3 Big Reasons I’m Not Sad to See Hit HGTV Show Fixer Upper Go

by | BiggerPockets.com

“It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” —Neil Young

Oh boy, here we go. I’m sure you are rolling your eyes or maybe fuming at the thought that I’m about to take on this upstart powerhouse! Like most upstarts, Chip and Joanna Gaines have built their empire quickly. When most get into this position, they either burn out or fade away into obscurity. The show Fixer Upper, however, has decided to complete five seasons and then pull the plug at the height of popularity.

Chip and Joanna are the plucky center of the show, helping a couple buy and then renovate a home, with Chip bringing the construction knowhow and the sass and Joanna offering the design and adult daycare to balance it out. Built on pillars of likable hosts, before and after oohs and ahs, and scripted episodes—and held together with more shiplap than you could imagine—the show is now much more than just a TV show. It entails a real estate brokerage, retail locations, many brands, and merchandising. For some reason, it has also created a vacation destination out of Waco, Texas.

Because of this cult following, most anyone in the renovation side of the real estate business has been impacted by Fixer Upper’s massive stamp on the industry. Just mentioning to someone that I fix up houses to sell them, I get met with, “Oh! Like Fixer Upper? I love that show. Chip is so funny, and I just love Joanna’s designs.” It’s easier sometimes just to answer, “Yeah, that’s what I do” than explain the whole, real process.

I make it all sound a bit campy and bad, but it’s not. I actually like the show (and my wife Stacy loves it). We even put the Fixer Upper book in the top 7 self development books of 2016! Out of all of the fix-up shows out there, this one is the most palatable. After all, it’s somewhat realistic, and it’s generally likable.

Still, it does have many problems, which is why I wrote this whole thing. The rest of those fix-up shows on TV? Well, that might be a blog post for another day (heavily sprinkled with much profanity). As a fix and flip investor, I take subtle design cues and notes from these shows, but I still get plenty frustrated at the unrealistic scenarios and budgets portrayed.

So, Anson, you like the show but are happy to see it go? I am, it’s true. And here are the three reasons why.

3 Big Reasons I’m Not Sad to See Hit HGTV Show Fixer Upper Go

1. No More Monopoly on Design

As the general public (i.e. the buyers of our finished products) watch more DIY and real estate-related shows, their tastes get changed and influenced. First was HGTV as a whole, forcing baked scone walls and brown tones throughout. Now we have Joanna Gaines pushing painted brick, farmhouse vintage, and lots of shiplap. Those things are, of course, fine, but they have become a bit more popular than the average flipper likes. When one show is so popular that it nearly holds a monopoly on design, it can only be a bad thing.

Of course, the good, timeless designs are pushed as well, including open floor plans, evergreen cabinets and fixture choices, and mostly neutral colors (minus those black bathrooms I’ve seen lately—ugh). Getting people to think more about design in general is good, so kudos to Fixer Upper for that.

Related: 7 Ways TV Flipping Shows Are Completely Fake (As Any REAL Investor Knows!)

What will replace this show as design inspiration for most people? It’ll probably be back to Pinterest and Houzz.com—and I’d personally recommend following the designs of friends of mine who are killing it: TTM Development out of Portland and Enfort Homes from Seattle.

2. Room for Less Formulaic Shows

If you take a minute to quickly flip through all of the TV stations available to you, you will notice a few things. First, drama sells—and second, people love scripted, formulaic, predictable shows.

Here is the given formula for Fixer Upper:

  • House is selected (fake)
  • Budgeting/designing/work starts
  • Chip finds something wrong that pops up out of the blue (every single show) and now has to call the owners to tell them it’s going to cost more to finish (fake)
  • Joanna stages the house, long into the early morning every time, for some reason (fake)
  • Big reveal: The house is perfect, and everyone is happy (fake)

Let’s tackle these items one by one. First, the guests on the show have to be under contract or already own the home before filming, so the entire “house selection” part of the show is scripted and fake. That kills the first half of the entire show!

What’s next? It’s been reported that the homeowner already knows about the upcoming “problem” that Chip finds and the drama that is created around calling the owner for more money. Also, Chip wouldn’t be a great contractor if he didn’t know about most of these “problems” before starting and budgeting for work. 

The next thing I’ll call out is the fact that the furniture and staging items all leave after the camera shuts off. The reality of visiting those perfectly manicured houses a month after the crew leaves and Joanna removes all of her furniture and design pieces has to be jarring. All of the manicured choices for show are replaced by the homeowners’ real furniture, which is almost never pretty. There is another 15 minutes we could toss.

The last part, the reveal, is all well and good, but as I explain below, it’s a setup since they don’t even finish every room in the house.

So, what is the solution here? I hope that people are getting tired of the same old thing every week on these shows and are beginning to crave raw, real people and scenarios to watch. I want to see real people doing real business on a day-to-day basis, but I’m probably in the minority. I know that Fixer Upper is 90% fake for entertainment purposes only, but most viewers don’t realize just how formulaic and set up it is. I think it’s time to take a giant sledgehammer to these shows, shattering them to small, unrecognizable pieces in order to make way for something new and real.

rehab-exit-strategy

3. The Opportunity to Set More Realistic Expectations

I’m not a TV producer (thankfully), and I’m actually in the daily grind of this business, so I don’t understand why producers feel the need to deceive at nearly every turn. This sets up bad or unrealistic expectations when it comes to renovation, budgets, and real estate in general.  

Related: Breaking News: Newbie Flipper Makes Disturbing Discovery That It’s Not Like on TV

No, my day is not filled with even 5% of the drama that they portray, and yes, I finish the whole house. Wait, what’s that? Most viewers don’t realize that the Texan dynamic duo fail to fully renovate the entire house—they only focus on the “after” rooms you see, while others get a mere “touch up.” I’d actually love to see the level to which they fix up the “touched up” rooms. This would throw off anyone’s expectations of budgeting for a whole home remodel. It is reported that the show is not happy when the owners decide to double cash in and offer their newly fixed up, freely-advertised-for-an-hour-on-a-hit-show property as an Airbnb rental. I mean, there are a ton of Fixer Upper fans coming to Waco to visit one of half dozen Magnolia stores (when is the theme park coming?), so why not stay in one of the actual houses from the show? The average viewer is duped into believing that rehabs are all drama, they get a skewed sense of the money that went into the fix, and they don’t know that some of these houses just become rentals.

I try not to pay too much attention to the reality/scripted design or fix-up shows, but this one has held a strangle tight grip on the industry for five seasons now. I’m ready for something new—some new blood to liven up the industry and show the general public something much more realistic about our business. But I feel that is a little optimistic, since most new shows are more of the same. The vacuum that this monster show leaves will be interesting, not because it’s gone, but because of what might swoop in to fill that void.

Are you a fan of Fixer Upper? Why or why not?

Comment below!

About Author

Anson Young

Anson is a full time real estate investor and part time adventure-taker. He is a wholesaler and flipper currently who daydreams of landlording. Anson lives in Colorado with his wife and son (who join him on the aforementioned adventures), he plays in a band and is way too into cold showers.

63 Comments

  1. Long time pro builder and remodeler here, I get a laugh out of those shows. Sometimes you meet a client that believes all that hogwash. Right in the middle or a 5ksqft remod right now, so the dealer promises me he will have the pump jack scaffolding on my job site Friday, well it doesn’t arrive and Monday is a holiday. So Tuesday I get a hold of him, he blames the the shipper, that shipper blames the other shipper and so it goes in the contracting business, a whole week was lost but it did arrive on a Friday. Things like this are so common place in our industry and cannot be foretold.

    • Anson Young

      I thought about getting into the actual end buyer expectations… but didnt want to open that pandora’s box. I’m sure as a retail remodeler or builder its got to be crazy to temper those expectations with Fixer Upper superfans..

  2. Darren Sager

    Anson they’re not going away. Rumor has it they’ve already negotiated a MUCH better deal on Discovery for their own show of which they’ll own full production rights to, which then will give them access to tons of $$$ in re-runs for decades to come. They’re savvy business people. They’re here for the long haul.

  3. Hi Anson, I agree with you; I find it hard to believe that a rehab of such magnitude with a budget of at least $80,000.00 will give you so much, sorry, but I find it hard to believe, come over and do my properties for that amount.
    I wish they keep it real, but that’s why is entertainment….

  4. margie kohlhaas

    I love Chip & Joe. They are great actors! Jo does have excellent taste in finishes and I do wish that the homes would stay with all her finishing touches. I like watching all the various home flip shows for many reasons…sometimes its the poor acting and flamboyant design (Flip or Flop Vegas). Yes, most of the budgets are not realistic and there’s always the major unexpected fix. I’ve learned what not to do as well as a few handy tricks of the trade. Sometimes good enough is just fine for a rental and perfection is saved for my own home. Learning when to stop is key because you can throw away money buying special finishes or furniture that doesn’t really add that much value to your rental. Now that I’ve moved from California to the MidWest, it’s fun to see the West Coast flips that are so much more risky because they need to make a decent profit margin.

  5. Todd Hanks

    Just a few thoughts regarding your critique:

    1) I think most people understand that the owners won’t keep the furniture. This doesn’t take away from or devalue the show in any way.

    2) I don’t think you are correct about them not fixing up the other bedrooms. I think the reason they don’t show them is because they are just normal rooms and there usually isn’t anything special about them, so why highlight them. When my wife and I flip houses, we focus on and stage the main areas and bathrooms. We leave the bedrooms pretty plain. I think they are doing the same. Once again, this doesn’t take away from or devalue the show in any way.

    3) Saying something is 90% “fake” is different from saying that it is 90% scripted. Fake means counterfeit. Buyers do look for a house that they want remodeled by the Gaines, and the Gaines remodel the house. It looked that bad when they started, and it looked that good when they finished. It’s scripted, but it isn’t 90% fake (although I will concede the part about how they always find a problem that “surprises” them…..that is fake).

    Other than that, I agree with your other thoughts. Good article!

    • Katherine S.

      Todd Hanks until reading this article, it never crossed my mind that they don’t get to keep the furniture. I always figured that they just left the furniture out of the budget that they discuss on the show. However, I do often imagine how the rest of the house must be jarring compared to the fixed up portions.

    • Anson Young

      Everything I could find online about the show said they do NOT fix every room. I could be wrong, but I tried to research it as much as possible.

      I’d also add that doing a whole ‘home search process’ when the home they will use is already bought and selected is very deceptive. Going from there, the way the show makes things SEEM and the way they are is what makes it FAKE (as much as I now hate that word….)

      Thanks for reading Todd!!!

      Anson

  6. These fixer upper programs are all staged. They are VERY good for business – contractors, do it your selfers, home improvement stores. What is VERY bad are the staged depictions of extras and change orders. I have never met a client that agreed to an extra. They become upset and much can be said about this. The show writers do not present realistic contract amounts or the unforeseen work. In the end the jobs look nice – and it is good for business.

  7. Anyone making comments about how the show isn’t fake has no experience in working with ‘reality’ TV shows. Every part of the show is scripted and controlled no matter if it’s ‘Pawn Stars’, ‘Fixer Upper’ or ‘Orange County Choppers’. I’ve been a part of OCC and Future Weapons in the background and they were exactly the same; scripted, manufactured drama and deceptive practices designed to entertain the less well informed. As we all know, you never see a permit being pulled, an inspector show up or an engineered drawing being approved when they rip out a load bearing wall…

    Nice people, smart business folks and they sure know how to milk an idea.

      • Megan W.

        This could be said about any career field. My husband and I have a few buy and hold properties but also hold FT jobs. I’m an ultrasound tech at our local hospital. Pick any medical show, and I can 99% guarantee that the ultrasound aspect is incorrect which leads to patients having unrealistic expectations when entering my exam room. I always joke that I would go to Hollywood and be an ultrasound consultant for a nice salary! Haha. No matter what field, I believe that it’s likely to be misrepresented on TV because it’s meant to be entertaining and capture the viewer’s attention. That wouldn’t happen with things being accurate and boring.

        • Brian Fleig

          I’m an ER RN and I can’t even stand watching medical shows, partly because why would I want to watch that on my days off but mostly because they are ridiculously fake. There is one though that’s pretty good although a little over dramatized. I don’t know what channel it’s on but it follows ER nurses and docs. I have watched maybe 2 episodes because they did both Trauma centers in Vegas and I have worked at both of them (Sunrise and UMC) so I watched to see old coworkers.

  8. I’ve never watched it all the way thru. I have always viewed these shows as ‘entertainment ‘ rather than real. ‘Reality tv’ is just that – – – tv entertainment. I don’t watch much tv for that reason. I don’t like to be fooled into believing something, anything.
    I am interested in making money with real estate. I simply think the profits are better than the stock market. I don’t like headaches and problems and that is probably why I just let my investment broker handle my money. Financially probably not a good idea but a lot less stressful.

    You do however keep me reading your e-mails and maybe one day you will convince me that some element of making money in real estate might be better than leaving my money in the stock market.

    • Anson Young

      Thankfully there are tons of passive options in real estate, I’m not the expert however. Active flipping is probably not for you, but lending, notes, syndicated deals etc are more passive AND likely have a better return than the stock market!! Keep reading! Maybe one day we will convince you!

  9. Anson, I’ve been an investor for 15 years & get a lot of people wanting to learn this business, but are convinced
    that rehabbing is as simple as the tv shows. Most people are upset with me when I tell them this is like any other business, you have to work hard at it to make it successful. They don’t want to hear this, they’re looking for “the answer,” so, frustrated with my opinion, they go elsewhere. This doesn’t really bother me, but it simply highlights why so many of these tv “stars” get into the “education seminars,” which charge big money to tell them what. they want to hear. Now that is a great business model!!

    • Anson Young

      Its like HGTV has a direct line from ‘TV show’ straight to ‘Guru’ for some of those hosts… its pretty crazy. Though, after talking to some info-marketers/Gurus, the money is better on the education side which is why that direction is so seductive!

  10. Janelle Ruffino

    If they base their renovations on reality, then no one would dare renovate anything! Then why in the world would Lowe’s and Home Depot pay for these types of shows to be put out there?!
    Media: Making the rich richer while the poor homeowners eat through their savings (or worse go into more debt) with deluded expectations!

  11. Doug W.

    With all due respect Mr. Young… this post sounds like a lot of whining and like you are butt hurt. Why pick on this show and not the other dozen “flipping” shows on tv? Or the dozens that have come before it? Or that will come after it?

    Specifically speaking; the “monopoly” on design is, in my opinion, for the foreseeable future a monopoly is going be belong to some person or entity. If not Joanna Gaines there will be someone else that will fill the void before too long. Let’s say for arguments sake that is is Houzz or Pinterest. Whenever I browse through those sites I see designs that are WAY more high scale then probably 95% of flippers/rehabbers put into their houses. And probably 99.9% of landlords don’t go to the lengths shown on Houzz. So, really, your argument against them should be the same.

    As for the “fakeness” of these shows… I mean, who doesn’t know that at this point? If they did a show about buyers before they actually were under contract it would be the most boring show on television (second most boring, likely, if you count what is normally on C-SPAN2).

    I am rehabbing houses and my typical day is BORING. If most people realized what we actually do day in and day out I doubt that they would make it past one project before saying “nope! This isn’t for me”. So unless someone wants to watch me sit at the computer for 2-3 hours a day answering emails, calling back leads, checking my bank account, and paying invoices followed by 2 hours in the car driving between projects, followed by 1.5 hours at the permitting office trying to figure out why one of my permits hasn’t been issued yet (“it looks like it was simply overlooked. I’ll put it back into the queue. Check back at the end of the week.”), followed by 20 minutes at a rehab project watching guys stock 2x4s into an unfinished basement, and did I mention that I didn’t have time to stop to buy lunch until 2:45 (which I than ate while driving to my next appointment), followed by stopping at an attorney’s office to pay over $1200 in fees to record a couple of deeds, etc…. unless that makes for interesting television I say bring on the next Chip and Joanna.

    Cheers!

    • Anson Young

      I’m anti ‘butt hurt’, Fixer Upper is relevant since it was just announced it was going off air. I did briefly mention those ‘other shows’, but those are low hanging fruit and way worse than Fixer Upper.

      Cheers to you!

  12. Dorothy ma

    Don’t get me wrong. I love Jo and chip because they are entertaining, but they have taken farmhouse and ship lap to a whole new level…no more shiplap people! It’ll be the shag carpet of this decade…when you’re flipping houses 10 years from now 🙂

  13. Kathy Artis

    There is a show on DIY Network called Renovation Realities. I love watching real people doing real renovations, or at least less fake. I find it hilarious. I recommend you watch it sometime and they fit it into a 30 minute show.

  14. Derek Christian

    At least this show has some decent budgets. I got sick and tired of shows that treated the labor as free. Repainting all the cabinets is only $100 and those new floors are only $1,000 for the entire room. At least this show threw out numbers that seemed possible to me. Sometimes low, sometimes high in my opinion, but always at least sane.

  15. James Murphy

    Sounds like lots of sour grapes and jealousy. Well on the bright side, once the show fades from memory 99% of flippers can go back to using cheap materials and doing lousy flips with no imagination for the quickest turn around. Congrats… I guess.

    • Anson Young

      No grapes were harmed in the writing of this post… I said multiple times how I do like the show, and their book was included in my 7 favorite self development books from last year. I’m just hoping something more real and less formulaic replaces their show when they bow out after this season!

  16. Yep, we all know it’s fake. Every show, I exclaim: “Where was their inspector?!” But even worse is that every design is the same style. Details vary, but if you aren’t crazy about rustic, farmhouse chic, or junk trinkets, the designs seem pretty awful. True of every one of these shows (which I watch whenever I have access to cable BTW because I love remodeling). We should note somewhere here that a GOOD designer can put together a room in a wide variety of styles.

  17. Brendan Bruno

    I have to agree with your analysis. After watching the show for the first few times it just becomes a bunch of drama that I don’t want to put up with. Myself as a designer, all I really want to see is what they’ve done with the place. I don’t really care about all the in between and would find myself walking away from the TV until the end so I didn’t have to be left hanging from a cliff at a commercial break! If I want to see nice houses or interior I can just go on houzz and scroll through images – which is what I do these days. Watching a TV show just takes too much time!

  18. Sarah Smith

    As a Realtor in Seattle – thank you for verbalizing my exact feelings about this particular show (also don’t HATE it but have the same gripes) and it’s immense affect on our industry. I tour 500+ homes a year and every year I’m more bored by new construction, flips, & homeowner updates because they are nearly all a predictable interpretation of HGTV styles. The industry is desperate for tasteful originality, and a little more reverence for a home’s original design instead of pasting on the flavor of the week. I worry that an outcome of shows like these is a shorter-term tolerance for what constitutes a “dated” aesthetic for buyers because each trend is so overdone. I hear this from my buyers and even catch myself touring properties and thinking, “Ugh, that look is so 5 years ago.” Are we going the way of the fashion industry which now apparently has 27 “seasons”–further contributing to the immense waste–where more homeowners are ripping out perfectly functional, like-new kitchens & baths that are just a few years old because that style is so “over” thanks to HGTV & the like?

    • Shannon S.

      I think that is EXACTLY what HGTV and it’s primary sponsors, including big-box retailers, flooring companies, paint companies, etc, would love. Great question and comparison. It’s part of the current disposable mentality. Oh, and don’t forget all the reality shows that aren’t about homes, but nonetheless feature beautiful homes of wealthy show stars. This also feeds the desire of watchers to have an updated, designer-look home. I produce an “updated” and “designer” look in the homes I flip, because that is what sells. In the end, I have a product, and I have to make that product appealing to the widest pool of buyers. So I can’t really avoid that, although I think there are ways to be respectful of, and feature, historic details in a home.

    • Anson Young

      True, this is an interesting point. My wife and I say the same thing “that looks like mid 2000s”… in a house… pretty soon we will be ripping everything out every 3 years to keep up, but thats what Home Depot and lowes want 🙂

  19. Hyacinth Dolor

    It’s a TV show and that’s why we’ve watched it for 5 years. I think we all like there personallities cause most of us men are clunky like chip and hope our wife or partner can tolerate us like Jo. I think most buyers would have real expectations just buy visiting the lumber department or even hearing of the cost of general repairs. When I flip I have my staging furniture in my basement ready to go but sometime switch. Furniture not included in listing.

  20. Joseph Moore Jr

    My favorite show was the angry guy always yelling from Las Vegas. Him and his wife always show up the job sites in very expensive cars. In reality shows like This Old House and Holmes on Holmes always gave me decent ideas. Show would pretty boring if they filmed a actual renovation. Seems all the HGTV shows follow the same script. Find a house then unexpected problems to happy homeowner. Love it or List It and Fixer Upper are my top pics on that channel.

  21. Courtney C.

    I enjoyed this article. I consider myself a fan of the Fixer Upper franchise and even though I assumed many things were staged (it is a television show, after all), some things Anson points out here are a bit eye opening. I appreciate the desire to have more “real” content so that consumers truly understand the process but I don’t believe most viewers are expecting real estate education when tuning in to these shows. They love the interaction between Chip and Jo and the wow factor of the transformations which happen with each property.

  22. Shannon S.

    Anson, this is exactly how I feel about the show. Several people have commented on why you are “picking on” this particular show. The truth is that this show is popular for several reasons, not the least being the extreme likability of it’s hosts who are truly engaging and seem very “real” (and those kids are ridiculously cute). It’s also different from many of the other “flipper” shows because it implies and “sells” engagement of the homeowner from the start of the process. All of the shows I have seen on various networks seem to have a roughly similar formula- buy scary home, show unrealistic budgets and timelines, lots of last minute scrambling, tension between the hosts, and the end result is picture perfect, staged beautifully, and has incredible new value. The Fixer Upper formula takes that further into the viewer’s mind as they picture the joy of being one of the lucky homeowners. Another thing that is not realistic is how difficult it would actually be to manage the flip when you were also managing the homeowner’s budget and expectations- all of these homeowners seem to just placidly take a back seat and have no real input aside from the one “snafu” that happens and the very broad concept for the house (they always agree with Joanna). I can’t imagine that actually happening. And, if a real flip goes wrong, it’s only hurting the flippers pockets, but if the homeowner were taking the hit, it could be financially disastrous or at least painful.

    One show I think is more realistic (although still sticks to the formula) is “Good Bones” – mother/daughter pair in Indy. They buy some pretty bottom barrel properties, and their budgets seem much more realistic- and, the show doesn’t seem to specify or harp on a timeline- most of their houses are very old and getting really extensive renovation- additions, foundation repairs, etc. Their supposed profits are much slimmer as well.

    At any rate, it’s my personal belief that HGTV and other networks who have expanded this concept are absolutely under-selling cost, time, headaches, etc. And they know it! Showing it like it really is would not be as good for their primary sponsorship- big box home improvement stores, big name flooring and paint companies, etc, etc. Joanna Gaines was not the first designer to exhibit the “farmhouse” style- she is just the one who pushed it even further into the mainstream because of the show’s popularity. If the show is truly all her own design, she is very talented. And HGTV was smart to give them their own show. I, too would love to see a more realistic show air – I just don’t know if it would be looked at as profitable or viable by the networks that can give it air time. Great article, and I agree with you and had the same take on it. Thanks!

  23. Ashley Clements on

    I love this show but take it with a grain of salt because it is just TV and like most TV shows I know it is mostly fake. I mostly got into it because my elementary school age daughter loved it. It got her excited about real estate which made me excited that she was excited. Now instead of complaining she loves driving around looking at houses with me.

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