What Can House Hunters Teach Us About Ourselves?

Illustration for article titled What Can House Hunters Teach Us About Ourselves?

Do you watch House Hunters? "Oooh," you are thinking, "I love that show. I simply can't get enough of all those retired couples searching for farmhouses to restore in Italy, those students shopping for flats in Berlin, and those families being relocated to Botswana and Morocco for work. Bring on the voyeuristic peeks into the kitchens and out on the verandas of foreign countries…" Yeah, except that I'm not talking about the wonderfully captivating HGTV show House Hunters International. I am talking about its Plain Jane sister show, just regular old House Hunters, where there are no tropical ocean views or stunning mountain overlooks to be had. It is a show all about couples searching for split-level ranches or condos or McMansions in places like Colorado Springs and Tucson and Savannah.


Don't get me wrong, HH may not offer the same escapist pleasure that HHI does, but it's fun in a different way: it allows you to sit back and lazily judge your fellow Americans. Each episode offers up the delightful chance to chastise the lifestyle choices of a doughy couple as they visit three houses (always three!) and decide to buy the one they like best. Part of the thrill of the show is watching the buyers say stupid things and make poor decisions. (It's even more enjoyable if you play along with this handy drinking game!). But it's not that the house hunters are awful or even particularly annoying people. In fact, most of them seem like totally decent, reasonable, likeable folks. However, after watching a few episodes (ok, fine, after watching almost all of them—why would I sleep or leave my house when I could watch other people shop for theirs?!?) you start to find that a lot of them do things that are pretty ridiculous. And it turns out these things are so irritating because they hit upon real problems that, as we speak, are probably destroying our country and most certainly ruining the planet. Let's discuss five of the most common House Hunters pet peeves and think of them as windows that offer lovely views out onto the slow destruction of our civilization.

Everyone Wants a Shiny New Toy

A shocking number of people on this show start out by saying they're looking to buy a new house because they don't want to have to deal with other people's dirt or decorating choices. They want a "move-in ready" clean slate, they often say. In theory, this makes sense. Nobody likes the sight of a stranger's hair creeping out from a crevice in the bathroom or the ugly football-themed wallpaper border that the previous owner put up. But is it really worth building an entirely new house just to avoid having to deep clean a bathroom? Isn't that a teeny tiny bit wasteful? Isn't rolling up your sleeves and pulling off some old wallpaper and maybe even putting up a fresh coat of paint all by yourself what this country is all about? (Or at least aren't we all about paying someone else to do it for us?) Not anymore, I guess. Hand me a brand new perfect thing! I don't want to do any work. Wahhhh!

My favorite part is when one of these couples looks at a new house and then expresses grave concern about how much construction is going on around the house. Another house might be built behind them and block their view, they worry. Will they have to listen to hammering all day every day for years, they wonder. Yes! That's what happens when you move into the middle of a neighborhood that's being built from the ground up, silly.

Of course, all these people gunning for new construction end up in new developments, and living in one of these "communities" usually means you are very far away from everything. Nobody on these shows seems to care about that, but newsflash: it's all fun and suburban bliss until gas prices soar and then you also lose your job and suddenly you can't afford to leave your brand new house but now you actually really want to get out of there because it turns out it was shoddily built and it's molding from all the crazy new climate-change-induced storms. See also: The Great Subprime Mortgage Crisis of 2008. Oops!

"This [Room] Is Too Small!"

Another thing that prospective buyers love to do is walk into a room, which to my tiny-New-York-apartment-living eye looks massive, and whine something like, "This master is kind of cramped." It shouldn't come as a surprise that most people have the "bigger is better" attitude, I suppose, but logic also dictates that the bigger something is, the more it costs to heat and cool and the more work it is to clean… And yet this never seems to factor into anyone's thinking; cue my repeated but futile efforts to warn buyers of this fact by yelling at my TV.


You know what, let's not even talk about the environmental consequences of having a house full of huge rooms, because it is sad to think about polar bears starving to death and about future humans having to raise children that look like raisins because of that crazy thing that happened where we melted the protective layer off the earth. Instead, let's discuss why people think they need a bedroom that is the size of a football field. As long as you can fit your bed and a dresser in it and still have a little space to walk, it should be fine, right? Do you really need a seating area in there too? I will answer for you: you do not. Especially because your giant-ass house probably also has a formal living room, a TV room, a bonus room, a home office, and a yard where you could sit. All you should be doing in your bedroom is sleeping and having increasingly less sex with your spouse, and that really takes up very little space.

Nobody Wants to Come Out of the Walk-In Closet

An amazingly large amount of time on House Hunters is spent discussing closets. The women, in particular, go crazy for a walk-in (BECAUSE HAHA OMG LADIES LOVE CLOTHES AND NEVER STOP SHOPPING!!!!!!!), but if, God forbid, the closet is not the size of a studio apartment, they express serious concerns about the storage capacity of the house. How can they possibly be expected to live like this? Hmm. I get that closets are useful, but can anybody need so many clothes within easy reach that they must have a whole room to accommodate them? Could you not keep the ones you wear a lot in a normal-sized closet and maybe store the off-season clothes under the bed? Or just buy fewer clothes to start with? Not to brag, but I have one modest closet in my apartment that holds my entire wardrobe, and no one has ever commented to me that I wear the same clothes too often. And even if they did, I would just laugh and casually say, "Listen, you motherfucker, if wearing the same outfit twice is good enough for Kate Middleton, it's good enough for me."


I am not sure exactly how our national obsession with walk-in closets foreshadows the demise of humanity, but it has something do with the fact that we all just keep buying crap we don't need and, in some cases, eventually end up starring in our own hoarding reality shows. If you want, you can also imagine a fun rant here about our overconsumption of cheap goods and the poor third world people this habit exploits!

So Many Amenities, So Little (Family) Time

This particular pet peeve comes in many forms: an insistence on granite countertops, double bathroom sinks, a formal living room with huge vaulted ceilings, a spacious deck, a pool, a bonus room, and even a man-cave. (I swear I am on the verge of pouring acid into my ears just so I never have to hear that word spoken again.) But what it all boils down to is that we tend to imagine we need a lot more than we actually do. For instance, many of the buyers claim that they do a lot of entertaining; therefore, they need a huge kitchen dripping in granite, a dining room, a great room. But then at the end of the show, they have a scene where the family is entertaining in their new home, and there are like eight guests at the party—hardly enough to justify 1000 square feet of dedicated entertaining space. And then there was the lovely woman who walked into each super-sized, stainless-steel-appliance-loaded kitchen and went on and on about all the cooking she could do in there like she was a master chef. Then at the end of the episode, they showed her in her new kitchen baking from a box of cake mix. Good thing you've got that professional-quality oven, lady! Those Betty Crocker cakes can be complex.


Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with aspiring to be fancy, but we have obviously gone overboard. Buyers on the show seem to think that every activity they could conceivably do in the house requires its own space. There are so many rooms in most of these houses that some of them must not even get used regularly. For instance, a woman on one episode insisted that she have a room in her house dedicated completely to scrapbooking. OK, if you love scrapbooking that much, that's cool. (Maybe "cool" is not the right word...) But what happened to doing craft projects on the kitchen table? People insist on guest bedrooms, guest baths, home offices, family rooms, and on and on. All of this has a backwards effect: instead of entertaining and hanging around each other, everyone is always in their own room doing their own thing. The husband is watching football in his man-cave (Ack! Sorry!), the wife is making a dream board in her dreamboarding room, one kid is playing video games in the playroom, and another kid is in her spacious bedroom suite sexting her friends. Remember back in the good old days when we all sat around in the drawing room together doing needlepoint, playing cards, and never speaking openly about our emotions? See, these giant houses are ruining the fabric of the American family!!!

Neighbors, Neighbors Everywhere!

Aaaand the number one House Hunters Pet Peeve™ of all time is this complaint: "I don't like that the neighbors can see us." They cannot see you! They are inside their house, which is at least 25 yards from here. So what you really mean is "I can see another house from this house." Why is this a problem? Even if a neighbor leaned awkwardly out the one window that overlooks your property to spy on you, what are you doing in your yard that you don't want other people to see? Murdering people?? I mean, sure, you want some basic privacy-as in you don't want someone's window looking directly into your bedroom. Other than that, deal with it.


It's really not the worst thing to have other people around. After all, they call it a neighborhood for a reason: because it's full of neighbors! That you are supposed to interact with! Plus, they can make your life easier. They can alert you if something bad is going on at your house while you're at work. They can take your mail in when you go away. And they can even tell the cops that they saw you come home at 9 p.m. on Thursday night so you couldn't possibly have murdered that drifter. In other words, they will be your friends, your protectors, your community. If you don't want to live near other humans/have friends, then move into a shack in the woods, not into a suburb built to hold large numbers of people.


Yeesh. So there you have it. If we are to believe House Hunters, Americans are pretty much total whackjobs. We are a nation of people who care about one another in theory, but don't want to live near each other; who claim to value our history but only want to live in brand new houses; who recycle our soda cans but need bonus rooms and walk-in closets that require more energy to heat and air condition than a lifetime of handing in aluminum can make up for. To be fair, there are plenty of people on the show that buy old fixer-uppers or small apartments in urban areas—but even they love big closets and sometimes complain about cramped rooms, etc.


So why are we so out of control when it comes to our houses? It could be because humans are inherently selfish and evil. Or we could give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that they mean well. After all, they each have the best of intentions for their own family; it's just when you add up the all their individual decisions that things go to shit. Either way, it doesn't really matter. We are where we are, so how do we get out of this mess?

I'm not 100% sure, but I think if we start watching House Hunters less as entertainment and more as a kind of cautionary tale about what not to do, maybe we'll all be smarter when we go to buy our own houses? We must let the house hunters that have gone before us teach us to downsize and learn to live with what we need, not with what we want in our wildest, white-picket-fence-infested dreams. And, in the end, if all else fails, and the American empire crumbles, at least we will have all watched enough House Hunters International to know exactly where to look when we're ready to escape the zombie hordes in suburban Illinois and go live under the Tuscan sun.


Montauk Monster

It just makes me sad that so few people my age are interested in older houses. I think old bungalows and Victorians and hell, even the right '50s ranch house can be just lovely. More for me?