Bratty 20-something couples touring 30 homes in a weekend, perfectly-staged homes that sell and close in two weeks, celebrity realtors earning $30 million a year. You guessed it: Why real estate reality shows are anything but.

If you watch a lot of HGTV, you probably suffer from bouts of house envy a few times per week.

Reality TV shows make it seem so easy to find, buy, and afford your dream home. And if you want to sell or remodel it later? No problem—the shows make it seem like a Xanax-free process!

But is the buying, selling, and rehabbing of a home really so simple, and so fun?

We asked Katie Corcoran, senior sales executive with Powers Realty Group, to chime in on some common reality TV storylines.

What you see on TV: You only need to look at a few houses to find your dream home

Expert opinion: Fiction.

When I was preparing to buy my house, I wasn’t sure how many I should look at. Three? 10? 30?

Then on the day my realtor took me around, I suddenly got impulsive and wanted to put on a bid on the first house I saw without looking at any more.

Thank God my husband is smart and made us look at ten more—the last one was much better.

There is no magic number as to how many houses you should, or will need, to see. It’s kind of like dating before you get married. Some people only date one person before walking down the aisle. Others need to kiss 100 frogs first.

On House Hunters, buyers always and only look at three homes.

“I have had buyers look at up to 70 homes,” says Katie, who represents buyers and sellers in the Milwaukee area. “A ‘typical buyer’ looks at about 5-10 homes.”

They always say more is better, right? Not really.

While house hunting on TV seems fun, I learned quickly that it’s actually not that great. Sure, there’s a little rush when you see a brand new master bathroom. But it can be awkward if the seller is home or if the seller’s realtor is there and wants to give you a grand tour when you know in 20 seconds the house isn’t for you.

To make the best use of your (and your realtor’s) time, you should thoroughly understand your real estate must-haves and your budget before getting into your realtor’s car.

“It’s most important that buyers have a clear view of their needs over their wants in relation to their budget,” Katie says. “The buyers who look at 70+ homes do so because they aren’t happy with what their budget can afford them.”

Separate things you can change (paint colors, landscaping, etc.) from things you can’t change (nearby schools, commute time to work, etc.) about the property.

When I was first looking at houses, I kept telling my husband I wanted it to be yellow. I quickly realized I could paint the exterior that pretty easily and cheaply. But cracks in the foundation? Not so fixable.

With apps like Zillow, it’s easier than ever to check out photos and videos of homes, as well as see taxes and school ratings.

Set up email alerts long before you actually want to move. I’m planning on moving next year, but I get daily alerts about homes for sale in a few different towns so I have a better sense of what houses sell for, taxes in each city, and the quality of the schools.

And on the school issue, when I bought my home I never looked at the ratings of the nearby schools. I thought I didn’t want kids. But then I turned 38 and my biological clock—something I never believed in—started chiming hourly. So if kids are even potentially on the horizon, schools are worth factoring in.

Want to know a dirty little House Hunters secret? Sometimes two of the three houses buyers look at aren’t even on the market.

A guest on House Hunters revealed that she’d already picked out a new home when she and her spouse were filmed for the show. The other two homes were friends’ houses that producers thought would make for good TV.

What you see on TV: The best realtor is the realtor who sells the most homes

Expert opinion: It’s complicated

Maurico, Kyle’s husband on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, allegedly makes $30 million per year as a realtor.

But just because a realtor makes a ton of money doesn’t mean he or she is the best.

“All buyers and sellers should aim high to hire the best realtor. The problem with this is how very confused the consumer is as to who is the best,” Katie says. “The best realtor is strong, aggressive, understands economics, a marketing expert, a staging expert, a negotiator, active in the market place, strategic, fun to be around, compassionate with their client’s needs, a crisis manager…just to name a few.”

Translation? The realtor who only sold ten homes last year might actually have more time for you than the one who sold 100.

In some states, a realtor’s fee in negotiable. That doesn’t mean you should choose the realtor with the lowest fee.

“Each agent/broker is able to decide what their service is worth, and charge accordingly. But realtors who charge the least may not provide the greatest service. If your agent hasn’t done at least five deals in the last six months, then I’d reconsider going with them. If they are a new agent, and you feel comfortable in ‘giving them a break’ make sure that new agent is backed up by a strong support system with a great manager/broker,” Katie says.

And before you quit your job to become a realtor, remember that they don’t get to keep their entire commission.

“We are independent contractors, so we pay out of pocket for everything – our insurance, car, gas, brokerage fees, photos, staging, marketing materials,” Katie says. “To me the largest cost is my time. My phone is attached to me. I am available to my clients 24/7. The real estate market doesn’t care if my son has a little league game. When the market calls, I need to be ready to respond. So even when I am home, I am never fully home. The milestones I miss out on with my family is the number one cost to me.”

What you see on TV: Once you pick on a house, you’ll definitely move into it within a few months

Expert opinion: Often fiction

On real estate reality TV shows, the buyer always gets the house he or she chooses and moves in within 45 days!

But deals often fall through for a number of reasons. “The most common reason a deal falls through is that the seller and buyer can’t come to terms after a home inspection. Other reasons are if buyer cannot obtain financing at the last minute,” Katie says.

You don’t really own a house until after the closing.

Things happen to stop or delay the process all the time.

When I sold a rental property many years ago, the bank appraised it for $50,000 below the selling price, meaning that the buyers couldn’t get the full financing they wanted.

Thankfully, the buyers came up with the $50,000 themselves. But most people aren’t so lucky.

A friend of mine found buyers for her home who wanted to close within 30 days. But then no one could find the building permit for a porch my friend had added ten years earlier. That delayed the closing ten days.

Then the buyers needed another 15 days to come up with more cash before the closing.

A 30-day closing became 60—that’s two months of mortgages she had to pay unexpectedly.

Stress city!

What you see on TV: You can’t sell a house while you live in it

Expert opinion: Fiction

One reason I’ve been delaying selling my home is that I was under the impression I couldn’t be living in it while it was on the market.

I thought I’d have to move into temporary housing and keep paying my mortgage—I don’t have the money for that.

After all, on these shows, the houses are always empty or staged with fancy furniture.

It never seems like a real family or person is still living in the for-sale home.

But Katie says the opposite is true. “I almost never recommend an empty home. Staging is always worth it,” she says. “It’s not awful if a seller is still living in a home, unless the seller’s home is too personalized and their décor is not up to today’s standards. If they have too much furniture I suggest they remove it and store it either in the basement, garage, or a storage facility.”

Keeping a house clean and being able to get out at a moment’s notice if there’s a showing is still a hassle. But it’s just part of the game. “I have to remind sellers that when you put a home on the market it is no longer ‘your home’, rather it is a ‘house for sale.’”


  • Real estate reality TV shows aren’t very realistic at all
  • Buyers look at more homes than the shows imply
  • Realtors don’t make as much money as the shows imply
  • Closings often take months, and are often delayed or killed for a variety of reasons
  • You can live in a home while selling it

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About the author

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Patty Lamberti is a freelance writer and Professional-in-Residence at Loyola University Chicago, where she teaches journalism and oversees the graduate program in digital media storytelling. If she doesn't know something about money, you can trust she'll track down the right people to find out. You can learn more about her at And if you have any story ideas, or questions about money etiquette that you'd like her or an expert to answer, email her at [email protected]