Home Reno Shows: Our Guilty Pleasure

They’re not plot heavy, they’re not dramatic or overly funny. They’re just shows about renovation, so what makes it so special? Why has viewership been on a steady rise the past couple of years? Why do we obsessively watch what a few years prior was exclusively for stay-at-home moms? The answer is simple. Home renovation shows fill a certain gap in our hearts, they allow us to feel like we’ve done something, like the stars are renovating our house. When we watch an episode, we see the project start from nothing, and then we see it turn into something beautiful – all in the span of a half hour. We can watch over and over again as people’s dreams come true, and feel that emotion with them. Whether it’s finding a new house, renovating the old one, or finding new ways to use space, we’re always there for the ride.

They make us feel exotic, and special

When we watch House Hunters: International we don’t come back for the gripping drama, we come back for the exotic locations. The family could be moving to Italy, or way up north to Alaska, or to the French countryside, or the Caribbean, and we get to see those locations with them. We get to see the trials and tribulations that they have to endure to live in the house of their dreams. On that same tangent, the newest craze, (tiny houses, floating houses) operate on the same principles. We get to see why they’re moving, who they are as people, what their big dreams are. We get to see the house being built that they may live in for the rest of their lives. We get to see all the quirks of their house, and how it works. We get a taste of what it could be like to live there – even if we never will. Even if it’s just your average reno show, we as the viewer gets to see furnishings and living spaces that we may never get to see or experience ourselves. Shows like Love it or List It, or Leave it to Bryan allow the viewer to see the kitchen of their dreams (even if it’s someone else’s dream kitchen). We can always appreciate the finer things in life, even at a distance. Check out this video of the HGTV dream home to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

A $50,000 kitchen.
A $50,000 kitchen.

They give us ideas for our own homes

When we see someone do something on a reno show, we think, “well, we can do that”. It can be something as simple as new throw pillows for the couches, or something as hard as building a new deck for the backyard. But we try, and sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we fail but that’s part of the fun. We look at it as not only entertainment, but as instructions too.

They connect with us

Every show on HGTV has a subject, that subject usually being a young couple, or a family, trying to move into/renovate the home of their dreams. Normally this would be par for the course, but when you tie in the family’s emotional state into the project then the viewership becomes a lot more invested. What was once a simple renovation becomes a time crunch when someone says “There’s still a lot to do and we only have three days to do it.”, or what was a simple demolition becomes a liberation when you see the homeowners laughing and smiling as they throw the broken walls into the dumpster. The money shot however, the one that you will always see, no matter what is the reaction of the homeowners once it’s all finished.

A happy couple reacting to their new bedroom.
A happy couple reacting to their new bedroom.

They will gasp, and say “Oh my God!” or “This is beautiful” or even “I love this”, and there might be some crying too if you’re lucky. It’s a genuinely nice moment at the end of every episode to see someone’s dreams come true and them to be so happy about it. It taps into our empathetic nature, and lets us feel that emotion with the homeowners, as well as gratification for being on board with the journey. It’s a classic emotional power play.

Star power, sweet, sweet star power

The reason that shows like HGTV’s Home to Win is quickly gaining such popularity is because of the colourful cast of stars that are designing the home. HGTV has made these people out to be the best at what they do – reno and design, and the fact that there is the possibility we could win the home that they design and build is phenomenal to think about. Furthermore, HGTV constantly and consistently shows their stars coming across a problem (caused by themselves or by the previous owners or builders) and finding a solution to the problem that is not only time efficient but cost efficient as well. Without sounding too dramatic, HGTV portrays their stars as at the most superhuman, and at the least people who have a very, very good understanding of what they do. Since we, the viewer may or may not know how to do the renovation or decorating that we see on TV, we see the people that do as smarter, cleverer, and generally cooler as a result.

All of this combined is the recipe for a addictive TV network, it’s what keeps us coming back, and it’s going to keep working for a long time.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Each aspect of extreme home makeover is a testament to community and that’s what I appreciate about it.

    • “Testament to community” is a very intriguing concept to me. However, I am not sure I fully understand it.

  2. I love these shows, it is so much fun to watch every week. I get so many great ideas.

  3. Nice job – your points were well thought out! Watching all these shows makes me excited about fixing up my own living space.

  4. Munjeera

    Renovating right now thanks to watching these shows. Great article.

  5. Shows are the perfect format, no drama just the actual techniques…

  6. I like when they care for the happiness of their clients on the work they do.

  7. Behind the superficial veneer of luxury and glamour, these shows have a long history of ruining perfectly good designs in exchange for ratings.

  8. Emily Deibler

    Great job here. I’ve never really watched a home reno show unless someone I was conversing with happened to be watching one, but you’ve done an excellent job explaining the appeal.

  9. I find these series so inspiring.

  10. As far as I’m concerned, one episode of House Hunters is never enough.

  11. I never realized how addicting these shows actually are and I found your article interesting because I never gave home renovation shows much thought.

  12. Jolie Horner

    Their host personalities help make the shows.

  13. Love my bingeing session on home reno shows.

  14. I’m addicted to them. This explains why.

  15. I love home renovation shows! Definitely my guilty pleasure. One of my favourite shows was Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

    An interesting thing that I often found myself overlooking is the aftermath of these home renovations. It’s always great that folks have shiny new digs to enjoy, but too often do folks forget that shiny new digs come with shiny new expenses – higher utility bills, bigger tax assessments, higher mortgages. Often, families cannot keep up with these new expenses and find themselves selling these homes – much to their neighbours outrage.

    It’s an unfortunate reality. It’s one thing to have a great new home to enjoy, but to what extent can folks enjoy this home if they cannot afford it? A vicious cycle indeed.

    Great article!

  16. Property Brothers on HGTV is my jam. I enjoy the lack of conflict and seeing people who are skilled at their craft. I leave the heavy plotting to shows like Fargo.

  17. LondonFog

    My mother is obsessed with these shows and whenever I ask her why she can never seem to answer. Nice to see it from a perspective of someone who can explain what the interest in HGTV shows are.

  18. I’ve watched these shows for years and never tire of them.

  19. Interesting take on why home reno shows are taking over our lives, I am why we love them so much. I have spent many-a hours watching Love it or List it, will always be a favourite!

  20. House Hunters: International is a guilty pleasure of mine. Living my dream vicariously through others makes it so addictive.

  21. HeatherNicole

    As an avid watcher of many of the shows you referenced, I can attest to these feelings! They’re not too deep or complicated and that’s what I like and need: a nice way to relax at the end of the day.

  22. I enjoy watching HGTV during a lazy day at my friend’s cottage. We like to place petty bets on what decisions the home owner’s will make and we now have dozens of inside-jokes related to some of the antics the hosts pull. For us it is a guilty pleasure minus the guilty. I’ll leave it all to Bryan Baeumler any time.

  23. I love Property Brothers for the reason you explored…I like to get ideas and it makes renovations seem less intimidating.

  24. Love this article! I grew up watching HGTV and although some shows are more realistic than others (I always wondered how House Hunters worked since the contestant “had” to purchase one of the three homes featured….were they not given an option to change their minds?)

    One of my favorites is the shows produced by Mike Holmes – not only are his shows actually real (he will acknowledge if the deadlines have to be pushed back) but also his emphasis on “Make it Right” I think has huge benefits for both consumers and the industry itself.

  25. chrischan

    As much as I love watching HGTV, and home reno and improvement shows in general, reading about some of the behind-the-scenes goings-on has been really helpful in explaining stuff that never quite made sense to me.
    I will say that it is endlessly satisfying to see work done well. I’ve experienced some…less than qualified contractors in my life. Not so pleasant.

  26. Lauren Mead

    Those shows are completely addictive. You make a good point about the viewer feeling productive while watching it…I’d never considered that before.

  27. Oh man I am so addicted to theses shows, it’s nice to know I’m not alone!

  28. I agree with the idea that watching these shows give us a feeling of accomplishment. It is satisfying to see something that was an utter disaster come together so nicely. Also, the tips and tricks we learn from watching these shows make us feel like we can now apply them to our own home renovations. They also are a source of inspiration for people who want to change their homes but are unsure where to start.

  29. JC

    Watching House Hunters: International is my favorite way to unwind after work. I love feeling swept away to other countries and imagining that I could live there. Great article!

  30. SimpleCrumb

    As someone who watches HGTV on a daily basis, I couldn’t agree more!

  31. A great topic, I’ve always wondered about the appeal.

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