We’ve become regular contributors to the Master Builders Association’s Seattle Times column: HomeWork. You may have seen our most recent post, but just in case you missed it: we explain how some TV shows, particularly on HGTV, can set up unrealistic expectations and ideas about the remodeling process.
Is there such a thing as too much HGTV?
For many people, the thrill of renovating a house in a little under an hour is a dream come true. The amazing 3D renderings, the antique shop finds, the unforeseen hiccup and the dramatic final reveal are enough to make you pick up your phone and call your local contractor before the next show starts.
Hit shows like “Fixer Upper,” “Property Brothers” and “Flip or Flop” make for great reality TV, but do they portray the realities of remodeling in a realistic way? The short timelines and low budgets have many contractors explaining to clients what a remodel is actually like. To prepare future clients for the initial shock that’s sure to come, we’ve listed the top ways reality TV will conflict with real life remodeling so that you can better prepare yourself for the truths of today’s remodeling market.
HGTV is one of the most-watched television channels, after news and major programming channels. With its broad reach, it’s no wonder most people have some preconceived notions about home remodeling. In as a little as an hour, or 45 minutes without commercials, a home can go from dated to dreamy.
Obviously, viewers don’t think a kitchen remodel can be completed in 45 minutes, but they do see some unrealistic timelines on these shows. Kitchens, for example, are designed, demolished and reconstructed in a week or two on some shows. In reality, a kitchen remodel can take months. Sometimes, it can take as many as four or five months from starting a design to seeing the kitchen complete.
While we let that timeline sink in, we’ll explain why. The kitchen is the heart of the home, literally and figuratively. The most complicated plumbing, electrical and cabinets are located in this room. It’s probably the only room in your house with more than three appliances (refrigerator, stove, microwave, etc.) and the only room with a large amount of cabinetry. It’s also got a lot of finer details: from backsplash tile to custom countertops, there are lots of pieces at play.
Before the remodel starts, there’s a design phase that takes time to get right. A designer will help you determine the look of your kitchen, pick out appliances and recommend materials. This process can be quick, but typically you want to have some time to think about options, visit showrooms or debate different aesthetics. That means revisions to the design plan, which adds time. If you’ve chosen any specialty items, the shipping time for those items can sometimes be a lot longer than you’d expect; for example, one month for an Italian sink or three weeks for a custom live-edge shelf. Cabinets alone take an average of six to eight weeks to arrive. Unless you purchased cabinets before you started designing your new kitchen — which you should never do — then your kitchen remodel is going to take at least two months. Sometimes with remodels, you can’t measure for cabinets until the room is empty and the walls are gone.
With a plan in hand and your materials ordered, now comes the mobilization and deconstruction. But the average remodel isn’t an “all hands on deck” experience. Most companies will send a couple crew members to deconstruct or demo (there’s a difference!) your kitchen over the course of a few days. Larger kitchens and certain layouts can take as much as a full work week to remove — that’s already most of the timeline that a reality show gives, and your new kitchen hasn’t even begun to take shape yet. Reality TV has the advantage of not only hiring a larger crew but also having skilled tradespeople on hand at a moment’s notice. Though you may see only a few crew members on screen, there’s likely a huge team in place to tackle a TV remodel around the clock.
The reality here in Seattle is that we are the hottest real estate market in the nation, and skilled labor is in very high demand. You should be prepared to wait a week or two to have initial meetings with an architect or contractor. Your average design-build company likely doesn’t employ an electrician, HVAC technicians or other akin tradespeople; they are subcontracted out and require scheduling, so it takes careful planning to get all the materials and laborers on site at the right time. Jason Legat, founder of Model Remodel, says, “We really appreciate when our clients are flexible. The current market is experiencing huge growth. A record number of homes are being built, bought and sold. There are a lot of people looking for a good contractor, and if they are willing to plan ahead and wait for the project to start, we’re able to give them a better experience. It gives us the time we need to schedule permits, subcontracts, inspections and purchases — the time to complete a large remodel the right way.”
Speaking of demand, a labor shortage is almost always accompanied by higher prices. It’s not that prices are abnormally high, but in this competitive market, rates will be higher than other U.S. cities. A kitchen remodel in Waco, Texas, isn’t going to cost the same as a remodel in Seattle. Selections, labor and the home’s condition all factor into the cost. In general, reality TV remodeling estimates are simply far lower than they are in real life, and sometimes don’t factor in the true cost of labor.
The beauty of hiring a professional is that you have someone to guide you to the materials within your budget. The sink you found on Pinterest or the kitchen you saw on “House Hunters” might be beyond your means, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of acceptable—if not exciting—alternatives! A professional can help you narrow those choices down and offer different layouts that could help you save money. If there’s one thing not to skimp on, it’s hiring the right firm for your project. Quality carpenters don’t come at a discount, so if your project is large, you should view your remodel as an investment in skilled craftsmen and craftswomen. Don’t forget to shop around, but be willing to pay a premium for the right fit. Your remodeling team will be with you for months to come; you want to like spending time with them and trust in their abilities.
One of the major things some HGTV shows skip over is the cost associated with those so-called “hiccups” the contractors always seem to run into: the rotting floor, the cracked foundation, the load-bearing wall, etc. While we’re glad it shows that remodeling can be a tricky business, the shows usually spend two minutes explaining what the problem is and how to easily fix it. They don’t always go into is the cost associated with those changes. Removing asbestos or eliminating a load-bearing wall can mean hiring an abatement company or engineer — added costs that should fall within your contingency fund. A top contractor will be able to give you examples of common problems that could pop up, and a great contractor will be able to do an inspection and estimate possible changes in scope before they occur. Whatever the hiccup, it’s a lot less glamorous in reality, but both require a high level of flexibility.
As industry professionals, we’ll go home and click on an episode of “Flip or Flop” as much as the next person. But when we come into work the next day, we’re back to reality. Most clients can reset their expectations and step away from the fantasy they see on the screen. Exposure to these shows has revealed to homeowners other options than buying a perfect, out-of-the-box home, and that’s a good thing. Plus, they’re fun to watch! With a realistic remodeling budget and timeline, a dream home is very much possible.