Love it, don’t list it

Real estate shows are back.

They were pretty popular on home-improvement television a number of years ago, and they seem to be coming back with a vengeance. Turn your channel to HGTV (Home and Garden Television), and chances are a real estate program is on with a host serving as a realtor/unauthorized couples therapist, guiding hopeful buyers through the process of changing homes. Sometimes it feels like Dr. Phil got his broker’s license with the ratio of home reno to couples’ therapy, but that’s another story.

As a long-time HGTV viewer, I have analyzed the outcome of these shows and formulated an unscientific theory about couples’ buying behaviour: they usually choose the house at the top of or above their price range. This decision comes after the start of the show when buyers emphatically insist they absolutely cannot exceed a certain asking price. Nothing over $200,000, not gonna happen. The host nods knowingly, yeah, whatever, while driving to a higher priced neighbourhood to tempt them with beautiful homes out of their price range but still within reach.

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By the end of the show, the once-frugal pair are plunking down an extra $400 a month on the house with a view, or with a claw-foot bathtub, or with the designer kitchen that will be “great for entertaining.” (They neglect to inform the homebuyers that they will be eating TV dinners for the next year because their new mortgage is so expensive, but that’s another story, too.)

Same thing happens on renovation programs like Love It or List It. A realtor and designer compete for a homeowner’s choice to keep or sell their property. This comes after the designer renovates the owner’s house while the realtor shows comparable listings that are, inevitably, newer, bigger and different.

My analysis: homeowners usually list it, in spite of the once-barren basement that was turned into an expansive game room that exponentially increased the home’s value.

Why is this? I’ve pondered this question extensively over bags of Twizzlers in front of the TV at 1 a.m., and I believe it has a lot to do with desire. We want the farmhouse sink because the modest house in the current neighborhood – the one with the older sink – looks suddenly…. well, older. And the fixer-upper bungalow with the tiny lawn suddenly looks pretty unattractive compared to the two-story on five acres. Desire can inspire, no doubt, but sometimes it fuels wants over needs.

At some point in the program, the couple visibly struggle with their decision, and ominous music plays as they argue, contemplate, and sometimes even cry – it can be very dramatic. That’s when I wave my cherry licorice at the screen and yell, “Don’t do it! That yard is way too much upkeep! You’ll have to buy a lawn tractor! You can buy a cheaper house and change the sink! Stay where you are, you’re making a mistake!” And for some reason, despite the real estate expertise I have acquired solely through cable television, they seldom listen to me.

When we bought our first home a few years ago, someone gave me a housewarming picture with the caption, “Our home is our universe, with our dreams and desires wrapped up in it.” As it turns out, that’s very true.

Last Christmas I was talking to my oldest son about some of our funniest and favourite holiday memories, and his answer surprised me: he said it was the year the power went out at our apartment on Christmas Eve and we played Slap Jack all evening by candlelight. We could have gone to the home of other family members, but we stayed in our cold, little apartment, playing cards together. It wasn’t fancy, by any means, but even after many Christmases since, in accommodations that have evolved over the years, he remembers the simple one.

I heard on one of these real estate shows that we humans tend to gravitate toward the smallest space in our homes, regardless if it is a mansion or a small apartment. Looking back, our early life as a couple was lean at times, but also filled with a lot of time together, living simply and intimately. They were some of the best times we ever had, because they had nothing to do with things, but rather with each other.

We didn’t have a claw foot bathtub or large home with a view, but we had each other. Regardless of which house we live in, that will never change. (I would, however, have no objections to a designer coming in to build me a game room.)