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Op-ed: How Real are Real Estate Reality TV Shows Like Selling Sunset? Here’s the Tea




Real estate reality TV shows have taken the world by storm, gripping audiences with their glamorous portrayals of buying, selling, and flipping homes. Shows like Selling Sunset, Buying Beverly Hills, Million Dollar Listing, and the entire House Hunters franchise have become household names, promising viewers a VIP-only look at the high-stakes world of real estate. But just how real are these shows? Spoiler alert: Not very. Let’s dive into the misconceptions and outright fabrications that these shows peddle, revealing the stark contrast between reality TV and real-life real estate.

Real estate reality TV shows: The good, the bad, and the unrealistic

The illusion of simplicity

One of the biggest misconceptions that real estate reality shows sell is the simplicity of the process. In these shows, buying or selling a home seems like a breeze. Prospective buyers look at three homes, have a casual discussion over wine, and make a decision. The reality? It’s much more complicated and time-consuming. According to Jeff Somers from Lifehacker, the process of buying or selling a house involves extensive negotiations, inspections, appraisals, and countless forms and legalities. It’s not something that gets wrapped up neatly in a 40-minute episode.

A real estate agent working in the high-end market in Los Angeles, Alex Traub, echoes this sentiment. “There’s so much more to buying or selling a home, and it’s so much harder to put one together than what you see on TV. Million Dollar Listing makes it seem like a closing takes a matter of sitting down, making a couple of phone calls, and within five to 10 minutes, you’re done,” he explains. In reality, a typical house hunt can take weeks, if not months, and involves a lot of back-and-forth.

The missed grunt work


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Another major issue with real estate reality TV shows is the depiction of home renovations. These shows often feature hosts who seem to do everything from demolition to decorating in record time and within budget. However, the truth is far less glamorous. Renovations are complex, time-consuming, and often fraught with unexpected problems.

Somers points out that these fast renovations come at a steep price. Many homeowners featured on these shows have sued for poor work that doesn’t meet local codes or leaves their homes in worse shape than before. The shows rarely depict the delays caused by bad weather, subcontractors abandoning the job, or the time-consuming process of local inspections.

He adds, “Renovations are complex and expensive, and anyone who has ever had work done in their home knows two things: The contractor you hire will sub-contract out just about everything; and whatever you’re having done, it will take forever.” The polished final reveal that looks stunning on TV often hides a multitude of rushed and subpar work that will require further fixes down the line.

Putting that money to use

Real estate reality TV shows also love to present the financial side of owning a home as straightforward and lucrative. They often gloss over the hidden costs and risks involved. For instance, the shows make it seem like flipping a house is an easy way to make a quick profit. But they typically leave out crucial details such as permits, inspections, and carrying costs like mortgage payments, utilities, taxes, and insurance. For shows like Netflix’s Selling and Buying franchises, such transactions are only mentioned in passing, redirecting any hard-hitting discussions to after the cameras are off.

Somers explains that the real estate math on these shows is often imaginary. “You buy a run-down place, put in a lot of sweat equity, then sell it for a nice profit. Repeat this often enough and you’ll get rich, and be able to automate the process by sub-contracting a lot of the work.” However, this portrayal ignores the reality of fluctuating markets, unexpected renovation costs, and the time it takes to actually sell a house.

The only finances that real estate shows look at extensively are the agents’ commissions and the property value – two of the easiest numbers that will require no math skills on the part of the viewers. Not only is it an oversimplification of the costs and salaries involved, it’s misinformation at its finest.

The glamour of house hunting


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House hunting on TV shows like Buying London, House Hunters, or Property Brothers is depicted as a streamlined, almost leisurely activity. Prospective buyers are shown just three homes, each perfectly staged and brimming with potential. The buyers then make a swift decision, often over just a minute of conversation, without asking any of the important questions. But in reality, the house-hunting process is far more gruelling and drawn out.

Real estate agents guide clients through numerous properties, each requiring a thorough examination of their condition, location, and potential issues. These steps are crucial for making an informed decision but are rarely highlighted in TV shows. A recurring complaint among industry experts is the degree of staging allowed on such shows, with some pointing out that such swift purchases reveal sinister planning and already-closed deals.

Staged drama and manufactured tension

Perhaps one of the most misleading aspects of real estate reality TV is the manufactured drama. Shows like Selling Sunset, Selling The OC, and Buying Beverly Hills thrive on the interpersonal coNFLicts and high-stakes negotiations that supposedly occur in the world of luxury real estate. However, much of this drama is either exaggerated or entirely fabricated for the sake of Entertainment.

An article from Survey 1 Inc reveals that Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles often stages the circumstances around buyers and properties to create a sense of tension and uncertainty. “The circumstances around a buyer or property might seem tense and uncertain, but they always know the offer will come together,” the article notes. This kind of scripting creates a distorted view of the real estate business, where every deal is fraught with excitement and risk.

Unrealistic image of real estate agents


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Real estate agents are often portrayed as glamorous, high-powered negotiators who close deals with ease while wearing those six-inch Christian Louboutin pumps. While this image makes for captivating television, it doesn’t accurately reflect the daily grind of most agents. Episodes show agents making backhanded deals that perpetuate the stereotype.

In reality, successful real estate agents spend much of their time prospecting for clients, managing multiple transactions simultaneously, and navigating the intricate legal and financial aspects of property sales. The glitzy lifestyle shown on TV is a far cry from the long hours and hard work required to thrive in the industry.

Ignoring the real challenges

The staged simplicity and glamour of real estate reality TV also gloss over the real challenges faced by buyers and sellers. Shows rarely delve into the nitty-gritty details of securing financing, the stress of waiting for a mortgage approval, or the heartbreak of deals falling through at the last minute.

Somers criticises these shows for omitting the complexities of the home-buying process. “The mortgage process can take weeks or months and often sees the buyer biting their nails in some pricey lawyer’s office while they wait for the bank to fax over documents and deposit the funds,” he says. This omission creates a false sense of security and ease, leading viewers to underestimate the time, effort, and patience required to buy or sell a home.

The allure of eye-watering luxury

Despite the misleading portrayals, viewers are obsessed with real estate reality TV shows. One of the main reasons these shows have proliferated pop culture recently, even in a tough housing market, is their focus on luxury and affluence-centric voyeurism. Shows like Selling Sunset, Buying Beverly Hills, and Buying London showcase sprawling homes in ritzy postcodes we cannot afford and lavish Lifestyles that most viewers can only dream of. Add to the mix newer iterations like Owning Manhattan and Selling The City, that promise newness but are likely to offer the same formulaic recipe of sophisticated realtors hustling to sell the most expensive apartments in the world.

This obsession with luxury can be attributed to a few key factors. Firstly, these shows provide a form of escapism. In a world where economic uncertainties are thriving and owning a home seems like a distant dream, watching million-dollar deals and glamorous properties offers a temporary respite from reality. Viewers get to indulge in a fantasy world where money is no object, and everything is within reach. No wonder you’ll catch yourself critiquing the pool of that 18-bedroom mansion or wishing the seaside villa had a better garden.

Secondly, the psychological concept of aspirational viewing plays a significant role. Several studies have shown that aspirational content can boost viewers’ motivation and ambition by providing a glimpse into a more affluent Lifestyle. This effect is particularly potent in real estate reality TV, where the visual spectacle of stunning homes and high-stakes negotiations captures the imagination. You’re likely never going to hear of a show that looks into middle-class housing because it’s just not that glamourous. For a production company to spend millions on creating a show, aspiration is the only USP it can blindly rely on for virality.

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Sean Palmieri and Austin Victoria had one of the most heated arguments on Selling The OC season 3. (Image credit: Netflix)

Moreover, the drama and interpersonal conflicts add another layer of entertainment. The mix of personal stories, professional rivalries, and high-stakes deals creates a compelling narrative that keeps viewers hooked. The blend of reality and fantasy makes for irresistible TV, even if it’s not an accurate reflection of the real estate industry.

Social media too, has played a significant role in amplifying the allure of real estate reality TV. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok allow viewers to follow their favourite stars and get behind-the-scenes glimpses of their luxurious Lifestyles. This constant stream of glamorous content reinforces the aspirational aspect of these shows.

Viewers not only watch the episodes but also engage with the content on social media, creating a sense of community and shared experience. This engagement deepens their connection to the shows and their stars, making the fantasy feel even more real and attainable.

The bottom line

Real estate reality TV shows are designed to entertain, but they often cross the line into misinformation. They simplify complex processes, stage drama for entertainment value, and present a misleading picture of the real estate industry. While these shows can be fun to watch, it’s essential to remember that they are far from an accurate representation of reality.

The next time you’re tempted to believe that buying a house is as easy as it looks on Selling Sunset or that a complete home renovation can be done in two weeks with no stress, remember that these shows are selling a fantasy. The reality of real estate is much more demanding, complex, and, quite frankly, a lot less curated.

(Main Image Credit: Netflix; Featured Image Credit: Netflix )