Those Damn Housing/Real Estate TV Shows

*Those Damn Housing/Real Estate TV Shows*
**By Phil Hall**

new-PhilH***When the definitive history of the rise and fall of the 21st century housing market is written, I hope that a significant chapter is set aside for the role that reality television played in shaping the debacle.

****You know what reality television programs I am talking about: the ones that place the home buying process at the same level of nonchalance as the selection of lunchtime sandwiches at the local deli, as well as the productions that insist get-rich-quick profits can be casually cultivated through easy-sleazy house flipping games. These type of programs proliferated before the 2008 crash and they’re still around today, albeit with a lower level of prominence.

****In these productions, prospective homebuyers are more fixated on closet space and the bedroom window view rather than property taxes, flood insurance, radon detection or the closing fees associated with their desired properties. The flipping shows are even worse – in their universe, a few new appliances and a fresh coat of pain is all that is needed to jack up the price of a recently acquired house.

****The flipping shows are still influencing today’s housing market. In July, RealtyTrac reported that there were 136,184 single-family home flips in the first half of 2013, up 19% from the first half of 2012 and up 74% from the first half of 2011. Out of the 100 metro markets examined by RealtyTrac, more than two-thirds of the markets – including the ultra-pricey venues of New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C. – saw a rise in flipping activity.

****Of course, one could argue that these programs are merely entertainment. But, on the other hand, it is difficult to ignore that today’s society puts more value on entertainment versus reality – lest we forget, there was more online outcry the other week over the casting of Ben Affleck as the next movie Batman than there was over the deaths of hundreds of Syrians chemical weapons attack. This even permeated into the real estate finance trade media – during the six years I was the editor at MortgageOrb, the one news story that commanded our largest volume of Web traffic was a 2011 piece on Zillow’s detailing the housing woes facing the combatively glamorous cast members of “The Real Housewives.” Yeah, people would rather read about NeNe Leakes and Tamra Barney than Ben Bernanke and Richard Cordray!

****Yet even by the low standards of reality television, these real estate programs provide a horribly vapid notion of the basic tenets required in homeownership. At a time when the industry is struggling to raise the level of financial education for prospective homeowners, the very last thing that is needed is television programming that reduces this very serious process into a mindless romp.

****If there is any lesson that we should take away from the events leading up to the 2008 crash, it would be this simple observation: homeownership is not for everyone. And the regulatory burden placed on lenders in the Dodd-Frank Act and other legislation was created with the belief that only the fiscally responsible would be able to have access to the credit needed to acquire a residential property. But five years after the crash, reality television is still pushing the puerile fantasy that homeownership is for everyone and flipping is a great way to quickly put tens of thousands of dollars in your pocket.

****Unfortunately, there is no speedy solution to ending this small-screen madness. With luck, these programs will eventually lose their audiences as short-attention-span viewers seek other diversions. But in the worst case scenario, these terrible shows will create the same mischief that helped fuel the last housing bubble. And there won’t be very much entertainment value if recent history turns into a rerun!

Phil Hall has been (among other things) a United Nations-based radio journalist, the president of a public relations and marketing agency, a financial magazine editor, the author of six books and a horror movie actor. Also, as you will discover, he is not shy about stating his views.