Economists will spend decades trying to assess what exactly caused the housing bubble and its collapse, but Marcus Thomas LLC creative director Jim Sollisch offers an explanation you probably haven't heard yet: Blame HGTV!
If you watch shows like House Hunters, Designed to Sell and especially My House is Worth What? regularly, you know what he's talking about.
In an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal, Sollisch writes that "HGTV pumped up the housing bubble by parading the most mediocre, unworthy-looking homeowners into our living rooms to watch while they put their tacky, run-of-the-mill tract homes on the market for twice what they paid and then went out and bought houses with price tags too obscene to repeat. You couldn't watch these shows without concluding that you must be an idiot and a loser if you lived in a house you could actually afford."
He has a point: Another problem with HGTV is that it elevated quite a few moronic real estate agents to the title of "real estate expert." On one recent episode of My House is Worth What?, an agent told a couple that fixing up a bathroom would be a good investment provided that they "live there long enough" to recoup the money.
What? It's actually the exact opposite: If you put in a new vanity and lighting now and then sell in 15 years, there's a good chance that your updates will be dated -- and therefore worthless. You would have been much better off putting the money in a savings account. Of course what she means is that if you wait long enough and the market keeps going up, you'll still be able to make money when you sell your house: But that doesn't make remodeling an investment.
HGTV continues to re-run episodes from the boom years, and some of them provide some interesting opportunities for Monday morning quarterbacking.
Back in June I wrote about an episode that featured a couple buying an investment property in Las Vegas in 2005 -- ouch! There was no discussion of rental rates and while they liked a few units they looked at, they were bothered by the noise created by all the new construction: No one could put it together that the new construction would lead to a glut of high-rises that would cause the hot market to come crashing down -- which is of course exactly what happened.
Still, I'll keep watching HGTV: As long as you realize that it's more entertaining than educational, you can learn quite a bit about how the industry (doesn't) work and what design ideas are hot and which are passé.
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