“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.
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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.
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?