29 November 2012

happiness by the square foot.

I'm kind of obsessed with House Hunters and House Hunters International on HGTV. For those of you who have lived your lives in a state of pitiable ignorance and are unfamiliar with them, both are low-concept reality shows in which a person (or couple) is looking for a new house or apartment and a realtor shows them three properties (as a televised abstraction of a presumably more exhaustive search). The three properties selected for broadcast are intended to be rough equivalents in consumer desirability, so that some modicum of suspense is generated as to which home the buyers will choose. In most cases, the buyers are couples of some variety—gay or straight, married or living in adulterous sin—and they repeatedly discuss and debate the pros and cons of each house or apartment, until finally they decide to put in an offer on one. (There's no further suspense, by the way. They always get the house they select.) The end of the show is a short epilogue—usually one to six months after the purchase—showing the couple living in their new home and loving the fuck out of it. (There's no suspense here either. They always love the home—or at least they do for the camera.)


Last night I watched an episode in which two vapid, muscular gay men were searching for a new home in the 'flats' of Hollywood. Guy #1 recently moved from his native Denmark to be with his... partner? (I hate that word. It's so businesslike.) He had highlights in his hair, tattoos all over his chest—visible in his cleavage—and an unmistakable air of diffidence about him—probably the consequence of being the 'kept man' in the relationship. Despite this diffidence, I still presume he was the top because the other guy, Guy #2, was more flamboyant (and catty) and discernibly less buff. Guy #2 also appeared to be older—by possibly five to ten years—so my guess is that he woke up one morning, saw his crow's feet, and decided it was time to buy a younger man. But this is all just inappropriate psychological speculation.

Guy #2 was a professional event planner. (Only in Southern California, right?) And apparently he found it too cumbersome to fight the traffic coming down from the Hollywood Hills so he wanted something in the flats, preferably a Spanish style house (yuck, by the way), with the potential for some remodeling projects so that he could put his personal stamp on the place. Now if you know the general formula of the show, you'd suspect that Guy #1 wanted a move-in ready house, and you'd be right. Nine times out of ten the two persons who are house shopping together want at least one thing that's diametrically the opposite of the other. (This builds tension and suspense!) Otherwise, Guy #1 seemed to have few opinions and basically just wandered around mumbling. (In fairness, his English wasn't perfect.) 

Guy #2, on the other hand, had a strong opinion about everything—which is to be expected, I guess, considering that he was the native Angeleno in the couple and was probably footing most of the bill. Being a sort of stereotypical gay man, he wanted Spanish character, a lap pool, and plenty of room for 'entertaining.' (The people on House Hunters always talk about needing tons of space for 'entertaining.' I picture them putting on puppet shows or interpretive dance performances for a room full of appalled guests. Half the time, I talk to the set and say, 'Who are you kidding? You don't have any friends, asshole!' I'm the one talking to the television, but I'm accusing them of being friendless. Did you get the irony there?)


I'm going to digress from the Guys on this particular episode for a moment to talk about the typical wants and 'needs' of your average House Hunters purchaser. After awhile I get sick of hearing about these same things over and over and over again. (It just reinforces my hypothesis that Americans have no style whatsoever and they just want to have what everyone else wants to have—which is generally determined by vulgar upper middle class taste. But I digress within my digression.) What people seem to obsess over are 'open concept' homes; they despise old-fashioned homes that are chopped-up and have separate kitchens, dining rooms, and living rooms. Most of them can't live without granite countertops—usually really ugly brownish-tannish ones—in their kitchens and bathrooms. If the realtor dares to bring them to a house with laminate countertops, they can barely keep themselves from vomiting all over the place. How dare you show them this petit-bourgeois trash! (And if there's vinyl flooring or fake hardwoods, you'll be lucky if they don't run out of the house screaming.) Americans also need LOTS of bedrooms. Even if it's only two people, they'll need AT LEAST three bedrooms. AT LEAST. One bedroom had better be a huge-ass master bedroom with attached bath that is in most cases larger than my first apartment. I don't understand the fixation with sprawling master suites. You sleep and you fuck in there. How much space do you need? Why do you need a 'sitting area' in your fucking bedroom? Don't pretend like you're going to wake up in the morning and sit in your bedroom sipping Earl Grey and eating cucumber sandwiches, Lady Higginbotham. You'll roll over and fart and then go out to the kitchen like every other human being. 

But besides a cavernous master bedroom, any bourgeois couple worth their salt will need at least two other bedrooms. One they will use either as a home office or as a place for the wife to do her crafting and watercolors, and the other they will use as a guest room because—remember?—they love entertaining and having guests over. (Even though everybody hates them, including me.) Now, the couple would actually prefer four bedrooms if it were doable, in which case they could have separate home office and crafting rooms. And five bedrooms would be ideal because one day they are planning to spawn and inflict another upper middle class monster on society—so, natch, they'll need a nursery. (Did I mention that each of the five bedrooms should be huge? I mean, you should need binoculars to see from one wall to the other. And the bedrooms should all have closets as large as the bedroom I had when I first moved out of my parents' house.)


There are many things that the average house hunter hates more than pancreatic cancer. An abridged list would include 'popcorn' ceilings, master baths with one only sink (Oh, the humanity...!), appliances that are not stainless steel, carpeting in the living room, and brass chandeliers. Meanwhile, some of the amenities that elicit hands-free orgasms from most buyers are crown molding, vaulted ceilings, hardwood floors, a 'garden' bathtub (whatever the hell that is), recessed lighting, 'great rooms' that are larger than Rhode Island,  and homes with 'character' (which the buyers will inevitably gut and turn into assembly-line suburban-style homes). 

Let's return to Guy #1 and Guy #2 now and see how they're doing. The realtor—a very dry gay man seemingly with no joy in his life—shows the couple a corner lot a few blocks from the Sunset Strip. It's a pretty small house, but it's in the cookie-cutter pseudo-Spanish style that much of Southern California seems to believe has 'character' and old world charm. The Guys go inside, however, and the place is a dump. The walls are dingy and dirty. The kitchen has green vinyl tile and dark wood cabinetry from the 70s. The carpeting is filthy and old. In short, it looks like it might have been a drug den or a set for a Harmony Korine film some time in the last decade. 

Now do you want to know how much this house was listed for? This little, dumpy house on a corner lot—corner lots are always undesirable—that would have maybe cost $80K to $90K where I live? It was listed for $850,000. Yes, that's right. A dump in a better area of Los Angeles will cost you nearly a million dollars. Needless to say, I was slightly enraged when I heard this, as any sane human being should be. And then Guy #1, finally voicing an opinion, said during the walk-through, 'Why don't we just get a house with a pool?' (This place didn't have one.) The bitchy realtor tilted his head and looked at him with a mixture of contempt and pity: 'Oh, you couldn't afford a home with a pool in your price point.' Seriously. You've only got $850K to spend? You might as well be living in a cardboard box on Hollywood Boulevard, dudes. I don't know what you're even thinking...!  

27 comments:

  1. This probably won't be a popular blog post, but I think it's one of my favorites. I love talking about stuff that nobody really cares about.

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  2. I loved this post, too! My wife and I will go on binges where we watch 2 or 3 hours of this shit night after night. Although we're really not big fans of House Hunters International. I think it's because those house hunters aren't as predictably hilarious as the American house hunters, like Lady Higginbotham and her sitting room off the master bedroom. We love it when the Americans get totally turned off by houses that don't have en suites in the master bedroom and then when they can't stop saying "en suite" all episode long. We laugh when they get all pissy about houses that don't have the perfect color paint on the walls, enormous finished basements that can be turned into man caves, or built-in cappacino makers. The international crew of house hunters make me laugh too but I find myself just thinking that those people are weirdos. The American house hunters makes me hate yuppie Americans and their stupid desires. Since I would be classified by most as a yuppie, I guess the show also adds another thing to the list of things that make me loathe myself.

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    1. Thank you, sweet jeebus! I thought maybe I'd be the only one here familiar with the show. There's so much to, alternately, mock and get pissed off about on the show, and yet it's somehow very enjoyable. I don't understand that dichotomy. Another thing that people are always saying (that I think the producers must coach them on) is: 'I can really picture myself in this room enjoying a cup of coffee by the window.' or 'I can really picture myself on this balcony in the morning reading the newspaper.' or 'I can really picture myself in this en suite weeping and overdosing.' They're always picturing themselves doing things. This strikes me as odd. Also, this isn't a statement about the female gender in general, just about the females on House Hunters: These women can really bitchy, demanding, status-conscious ball-breakers. Most of the men are probably lucky to get even the smallest say in anything about the house selection. Often I spend the half hour wondering how many more years there will be before the divorce... The people that annoy me most of all though are the ones who don't have much money to spend but they want (i.e. ,demand) four bedrooms, a large lot, a swimming pool, hardwoods throughout, granite countertops, a remodeled kitchen, an enormous master bedroom, a finished basement, and a five-lane bowling alley in a good school district. Good luck, assholes!

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    2. On your last point, have you seen the show on HGTV (I can't remember the name) where the couple lays out all of the shit they want (5 bedrooms, hardwood throughout, 2 pools, a tennis court, heated tile floors in the bathroom, 12-foot ceilings, etc.) and then the realtor guy brings them to a house that has it all and they start swooning and then the realtor tells them that the house is actually twice as much as their budget and then they go fucking apeshit and get all pissed at the realtor for fucking with them and getting their hopes up? It's the best. I keep thinking, you have a $400,000 budget which should be able to get you a lot of house, don't get me wrong, but how can you not realize that he's walking you through a home that's worth $900,000? Do you have no concept of the real estate in this area? Did you think you were just getting really lucky? I wish I could remember the name of that show because I highly recommend it just for the look on their faces when the rug gets pulled out from under them.

      On your point about the women, my wife and I always make little bets about which house they'll take and I always vote for the one that had the stuff that the wife wanted. One house can be close to their jobs, in a great school district, be $100,000 less than their budget, and have the 3-car garage that the husband has always wanted but it doesn't have the walk-in closet that she wanted so they go with the shittier house with the enormous walk-in. Nine time out of ten, voting for the house that has more of what the woman wants gets me the win. My wife hasn't picked up on this trend. I wonder why.

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    3. My wife tells me that show is Property Brothers.

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    4. Yes, Property Brothers! The one with the two near-identical Canadian brothers. One (with the highlights in his hair) does the renovations and the other (clean-cut) is the realtor. Yes, it is difficult to believe that those couples think they can afford a house that is twice their budget. (What amazes me about all these shows even more is that the people who are on them seem never to have watched the show before.) There's another show that kind of does the same thing. A woman is brought in to redo a room in someone's house--so she goes and pimps out the room with all this expensive shit, and then she says, 'Oh, too bad! This room costs $25,000! But I can design you a room that will look something like it for your budget of $3000!' And they take all the good shit out and replace it with furniture from Target.

      The show that I REALLY have a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with is Love It or List It, another creepy Canadian show with the English designer and the horrible bald realtor. She tries to fix up their house so they don't want to move, and he tries to find them a house so they do want to move—and the show ratchets up the drama by having all these arguments and disagreements and enraged couples... I think this show has the worst, most obnoxious couples of any of the shows on HGTV. And that's saying a helluva lot.

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    5. Yep, I've seen Love It or List It more times than I care to admit. The fake little discussions and arguments are pretty ridiculous in that one. The ones where the designer and realtor are on one side of the room talking trash to each other and guaranteeing victory and the couple is on the other side of the room trying to come up with shit to say in an obviously forced conversation in front of the camera, being sure to praise both the realtor and the designer and ultimately agreeing that both choices are great.

      Oh, have you seen the episode of one of those shows (of course I can't remember which show because they are all so insipid that they blend together) with an Asian family where the husband would just go and sit in front of the TV the whole time? For half the shots, the husband wasn't even there to comment on anything because he was down in the basement watching TV with his shoes off. When pushed to comment he would mostly just shrug and say he liked the TV room. That guy is my hero.

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    6. You are so right that while I sit and watch and silently mock, at the same time I am completely hooked and cannot wait for the reveal. And I am always impressed at what good poker players the producers of the show are - I guess correctly maybe 5% of the time. I will have to try that "what the woman wants" trick next time (probably tonight!), but I can usually guess correctly when the couple seems just slightly too familiar with the house. I am always amazed by what dumps most of these people end up choosing despite their quest for granite and hardwood.

      I know the main reason I love all of these shows is because of the before and after reveal. Once I start watching, I have to know how it turns out. I have this same problem with "Say Yes to the Dress" - David, if you aren't watching that show, please do. You may get another column out of that.

      Lastly, I love that two men are debating the virtues and sins of this show. My boyfriend just looks at me with disgust when he catches me on my HGTV binges - it is one of the biggest sources of arguments in my home. He cannot see the entertainment value, and calls this whole relationship into question. :)

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    7. Unfortunately, I already turned in my man card to some meathead who questioned my masculinity many years ago. Strangely enough, even without that card I was able to meet a woman, marry her, and procreate.

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  3. I like this blog post. I can't wait for you to see my house with my blue-green 80s-style formica countertops! (Even though my house was built in the 90s.)

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    1. I would expect nothing else from you, Morais.

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  4. I don't have cable so I can't watch HGTV or whateverthefuck, but I know this show. From like, word of mouth.

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    1. You shouldn't have gotten rid of your Cox.

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    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    3. I was paying more for Cox than what it was worth. :P

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    4. What is this Cox that you two are always joking about with your exclusive inside jokes?

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  5. I've never seen this show (even though there is an episode where someone allegedly looks like me), but this sentence is why I rent:

    This little, dumpy house on a corner lot—corner lots are always undesirable—that would have maybe cost $80K to $90K where I live? It was listed for $850,000.

    Fucking California.

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    1. You should watch it instead of those dumb shows you usually watch.

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    2. Vampire Diaries is not dumb!

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  6. Let me add my banal comment to the cheering section, duly noting that I, too, love this post. I have come to think of you and this blog as the narrator of the slow-motion collapse of our decadent civilization.

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    1. Yes. I fiddle while Rome burns. ;)

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  7. I know I am late to this party, but I cannot express how much I love this post! I, too, am completely obsessed with House Hunters and some of the other shows you commented on. I have so much that I want to respond to that I think it would better if I just moved in with you so we could heckle the TV together. I'm fairly certain we were watching the gay guys at the very same time, but sadly (for me), 100 miles apart. :)

    BTW, did you know that most HH fans were completely shocked and dismayed when they found out that the people featured on the show already had to have their home purchased or in escrow, and that the showings of the homes are all staged? The outcry was worse than Watergate. This just punctuates the absurdity of the American public.

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    1. I was totally going to mention the controversy but my back and forth with David kind of fizzled out. There is something about reality TV that makes people forget that they're watching a produced television show. On those tell-all events at the end of shows like The Bachelor or Survivor, one character from that season will inevitably bitch and moan about getting "a bad edit" or being made out to be the bad guy or how so-and-so did awful things too but the show only showed their good side and I can just feel millions of American eyes rolling all at once as if that person's gripes have no merit whatsoever...as if the producers don't massage the raw footage down into something that only somewhat resembles what really happened.

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  8. Fantastic, sir. My First Place and Property Virgins offer up the financial (down payment and how much the person or couple is approved for) and negotiation aspects of real estate transactions, which, as you mention, House Hunters lacks. The show My First Sale is excellent, too, in that you get to know all the dirty financials behind the sellers (like how much they owe). But the sellers on that one are often really stupid (or, to put it nicely, they're blind to the marketplace in comparison to their own personal needs/wants in asking price). An episode I saw the other day a lady turned down a $233k offer only to go all the way down to 185k 5 months later, out of desperation.

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    1. The mock scenes in these, I should add, are even more fake that those on House Hunters. (A camera just happens to be in family room as the realtor calls the buyer or seller, etc.)

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