How Real is Real Estate Reality TV?

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Over the years, a slew of reality TV shows that glamorize the real estate industry have popped up on networks like HGTV and Netflix. But just how realistic are they?

To find out, we evaluated eight popular shows that may appeal to investors. While most are focused on redesign efforts and fail to consider the practical aspects of investing, a few offer realistic tips and relatable challenges that make them worth watching. 

Flip or Flop

Flip or Flop ended in 2022 after airing for 10 seasons on HGTV. The series follows formerly married real estate agents Christina Hall and Tarek El Moussa, who began flipping houses in Orange County, California, after the 2008 real estate crash. They typically make all-cash offers on foreclosures, which they renovate and sell for a profit. 

The 70% rule of house flipping is a guideline house flippers use to ensure sufficient profits—it says you shouldn’t spend more than 70% of the home’s expected after-repair value, less any repair costs, on a distressed home. But Tarek and Christina tended to take bigger risks when choosing a property, which is likely to make things interesting.

For example, an episode in the final season, “Red Hot Flip,” shows the duo making a $500,000 offer on a home they hope to sell for $700,000, with quoted repair costs of $120,000. They note that low inventory in 2022 leaves them with few choices. 

Several obstacles come up, including necessary repiping, which pushes their repair costs to $140,000. But they manage to get a $856,500 offer on the house because of the hot market, leaving them with $187,025 in profit after closing costs. That’s a 27.9% return on investment (ROI), which is just slightly below the average of 27.5% for home flips completed in the second quarter of 2023, according to Attom Data

Most house flippers who aren’t also reality TV celebrities might turn away from a project with such slim profit margins, rather than hoping to get lucky with an offer above asking. 

Stay Here

Stay Here was only around for one season in 2018 on Netflix, but it’s one of the few highly rated reality TV shows that showcases the optimization of vacation homes for added revenue potential. Designer Genevieve Gorder joins real estate expert Peter Lorimer to help property owners across the country boost their occupancy and average daily rates. 

While the show offers some research-backed tips for increasing the cash flow on a short-term rental property, it’s mostly focused on the design aspect. The show doesn’t provide the budget for renovations or ROI.

In the episode “Austin Pool Pad,” a rare pool property in the desirable South Congress neighborhood suffers from old furniture, a sad-looking outdoor space, and a wasted bedroom used as an office. The team converts the office to a bedroom, adds a game room, creates a “social media moment” in the pool area with an eye-catching mural, and updates the listing description with a title to highlight the selling points. They also set up a partnership with a local pitmaster to provide private brisket-smoking classes to guests using the new smoker. 

Ultimately, the new listing aims to capture $400 per night—but the episode ends there. Without a before-and-after comparison of monthly revenue for the vacation home, it’s tough to know if the extensive renovations and design updates paid off. 

Selling Sunset

Emmy-nominated Selling Sunset is one of the most popular real estate reality TV shows, and it’s not because the show realistically depicts the homebuying process, at least not in most parts of the country. Instead, the Netflix show focuses on relationship drama at The Oppenheim Group, a cutthroat Los Angeles brokerage where the real estate agents carry $10,000 handbags and sell luxurious mansions to affluent homebuyers. 

The episodes sometimes include real estate market insights, but they’re often quick and oversimplified, leaving plenty of room for viewers to focus on the attractive real estate agents and the intimate details of their personal lives, from pregnancy test results to backstabbing behavior to new agent gossip. 

Investors looking to learn something should avoid this unrealistic reality show. On the other hand, anyone with an appetite for interpersonal drama in wealthy social circles should probably binge all seven seasons. 

Buy My House

The Netflix series Buy My House premiered in 2022 and is one of the more investor-focused real estate shows. Homeowners are given the chance to pitch their homes to four expert real estate investors: Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman, football player Brandon Copeland, Corcoran CEO Pamela Liebman, and commercial real estate agent and business owner Danisha Danielle Wrighster. The show offers insight into the investors’ thought processes as they evaluate a variety of investment properties with the intent of making an all-cash, commission-free offer. 

Buy My House includes properties at a range of price points from rental markets across the country, including some under-the-radar markets alongside tourist hubs. For example, in one episode, Glenn Kelman offers $170,000 for a starter home in the Detroit area with strong rental metrics, which is $5,000 above asking. But when a couple pitches a house near Disney World for close to $1 million, all four investors pass, pointing out that the price is too high, given the expected revenue. 

Newbie investors can definitely pick up some tips from this show, from the nuances of how to run comps to the value of a unique property.

Vacation House Rules

This HGTV show premiered in 2020 and follows real estate and renovation expert Scott McGillivray as he updates vacation homes to optimize their revenue potential. Vacation House Rules mostly focuses on the renovation and design process in detail, which isn’t always practical from a business perspective. 

For example, in the season 4 episode “Cottage on a Cliff,” Scott works on a friend’s cliffside cabin that is so distressed that it may be a money pit. The team essentially rebuilds the entire house, with no mention of the cost. While it’s fun to watch the transformation, it probably wouldn’t be feasible for investors who don’t have the budget of a TV show. 

Property Brothers

In Property Brothers, which ran for a whopping 14 seasons, twin brothers Jonathan and Drew Scott assist homebuyers with finding a fixer-upper, making an offer, and renovating the property according to their budget and needs. Unlike some other renovation shows, Property Brothers details the cost of planned updates and unexpected necessary repairs, along with the timeline, and the brothers are cognizant of the family’s budget. 

For example, in the episode “Island Getaway,” the brothers discover a termite problem in the house. Due to the added expense, the brothers need to find ways to cut corners in order to remain within the family’s $650,000 budget. Investors who have rehabbed homes will relate to the challenge of staying within budget in the face of obstacles that pop up. 

The Deed

This CNBC reality series began in 2017 and ran for two seasons. The Deed follows real estate developer Sidney Torres as he steps in to help other developers get their projects back on track. 

For example, in an episode titled “Don’t Fall in Love with Your Flip,” Torres encourages a friend to look at his flip from a business perspective, abandon some of the high-end details, and sell the home for a profit to pay off his debt and potentially buy other cash-flowing properties. 

To do this, Torres structures a deal with a penalty clause to discourage his friend from keeping the home. He offers $200,000 to complete the home in 120 days in exchange for 15% of the net profit from the sale. The penalty clause entitles him to the same profit, plus interest, should his friend decide to hold on to the home. 

Investors who are new to house flipping may gain valuable insights from this show in addition to entertainment value. For example, Torres redirects his friend to choose aesthetic elements that will appeal to buyers instead of himself. He points out that time is money and stresses the importance of having a plan and sticking to a budget. 

Beachfront Bargain Hunt

With hundreds of episodes over the course of 30 seasons, Beachfront Bargain Hunt is one of the most popular shows on HGTV. It follows homebuyers seeking budget-friendly homes in beach markets across the country. Waterfront homes tend to earn more revenue, so finding a budget home on the water can be a good investment. The show stays true to homeowners’ budgets and provides estimated rental income for buyers hoping to offset their mortgage payments. 

But there are challenges and risks to owning a beachfront home, which the show fails to caution against. For example, beachfront homes tend to have higher insurance costs and may even be difficult to insure. Higher maintenance and repair costs can also impact homeowners’ budgets. Though it’s not the most realistic, it can be fun to watch homebuyers compare potential beachfront properties in different markets. 

The Bottom Line

Most real estate reality TV shows have nothing to do with reality. But a few may be instructive, or at least interesting, to people with careers in real estate. Overall, we found Buy My House and The Deed to be among the most engaging and provide the most practical applications for real estate investors.

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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.

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