Husby and I have rather different taste in television shows, but HGTV is one common ground we have.  And one of the shows we enjoy is Love It or List It. (LIOLI)

Here’s the thing, though: we don’t believe for a minute that the show is “real” as presented.  It’s real in the sense that the couple does go into some other houses. And they do pay for a renovation.  But the narrative of them doing both and then making up their mind about what to do next is just that: a narrative.

Now, I could Google and show you lots of links to stories about being who are shocked — SHOCKED — to find out that something on television isn’t real, but let me tell you some reasons why this show must be “fake.”

If you think about it, there are just too many uncontrolled factors around buying and renovating houses to film a television show around a natural process. The production schedule on a television show just would not allow for much time to actually search for a dream house.  They have, what, 13 episodes per season? And there’s all the post production work to do.  Plus there’s travel to filming in different locations, etc. etc.  And David has to be a license real estate agent in all of these areas if he’s really going to help people buy houses. So, they are merely setting things up in order to present us with a compelling story.

I have no objections to this. Some people get upset about this, but I watch shows for the story.  And knowing that this show is staged presents an additional meta-analysis challenge: Can you figure out whether they’re going to love it or list it before they announce their decision?

I have a pretty good track record with this, so I want to tell you some of the signs I look for to make my predictions.

Filet Mignon Dreams on a Ramen Budget
If the house shopping budget is really high, but the renovation budget is really low — or vice versa — and they have a list as long as your arm of luxury amenities that they need or want to see, then follow the money to their choice.

Example: “Our budget for a new house is $6.5MM.  And our renovation budget is $4.34 plus whatever you find under the sofa when you move it. Also, we need a pool.”

Fully Furnished Listings
It’s not unusual for people to sell their houses while they’re still living in it, but you can usually tell the difference between a house that is staged/cleaned for sale and one that was cleaned up just so they could film a quick walkthrough on day.

I find, though, that if all the houses they look at are fully furnished, then it’s likely that they’re just walking through their friends’ houses for the show.  They don’t intend to list it at all.

Drastic Renovations Before a Sale
Almost no one is going to drop $50K renovating a house that they’re going to move out of.  It’s also a dead giveaway when they make major renovations that don’t add any value.

Example: “Yeah, just go ahead and move the master bedroom to the basement. And let’s get rid of that extra bedroom over there.  Also, purple is my favorite color. Please paint the whole house purple.” Those are not the words of someone who is trying to sell a house.

The producers aren’t stupid. They do all sorts of things to make you think the couple is leaning one way or another.  Hilary will always encounter some setback in the renovation that requires removing some allegedly major requirement.  (Look at the family and their lifestyle, though. Does that request for a bocce ball court REALLY seem like a must-have?)  She’ll encounter some expensive project that has to be done to bring the house up to code.  Meanwhile, David has to find a house within a specific three-block area, which is impossible, so he always shows them the perfect house outside of their area.  Also, they always give David a budget that is too low, so the “perfect” house is always above budget. But the closer the perfect house is to their housing budget, the more likely they are to actually buy that house.

I think LIOLI is a fun show and I really appreciate all the narrative techniques the producers use to keep the show entertaining.  It doesn’t bother me at all that it’s “fake” because the story is real.

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