Reality TV vs. real-life renovations

We talk to a few people involved in the renovation process on and off the screen to find out exactly what it takes to get a renovation completed.

Reality TV renovations versus real life renovations
ARTICLE Jason Burgess

In TV land, home renovations look so easy. There is minimal dust; tradies and inspectors seem to show up right when they’re needed. The biggest hiccups are more likely to be around tile and colour choices rather than big calls like unseen infrastructure issues.
Even when delays occur and tension mounts, makeovers seem to move quickly on TV, transitioning through quick-cuts and before-and-after edits; most often with beautiful end results. While property-obsessed kiwi’s love taking these weekly voyeuristic peeks into the trials and tribulations of TV renovators; for those who haven’t been through a renovation, the process in real life can often be just as dramatic. Time does not move so fast, deadlines come and go and if budgets skyrocket, tempers can flare and relationships can go to the wall.
So how do the highs and lows of TV renovations measure up against real life remodeling? And as prospective renovators, has reality TV changed our behaviours and expectations?
We asked some experts from both sides of the camera to share their experiences and perceptions.
Geoff Burton Profile Photo

Geoff Burton

TV Director at TWC Media for The Kiwi Dream

The Kiwi Dream was a real life renovation. It was shot documentary style, covering what was actually happening.
Embarking on a major renovation is hard work and making a TV show is hard work. Put them both together and you have a whole lot of busy people working hard in the one space. On the first day of the renovation, the producer gathered all the builders together and explained that we are first and foremost performers on a TV show. We are standing on a TV set that just happens to be a building site.
When you are shooting like this, there is continual negotiation and tension. You have to travel lightly through the building site. You can’t have too much of a lighting set up because it impacts on the story. But there was always a good energy on-site and some funny moments happen between the presenters and trades. It’s important to have a laugh along the way. A good team spirit off-screen translates to a good vibe onscreen – the viewers can pick it up.
TV shows like The Kiwi Dream and The Block provide ideas and educations on what is available in the market place. This turns into increased sales for the products and services covered in the show. On The Kiwi Dream we cut deals for product in return for exposure. However, what we described on-screen is what it actually costs in the ‘normal world’ so that it is relevant to our viewers.
The Kiwi Dream was a major renovation; the drama and stress was real. It was the producer’s task to bring that out on camera – to make sure people didn’t internalise or fix things in the background. We needed to seek out the troubles and cover the key conversations, disputes and resolutions. This was sometimes difficult, particularly when someone was being exposed in a less than ideal light. The producer needs to negotiate those moments so you achieve the coverage and tell the story.
We still have to jump through the same approval hoops with council as anybody else doing a renovation. In editing we don’t cover such things much, as they make boring TV. It may come across as though it was fast-tracked – but not so in reality.
Watch the full season of The Kiwi Dream online.
Sohail Sabetian Profile Photo

Sohail Sabetian

Recent Renovator

I watch home improvement programs for inspiration and education. I prefer Kiwi shows because they are more pertinent to us, although I tend to fast forward through the dramatic bits In reality show just to get the information.
I think the TV sometimes over-dramatises the situation. The time management is so strict and contestants are required to do most of the work. For our renovation we had no tears, we engaged a Refresh Project manager Jim Gleeson. He took all the stress out of renovating. Together we did an extensive pre-planning and budgeting and advised us to set aside extra money for unforeseen. In the real world, nobody gives you competition dollars for completing a room.
On TV they often shop in one place and seem to get a lot for their money. For us, the shopping for fixtures, fittings and accessories was the most stressful and exhausting thing. There are so many variations in quality and price and usually no one-stop-shop that meets both budget and tastes. We took our inspiration from magazines like Renovate and then got recommendations from trusted suppliers.
Interestingly, we had Matt the electrician from The Block working on our place. He is exactly as you see him on the TV. He has a great level of expertise, is fast working and a good communicator. The only time we had a “The Block” situation with multiple trades in the same room, was when we were trying to complete the kitchen on time. If you had an unlimited budget I guess you could have four plumbers, electricians or builders working in one room at a time.
The back and forth editing on TV makes building inspections look so easy. In reality each inspection may take up to 20 minutes. Inspectors are rarely portrayed showing exactly what it is that they are looking for.
One thing I would like to see on TV is the initial consultations between architects, project manager and client. Done well, the planning, drawing and budgeting stages will make for a stress-free renovation; but maybe that would negate some of the drama.
On TV I’m always amazed at how little dust there appears to be. On our job I opted to clean up at the end of each day. Even though the tradesmen were tidy, I could never feel on top of the dust. I’m not sure who takes care of it on TV but I could have done with some of their expertise here.
Matt Slater Profile Photo

Matt Slater

Electrician on The Block NZ

The great thing that TV shows like The Block do is showcase a lot of new styles, the latest technology and up-to-the-minute green options.
They also grow consumer awareness around the benefits of green alternatives.
This means virtually every job in the company EAV does offset, now features LED lighting, Smartvent systems, heatpumps and even solar.
Any building/renovation project involves a lot of preparations, planning and project management in the background.
The benefit and effort of this phase of development is rarely seen either in ‘real-life’ or on TV.
So some clients may read the TV format too literally, which can create unreasonable expectations around how long a project will take. This is especially true for those inexperienced with the renovation process.
Therefore it is not a new issue, or one exclusive to fans of shows like The Block.
Managing client expectations is a key aspect of operating any successful trade or business.
Behind the scenes, the ‘beep machine’ runs pretty frequently when filming tradies on The Block.
Having a camera crew around is kind of like having your mum around. The “industrial language” as we call it, cleans up noticeably when the camera is rolling.
There are so many highlights working on The Block and I have forged some great relationships.
The biggest buzz though, is seeing what an area looks like at the start of the week and then watching the transformation of that space into something special by the end of the week.
The adrenalin and excitement of getting a zone completed at the last minute of the last day, gives you a great feeling of achievement. The EAV team is having a blast!
Refresh Renovations Consultant Kris MacGregor Profile Photo

Graeme Nicol

Renovation Consultant at Refresh Renovations

On TV, heightened stress is shown for the entertainment factor but the same stress levels can be true in reality.
Renovating may be the most stressful thing that a client will ever go through.
Most often they are pouring money into their most valuable asset and placing their trust in the hands of builders and project managers. It can be a rollercoaster ride.
The biggest difference between a real-time renovation and a TV show is the build timeframe.
From what I have seen on TV with deadlines it often requires several of the same contractors to be working on a room at a time and in some cases, well before the filming has even started, which blurs the timelines even further.
We often get asked why we need five to eight weeks to do a full bathroom renovation when ‘they can do it in a week on TV?’ There are many factors.
There are drying times required between coats for the plastering, waterproofing and painting etc.
The use dehumidifiers and heaters to speed up dry times may make for a quick job but can lead to faster deterioration down the track as some products are not made to handle these conditions.
Such considerations are critical for us to achieve an excellent finish rather than something rushed. Haste leads to errors and sub-standard workmanship.
Also there are obviously prearranged council inspections as it is near impossible to have the council coming to site twice-daily everyday!
The good thing about tradies on TV is that they are all really up to speed with their regulations, while this may not be the case on the street.
It would be great too if all tradesmen were as clean and tidy as they are on screen.

You might be interested in reading: Renovating can change your lifestyle.

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This article by Jason Burgess featured on page 80 of Issue 013 of New Zealand Renovate Magazine. New Zealand's first and only magazine solely dedicated to home renovations.


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