Sunday, August 9, 2009

Watching HGTV

I twisted my ankle the other day while working in the garden.

Through a combination of circumstances I won't explain, I've had access to some cable stations recently, and have been watching a lot of HGTV. (I have to say that, looking over the cable schedule, I don't understand why anyone pays good money to watch old episodes of not-so-good TV shows. If there's anything on cable that's worth watching, you can rent it on DVD or, more sensibly, get it from the library. Not only is the library free--okay, you pay for it through taxes--but our local library lets you keep the DVDs for three weeks.)

But back to HGTV. First there are hardly any gardens. It's all about the houses. Even when it is about the outside space, plants are an afterthought. And I mean afterthought! The people doing the landscaping spend more time laying out the stone (and stone is very big these days) than selecting the plants. And the designers (I can't really think of them as landscapers) tell you all about the selection of the stone and the stamping of the concrete and the painting of the trim, but almost nothing about the plants. Indeed the plants are mostly nondescript and low-maintenance. So it ends up being some boring shrubs planted entirely too close to the foundation (three feet, folks, three feet!).

Frequently showing off the new paint and trim and stone and stamped concrete requires removing a tree, a beautiful stately old tree that just happens to be positioned so that the "improvements" can't be photographed easily, and precludes the installation of the aforementioned low-maintenance plants. Well, goodbye tree. (It's hard to find a tree service that wouldn't say that eventually the tree will die, and that it should be removed. They make more money taking out a tree than leaving it alone.)

Then there are a bunch of shows where designers come to your house and paint and build things out of MDF and rearrange the furniture. These come in two varieties--the ones where the designer does something "inspired" and "original" and awful, and the ones where the designer comes to take apart all the above to prepare the house for sale, and leaves it boring. Out goes the orange and lime green (Color Splash's favorite combination), and in comes the taupe and pale grey. Out goes the cool and funky painted dresser, to be replaced by the Crate and Barrel knockoff. In one episode the sellers were instructed to get rid of their dog beds; I wondered if they also had to get rid of the dogs. Potential sellers are instructed to pack up all their books, so that the shelves can be covered with knick-knacks (called "accessories"), pack up all the kids' toys, and turn the nursery into a spare bedroom. This, I guess, assumes that buyers are so stupid that they can't say to themselves, "Since we don't have any children, this room could be a guest bedroom or an office." The same is true for the dining room, which many people use for other purposes, so the seller is instructed to obtain a table and chairs, assuming that our stupid buyers can't figure out that it's the dining room.

The housing renovations come in two forms--cheap and more expensive. Some of them cost $1,000 to $2,000. For others the subjects have allocated $15-25,000. The former involve paint and accessories, and a few pieces of MDF, while the more expensive ones are bathroom and kitchen renovations. Bathroom and kitchen renovations include the following: tubs with jets, oversized showers with glass doors, dual vanities, islands, stainless steel appliances, cherry (or cherry-looking) cabinets, and the ubiquitous granite countertops. Unless you never use your appliances, you don't want stainless steel, as they show every fingermark and are impossible to keep clean, and the granite countertop is well on its way to being the avocado refrigerator of the 21st century. But none of the renovations comes close to the over-the-top renovations (which frequently cost more money than most of us will ever make) of PBS's This Old House. The virtue of the This Old House renovations, though, is that they involve expert craftmanship. They don't cut any corners, and viewers get to see beautiful, if shockingly expensive, work. This Old House would never do what one of the HGTV design shows did, and wallpaper only part of a wall, painting the rest, because they hadn't ordered enough wallpaper.

Every so often one of the shows does something truly dreadful, mostly because it can't easily be undone. Once you've painted over the original wood trim, it becomes a major (and expensive) project to get the paint off. And they did it only because the trim around the bay window had been painted, so the rest of the trim had to be painted to match. No! No!

Then there are the house-buying programs, the most famous of which is House Hunters. House Hunters, once upon a time, concentrated on the much-edited experiences of first-time buyers. But as the housing bubble expanded, it was too difficult to find houses that first-time buyers could afford, and they gravitated to move-up buyers. Now they've expanded to include people buying vacation homes in tropical locales as well.

I guess I have a somewhat jaundiced view, but the walk-in closet in a million-dollar house should have better fixtures than the standard-issue metal racks from Home Depot. And the secondary bedrooms should have closets larger than the hall coat closet. Do the builders think that kids only have two shirts and one pair of pants? Hmmm. Maybe that's why all the kids' stuff is in the living room. And why are they back yards devoid of any plant life? Patchy grass and a spindly little tree is not "landscaping."

The first-time buyer experience is now recorded by other programming. It's not so bad, as most of the potential buyers are eligible to borrow quite a lot of money (a graduate student with half a million!), but every so often there's some poor buyer who can only borrow $120,000, and ends up buying a condo-converted apartment, in the process giving up the two-bedroom house for which she's paying much less rent than she'll be paying in mortgage payments. They ought to have a show where some realtor sits down with potential buyers and explains why they're much better off renting, even if it means the tenant can't faux paint the living room chartreuse.

And finally there's the nod to the present period, where a realtor delivers tough love to buyers who spent toooo much money and now have to sell at a loss. These Real Estate Interventions, which are painful to watch, spend most of their time on the "updating" of the fixtures and removing anything that makes the house interesting, even though the important factor in selling the house is the price reduction. But if they concentrated on that, each episode wouldn't last ten minutes. (As part of the process, the Intervenor takes the victims to see houses that have been properly tauped and have allegedly sold. But does anyone live without a single piece of bad art or a book or magazine on the table? If so, who are these pod-people?)

1 comment:

annot8 said...

Hmm ... didn't hear about your ankle. Hope it's better now. Sound like you had too much time on your hands last week! ;)