I don’t watch much television. However, on the rare occasion I do sit down in front of the tube it’s unlikely my remote control will stop on a reality TV program. My beef with all of these shows is that they aren’t very realistic. Maybe it’s because, most of the time, reality isn’t all that exciting.
The reality TV show formula is easy to dissect. Mix together a colorful protagonist and antagonist, a lot of yelling and screaming and, most importantly, a dramatic music bed, and presto! The production company has itself a cheap, easy to produce program they can sell to Discovery Channel or Spike TV. In the end whether the show accurately portrays how events really unfold or not is irrelevant. The producers know the audience wants drama and most of the time it must be created artificially.
The only thing that separates these shows from each other is the subject. That subject, whether it’s a pastry dish, the contents of a storage unit, an Alaskan king crab, an alligator, gold, or an antique, is highly sought after and fought about by the program’s main characters.
Knowing what I know about reality TV, and my distaste for the entire genre, I still couldn’t keep myself from watching Discovery Channel’s ‘Property Wars’ last week.
The show is set in Phoenix and revolves around four investment groups that compete against each other at the Maricopa County Courthouse steps for foreclosure properties. Naturally, I was interested because I also buy houses at the auction here (known as trustee’s sales in Arizona). Because my operation isn’t at the scale of the investors featured in ‘Property Wars’, I was eager to gain some insight into how they operate their businesses. Instead, I was subjected to 22 minutes of smoke and mirrors.
Fact or Fiction?
For starters, the cameras capture these investors in front of the house they are about to bid on, pacing about on their cell phones while talking to their partners back at the courthouse steps. Never mind that the lighting and sound is perfect and that no other bidder shows up to inspect the house while they are there. In Maricopa County, 150-200 houses a day are foreclosed on and as many as 15-20 investors, or more, often bid on the same property. So the notion that four investors could show up at the same house at the same time, with no one else around, requires the viewer to suspend belief.
Equally difficult to believe is the idea that any of these investors visit the properties at all. The city of Phoenix is over 540 square miles. Getting from one side of town to another to inspect a property in morning traffic can take hours. If these guys were bidding on multiple properties on the same day, which the show claims they do, they’d need a time machine to visit every house.
But the biggest stretch this show makes comes when these investors calculate their “projected” profit after a quick walkthrough of the home they just won at the auction – adding a few thousand here and there to the total if the house has granite countertops or stainless steel appliances. The viewer comes away thinking these guys are making a fortune in Phoenix. Most investors I know have a “projected” profit in mind too and yet it’s seldom the same, or more than they expect. It’s usually less. Unforeseen circumstances like low appraisals and market shifts are difficult to predict.
The bottom line is the show is entertaining if you enjoy watching grown men fight over distressed houses like two-year olds argue over a toy. If you plan to tune in keep your expectations low and understand that what you’re watching isn’t reality. It’s just TV.
***Do you want to learn more about Flipping Houses? Check out these other great articles on BiggerPockets.com:***‘Property Wars’ Distorted View of Reality by Marty Boardman