Sunday, November 02, 2008

NOT politics - sort of.

I just spent a weekend mostly on my own - husband away and two teenagers occupied each night with friends. Between loads of laundry on Saturday - including two exploding pillows that basically disintegrated in the washer and/or dryer and resulted in thousands of little cotton puffs that were either stuck in our drain or in the lint trap in our dryer - I watched WAY TOO MUCH HGTV. I know - the excitement nearly killed me as well.

I've written about HGTV before and the rather incredible way they present home improvements. My perspective - then and now - was mostly one of harmless wonder, knowing that little if any of the designer magic I witnessed on the network could truly be replicated in my home, no matter how many hours I logged watching "Design on a Dime."

But on the edge of an election, and in light of the home despair news around the country, I started thinking about HGTV in a different way. (That's almost all the politics I'll inject into this, I promise.) This isn't as out there as it sounds. Think about it: lots of disparate elements contribute to ill-advised buying decisions like a spending too much on a skirt that turns out to be just a little too tight around your hips but was the perfect color and the perfect length with the perfect pleats you wanted, or paying more than a few bucks for a shade of lipstick that will fade off your lips after just one cup of coffee, not hours later, no matter what the commercials tell you. But it's unlikely either of those decisions, or similar ones, will lead to your fiscal doom.

Because the truth is, lots of things contribute to when and how people buy a house, and many of them may convince you that you can afford a home WAY out of your price range. (These include unethical agents, lenders or other real estate predators but the list is much longer and more personal that those obvious factors.) In a way, I blame HGTV.

We all tend to believe what we see on TV. We see homes that go from drab to divine in just 30 minutes and believe it can happen. We watch color on walls transform ordinary to glamorous and never doubt that we can achieve the same effect. Thousands of dollars later, we see landscaping turn a home from an eyesore to a showplace, and treat this as some kind of miracle. Rarely do we see the price tags attached to these transformations and even when we do,they never seem to include labor costs or the timing and the expertise of the staff involved.

Why are we mystified about how many people made poor choices about buying a home? We've all been fed this "you can do it" mantra for years now from shows on HGTV and other similar programs. We've gone way beyond thinking about painting walls to buying them with money we don't have. Unfortunately, we're buying too many walls that are too big for our wallets.

In many ways, fantasy has become the new reality. Fantasy life, looks, homes, vacations, food, parenting skills, marriages. That's how you can explain any number of programs on television these days.

But reality is still reality, no matter how it's presented by producers and experts.

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