What was Real and What Was Fake:
The Inside Scoop on HGTV’s House Hunters International
Most people know that reality TV isn’t reality at all, but is simply made to look real. However, most of House Hunters International is real, yet for purposes of practicality, they throw in some make believe. Let’s start with what is real about this show.
I can say that this is totally legit, these families in the show are not actors, they are real. How do I know? Our Fiji episode just aired on New Year’s Day, 2016 and I know that my family and I are not actors. They paid us $1,500 to be on the show, which helped convince my wife, but ultimately we did it to have a really cool experience and this did not disappoint. Around Thanksgiving 2014 we got the opportunity of a lifetime to move to Fiji to be a psychology professor. It was the thrill of a lifetime to leave everything behind and get on an airplane to live in a completely different place on the other side of the earth. I love international travel and have written a book on inexpensive ways to travel. If you would like a free copy of my book See the World on Any Budget, click here, to securely write your email address and I’ll email you an electronic copy of the book within 24 hours.
Our story of how we decided to come to Fiji and what we were leaving was all real. They used all of our actual house likes and dislikes, all of our actual concerns and the actual disagreements that we had were used in the show.
I thought that they were going to perhaps give us lines or maybe a little more direction; however, they literally just gave us some general direction and we came up with all of our own lines. In some cases they liked a certain thing we said and told us to emphasize that in some of the additional cuts, but really everything on our episode was stuff that we came up with ourselves.
I can’t say that this is always the case, but in our filming, they used the actual asking prices for each house. I’m really glad that this is the case, because I’m legitimately very curious about what housing prices are like around the world and its one reason why I’m a big fan of the show!
The House Search
Yes, the house search is fake, in fact, we’d already been living in the house that we chose for four months before the HGTV film crew came out. Really, this show is a dramatic reenactment of your original search with the house you chose and two others that are selected by HGTV. Our episode was more realistic than most because as luck would have it, the other house we were very interested in just happened to still be on the market four months after our search when the HGTV crew came to film. Most of the time, the two comparison houses are completely new to the couple. I remember when I first found out about this and it was a little bit disillusioning, however, it makes a lot of sense why they simply have to do it like this. Here are three reasons I thought of:
1. To get real international movers. If they didn’t do it like this, they could have people on the show who weren’t really moving abroad, but just going on a trip and pretending to move. I didn’t get a response from my initial query for 3 months after we’d moved. Also, imagine all the people that decide to move abroad and then chicken out last minute — that would be a large expense for HGTV to cast and write an episode for people that didn’t actually move abroad.
2. Logistics. As a realtor I know that all kinds of things go wrong in house hunts and it always takes a lot longer than anyone wants it to. If it weren’t filmed this way, you would probably rarely see the houses that were actually selected by the house hunters. In fact, in England they have media laws that prohibit reality TV from making anything up and they have a similar show, but it’s completely reality. Very rarely does the audience get to see how things turned out in the end, they simply just watch as they look at a few homes with no closure at all. Frankly, even though there is some make believe involved, I much prefer our American way.
3. The After Shots. One of my favorite parts of the show is to see the before and after shots so I can see how everything was decorated and how the family is getting on in their new environment. Naturally, it could be a prohibitive expense to send a camera/sound crew out twice, so instead they film all the after shots at the house we chose first thing. Then, they had a moving crew come pack up all our furniture and decorations and put everything in a moving van that parked down the road. Now, our house was bare and looked the way it did four months previous. We then came to our house and pretended it was the first time we’d ever seen it as we did the house hunter scenes. Once that was done, the crew came back and moved all our stuff back in. Let’s just say in was an exhausting day to move out, do hours’ worth of shooting, and then move back in all in one day — but it was worth it to get those before and after shots.
Some of the Drama
Naturally, this is a TV show and it would be boring if it were devoid of any drama, so the producer may choose a real conflict and blow it up. In our episode my wife Olya and I had a disagreement about which house we ultimately wanted. What really happened was that she liked the kitchen and the pool better on one house and I liked the view and the yard of the house that we ended up going with. I was able to remind my wife of the potential danger of our 2 year old drowning in the pool and that we would have to constantly be on our guard. Anita, our producer didn’t like that angle much and instead decided to pit it as an argument between the kitchen versus the views. I felt like they made it look like Olya was obsessed with having a modern kitchen and I was obsessed with my ocean views. Naturally, they need to build a little drama and focus on what will produce the highest ratings. Still, even though this issue was a bit overdramatized, it was nonetheless based on reality.
When I say fake, I don’t mean that these are actors or faketors, they are real realtors on the show. I think in most situations HGTV likes to use the actual realtors that people used in their real search. I say that this is mostly real because they take some liberty on the realtor thing for the sake of filming consistency. The United States has an incredibly well developed and sophisticated real estate system in which we have dedicated buyers’ agents and one centralized listing of properties that you as a consumer have access to all available properties. In Fiji, and most of the rest of the world, there isn’t a centralized list of properties and there aren’t buyers’ agents that are dedicated to showing you any property you want to see. Rather, agents simply represent the sellers whose homes they are listing and so agents abroad are only invested in you seeing the properties they or their buddies have listed. It makes it SO much harder for the buyer because they’ve got to search around through several realtors and hope they are seeing a good portion of what is really available. For reasons of practicality, HGTV pushed the American model of the buyer’s agent on the rest of the world, even though this is far from reality. However, it just makes sense.
For instance, we used 4 different realtors because we wanted to try to see as many of the available 3-bedroom units as we could. Most of them were Indian and could barely speak English, so none of these guys would have been good on TV. Furthermore, it would be confusing for the audience to switch realtors multiple times. Since I was unable to give them any helpful references, thankfully, HGTV found Arvin who spoke good English and did a great job. Even though this part was fake, HGTV is smart for doing it like this.
It was an incredible experience and an honor for my family to be on an episode of House Hunters International. Anita, and her fellow Australian filming/sound crew were amazing to work with and it was truly a great highlight of our time in Fiji. Although there were some made up elements to our televised story, it was overall a pretty accurate depiction of our experience. We like a good clean story with a nice ending, and for that reason, I think that HGTV does this the right way. Just think of it as, “Based on a True Story.”
I’m dedicated to helping people travel the world on a cheap budget, if you would like a free copy of my book See the World on Any Budget, simply type your email address into this secure link and I’ll send you an electronic copy within 24 hours. Also, follow me on Medium to see my next two travel article I will post soon: “7 Steps to Get Your Own TV Show Episode on HGTV” and “How I took my family of 6 to Costa Rica over Christmas for three weeks and didn’t spend a dime on flights or housing.”