Fixer Upper TV Show Myths vs. Reality

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I love fixer upper TV shows just as much as everyone else. Mainly because it gives people a glimpse into what we do here at LND Architect on a daily basis. I love to watch people buy a property that is in desperate need of repair, undertaking the amount of work that is involved to renovate it and then the reveal of the final product of all their toil. It’s almost magical to see side-by-side pictures of the before and after, which seemed like it only took 30 minutes…..and it did!! TV land.  Also, the cost of the purchase, the budget, the costs of unexpected repairs and finally the total cost of the renovation. That too almost seems magical, like a dream within reach. When the show is over, you feel a sense of accomplishment and possibility that all is right with the world.

Well, in the real world it all can feel that way and more, but the first steps to this dream need to be approached with an open mind, open eyes, patience and a lot of good information.

The Myths

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The shows always start out with a couple wanting to buy a property that needs a lot of TLC and mold it into their dream home, so they set out to see three properties to choose from. The problem with this is that costs of these homes are usually far below the market value when compared to locations like the Northeastern United States. Most of these shows are recorded in places like Canada or No-Wheres-ville, Texas, where the property values are unbelievably low. So when real people actually begin their search, they are stunned to find out that they can’t really buy a fixer-upper for $50,000.

Select where you would like to live and find yourself a realtor that knows the area to help in your search. They will show you realistic pricing for that area with comparable recent sale prices.

Next, in the TV show the couple picks a house and demolition immediately begins. Wrong!

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The process of buying and closing on a property can take at least 30 days if they are paying cash. If not, the buying process can take 2 to 3 months between bank loan approvals, appraisals and inspections. Before the closing it is possible to engage LND Architect to begin the redesign process, but the seller must be willing to give us access to the property which may be tough if they are still occupying the space. Realistically, the design process begins sometime after the closing. Also, it’s always good to have all of your “ducks in a row” by speaking with a bank loan officer about a home improvement loan that will roll into your existing mortgage.  LND Architect knows several loan officers we’ve worked with and can recommend.


The design process will take several weeks to finalize the design and draft the construction drawings. Afterward, once construction drawings are finalized and submitted to the town, the building department review of the drawings may also take a couple of months, depending upon the town. Especially if the building department comes back requiring us to add clarifications or additional information onto the drawings until they are approved and you obtain a construction permit. These are little details that TV shows conveniently leave out.

The construction costs for the renovations always seem reasonable and totally plausible. Wrong again!

It really depends on where you are located. Construction costs in No-Wheres-ville, Texas are much lower than in the Northeast. Adding to that, the contractors that are hired on the shows will always price it far lower because they are willing to take a tremendous pay cut for the privilege of appearing on a national TV show viewed by millions of people…..not to mention re-runs. No amount of internet advertising can compete with the amount of exposure a TV show will provide.

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In TV land the construction is always completed by the end of the 30-minute show. Real construction may take 2 – 3 months depending on the scope of work. Also, once the workers begin opening up walls, they are literally opening Pandora’s box and you never know what you’re going to find. Rarely does a construction project go off without a hitch. Something always comes up, so be prepared for it. A 10% contingency added to the budget should cover it. Just think of it as insurance.

The Reality

When the project is completed you may not see a stark contrast from before and after since you witnessed every single part of the stressful construction process, so take lots of pictures of the before so that you can gain back that perspective. But the feeling of accomplishment will feel far greater than after watching one of these shows. Knowing that your space is now tailored to your lifestyle and you will be living in it is a feeling you just can’t buy anywhere. It never gets old for us either. Warning, the feelings are then intensified when you host your first barbeque or dinner party and your friends will have mixed feelings of awe and envy. However, the real gratification comes when things settle down and you realize that your new home will generate new memories for you and your family that no TV show could ever give you. Begin your dream home today and let us start you on your journey.

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