01 February 2011

The New Spectator Sport...

...is HGTV's "House Hunters". I've been a fan of this show for a long time but I realized today, as I was watching yet another episode as I'm recovering from a particularly nasty bout of 'flu on a Snow Day, that my motivation for watching has changed COMPLETELY from what it originally was.

I've always loved looking at houses. When we would be transferred, yet again, with an oil company, the hunt to find a home was always the carrot for me, motivating me to get with the program of moving to a new city or even a new country. Almost every single time I had unrealistic expectations of what we could afford but still I found it a fun adventure.

So when we moved back to the States five years ago, and yet another house search which I enjoyed more than all the rest put together, I was excited to discover this show. Mike thought I was nuts. I don't know how many times he'd walk in while I was watching and say, "WHAT do you see in this show??" I would just look at him and say, "I guess the same thing YOU see in sports?" He'd shake his head and walk away.

But today, after watching a couple who were particularly obnoxious, I realized that I no longer watch the show to see what the houses look like. I watch it because the people are often a train wreck. The dysfunction of the relationships has eclipsed the home features and prices. You know, where you watch in abject horror but yet can't turn away? Even with all the flashing lights and emergency vehicles??

You can tell which couples you'd like to actually know and the ones you fear might move in next door to you. The good ones are those who know what they want and are united in price. The ones who ask each other what their opinion is of a property/style/location. The ones who find things in a property to tell their spouse about because they know it's something that is important to the spouse. The ones who seem happy and obviously care for each other.

The latter seem to make up a lot of them. The ones where one spouse (in couples) is always talking about what THEY want (THEIR style, THEIR room, THEIR pool, THEIR kitchen). The wives who "give" their husbands 1/5th of the closet space. The husbands who demand their "man cave" over functioning kitchens and secondary family baths (and I HATE that term, "man cave" - like they are bears or something). The young professionals who make it abundantly clear they expect and can afford the very best and display an elitist attitude that dares anyone to tell them otherwise. The couples who belittle each other in an ill fated attempt to make themselves look more knowledgeable or "well-heeled". The wives who pout and just say, "I WANT this house. Get me THIS house." The ones who refuse to budge over a low-ball figure and then wonder why they don't get the house. The ones who give their realtor grief because they can't find the perfect castle in the best neighborhood for $150,000 or less.

And the show "Selling New York"? House Hunters on steroids?? Oh my, don't even get me started. Househunters International? The ones where the family are moving from the US to a foreign country for a job? I often wish for a "follow-up" episode to see if the family made it. Having been part of a group who helped soon-t0-be expatriates prepare for overseas assignments, I sometimes see the handwriting on the wall that THIS particular family has NO business moving overseas.

Having purchased eleven properties and leased seven in our marriage, I've often wondered how I've come across to the realtors/estate agents of the past, both home and abroad, who helped us find our homes. I hope I never treated them with the disdain some of these people exhibit. And I know I've made the "here's your little bit of closet" joke more than once (sorry, Mike). It has to be a study in patience as well as family relationships to be a really good realtor I've often thought. They have to have worse hours than a doctor sometimes when people come into town and have one week or less to find a house. I know we've looked at 40-50 houses sometimes in really high dollar cities (Chicagoland) where we'd try to find SOMETHING similar to what we left in the cheaper city (Houston) that would work for the extra $100,000 this new location was going to cost us to get half of what we had before (at least we always DID buy something eventually, even when the first contracts fell through - as they ALWAYS did in Naperville).

I remember Mike and I being torn between two houses when we first moved back to Houston in the early '90s. His boss took us out to dinner during the house hunting trip and asked us how the search was going. Mike told him we'd found a couple of houses we really liked but I liked one and he liked the other. His boss looked him in the eye and said, "Michael, buy the woman the house she wants. She's the one who's going to be living there." He did and I did. And I loved his boss, the dear, dear man.

So for me, House Hunters has become more of a study in relationships than home buying. The variety of homes one sees is of interest for sure but nothing beats the people who are the "home predators".

And some days I just feel sorry for the house.