Home & Garden Television (HGTV) recently announced a new special called Rock the Block. The premise of the show is that four of the network’s top designers will be given four nearly-identical houses on a suburban block and each a budget of $150,000 and four weeks to turn them into dream homes. The designer that makes the most profit wins!
Sounds fun, right? Bringing together our collective love of kitchen design and cold hard cash, HGTV has built an empire on our fascination with real estate.
But this fascination glosses over a hard reality: almost all of HGTV’s programming is about the gentrification of America and the elimination of naturally-occurring affordable housing.
Let’s take a look at two of the network’s top shows and break down how each of them is contributing to gentrification.
Property Brothers is one of the earliest, still-airing fixer-upper shows on the HGTV network. First airing in 2011, Canadian twin brothers Drew and Jonathan Scott help homebuyers find a distressed, affordable property and renovate it into their dream home.
Analyzing the latest U.S. full season of Property Brothers, Season 13, reveals that the show is a dream of gentrification in the higher end of the local market. The show films most of its new episodes in Nashville, which has a median home sale price of about $320,000. On the show, the Nashville episodes have an average purchase price of $523,167, with only two episodes, “Making Momma Happy” and “Living in Harmony” at or below median for the market. On top of that high purchase price, the average Nashville episode invests 34.43% of the purchase price into renovations, raising the market value of the house considerably. None of the episodes add units of housing to rent.
Check out the data behind this chart. Aired episodes 6 and 14 featured content from prior seasons.
Also of concern, of the Nashville episodes, only one episode features a black family. That’s 8.3% black for the show, versus Davidson County at 28.1% black, according to 2017 census estimates. This mirrors the network as a whole. Only one show currently airing — Flip or Flop: Nashville — features black leads.
Windy City Rehab
This Chicago-based show is pure gentrification television. Designer Allison Victoria and business partner Donovan Eckhardt flip houses in historic neighborhoods like Bucktown and Lincoln Park. According to Zillow, homes in the Bucktown neighborhood recently sold for prices ranging between $122,000 ($163 per square foot) to over $3,000,000 ($432 per square foot). On many of Rehab’s episodes, Victoria converts duplexes into single family homes with more space and higher price tags. The show is only in its first season, but I made a chart of the episodes aired so far.
Check out the data behind this chart. Episodes 2, 5, 9, 12, and 15 are short webisodes without budget information. Episodes 7, 8, 11, 13, and 14 feature properties that were not sold during filming, and there is no title card listing renovation budget.
Gentrification Television: Flipping a Lincoln Park Fourplex
Episodes 2 and 4 are unique for the series so far. Victoria remodels a fourplex for “student” renters, with luxury finishes that will “make a killing” with “high-end, boutique” living. Episode 2 is a 6-minute webisode that features social media content and an overview of the project. Episode 4 is the full episode with budget numbers.
In the webisode, Victoria and Eckhardt head to DePaul University (where tuition is about $40,000 per year), do some market research. One student says they rent a four-bedroom for $2,500 per month. Another said they paid $1,200 for their share of an apartment one block off of campus. Another student pays $1,500 for an off-campus, dorm-like apartment, and claims that a garage spot is $500 per month in their building.
Victoria and Eckhardt note that they have two garage spots, so they could possibly make up to $1,000 per month in parking. In the end, after a months-long renovation, all four apartments are rented out for one-year leases. It is not shared what the rental income was in the end, but Victoria puts out a $2,700 number during the open house for what is hinted as a two-bedroom unit. However, the end game is selling the rental property once it is fully rented. The renovation and renting out increases the value of the property, from purchase price to sale price, a full 159%.
For Property Brothers, the homebuyers are not flipping the home after they purchase and renovate it, so it is unclear what the effect on market value is. However, if we assume that every dollar of renovation investment yields a dollar in increased market value, then the Nashville episodes average a 34-percent increase in value.
For Windy City Rehab, it is both easier and more difficult to assess how the market was impacted. On the one hand, for the six properties that were sold, the average increase in market value was 127 percent, meaning the home price more than doubled. With many conversions of duplexes into single family homes, Victoria is both reducing affordability and reducing availability. On the other hand, only six of eleven properties sold during production, with the others often taken off the market until the spring buying season. Victoria is pushing the limits of luxury in the neighborhoods where she flips.
As a television viewer, I am watching for the entertainment. I enjoy the negotiation, the design, the final open houses. I know that in the process real people’s lives are being hurt, like the renter who was kicked out of their apartment when Victoria converts a duplex into a luxury single-family home. Other television viewers could defend college football or shows like The Bachelor with similar arguments.
But what if we didn’t have to compromise? With Minneapolis and St. Paul focusing on affordability and density, what if HGTV green-lit a show about an affordable housing developer flipping single family lots into triplexes or vacant land into six-story multi-family properties? Aspirational television doesn’t have to be cookie-cutter plot-lines of flipping and renovation.
Do you watch HGTV? How do you feel about television that runs counter to your expressed values? What can we do to make aspirational television match our values? Share your thoughts in the comments!