For too long, the world of so-called reality TV has seemed almost willfully divorced from the ugly truths of today's housing market.
Check out programs like Bravo's Flipping Out and TLC's Flip That House, and you get barely a hint of the falling sales prices, ballooning mortgage payments and financial catastrophes underpinning the largest housing crisis in our nation's history.
Hard-nosed real estate expert Kirsten Kemp Becker — you know, the consultant rehabbers regularly ignore on TLC's Property Ladder series — offers Hope for Your Home, a show providing participants with $10,000 in cash, a contractor consultant and loads of advice on how to boost a home's value for a new loan or sale. It debuts tonight.
Instead of watching someone blowing thousands of dollars on ill-advised "flipping" projects that somehow work out anyway, Becker's show focuses on families stuck in homes they increasingly can't afford.
The episode sent to critics for review offers a scenario that seems ripped from today's headlines. The Steeles, a tattooed, pierced, gothed-out couple with a new baby, are paying $3,825 a month for a California home they purchased for $553,000 that has lost more than $30,000 in value.
Becker's goal: help the family upgrade the house enough to either get a better loan with lower monthly payments, or sell at a small profit.
I had questions — how did a construction worker whose wife has a part-time job land in a home worth a half-million dollars?
And, as always, the prices tallied for services such as house painting and landscaping seem seriously undervalued. If the average Joe wanted similar services without the promotional platform of a TV show, I wonder how far that $10,000 would have gone.
Still, Property Ladder fans know Becker has a way with no-nonsense advice — Landscape! Paint inside! Eliminate clutter! Upgrade kitchens and baths! — and she pushes the Steeles to make upgrades they should have done years ago.
Best of all, TLC has crafted a series that acknowledges the bitter reality homeowners face today, while offering a makeover tale that could help viewers deal with their own housing nightmares.
Let's see Ty Pennington try something like that.
Eric Deggans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8521. See his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.