It sounds like a dream come true: having your favorite real estate reality TV stars come in and redecorate, refurnish, and even substantially remodel your home—sometimes even for free! But here’s the rub: What homeowners don’t know could potentially cost them thousands later on.
That’s because when folks agree to allow their home to star in a reality show, they often lose sight of the fact that they’re no longer in complete control of what happens to the home—and they may not like the end results. Also, work is often rushed to accommodate tight production schedules. And when mistakes are made, homeowners might be responsible for paying to fix them.
Read the fine print, folks!
To top it all off, you might get socked with tax bills—for either the “gifts” of new high-end appliances and furniture, or the higher property tax if you have a new addition or shiny deck.
And when all goes straight to hell, you might wind up in court, like North Carolina couple Deena Murphy and Timothy Sullivan, who appeared on the HGTV show “Love It or List It.”
They sued the show’s production company and contractor last year for allegedly ruining their rental home and draining their bank balances, according to Radar Online. (The reality series remodels homeowners’ abodes while helping them look at other properties for sale.)
The couple claimed they were forced by the production company to shell out $140,000 for a contractor—one they didn’t want because he’d received lousy online reviews. Sure enough, the end result of the reno was lousy. The couple claimed the materials used in their home were of poor quality, the floors were “irreparably damaged,” and some “windows were painted shut,” according to the lawsuit.
This certainly isn’t the first time homeowners have sued the reality shows that set out to make their places camera-ready. So what should folks consider before signing up for one of these series? Quite a lot, as it turns out.
“A lot of good work is actually done” on these reality shows, says entertainment attorney Jerry Glover. “But know that there’s a risk.”
Read over the contracts and releases carefully
Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Before they sign on the dotted line, homeowners should consult an attorney to look over the show’s contracts and releases. Often they’re signing away their right to sue or seek damages if anything goes wrong, says Glover, of Leavens, Strand & Glover in Chicago. Homeowners can try to negotiate the terms, but most top shows will wiggle only so much on such terms. You don’t like the deal? Walk away. Consider running.
Talk to an accountant
Reality star wannabes need to understand the full tax ramifications of all those spiffy home changes or freebies. They can be substantial. And if the homeowners themselves are paid to appear on the show, that income is also taxed.
“They may not want the tax liability if there is any,” Glover says.
Figure out how quickly the work will be done
Those hoping to have their homes remodeled should figure out how long the work is expected to take—and whether or not that’s realistic.
“Keep in mind, no matter what the show is, there is a limited amount of time to do what they want to do because of the production schedule,” says Glover. “So mistakes can easily happen and things can get overlooked simply because of the rush to get it done.”
They should also be aware that many potential mistakes won’t be immediately noticeable. So a newly installed electrical system might seem fine—for a few months anyway. When a mess-up does arise, homeowners, and not the show or the contractor who did the work, are often on the hook for fixing it.
“It could cost you more than you ever dreamed of. It really depends on the scope, size, and scale of the project,” says Tim Shigley, president of the Wichita, KS–based remodeling firm Shigley Construction. “It could be thousands to hundreds of thousands.”
Do your research
Before any contracts are signed or the construction crews arrive, homeowners should look into the backgrounds of the contractors who will working on their abodes—just as they would if there were no TV cameras involved.
Homeowners should also see if there are any warranties on any products being installed into their homes, like fancy new refrigerators. That ensures that if anything goes wrong with the appliance, they have some sort of recourse.
And they shouldn’t forget “there is no such thing as a free home makeover,” Shigley says. “There’s usually a catch to it.”