With HGTV, DIY Network, and magazines like Dwell, home improvement is taking the media by storm.

However, do the media help homeowners or set unrealistic expectations? Are the “reality home shows” an accurate depiction of real life experiences?

We asked our panel of experts whether the media portrayal of home improvement was helpful or not. This is what they thought…

The Big Question

Is the depiction of home improvement on TV shows and other media helpful to homeowners?

• With the prevalence of celebrity designers/contractors/etc. and their popular television shows and writing, do you think homeowners are getting an accurate picture of what the remodeling business is like? If not, what do you think are some of the misconceptions? How does this affect your business and the homeowner’s experience?

• Any advice for homeowners in regards to popular television shows, articles, or blogs?

The Experts Weigh In

The majority of our experts had mixed opinions about the effects of the media on homeowners. After all, it is a controversial subject! Let’s take a closer look at what our experts thought about the issue:

The Expert Opinion: The Media’s Portrayal of Home Improvement IS Helpful to Homeowners

Here are the main reasons home improvement through the media’s eyes IS helpful to homeowners:

• TV shows and magazines often give homeowners ideas and inspire them to be more creative and open to professionals’ ideas.

• They also get people working on their homes, improving business for many professionals. The media has definitely increased the popularity of home improvement.

• It can actually increase business for professionals because they are sometimes needed to come in and fix DIY problems or save homeowners from projects they thought they had the time, skill, and resources to do themselves.

• It brings awareness of the different products and design aesthetics that are out there.

“Education is much needed, even if it comes in a more sensationalized version from the media. At the very least it opens consumers’ minds to the possibilities [of home improvement], as well as the potential for problems.”

– Jody Costello, Contractors from Hell

• They can give homeowners more confidence in their abilities and tastes, making their dream spaces seem more attainable.

• This education can also make consumers more savvy in terms of their openness to trying new products and styles.

• The media provides a good overview of the home improvement process, even if details are left out.

• The newer DIY and “disaster-relief”-style shows are more realistic; they point out the frustrations and mistakes of real renovations.

The Expert Opinion: The Media’s Portrayal of Home Improvement is NOT Helpful to Homeowners

Here are the main reasons home improvement through the media’s eyes IS NOT helpful to homeowners:

• Sometimes the media can give homeowners false confidence in their skills, encouraging them to add random impulse upgrades that later hurt resale value.

• Because shows and magazines are big on trends, the impulsive ugrader often ends up with a mismatch of styles from different home improvement projects, ignoring the “master design plan” of the home.

• Home shows are about entertainment, so they usually feature eye-popping designs that don’t always work in homes.

• They also set unrealistic expectations; they make everything look easier and cheaper than it is (a lot of products and services are donated for the exposure TV brings). Some shows describe designing a room in just 2 days!

• The media doesn’t highlight just how disruptive the home improvement process is to a real family.

• Shows and magazines are about an end product with showmanship, not an end product with quality; a lot of corners can be cut in order to fit a project into a short time frame. For example, curtains are left unlined, materials are inappropriate bargain fabrics, or lighting and framing tricks are used to enhance the look.

“The effects on business are profound. Issues include strife over cost, time, work flow, their involvement… we have had trouble collecting payment sometimes. Suffice it to say that these shows have made our jobs harder and less profitable.

-David Schneider, Schneider Kennedy Design

• The media can encourage a sense of entitlement among consumers who feel they deserve free service and advice, especially with interior design-related issues.

• It offers little personalization, which makes it hard for customers to understand why something won’t work for their situation.

• TV sensationalizes the drama and the personal stories of the situation, and real renovations are not always a roller coaster.

• There is an unrealistic focus on aesthetics and not behind-the-scenes thinking, like proper construction and codes.

• Professionals just aren’t as perfect as they appear on TV; they don’t arrive in heels, and they sometime get frazzled or overloaded.

The Bottom Line

While our experts may be divided, the general consensus is that there are both pros and cons to the media’s portrayal of home improvement. As long as homeowners take these shows at face value and realize that entertainment is the media’s #1 goal, there is a lot of inspiration and ideas to be had from these popular shows/magazines.

If a client is determined to uphold unrealistic expectations about his/her renovation, then he/she will be disappointed no matter where the source of those expectations came from. After all, as Nancy Keenholts Dalton of Baywolf Dalton, Inc. puts it, “I’m not sure if the misleading information available from the media is much different than the misleading information from advertisements at big box stores.”

But if homeowners instead derive inspiration and confidence from media resources, they should be able to work with a professional with greater satisfaction on both sides, because they are more aware of the process and of their own needs and preferences.

In sum, as long as consumers use the media as a jumping-off point for their education in the world of home improvement, the influence of TV shows and magazines can be a very helpful contribution to the industry as a whole.