Sunday, January 25, 2009

Reality Missing in Real Estate Reality Shows

Television advertising feeds our desire for more of everything from cell phones to drugs. We expect that from commercials. It is the real estate reality shows found on cable television that currently confuse me most. In them, we are repeatedly exposed to houses and home improvements most of us cannot afford and do not really need.

Not long ago, I watched a program about first-time home buyers. A couple with no savings and one child fell in love with new construction that was the largest of the three houses that viewers saw them tour. It had everything – nearly three thousand square feet, four bedrooms, wood floors throughout, a high-end kitchen. The only thing missing was landscaping. There was none.

I looked forward to hearing their realtor explain to them the financial facts of life, helping them select a house they could afford. Instead, the realtor and the builder showed them how to finance 110% of the value of the house so they would have cash to pay for the move with a bit left over to buy a tree or two.

That program was followed by one that featured extensive kitchen and bath remodeling. Only top-of-the-line product was used and the family went into considerable debt to make their “dream” come true. Once again, the opportunity to educate was lost. Simple alternatives that would have saved the couple thousands of dollars were never mentioned. Instead, viewers repeatedly heard how creative financing made all this possible.

Hello! Buying what we cannot afford and creatively financing it in hopes that our property appreciates substantially or we never lose our jobs? Isn’t this a significant part of how we got ourselves into our current economic mess?

If there were follow-up programs, would these couples still own their homes? We’ll never know because bad endings are rarely shared with viewers. I assume sad endings are bad for ratings.

In general, these programs communicate a lot – including a total lack of responsibility on the part of the networks and the producers about the message they send to viewers. I realize these shows were taped months before they aired (or they were repeats), but televising them now without a disclaimer seems irresponsible.

Our current economy proves that we can’t have it all – contrary to what real estate-based programming is still trying to tell us.

Part II next week.

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