Sunday, January 4, 2009

WSJ: HGTV to blame for housing bubble

Writes Jim Sollisch:

So now we know what happens when too many people who have too few assets
buy too much house with the help of too many risky mortgage products and too
little oversight. And while there's plenty of blame to go around -- unethical
mortgage brokers, greedy bankers and irresponsible homeowners -- one culprit
continues to get off scot-free: HGTV.

That's right. The cable network HGTV is the real villain of the economic
meltdown. As the viewership reached a critical mass over the past decade -- HGTV
is now broadcast into 91 million homes -- homeowners began experiencing deep
angst. Suddenly no one but the most slovenly and unambitious were satisfied with
their houses. It didn't matter if you lived in an apartment or a gated
community, one episode of "House Hunters" or "What's My House Worth?" and you
were convinced you needed more. More square feet. More granite. More stainless
steel appliances. More landscaping. More media rooms. More style. You deserved

If you had any doubts about your ability to afford such luxuries, all you
had to do was look at the 20-something couple in the latest episode choosing
between three houses. Should they go for the fixer-upper, priced at $425,000? Or
the one with the pool for $550,000? What about the one with room to grow for

"How much money can these people possibly make?" I shout at my wife before
wrestling the remote from her house-hungry little hand and switching it to the
nearest sports program. "The guy can barely string together two

Ironically, here in good old East Tennessee, most of these shows make me feel just great about what I have. I don't watch them with any regularity, but my favorite when I get the chance is Sell This House on A&E (not, HGTV, but same diff, I'm sure).

In this show, the outrageously adorable Tanya and Roger fix up a tiny and ugly house into something, well, somewhat nicer, usually for around $500 and 2 days work. What gets me, however, is that these houses, particularly those on the east or west coasts, are usually about 1/2 the size of my 5 year old, cathedral ceiling-ed East Tennessee suburban, and are outdated and old, with low ceilings, tiny windows, and ugly everything. And they cost 2-3 times as much as mine! It's a freakin' miracle, I say!

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