Designers Who Yell at Their TV’s


On Saturday I was enjoying a nice trip to the gym, working up a light sweat while half-heartedly pedaling away on the elliptical and watching HGTV, as I do every time I’m at the gym. I’ve probably seen every episode of Property Brothers, Love It or List it and Fixer Upper at least twice, and I always end up talking to the TV like it can hear me (in the privacy of my own home), with running commentary on tile choices (hideous), furniture staging (that rug is so stupidly small), property selection (LIST IT!!!  HOUSE #2 you big dummies!!!) and how much I love Chip Gaines.  But on Saturday I ended up actually yelling at the TV in public while watching Property Brothers because I forgot people could hear me and I was so annoyed by what I was seeing and hearing involving a renovation budget.

Totally unrealistic cost depictions are a chronic issue with HGTV shows, but this one was exceptionally bad and it made me so frustrated.  Jonathan and Drew were claiming that a full gut-to-the-studs kitchen renovation (new cabinets, counters, appliances, wiring, etc.- PLUS taking down two walls and putting down hardwood floors throughout  the whole first floor of a home) was going to cost a “whopping $18,000”.  Now, I know I live in an area of the country where home prices, and therefore renovations, cost way more than normal but this is absurd- the cost of labor, permits, dumpsters, the design they executed plus the products they used would have been easily $40-50k. Cabinets ALONE for a medium sized kitchen from a big box store like Home Depot would cost $6-8k easy (before installation costs!) Hardwood flooring for 1,000 square feet would be at least $6-7k for a $5 a square foot pre-finished product with installation. You can see that before we’ve even added in demo costs, appliances, lighting, plumbing fixtures we’ve almost hit their “budget”. These skewed numbers make my job as a designer so much harder.

Expectations set by clients based on these ridiculous “budgets” create disappointment and delusion.   And it does the design/ build industry a disservice to make viewers think that re-wiring an entire house’s electrical system (many days work for an electrician crew of 2 people) costs $2,000. That’s so far off it’s hilarious and probably has caused many a  electrician to curse when a client says “But on Fixer Upper that cost only $xxx…”  And as cute as Chip and Joanna are, when they say that adding a powder room to a house is $5,000 I can’t help but shake my head knowing that simply moving a toilet from one wall to another (which is a lot of plumbing work involving cutting joists) cost me that much ALONE in my own bathroom renovation! (On a side note: do you think Waco, TX has had like, a massive influx of people relocating there based on home costs on this show??)

Does this frustrate you guys too?  I still will watch the channel religiously because I love it, and Andrew and I have fun hotly debating the prices, choices and absurdity, but I can’t help but feel the budgets are getting more and more unrealistic (as all of reality TV is, I suppose!)





  1. I’m from Waco and it’s a great town to live in if you like a small town life. It’s definitely a cheaper place to live, but almost all real estate in Texas is affordable compared to the rest of the country. You are right about people moving to Waco specifically because of the show – you’ll see some of that in the later episodes of Fixer Upper. And you’re right about the unbelievable prices they give to their clients. Even in Waco, those numbers aren’t real numbers to do renovations. All the numbers shown must have the HGTV discount.

  2. Anybody that has attempted to renovate a room in their own home knows better…but I agree- it is still so completely irritating! But since i have a secret crush on Chip…I keep watching ;) My husband will not watch because he thinks the whole thing is b.s :)

  3. I totally hear you on this! Actually, I think I knew exactly what episode of Property Brothers you’re referring to because I had the same reaction to the $18k price tag for allllll of that work. So unrealistic! It’s a good thing Chip and Joanna have such great TV personalities, I still can’t get enough of Fixer Upper. I cracked up when I read their Magnolia House BnB sold out it’s 2016 bookings within a few hours – I’m pretty sure the Gaines are just about all there is in Waco? Good for them and the community, though!

  4. Love it or List it is the show that makes me the most crazy because (1) the homeowners always have totally unrealistic expectations for what can be done with the budget for their too small, cluttered, cramped and outdated house (plus most of them appear to be slobs and no amount of reno or a new house is going to fix that), (2) there’s always some fake drama costing them more than anticipated (i.e. they didn’t know their basement was leaking or the roof was about to cave in), (3) the Realtor always finds them a newer, better house (because the budget to upgrade to a new house is always much higher than the reno budget), (4) miraculously, they spend $50,000 on upgrades and it increases the value of their home by 2 or 3 times that amount, and last, but not least, (5) they fail to take in the costs of moving – Realtor fees, moving costs, etc. which can easily be $40,000 or more on a $500,000 house. The only ones that ever “love it” are the ones that the layout needs to be improved but the house has good bones, is a decent size for their family, and in fairly good shape to begin with. I yell at the TV a lot as well!!

    1. Exactly!!! That show is my pet peeve too! So unrealistic and scripted. I actually can’t watch it anymore. I can’t take the same fake drama on every show.

    2. Yes. I commented awhile back that it drives me nuts on that show how they always get mad at Hilary or Jillian for not being able to renovate the entire house and put an addition on for some absurdly low amount of money, like 50k. Ughhh!!!! And then also when they increase their budget for house hunting but NOT for the reno.

      1. I agree. I can’t believe this show is still running. Honestly, I can’t. With all the write-ups I’ve read about how fake everything is and those two bickering back and forth is not only fake, but seriously annoying. The spin-off of that show…. I forget the name, with the younger guy/girl is just as annoying to watch. Thank goodness for Fixer Upper, and the new show Home Town. Two couple’s that are not only adorable to watch, but have such genuine personalities and are great in front of the camera.

  5. I always assumed that the budgets they listed were for materials only, and all the labor was free! Either way you do the math – it’s incredibly cheap!

  6. Hi Erin, I always yell at the screen when I watch HGTV! I’ve been reading your blog religiously ever since I worked at Kneerim, Williams & Bloom in 2013 (and then I went on to work in sales for Simon & Schuster so I saw your book go through the whole publishing cycle). It’s so inspiring! Thanks for being so open :)

  7. So glad you said it… I myself am in the design industry as well and it makes it incredibly difficult to give a budget or even a timeline to a client because they instantly assume its half the price and half the time, since that is what they see on TV.

  8. I know EXACTLY what yo mean. I curse the TV too when I watch these shows. I live in an very affordable town, but I know from experience in my own fixer upper that the prices they quote are WAY off. I wish they would tell the real truth…like…that all the products are either donated (for a PR plug) or provided at cost and that the labor is practically free. I’m wondering how much HGTV gives a featured guest to participate on the show.

    Also…notice they never say at the end of Fixer Upper that the furniture and decor costs extra. I mean, how could it not? And what about the rest of the rooms in the house? So, the home buyer is convinced to buy the worst house on the best block, but then the renovations are ONLY in certain rooms? So, you’re left with a designer showcase on the first floor of your house, but the second floor and basement look like some kind of slum lord owned it? WHAT’S THE REST OF THE STORY HGTV???


    I got worked up too!

  9. I love that you’re saying this! I think that all the time! I’m from Dallas, TX and still have draw drop moments every time they talk about the cost of living in Waco. I mean…

  10. Made me laugh. I’ve always questioned those estimates. I’m a HGTV addict myself and this won’t impact my viewing habits. Have to say I always thought Fixer Upper estimates were lower because it’s the Gaine’s business and some labor costs could be controlled. Need to show some love for my fellow Texans, it’s been refreshing to see a popular show based in Texas. Was rather bored with seeing California and Canada.

  11. I have always had this problem with HGTV! Specifically anything based in Atlanta. We are in Carlisle, MA and the quotes we get for work are no where near anything we ever see on TV!

  12. OH.MY.GOD. I MIGHT HAVE TO DO THIS ENTIRE COMMENT IN ALL CAPS. It makes me CRAZY!!! My brother is a builder and my good friend is his kitchen designer, and we all just shake our heads. And it DOES make it harder for them to do business! I am glad that it’s acknowledged by others, especially you, Erin. GEEZ! WTF?? I bet you will have builders and designers sharing this post all over facebook!!! It’s so right on….thanks.
    PS – I love Chip too, but last week he ate a cockroach on the show, and smiled and it was smeared across his teeth. I’m not sure I can watch it any more…….

  13. You are so right. We remodeled part of our home and a bathroom so I know how unrealistic these budgets are. I decided that the one thing they don’t include is the labor which I always found to be at least 2 to 3 times the cost of materials (of course that depends on the level/quality of what you are buying). I wish HGTV would pay attention to the people that watch their shows and know that we’re not all dummies just following the carrot around like we don’t know any better.

  14. I laughed so hard that hubby come and check if I am ok. “yelling at the TV in public ” oh my. You don’t have to forget that it is a show. A TV show. Actually there nobody knows anything about price. they are not price experts. Doubt if they are experts at all. Just actors. The play on TV.

  15. I am SO glad that it’s not just me that gets so mad about this! Living in CT, like you know, I know that costs here are much higher than the rest of the world, but these shows are ridiculous! I can totally understand why as a designer it infuriates you even more, but trust me, as a regular person who just purchased a home, it boils my bottom too! You’re definitely not alone (especially of your love of Chip and Joanna)!

  16. Erin
    It’s like you are reading my mind – I have the same complaint.
    I have actually worked as the “behind the scenes” designer on many HGTV programs in the past. My biggest frustration is exactly what you said – undervalued budgets not to mention the “free” design that always seems to go unaccounted for. As a residential designer for the majority of my time, I often have clients come to me with unrealistic expectations based on having watched a design show. Its part of our job as designers to educate the client not just on our design but on realistic budgets and timelines. Shockingly most great design doesn’t happen in 48 hours as most shows will boast.

  17. Yes! I’m glad someone said something about the unrealistic pricing on these shows! I love Fixer Upper but there is no way any of that is accurate, not to mention the furniture and their design fees! She must stage it and then sell it. And don’t get me started on House hunters! I f-in HATE those shows. Get some more good quality shows HGTV!!

  18. Seriously. I CANNOT even imagine how the homes on Fixer Upper are done on those budgets. And don’t Chip & Joanna need to get paid?? Can Waco really be *THAT affordable!?! Doubtful.

    I always think some of the slabs they get for kitchen countertops and for the GIGANTIC islands they build could possibly eat up most of the kitchen reno budget, I just don’t get it.

    I’m north of Boston and know some of those renovations would cost at least DOUBLE what they project on that show, why can’t they be more transparent about costs??

  19. I agree with what you have stated. I wish clients would also realize that JoAnna and/or Jonathan do not come up with all these ideas on site. Time and planning has to be considered before their design plan is executed.

  20. HGTV is my go to station when I have some spare time – and I pretty much ignore all discussion on budgets b/c I know it is all b.s. I am a HUGE sucker for before and afters though (aren’t we all?) and that is really my motivating force. Actually, I have DVR’d the show and have watched the first 10 minutes, skipped the entire middle and just watched the end to see the after shot. It saves boatloads of time, I get my fix and I don’t get annoyed.

  21. I couldn’t agree more. These shows create false expectations and as a design professional we have to deal with telling the clients what reality really costs.

  22. Agreed! It also bugs me when they talk like buying a $400k house and buying a $300k house and doing a $100k renovation are the same financially. Uh no, unless you have the full $400k on hand to spend. Can’t mortgage that renovation; you need cash!

  23. Think about it in Canadian Dollars.

    Think about the materials used. My concern is that the materials are swing merchandise and often very dated decor. We offer high quality, locally made products which are beyond compare to the products on the show. I do not design based on trend: I design for the customer.

    Think about the abuse between everyone on Love it or List it. Many actually think that is how to treat a designer and crew: we call them quotes. (pun intended). The designers cannot be that ignorant of code and variances, can they? Please let it be more realistic. Sarcasm is not enjoyable.

  24. I’m so glad I found your blog–this entry especially! I yell at the TV and perpetually tell my husband that these prices are in “1980’s dollars” and he is to expect a budget three times whatever HGTV claims it is when it comes time to do our reno. And so, when the estimate came and my husband saw $250,000 he choked–but was not surprised. He quickly looked our contractor and said “Property Brother you’re not.” We all laughed. And so we’re about to tear the house apart. Once again, I had to prep him that a contingency budget is not 3K but 30K when you’re doing as much work as we are. Ugh, months of dust and dust and dust. And headaches.

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