Reality vs. Real Estate TV Shows: Debunking 10 Well-Staged Myths

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Updated January 24, 2022
Real estate agent showing home to clients
Photo: sturti / E+ / Getty Images

Don’t always buy what they’re selling on real estate TV shows

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

Hasty home buyers, lavish real estate agent commissions, and lucrative house flips—the seemingly fast and furious world of real estate makes for top-tier TV entertainment. However, despite the so-called element of reality, what you see onscreen is mostly for show. 

Here are the hardest-selling myths about real estate TV shows, plus how they compare to the reality of home buying and selling.

1. Being a Real Estate Agent is Nonstop Drama

If those petty fights between high-powered real estate agents on Selling Sunset seem a little over-the-top, it’s because they are. Real estate agents aren’t always in each other’s business, and they certainly aren’t in each other’s faces. The drama over commission checks and stolen listings is unrealistic. Instead, your real estate agent is focused on finding your future home within your budget.

2. House Flipping Generates Large Profits

It’s fun to watch the hosts of house-flipping shows rake in the dough after completing every project. The episode formula is that the hosts purchase a run-down home (sometimes sight unseen), work their renovation magic, and run the numbers to show their profit. It’s enough to make you want to quit your job and try your luck at the next foreclosure auction.

However, the actual equation isn’t that simple. Home flippers who aren’t TV stars have to factor other expenses into that profit, including taxes, loan interest, closing costs, and realtor commissions. At the end of the day, home remodels and flips usually end up getting a smaller profit than what you see onscreen.

3. Homeowners Decide to Sell On the Fly

Couple reviewing documents with financial advisor
Photo: Weekend Images Inc. / E+ / Getty Images

Selling your home is a big decision. It’s not one you make on the spot when two overly-competitive realtors ask whether you’ll love it or list it. 

In reality, even the subjects of home-selling shows have spent time determining whether they want to sell their home, plus other aspects of the sale like their asking price. If you’re considering selling your home, don’t feel pressure to make a snap decision like the scenes portrayed on your favorite show.

4. Open Houses are the Fast Track to Making a Sale

Reality shows can make the home-selling process look easy-peasy. In some episodes, the agent secures the property, plans an open house, and sells it before all the display cookies get eaten. 

Nope, it’s nowhere near that simple in real life. Realtors often have to stage multiple open houses and individual showing appointments before finding the right buyer. So don’t get discouraged if your home doesn’t sell immediately after hosting your first open house—things take more time in the real world. 

5. Onscreen Buyers are Undecided

Have you ever wondered how real estate TV shows always find buyers who pick their forever home in front of a camera crew? Well, the answer is the suspenseful decision-making moment usually isn’t real. 

More often than not, so-called house hunters have already closed on a home. To set up some reality TV shows, film crews will stage the subject’s current home along with a few decoy houses to make it look like the buyer is touring and making a housing decision in real time. But don’t let that dull your excitement over finding a new home—the emotions portrayed during those celebratory moments can translate into reality.

6. Buyers Only View a Few Homes 

One of the biggest myths that real estate TV shows perpetuate is that buyers only view two or three options before deciding on their next home (looking at you, House Hunters). 

In reality, home buyers often view several homes before putting in an offer. Plus, real estate websites and apps make it easy to view dozens of homes from the comfort of your couch. Before you start your house-hunting journey, set your expectations in reality, recognizing that it may take touring lots of homes to find the right one.

7. Cosmetic Concerns are a Deal-Breaker

We’ve all seen onscreen buyers turn their noses up at a house because they can’t stand the kitchen countertops or the window treatments. In reality, if buyers let cosmetic preferences drive their decision, they’d be hard-pressed to find a home that checks off all their boxes. 

Realtors encourage buyers to prioritize more important deal-breakers, such as a loud location or an awkward room layout. If you can’t stand the avocado-green tub in the bathroom, that’s easy to fix, but not having enough bathrooms is not. 

8. Homes Look Pristine for Each Showing

Many homes featured on real estate reality TV shows look like the buyer is the first person ever to enter the home. While a perfectly staged home certainly helps drive a sale, most home sellers can’t vacate the house while it’s on the market. In a real-life home showing, you may see shoes at the door, clothing in the hamper, groceries in the kitchen, and other less-than-perfect signs that it still has occupants. 

Realtors often recommend that home sellers take steps to depersonalize the space during open houses, such as taking down family photos and removing personal items. Still, the homes that you’ll tour during your house-hunting season will likely look different than the staged homes on TV shows.

9. A Realtor’s Commission is Always Huge

Realtor showing house interior to a couple
Photo: xavierarnau / E+ / Getty Images

It’s easy to run the numbers and fantasize about how you’d spend the commission checks that onscreen realtors make from their home sales. In reality, the commission figure is split amongst multiple people, including the listing agent and the brokerage firm. 

It’s also important to remember that real estate agents pay for everything that goes into a sale—including marketing materials, staging expenses, and other miscellaneous costs. They’re also independent contractors who pay for their own gas, taxes, and insurance. 

10. “… And They Lived Happily Ever After”

Once the onscreen buyers say “yes” to the house, TV shows imply that the sale closes quickly, and they’re moved in within a month or two. In reality, an affirmative decision doesn’t always guarantee that the sale will go through.

After the credits roll, many things can stop the sale from becoming final. From fallen-through financing to failed home inspections, hiccups happen that can send the buyers back to “house hunting” status. Even if the sale does go through, it can take months before the buyers are able to move into their new home and start unpacking boxes.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.