taking down old wallboard by trying to jump through the wall like Superman. He was slightly hurt on that stunt, to no one’s real surprise. 

As Chip’s almost-slapstick antics, especially during the couple’s two-shot explanations of their work, became more and more prevalent in the show, I lost interest. But Fixer-Upper still ranks as my reintroduction to the house-flipping program of the 21st century.

Safety

One thing most of the house-flipping / home improvement shows seem to be light on is job site safety. The ‘stars’ rarely wear full safety equipment, even during demolition. The most obvious missing item is a safety helmet. Other than the mother/daughter team on Good Bones, I don’t recall ever seeing a safety helmet worn.

Ben Napier never wears gloves, and apparently has stated that he doesn’t like them. Dave Marrs doesn’t wear safety goggles or any other eye protection, even during demolition.

I realize that TV producers may not like their ‘stars’ to be hidden behind glasses, dust masks and helmets, but it sends the wrong message that such safety items can be considered optional.

Still an Avid Viewer of House-Flipping Shows

Despite some drawbacks of the ‘reality’ of house-flipping shows in general, I still enjoy watching them. One must remember that all of these shows, just like other reality television shows, take some shortcuts in terms of presentation (does anyone actually believe these complete renovations are accomplished in one hour?). But part of life’s experience is the ability to gain from an overall experience, rather than concentrate on minutiae.

I have gained some valuable insight from these types of shows. For that, my journey as a woodworking hobbyist has improved.

Do you watch house-flipping or home improvement shows on TV? What are your experiences with these shows?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

NOTES

  1. HGTV, originally called the Home, Lawn & Garden Channel, was launched on December 24, 1994. The network from its inception has focused on home building and remodeling, landscaping and gardening, decorating and design, and crafts and hobbies. Early on, the name was shortened to Home & Garden Television – hence the acronym HGTV. The full name of the channel is now de-emphasized and HGTV is the common reference.
  2. Smith, Gerry. “HGTV Will Never Upset You – How the Network Beat CNN in 2016.Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 28 Dec. 2016, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-28/hgtv-will-never-upset-you-how-the-network-beat-cnn-in-2016. Accessed November 9, 2020.
  3. The name seems to be a take on Boys of Boise, a book about a political scandal in the 1950s. It’s listed in my article on my favorite books.
  4. I was a faithful viewer of This Old House in the 1990s, but I hadn’t watched the genre for years until I started watching Fixer-Upper. One positive outcome of watching This Old House was that I was introduced to the work of their carpenter, Norm Abram. In later years, Abram had his own woodworking show, The New Yankee Workshop. This show was my introduction to furniture construction, as well as building my own woodworking shop equipment. My woodworking hobby benefitted immensely from NYW.
Mike Worley

Mike is retired and lives in Louisville, KY USA. He writes about lifestyle issues. He also enjoys photography and works part-time as a college volleyball official.