We’ve all lost huge swaths of our Saturdays watching home remodeling shows on cable networks like HGTV. Where will Joanna of Fixer Upper put shiplap this time? At what point will Hilary and the homeowners almost come to blows on Love It or List It? It all makes for great viewing, with a healthy dose of house porn.


While these shows are lumped in the “reality TV” bucket, they’re pretty unreal when it comes to what actually happens during a remodel. Yeah, your trusty TV’s lying to you.

Planning It Out

In real life, you’ll collaborate with designers and architects while refining the remodeling plan. A building or structural engineer may be necessary, too. If we don’t obsessively nail down every detail, they’ll come back to bite us — and our clients — later.

You rarely see anyone shopping for new appliances or other materials on these shows — somehow floors and cabinets and stainless-steel French-door refrigerators magically appear just in time for installation.

In truth, while a designer is there to help and advise, homeowners are making the many, many decisions. Then the designer makes them happen, on time and within budget. And that hardwood? Really should acclimate on-site for a week, and it has to be stored and worked around — just another logistical hurdle.


The kind of intensive projects shows focus on take much more time than shown. Take a fairly uncomplicated remodel, like our West Chester Modern Farmhouse. While it was straightforward, it was intensive  — every surface save the fireplace changed and the kitchen was reconfigured and updated. That schedule went like this:

  • We met with the clients in February
  • We worked on designs and plans before they bought the home
  • They moved in at the end of March
  • Product specifications and final plans happened in May
  • Demolition started in June
  • Project finished on-time and on-budget by mid-September

While this project had no hiccups, you never see a three-month timeline on most home improvement TV programs (This Old House and Hometime tackle projects at a more realistic pace).

You know those dramatic scenes of tradespeople working late and overnight to meet a deadline? Yeah, that’s not gonna happen either. Construction (and demolition for that matter) is physical work, and it’s just plain dangerous to be working with power tools, on ladders, and electricity when you’re exhausted.

You don’t see the number of daily and weekly decisions homeowners have to make. Conditions and supplies can change, and many times people just change their minds about a sink or tile selection, which result in change orders, which can then result in a schedule change.

One big thing TV doesn’t show is how important scheduling is to a job. True, there’s nothing sexy or compelling about watching our production team hammering away on their laptops, making phone calls, juggling subcontractors’ own schedules and tracking delivery times. But they’re creating a coherent, reliable online timetable to share with our vendors, tradespeople, and — most importantly — the homeowners. It’s the underlying foundation of every project we do, and it’s completely transparent.

The Bottom Line

By far, the most confusion caused by these programs is at the bottom line. If you’ve never done a remodel before, a $50,000 whole house renovation seems possible.

It’s not.

Producers and networks often get material donated by manufacturers or retailers as a promotion, and some contractors cut their usual rates heavily, betting they’ll make it up in the free publicity. Some details may be skirted, such as permit costs or tests for lead paint or asbestos in older houses. So once you’re looking at free materials and discounted labor, their bottom lines are unattainable on a standard job.

There is truth on these shows, though. The happiness radiating from the homeowners when they see their new kitchen or fabulous master bedroom suite? That’s the same, and it’s wonderful to see our clients’ thrilled reactions when the job is done.

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