These days, if you're looking for ideas around home staging and improvement, all you have to do is turn on the TV. With dozens—dozens!—of real estate reality shows dominating prime time, you could conceivably never run out of inspiration to make your home stand out.
And sure, you might feel empowered after watching designers and builders knock down walls, repaint with bold colors, and then style the result with ornate throw pillows. But emulating these shows can be a slippery slope for sellers.
Somewhere along the way, these programs have created DIY monsters out of homeowners who think they can easily replicate what they see on TV. The result? A property that's nearly impossible for brokers to market and sell.
We're not saying you should never take your cues from these shows. But you should know the reality of reality TV advice—before your wallet is empty and you're knee-deep in shiplap. Here are seven pain points for agents who've seen how our reality show obsession is creating nightmare selling scenarios.
Reba Haas of Team Reba, at Re/Max Metro Eastside, really wants to sell your house. But she can't do it if you think you know more about home staging than she does.
"People watch these shows and then put in the most tacky stuff," laments this Seattle-based Realtor®.
Sellers try to grasp the TV concept of staging, but fail in the execution, says Cedric Stewart, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties in Washington, DC. "Homeowners get the general idea, but then attempt to add 'creativity' to the equation," he says.
And more often than not, that creativity falls flat.
Amy Bly of Great Impressions Home Staging agrees. "One of the worst looks are the small decor items piled everywhere," explains the staging pro from Montville, NJ. "There's stuff on dressers, tables, and the mantel, plus too-small art hung at the wrong height with huge spaces in between."
She's had to intervene and explain that home staging doesn't mean decorating and adding things to your home—that'll just give a cluttered vibe. It's actually more about ruthless editing, and removing your personal taste from the equation.
2. Cheap execution
Stewart knows that you sometimes have to spend money to make money. That's why he cautions his sellers against cheaping out when improving the home to sell.
"When it's time to sell your home, you've got to be careful about where you trim too much fat in your renovation costs," he says.
For example, reality shows love to swap out dated appliances for sleek-looking new ones. And that's great—investing in new appliances has proven ROI. But if they're the cheapest stainless-steel ones at Home Depot, "you've just wasted $1,000 right there," he says.
The same holds for cheap flooring, which might look good on TV but won't hold up under buyer scrutiny.
"New floors are nice, but don't pick laminate or faux wood tiles, because buyers don't want that," he says.
"I call this problem 'Champagne tastes on a Budweiser budget,'" Haas adds.
Maybe you love lime green and electric orange—they looked so good on TV! But not every buyer will leap to bid on a home with a wild color scheme.
Bly laments trendy colors that bewitch homeowners who watch home renovation shows.
"Too many people are painting rooms blue," she says, "and the worst is robin's egg [blue]. It's simply way too blue for most people, and it looks like a little boy's room."
Says Karen Gray-Plaisted, a decor expert with Design Solutions KGP in Warwick, NY: "If you're not trained in color, call an expert before you repaint.
4. Unfinished projects
The good news is reality shows can leave you feeling motivated to finally tackle those projects that have been simmering on the back burner. The bad news? It's easy to lose steam.
"Some homeowners try to tile their own backsplash and then leave the job undone," says Dessie Sliekers, an interior designer at Slick Designs. "And a potential buyer will see this as a to-do when they're considering your home."
Here's another mistake: Focusing too heavily on one room, leaving the others looking unfinished.
"You might renovate an area with an on-trend color, but it does you a disservice if the rest of the home is stuck in the '90s," says Shelley Sakala, a Realtor with HomeSmart in Scottsdale, AZ.
5. Making dangerous and costly mistakes
On TV, all you see is a few seconds of demo day—but don't be bamboozled by the magic of TV. If you don't have the proper training or some qualified professional help, you could wind up making mistakes that cost a fortune to repair, and even put your safety at risk.
A prime example: pallet walls. "They need to be sealed properly, and the chemicals used to treat them can off-gas in the home, emitting toxins in the air," Sliekers says.
And don't get her started on remodels that involve load-bearing walls. All too often she's seen homeowners improperly knock 'em down. (Hint: They don't call them "load-bearing" for nothing.)
"The high-cost correction is a big problem for potential buyers looking to purchase a flipped home," Sliekers says.
6. Choppy designs
Photo by ALTUS Architecture + Design Reality shows introduce endless design choices, from fabrics and wallpaper to lighting and carpets, leaving homeowners feeling overwhelmed. Some will be tempted to try them all—a huge turnoff for buyers.
"I've seen clients who decide to update their flooring with different materials in each room," Sakala says. Some have tile, some wood, others carpet—and it all ends up looking like a flooring showroom.
7. Misguided expectations of profit
"There are clients that renovate a property and are shocked when I tell them they're not going to receive a 150% return on investment, as HGTV leads them to believe," says Mariko Baerg, agent with Bridgewell Real Estate Group.
Reality check: "Just because you put $100,000 in renovations into your home, it does not mean that it is now worth $100,000 more than it did when you started."
You might love all the shiplap you added throughout the house, but buyers could have a different point of view.
And own up to the fact that some of your renovations might simply be necessary in order to bring your home up to the industry standard.
"If your appliances aren't functioning because they're 38 years old, it's essential to have them replaced," Baerg says.