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The Shocking Truth Behind Your Favorite Reality Show

House Hunters practically set the precedent for the home reality TV universe. Since the HGTV show premiered on September 30, 1999, it has racked up 232 seasons and inspired multiple spinoffs including an international version. Of course, like all reality TV, much of the series—which is HGTV’s longest-running production to date—is a fantasy concocted for entertainment value. That’s no secret, since everyone from real estate agents to homeowners have shared their experiences on the show. But if you’ve yet to peek behind the curtains—whether you’re a longtime viewer or a new watcher—here’s the shocking truth behind the beloved show: Would-be buyers don’t actually hunt for houses on it.

One homeowner who considered going on the show told House Beautiful: “I purchased my home in upstate New York in 2012, and my real estate agent, who was a knows-everybody kind of guy, was like, ‘Oh, I know someone at House Hunters, and they’re always looking for people. Would you wanna do it?’ And I was like, ‘Sure, why not? Sounds fun.'”

When the homeowner was contacted by show’s production company, she let them know she had already secured a place. She explains: “They were like, ‘Yeah, that’s no problem. We’re going to find two other homes, and then just we’ll record you looking at all of them as if it was your first time seeing all these places, including the home that you live in.'”The information didn’t come as a huge shock: “I remember thinking I was less appalled by the idea that it was fake,” she says. “It didn’t matter. I just liked watching the show.”

She didn’t follow through with the episode because filming would have taken two days, which meant she’d have to take time off work for part of it. While she was hoping to receive some payment to put toward new furniture, the budget was either too small or nothing at all—she couldn’t remember which. (Some accounts from homeowners who did go on the show say they received $500 in recent years.) “I just felt very busy and taking off for, you know, kind of a fictitious story didn’t seem worth it to me,” she says.

In a statement to Entertainment Weekly in 2012, a publicist for House Hunters confirmed that the home-buying process needed to be streamlined for TV. ​​”To maximize production time, we seek out families who are pretty far along in the process,” the statement read. “Often everything moves much more quickly than we can anticipate, so we go back and revisit some of the homes that the family has already seen and we capture their authentic reactions.”

Sometimes those other homes happened to be places the homeowners never actually toured in the first place. One show participant—who went on House Hunters and House Hunters International and then shared their story on Slate—admitted to touring Airbnb rentals and friends’ houses instead of actual properties for sale. In any case, there’s some authenticity in the participants’ reactions, whether it’s the novelty of seeing a random home or the feelings drummed up by revisiting one you’d considered a prospect.

While a lot of the show is fabricated, the final result still resonates authentically with viewers, from a couple’s argument over a must-have feature to the hustle it takes to find a new place. It’s as comforting as a warm meal on a rainy day, and we eat it up.

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