Dream House TV

Home-improvement shows are a big hit with viewers eager to design on a dime, landscape smart or trade spaces

December 09, 2007|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

The lights shone on them as the moment of truth was being taped: How much might their Reservoir Hill home fetch?

"Hopefully, $440,000," homeowner Phil Adams guessed tentatively.

"We'd really like to pull out some equity to redo the kitchen," said his partner, Gary Norris.

Pause.

"Are you sure you want to know the number?" the real estate agent asked, and the heads nodded. "If I were to list this house today, I would list it at $425,000."

The homeowners' response: "Ouch."

Time for a do-over. A light needed to move. More facial expression was sought. "Look a little bit concerned," Lauren Anderson, a field producer for My House is Worth What? told them.

Within minutes of retaping the moment, Anderson and her crew were out the door. On a yet-to-be-chosen date, the redone home with an outdated kitchen will be the subject of a seven-minute segment on one of HGTV's most-watched shows.

"It'll be neat - our seven minutes of fame," Norris said, after more than six hours of taping ended one rainy October afternoon.

The Baltimore homeowners are among a growing number of people mesmerized by house and landscape shows - enough for HGTV to program extensively (more than 20 hours a day) about frog homes turned into princes, house projects and crafts, home-selling hints and buying tips, design how-tos and more. And that doesn't touch similar programs.

The cable channel is 13 years old this month; the grandpa of these shows, the nuts-and-bolts This Old House, is in its 29th season on PBS.

In addition to HGTV, Scripps-Howard has other cable stations with related home programming, including the DIY Network and Fine Living. Discovery Communications has Discovery Home, which will become Planet Green, an eco-friendly lifestyle channel next year. Discovery's TLC series is Trading Spaces, which is in its seventh season and is often credited with sparking broad interest in reality-style home shows.

And house shows have appeared elsewhere, from Bravo's Queer Eye, which recently ended a four-year run doing personal makeovers and home interior makeovers, to ABC's highly rated Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, in its fifth season of tugging at heartstrings while rebuilding homes.

The appeal of the shows depends on dynamics emanating from people's love of their abodes, experts say. Among the factors are consumers' continued retreat into the perceived safety of their homes, their longing for trendy goods, and the satisfying reality-show and Cinderella aspects, all wrapped up in inspiring information and entertainment.

Though it is among Scripps' most watched channels, HGTV is barely a blip compared to the millions of viewers needed to sustain a broadcast show. In October, the network's prime-time average audience hit a high of 874,000 households, according to figures the company provided from Nielsen Media Research.

But its shows' hosts and designers are well-known enough for Lee Snijders from Design on a Dime to be a key draw at the recent Maryland Home and Garden Show in Timonium.

Homeowners Norris and Adams often take in a few hours of HGTV a day - "You get some pretty good ideas," said Norris, who frequently watches My House is Worth What?

As an interior designer, Adams has more than a passing interest, but the pair answered the show's call for homes this fall mostly for fun and curiosity about the home's value.

"You can get on TV - and you didn't do anything bad. I really think Andy's Warhol's prediction has come true, we all have our 15 minutes," said Lee Thornton, a mass media professor at the University of Maryland, College Park and a self-described HGTV addict who rattles off names of shows and their hosts with ease.

"It's home and hearth. We like beautiful rooms. Even if we don't have them, we can imagine ourselves in them," Thornton said.

These shows are believed to have a marketing effect, though given the wealth of magazines, books, Web sites, movies and other influences, assessing that is difficult. For example, HGTV.com's "Rate My Space" feature, which allows its users to upload photos and get feedback from other viewers, has inspired a TV series that will premiere next year.

"The fact that it is real estate does attract everyone's attention," said Lee Richardson, a marketing professor at the University of Baltimore.

"They've been a tremendous tool in helping sellers know how to package their homes, to put them together in their best possible showing state," said Baltimore real estate agent Karen Hubble Bisbee.

Melissa Sykes, senior vice president of program management at HGTV, said she believes that while the network's shows may raise expectations, they also provide information viewers can use to make smarter decisions and perhaps improve a home's value.

"It may make you more discriminating - you will know these are not granite countertops in the kitchen," Sykes said. By including homeowners, she said the shows aim to impart the ease of some tasks while helping viewers understand when they should hire a professional.

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