By Carol Memmott, USA TODAY
Millions of TV viewers tune in to HGTV's long-running House Hunters regularly; some people even claim addiction to the show. Who doesn't like snooping in other people's homes?
The show has a prospective buyer or buyers tour three properties, giving their critiques along the way on closet space, countertops and wall colors. At show's end, one home is chosen for purchase.
But how real is "reality" on the show? An account posted by one home buyer on the popular Hooked on Houses blog, causing a mini-uproar on the Web, says the show is almost completely staged.
Bobi Jensen, whose San Antonio house hunt was featured in 2006, wrote, "The producers said they found our (true) story - that we were getting a bigger house and turning our other one into a rental - boring and overdone. So instead they just wanted to emphasize how our home was too small and we needed a bigger one desperately. It wasn't true, but it was a smaller house than the one we bought so I went with it."
Jensen also wrote, "They didn't even 'accept' us being a subject for the show until we closed on the house we were buying. So then when they decided to film our episode, we had to scramble to find houses to tour and pretend we were considering." She added, perhaps most surprisingly, that "the ones we looked at weren't even for sale. ... They were just our two friends' houses who were nice enough to madly clean for days in preparation for the cameras!"
Jensen, who loved the show and who currently lives in Omaha, says she's only talking about this now because her hairdresser encouraged her to blog about it. "They actually let you know in the middle of applying online (that it's not all real)," she says in an interview. "They say you have to be near closing on the house you've already picked, because they don't want to waste their time on anyone who's still in the decision-making process. And we knew we were a good fit because we already had a new house but hadn't moved in."
HGTV programming executive Brian Balthazar said in a statement about the show: "We've learned that the pursuit of the perfect home involves big decisions that usually take place over a period of time - more time than we can capture in 30 minutes of television. However, with a series like House Hunters, HGTV viewers enjoy the vicarious and entertaining experience of choosing a home - from establishing a budget, to touring properties and weighing the pros and cons of each one.
"We're making a television show, so we manage certain production and time constraints, while honoring the home-buying process. To maximize production time, we seek out families who are pretty far along in the process. Often everything moves much more quickly than we can anticipate, so we go back and revisit some of the homes that the family has already seen and we capture their authentic reactions.
"Because the stakes in real estate are so high, these homeowners always find themselves right back in the moment, experiencing the same emotions and reactions to these properties. Showcasing three homes makes it easier for our audience to 'play along' and guess which one the family will select. It's part of the joy of the House Hunters viewing experience. Through the lens of television, we can offer a uniquely satisfying and fun viewing experience that fulfills a universal need to occasionally step into someone else's shoes," says Balthazar.
Says Julia Sweeten of the Hooked on Houses blog: "For the last few years I've been hearing stories from people behind the scenes at House Hunters telling me that this was the way it was done. I first wrote about it in 2010. So I wasn't surprised to hear Bobi's story, although some of the elements were new to me, like the fact that she and her husband were responsible for finding the houses to look at.
"What did surprise me was how shocked and disappointed my readers were to learn the truth. I'm getting comments from people who say they will never watch HGTV again, and that it 'ruined' the show for them. I think HGTV's most loyal viewers feel like they have a kind of personal relationship with the channel and with their favorite shows on it, which is why they may feel like any kind of fakery is a kind of betrayal."
Sweeten, however, won't stop tuning in. "I still watch the show, even though I know the truth about it. I love looking at houses, so I enjoy house hunting vicariously through it, regardless of the story-telling methods they use."
Jensen says she's shocked by people's reaction. "I didn't think people believed it as much as they do."
She has no hard feelings about her experience, although she doesn't watch the show anymore. "I haven't had cable for years."