The HGTV Effect

By on 17 November, 2010 in Real Estate, Sandra Nickel with 1 Comment

“Capitol Heights — the choice residence 200 feet above the city”

— advertisement from the 1909-1910 Montgomery Blue Book

Around the turn of the last century, a newspaper ad for the “new suburb” extolled the virtues of clean air and cool breezes.

Media, it seems, has always shaped public opinion about (and demand for) residential real estate. But little in recent history has had near the effect of just one cable channel (and accompanying website): Home and Garden Television.

HGTV offers, as the name suggests, programming regarding homes, gardens, crafts, remodeling, and the like. It is owned by Scripps Network Interactive (which also owns the popular Travel Channel and the Food Network). It is incredibly popular (one of the most popular niche channels on television), shaping the minds of millions of consumers (and potential consumers) in the home buying market.

The “HGTV effect,” has profoundly (and quickly) elevated the expectations of home buyers across all price points. Our parents, for example, were quite happy starting life in a modest apartment and taking their laundry to the neighborhood “washateria.” Not today’s buyer. Regardless of price range, today’s new apartment dweller expects and almost demands to have a washer and dryer right in their unit. They also want a refrigerator with an icemaker.

But far and away the biggest change has been the upscaling of expectations regarding kitchens, bathrooms, and basic floorplans. I’m old enough to remember when Formica was the hot new thing, with its easily maintained surface and the multiplicity of color choices. Until very recently, laminate counters enjoyed broad acceptance across all but the luxury home market. And appliances were painted: first white, then turquoise, then gold or avocado, then copper, then white again, then bone, and finally black. But always painted.

Then came HGTV, and shortly thereafter a new wave of buyer demands driven by what they had seen on their favorite real estate channel. Painted appliances? Out with them — they’re dated.

Laminate countertops? Totally unacceptable, cheap, and hopelessly out of style. In their place came granite … granite … granite … and more granite. Today it’s not unusual to see granite or like surfaces on the countertops of even the most modest homes. And tucked between those hard surface counter tops are the requisite stainless steel appliances.

Never mind that granite is maintenance-intensive and stainless steel shows every fingerprint. Granite and stainless are what’s seen on HGTV, so granite and stainless it must be. The HGTV effect has even spawned a new type of business that overlays existing counters with a granite-based product!

And floorplans … they must be open! Down with the wall between the living and dining rooms. Down with the wall between the dining room and kitchen, too. It’s nearly mandatory now for a home to have a sightline that flows uninterrupted from the front entry right on through to the windows overlooking the back yard.

Never mind that the open floorplan will present a real challenge to the child trying to do homework over the din of the evening news or ESPN. Never mind that, when the football game is blaring all non-sports-lovers will have to retreat to their bedrooms.

Yes, I know home designs and finishes have always evolved. But it used to be a much slower process, one that took years from the introduction of a new trend at the Homebuilders’ national convention to its becoming the norm here in little Montgomery.

Now a style shows up on HGTV one day and it seems that buyers demand it the next!

The message to homeowners is this: If you’re thinking about selling anytime soon, start watching HGTV now to get educated on what (like it or not) your buyers will be looking for. Then ask us if those buyers will really be willing to pay extra for the upgrades because “it ain’t necessarily so!”

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.

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  1. Gabbie says:

    Good article-my sentiments exactly! I admit I watch my share of HGTV but more and more I find that there is very little “Home” or “Garden” and that it has devolved into what I call “The Real Estate Channel (for dummies)”. Thank goodness we have the internet and awesome house blogs like Retrorenovation.com to remind us that there’s more to life than granite counter tops and open floor plans.

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