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Stainless Steel Waters Run Not-So-Deep On 'House Hunters'

I have a confession.

I cannot resist House Hunters. And, of course, House Hunters International. They're not good. But I can't resist them.

The HoHun franchise, in general, involves a potential home buyer or renter — usually a couple, but sometimes a single person accompanied by a meddling parent or wary friend — seeking a new place. A real estate agent shows the buyer three places, and then the buyer, who was really hoping for something better, picks one.

On HoHun classic, people flit around someplace like Memphis or Philadelphia or Seattle (or similar cities in Canada), trying to find just the right home, by which they mean that it (1) is cheap, and (2) has everything. And by "everything," I mean that it's not at all uncommon for people to walk into a huge, gorgeous house and say something like, "Well, it's pretty nice, but it doesn't have the double vanity in the master bath." For those of us who grew up with the whole family sharing not only one sink but one bathroom, trying to sympathize with this predicament puts us in the mindset best summed up in the words of one Chandler Bing.

You only have to watch about ten seconds into this video before you hear this lady say "uuuuuuugh, pedestal sink" in the same way a lot of people would say, "uuuuuuuuugh, gallstones" or "uuuuuuuuugh, bankruptcy." The thing that makes the show feel like a trip through the looking glass is that it always seems like this is genuinely the biggest problem this person has at the moment. Immaculately maintained wall-to-wall carpeting, given the fact that all of these people always want cold wood floors everywhere, is a tragedy on par with ... I don't know, locust invasions.

And you can tell, a lot of the time, that they want things simply because they have been trained to believe that these are the things good houses contain. "Oh, it's an electric stove," snorts someone who almost definitely hasn't cooked anything more complicated than organic mac-and-cheese since the '90s. They love: gas stoves, gas stoves with six burners, gas stoves with eight burners, stainless steel everything, wood floors, walk-in closets, double vanities, wine refrigerators, large yards that don't require mowing (because small yards are low-class but yardwork is for other people), and mud rooms (but not actually getting muddy, because: gross). They hate: wall-to-wall carpeting, white/black/small appliances, overly ordinary sinks, inadequately fancy basements, unflattering lighting.

Oh, and don't forget — they love: thrift! They hate: overspending!

Of course, it's impossible to argue with them when they're looking out for The Kids or The Dogs. (This is common.) They'll say something like, "Weeeeell, this is very pretty, but if Hunter climbed up on the dresser in our bedroom and got the latch open, he could crawl right out onto the roof." Or, "I like it, but the yard is probably too slanted for Peanut and Clyde to really run around in."

The video of Pedestal Sink Pathos Polly there also quickly lays out the usual House Hunters conflict: she wants all her fancy stuff! He's worried about the money! Potato! Potahto! Blondie! Dagwood! Let's call the whole thing off. (By which I mean: the marriage.)

Of course, you can understand why she's unhappy and they have to move right now. Their townhouse has "only one living room." MAH HEAVEN, how have they made it this long? One living room! They have to put their Sophisticated Guests in the same room as their Casual Guests! Where do you put the fainting couch? How will they hold their annual Casino Night and Indoor Clambake if the bonfire has to be in the same room with the roulette wheel?

But HoHun's international flavor, when it focuses on Americans (which it doesn't always), really cranks up the privilege, and privilege is what drives this show and makes it sing. The people on the international episodes aren't just moving to a new city, but to a new country, which they usually want to be something like Epcot Center, international in feel and entertainment but requiring no adjustment on their part and no departure from routine. They want it quaint, but not different. They essentially want a reverse-Narnia situation where they live in an American home, but when they walk outside, it's France, or Australia, or what have you.

And as hard as it is to believe, they're often even more spoiled than the regular HoHun people.

I watched one the other day in which a young dating couple moved from Louisville to Brisbane, Australia because she found a job there. He apparently tagged along with the idea of living on the beach, but he didn't have a job (yet). When they arrived, they told the real estate lady that they wanted to live in the city, close to her work, but they also wanted to live on the Gold Coast on the beach.

It was sort of wonderful to see the agent try to figure out how to break it to them that this is a little like saying you want to live in Washington but also in Baltimore, or in Boston but also on Cape Cod. So they had to decide between him not living on the beach and her not spending three hours in the car every day.

She was not eager to commit to a potential 90-minute commute so that her boyfriend could lie around at the beach, so she suggested they could live near where work was and go to the beach on weekends (you know, like normal people do). He wasn't having it. He was sure that the commute was no big deal, compared to the ability to have a beer on the patio. Of course, it wasn't his commute. Jerk! Eventually, she brought him around by mentioning that he would probably have to get a job someday, and then he'd have to commute, too.

Now, that was a horse of a different color! (It also may have involved, in my fantasy, her informing him that if his plan was to go the beach and sponge off her, he could boomerang himself right back to Kentucky.) So they moved closer to the city. Of course, by then, I'd pretty much decided she should feed him to a kangaroo, so.

When they finally do pick a house, they always act as if they've been forced to accept a downgrade from living in Buckingham Palace to living in a storage shed behind their parents' house. "They didn't get the heated stone footbath Melanie really wanted," the voice-over will say sympathetically, "but they're hoping that the sixth bedroom can be renovated and made into a spa."

Television has a very, very complicated relationship with issues of class. With rare exceptions, it doesn't see poor people and both worships and demonizes rich people. The nice thing about House Hunters is the low, low stakes (especially with HGTV pretty much admitting that it's fake or part-fake). It will leave you with the warm and fuzzy feeling that they may have a wine refrigerator, but you have your dignity.

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Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.
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