While lying around the house this weekend in a semi-vegetative state I caught two reality television programs that completely baffled me. The shows were “Sell This House” and “Moving Up”, and the reason they baffled me was because both shows revolve around the same concept: that people care about what happens to their house after they sell it.
There are at least a dozen or so programs on television now that revolve around buying, fixing up, and selling homes. Home improvement programs aren’t particularly new, but Trading Spaces revitalized the genre by combining it with reality television. Flip This House, another home improvement show, added to the genre’s popularity, and the two shows together have spawned over a dozen knock-offs over the last few years.
“Sell This House,” one such show, has a simple formula. The show finds people who are having trouble selling their homes. They then set up hidden cameras, have an open house, and record people’s (mostly negative) reactions. The show’s hosts then help the home owners fix those problems. By the end of the 30 minute program, the problems have been fixed and a second open house is held, where people comment about how great and different the home now looks. Usually the show closes with a note that the house has since been sold (or at least that an offer has been made).
The thing I found most curious about this show was that the home owners are almost always reluctant to do what the hosts recommend doing. On one episode, the home owners insisted on piling at least 50 stuffed animals in the entry way of their home, making it nearly impossible to enter the house without climbing over them. Despite negative comments from potential buyers, the people refused to remove them. “But them’s our babies!”, they whined. Other episodes featured home owners just as reluctant to paint walls, rearranging rooms, and remove family pictures from the home. “THAT THERE’S GRANDPA!”
I have to think at least some of this drama is fabricated for the sake of television. Why would any home owner care about what color the walls are in their home after they leave? It’s not like the hosts are suggesting that the home owners burn all the pictures of their children and smash all their valuable dishes — they’re telling them to empty their damn houses out so they won’t look cluttered (or worse, stink). The suggestions they make are offered by people who sell homes. By following their advice, the home owners (A) will have a better chance of selling their homes, and (B) will most likely get a higher selling price in the process. What’s wrong with these people? Paint the friggin’ walls already!!
The next show I watched, “Moving Up,” is based on a similar model. This show involves 3 couples (A, B, and C). Couple A has sold their house and bought Couple B’s house; Couple B, in turn, bought Couple C’s house. The concept is that after buying the houses, each couple makes it into their own home. When finished, the original home owners are brought back to critique all the changes made to their home.
Whether by design or luck, the couples involved are often polar opposites. On one program an older and very conservative couple ended up selling their home to a couple of practicing witches, who promptly painted all the walls red and put a Ouija board out for decoration. On another episide, one couple who had spent years tending to their beautiful backyard were horrified to discover the new owners had plopped a giant swimming pool smack dab in the middle of it.
I think many of the people on these programs have confused the concept of homes with houses. A house is simply a structure made of wood and brick and sheet rock, nothing more. A home on the other hand, to paraphrase the old saying, is what you make it. You buy a house — then, you make it your home. When you move out, you take your stuff with you, and it becomes a house again.
Listen — when Susan was pregnant with Mason, I spent a month painting my future son’s room to be. We moved out of that house and into our current one when Mason was only six months old. He has no recollection of the room at all. Of course I was a little sad knowing that he wouldn’t have the opportunity to enjoy the room as I had intended, but those feelings came when we decided to sell the house, not later. I fully expected the new owners to paint over the wall-to-wall mural. In fact, if I’d had the time and the energy, I would have done it myself.
Susan and I would like to build a new home within the next few years. When I do, I’m sure it’ll be sad for the kids as this will be their first move. I’ll take a million pictures and I’m sure there will be days when I miss things, but the last thing on my mind is what the new owners will do to the yard, the lawn, or the walls. They can have my old house … I’ll be living in my new home.