Home improvement reality shows like HGTV's Love It Or List It sell homeowners a dream. By putting their home in the hands of a fix-'er-up dream team, they can avoid the headache and expense of renovating their homes themselves.
But as Deena Murphy and Timothy Sullivan recently learned, the "reality" these shows are selling is a fantasy at best—and a nightmare at worst. In a new lawsuit reported by The Miami Herald, the couple allege that after Love It Or List It did an episode on their home, they were stuck with an "irreparably damaged," vermin-ridden house, and $85,000 worth of inept workmanship for which they ultimately had to pay the bill.
According to the lawsuit, filed in North Carolina's Durham County Superior Court, Murphy and Sullivan were looking to renovate a rental property with the aim of moving into it with their kids when an ad for Love It Or List It caught their eye. The couple was enticed to deposit $140,000 in the account of Big Coat TV, which produces the show. In exchange, Love It Or List It would arrange for the house to be renovated, with all unused money being returned to the couple upon the end of the episode's filming. Or, as the lawsuit puts it: "The homeowners’ funds essentially pay the cost of creating a stage set for this television series."
It seems like a strangely insubstantial pact to make with the reality TV devil. In exchange for reality TV fame, Love It Or List It would renovate a person's house on their dime, without giving them an actual say in the work being done. Love It Or List It's hosts include Hilary Farr, a touted "international home designer," and David Visentine, a Canadian real estate agent, who ostensibly would lend their expertise to the process for free. But in reality, Murphy and Sullivan's lawsuit contends that Farr and Visentine were no more than "actors or television personalities playing a role for the camera," and that "none of them played more than a casual role in the actual renovation process."
In fact, according to Murphy and Sullivan, a licensed architect was never even approached to develop their home's renovation plans. As for the actual work, it was done without the couple's approval by Aaron Fitz, a contractor with some seedy ratings on Angie's List. Although Fitz was paid $85,786.50 by Big Coat for work done on the house, Murphy and Sullivan say their home was "irreparably damaged," filled with "low-grade industrial carpeting, unpainted surfaces and windows painted shut," and holes in the floor thanks to shoddy duct work "through which vermin" can now scurry, night and day. On its part, Big Coat Productions claims the allegations are false, and it intends to defend itself in court.
Something tells us this kind of reality show home renovation nightmare is a pretty common occurrence. Behind the superficial veneer of luxury and glamour, these shows have a long history of ruining perfectly good designs in exchange for ratings.