I dropped my cable television service last year, and I can't say that I regret that decision. But during a visit to my family's home over the recent holiday season, curiosity got the best of me, and I clicked about the cable channels to see what I was missing. Thus, a few clicks of the remote control put me back in touch with Glenn Beck's bloviating, Paula Deen's butter drenched recipes and the QVC hucksters. I was also introduced to Snooki, The Situation and the other ‘Jersey Shore’ characters – but I wasn't quite certain whether their program qualified as reality TV or science fiction.
I then journeyed over to the channels that specialize in programs related to home buying. I recalled writing about that genre in February 2008 on MortgageOrb, and I wanted to see if things changed for the better.
Needless to say, things haven't changed much over the two years. House flipping continues to flourish as an easy-breezy reality TV concept, while programs featuring first-time home buyers more concerned with granite countertops than mortgage rates are still on the air. In many ways, these shows are more absurd than the antics on ‘Jersey Shore.’
The fundamental problem that I always had with this genre of TV programming has been political and philosophical: These shows insist that homeownership is a right, whereas I believe it is a responsibility. There is a huge difference between the two, and the inability to tell these considerations apart helped to derail the economy.
The home-purchasing shows telescope the entire process into a ridiculously simple endeavor, requiring less stress and decision making than the purchase of groceries. The emphasis is concentrated on the aesthetic charms of the property, not the surrounding concerns that occupy most of the origination process.
Thus, there is endless cooing about the view from the bathroom window and no talk whatsoever about property appraisals, the economic viability of the surrounding neighborhoods – you never hear the word ‘foreclosure’ in these programs – and the extensive preparation required for securing a mortgage.
Needless to say, every prospective home buyer moves in quickly and easily at the end of each episode, with nary an appraiser or mortgage banker to be seen. If only real life could be as easy as reality TV.
The flipping shows seem even more curious today, particularly in view of the role that reckless flipping played in jacking up mortgage fraud activity. I am not suggesting that the people who are currently on television are crooks, but their modus operandi – buy rundown homes, make some low-cost improvements to make the property prettier and almost immediately resell at significantly higher prices – is not something that should be vigorously advocated at this point in time, particularly in markets where foreclosed and abandoned homes are a little too ubiquitous.
If you watched these programs religiously without bothering to peek at the TV news channels, you'd be totally unaware that the housing markets and the mortgage banking industry have been seriously ailing for the past couple of years. Obviously, programs that touch on the less jolly side of the housing experience – negotiating loan modifications, foreclosure, auctioning off real estate owned property – are conspicuously absent from the weekly television lineup.
Did these programs contribute, in any way, to the current crisis? No one has conducted a survey to determine the effects of such shows, but I suspect they had some influence. In my 2008 column on the subject, I recalled one program where a married couple just barely recovering from bankruptcy determinedly pursued homeownership, despite significant expenses involving their two children and an elderly parent living with the couple. Needless to say, the last thing that family needed was a mortgage – but, sure enough, they got it, without a hitch.
Needless to say, I am back home and safely away from the distractions of cable TV in general and these unfortunate housing-related programs in particular. Though perhaps it could be worse – can you imagine importing the cast of ‘Jersey Shore’ into these home-purchasing shows? I don't know about you, but I'd really love to see Snooki try to sell a house!
– Phil Hall, editor, [b][i]Secondary Marketing Executive[/i][/b]
[i] (Please address all comments regarding this opinion column to email@example.com.)[/i]