‘Property Wars’ Distorted View of Reality

by | BiggerPockets.com

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.

FlippingEqually 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:***

  1. 9 Steps to Flipping Houses [Infographic]
  2. Six House Flipping Tips
  3. Why the Majority of People Fail Miserably At House Flipping

About Author

Marty (G+) is the Chief Financial Officer for Rising Sun Capital Group, LLC, a real estate investment firm based in Gilbert, AZ. His firm purchases homes at the courthouse steps and public REO auctions. They have two exit strategies, either fix and flip or seller financing.


  1. Jeff Brown

    The so-called ‘reality’ shows are, of course, anything but. Take away the ever present completely scripted false drama, and you have a bad junior high production of As the Diva Turns.

    Your observation about the consistent bidding scenario is funny, Marty. Good stuff.

  2. Wait, you mean they don’t really put doggie doors in the sides of houses so you can sneak a peek of the insides in Phoenix? And foreclosures don’t come sparkly clean when you win at auction?? Aww man I already started packing my things and was going to move out there!

    I had a good laugh at the show, and actually thought of you, Marty, who I knew invested in the area. Glad you did a write up on this!

  3. Anyone who knows anything film and tv production and broadcast liability policies knows film crews from real networks or cable stations can’t trespass and shoot multiple scenes on someone’s property without permission. One mis-step like that is huge. It’s very likely that the owners in foreclosure were paid quite well for cooperating with the producers in the use of their property. I’m guessing that very few of the real estate reality shows deal with houses with entrenched tenants or an irate squatter (that’s my reality). And if they did, the squatter or tenants would be paid to re-enact their story. Then they would be required to act out their gratitude for the opportunity to work with the investor buyer.

    I’d like to think that the viewing public knows that they are watching entertainment and not reality. Hard to say though.

  4. Give me Jersey Shore reruns anyday. The sad part is so many newbie real estate investors watch shows like this, think its simple cuz they saw it on TV, do their first flip and get crushed. Sure, some flips do come together quickly and relatively easily – but the challenging, cost over-run, unforeseen rehab expenses, title issued flips are FAR more common. These gritty, complicated deals make far less compelling TV though.

    Next thing you know Snooki is going to have her own house flipping show flipping condos on the Wildwood boardwalk…:-)

  5. Thanks for writing this article Marty,
    It’s so funny that my son who is just 8 could even guess that the show is not real but we still stay up late to watch it because we all love every about real estate!

  6. Great article. I’m watching this show as I write this comment. So many things make it immediately unrealistic, so I pulled out the iPad to find out more about how the auction market works in Phoenix (it sure isn’t this way in Denver). So much silly made up drama. It was great to find this article and confirm the level of ‘reality’ in this show – not much obviously.

  7. I have seen every episode of the show. The thing that bothers me the most is that they always have on the same clothes. I know it is unrealistic, but I watch anything that has to do with real estate. There are bad reviews all over the web about this show, but I can’t really say whether is believable or not because I don’t know anything about bidding at auctions. I will watch the new episodes when they air.

    • I can see from all the comments here that I’m not the only one that dislikes this show. Over the past 6 months I’ve been contacted by three reality show producers all interested in profiling our fix and flip operation here in Phoenix. I’ve politely turned them down. There’s not enough yelling, screaming, or other drama in my business to warrant a cheesy music bed playing in the background.

      I bid on houses at the auction almost everyday. In the past two weeks I’ve bid on over 60 properties without ever leaving my cozy little office in downtown Gilbert, Arizona. I use a professional bidding service with an online platform that provides me opening bids, title reports and even drive reports for these properties, all for a nominal fee. So the notion that these guys actually visit these houses and then stand in front on the phone while they bid is absurd. But hey, isn’t most reality TV absurd?

      For a taste of what things are really like you can check out a piece I wrote about Auction sales in Phoenix on my personal blog. Here’s the link:


      Thanks for all the comments everyone!

  8. I watched Property Brothers one night. In that episode a very obnoxious buyer had his offer of $310,000 with $5000 back for closing costs accepted. I couldn’t believe it when the realtor brother told the buyers that they bought the house for $305,000. ,In “reality”, the buyers bought the house for $310,000 while the seller sold the house for $305,000 (his proceeds after closing cost concessions).

  9. Shows a complete fake ( a bad one at that ) I like reality TV but this one is terrible! On top of that. The two guys from LA have never bought a house in AZ? They flip houses in Palmdale CA as a side biz?

  10. Why are they not allowed to visually inspect the houses INSIDE before they bid on the houses. Is that law? is that even real? Seems kinda nuts to purchase something without being able to visually see inside…

    • Johnny, yes, it’s the law. The bidders don’t own the houses yet, nor does the bank. Until the auction takes place and a trustee’s deed is granted to the highest bidder the property belongs to the homeowner. To enter the house without the owner’s permission is trespassing.

      And yes, it’s nuts to purchase something w/o inspection. It’s a high risk/high reward proposition for the auction bidder. That’s the game we play.

      • Even if it’s un occupied, you can’t even go in the back yard and look in the windows?

        Jeez in Calif. I do that ALL THE TIme but only if the house is clearly unoccupied and mostly if there’s a for sale sign. And yeah I even walk inside when sOME FOOL left a back door unLOCKED. c’MON how stupid can realtors be on that.!!!!!!!!!

        • j l, I’m not saying that investors don’t walk in the backyard, peek in the windows, crawl through a doggie door, or even break into the house. That happens here all the time. All I’m saying is that it’s illegal.

        • Well yeah illegal. But then again if it’s CLEARLY UNOCCUPIED and CLEARLY FOR SALE, can’t one claim ‘I’m just an interested buyer”? And it seems to me if anyone wanted to do anything ‘illegal’ (aka theft of appliances, copper wire, light fixtures etc.)
          they would be wwwwaaaaayyyy more clever or discreet about it, I was only bothered once when I did this and it was my own stupidity thankfully the occupant was forgiving and I left. All other times I was unbothered. And one time I even found there was a squatter living in an empty house.

        • You’re breaking and entering, arean’t you?

          I don’t think you’d want someone entering your property without permission — you probably don’t want to be doing that to the property of others — even if on sale. Your intent or reason is irrelevant in my mind, and justifying it as being okay because you’re considering a purchase makes little difference to me — or to the police or a judge.

          If you keep it up, one of these days you’ll get caught and will get the fine/penalty that comes with breaking the law.

          We STRONGLY advice investors NEVER enter a property without permission!

        • I have to agree with Josh here.

          Do you want to known or referred to as “this is the guy who broke in last month just to have a look around?” Goes over well when the sellers consider your offer.

          Or it could be worse. Depending on the state and the property protection laws. Do you want to talk to the business end of a neighbor’s shotgun?

  11. I was entertained for a bit watching the show for the first time last night. And then one of the guys that won came inside and saw not only a brand-spanking new pool table, but a vintage pinball machine as well. You mean to tell me they unloaded this house, cleaned it all up, and made sure to leave ONLY the pool table and pinball machine? This is worse than the House Hunters fake out.

    • Paul, you’d be surprised how much a homeowner will leave behind. However, those personal items don’t automatically become ours after the auction. We must go through an eviction process, during which the homeowner can be allowed to return to the house to retrieve them. If they don’t pick up within 3-4 weeks we get to keep.

  12. What are the rules in Maricopa County. Seems to me these folks could look in the windows, (even use a laser measuring tape) to figure out br’s etc can they go in the back yard and you can derive where the plumbing/baths/kitchens are by the vents in the roof as well as hvac and wh locations and yeah even as simple as looking at Google maps to determine if there’s a pool.
    C’mon they folks on this show can’t be THAT stupid.

    • j l, see the comment I made above. Investors here almost always drive by the house they intend to bid on and usually find a way to get inside the house if it’s unoccupied. However, they can’t say this on the show because it’s illegal. Most law enforcement agencies here look the other way because they know the investors that buy these properties intend to fix them up and that’s good for everyone.

  13. I love this show, regardless. There have been plenty of episodes with with big loser “winners”. In fact, those are my favorite one’s to watch. There are also plenty of episodes with other buyers at the house. With some of the comments I’ve seen on here, it doesn’t seem like you’ve watched to many episodes. There was one on my DVR tonight where one of the main guys showed up at the property, and drove away before bidding even started because it was so bad.

  14. We have been flipping homes in the North Phoenix /West Phoenix area for 3 years now… We have never had someone hand us the keys to the house we just got at the Trustee Sale. I am all for good entertainment… But this show is ridiculous! The staged fights are so dumb…. The houses we get are rarely EVER “market-ready.” … More often like the comment above, the property is in disrepair and take money and time to get them on the market.
    We also have a bidder down at the auction. We drive potential properties the day before… If possible, and research the heck out of each property before we send our bid to the bidder. Recently, we are finding more postponements and cancels of the sale. We are quite small… Nowhere near these guys on tv or even Marty’s group. We can bid on 12 houses a day and it is not uncommon for them to postpone or even cancel right at the last second. THAT is very frustrating. The risk/reward ratio is hard for most people to grasp, and not every house is a huge success. We love it though and are taking pride in making the neighborhood value increase one house at a time! I have been told that these houses they feature are short-sales… Which would explain a lot!
    I am “flipping” happy.

  15. The show is presentation is terribly fake regarding the footage shot at the properties. No one hangs out infront of a property while the auction is going on down town. All the research is done ahead of the time, via public records review and MSLS. The action is at the court house. No one is dumb enough to go on site and dig through the trash trying to figure out the condition of the interior. Many of the houses are still owner occupied and per state law they have “X” number of days to vacate the property. Also, many months pass before the actual foreclosure sale occurs and there is a significant lead time between when the property is posted and when the auction occurs.

    Regarding the properties utilized on the show, some are accurate, some are inaccurate…

    The Windrose house was actually 1 street south on Corrine. Per records search, I do see where it sold per the foreclosure for $50k, but not to anyone that appears to be related to the show.

    The East Lamar property is actually in my old neighborhood. It did sell for $476,100 to John via his LLC.

    The Verbena property sold on 11/07 for $260,200 to John via his LLC.

    The Glenrosa property sold on 3/20/2012 for $67,100 to John via his LLC

    The Jokake property did go to foreclosure auction but was not purchased at auction by John. It looks like the origional owner bought it back at the auction.

    4634 e Vernon did sell for $147,100 on 3/15/2012 to an LLC company, ownership of the LLC un-known

    I live in Arizona and have been very active in buying project houses for much of my life. First and foremost, Arizona is a public records state, so I have taken the time to go back and research some of the houses they have mentioned.

  16. I agree with the author…..not only is this show a TOTAL joke (forget the total fakeness of the participants) but as a 3rd generation Phoenician, it boils my blood to know how someone losing their home is sensationalized and even glamorized by this show and ‘drama’ of low life’s bidding!!! This show is total crap! Not to mention I’ve seen enough auctions in my neighborhood to know that! I’ve seen good families/neighbors get into crappy loans or lose their job and end of losing their home and all of the emotion and strain it wreaks on them and their children…..very sad. Then only to see these guys pimping up to a home and “going in for the kill”. I hope someday they are in the streets.

    • It’s pure entertainment and I know it. These guys are vultures, the ugly side of real estate. That’s what you are if you profit off someone else’s misfortune but then this state is full of soulless real estate developers.

      Yeah guys, keep building those tracts. Meanwhile we can’t guarantee water for the population we already have and its source is fought over by 4 states.

      Even with editing the rehab work I’ve seen these guys doing is cut rate slumlord fare and it’s obvious these guys aren’t as local as they want us to think they are. I’ve heard supposed “local colour” commentary from these yahoos that’s nothing but pure fabrication likely gleaned from a pamphlet at Sky Harbor.

      The best one was a problem with a tile roof that was only going to cost $1000 to fix. I’ve yet to see any tile roof repair on that scale and DONE RIGHT cost less than $5000.

      I actually cheer when they show these guys getting screwed over as in the example of the 17K townhouse that had fire and mold damage. Boo Hoo vultures, I guess your meal was a bit more rancid that day.

  17. What makes it unbelievable to me is the amount of money they risk with so little expectation of profit. Tonight they bid close to a half million on a house expecting $20-20K profit. That doesn’t seem like a valid real risk/reward to me!

  18. I watch the show only for entertainment purposes realizing that it’s completely fake.
    I hadn’t noticed the clothes being the same until I saw your post.
    That’s funny.

  19. This is just a clone of Storage Wars. But worse!

    Obviously, this is all staged with no “Reality” at all. Every show has a dud and a fantasy property. Just like Storage Wars. I’d be willing to bet that the “Sale Ready” house was “Fixed UP” as a plant just like with Storage Wars has been rumored to do where there were claims the Production Staff (or someone else) added something with a fantastic value in selected units.

    The first tip-off I had that this was a fake was; Why were all the windows covered with things like paper or garbage bags? Yeah, right, someone forced out of their house would spend the time doing that. It just didn’t make any sense to me except that the Producers wanted to enhance the “Reality Mystery!”

    The only “Mystery” here is why they think people will be fooled into believing this is “Reality!”

  20. The funny thing is the guy acting like he’s a genius for figuring out there is a pool in the backyard by seeing a safety fence, and that makes him smarter than anyone else…. google earth, type in address, zoom in, oh look, there’s a pool in the backyard…duh.

    Not even remotely reality.

  21. Larry Freeman

    Spot on Marty! I am a real estate investor in Phoenix also. I have purchased several properties on the courthouse steps, but almost always because I knew something about the property that others did not. It is in no way like the “reality” shows make it out to be. I have met those gentlemen and they are indeed major players and always at the steps, interestingly. My experience was that they consistantly way overpaid for properties. I would have a budget number in mind calculated by a formula (conservative but top selling price, less selling/holding costs, less renovation costs, less minimum profit I need to make it worth it = max purchase price) and they would blow that number out of the water 98% of the time. Definitely not an accurate representation of what happens on the show. Potential investors need to know that the “reality” is that it takes a lot of hard work, time and effort to purchase a flip correctly and it’s certainly not as easy as showing up to bid on any given day. Cheers!

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