Home show review

The best and worst of TV for wannabe weekend warriors

If you haven’t heard, Trading Spaces has jumped the shark. Yep. Host Paige was booted more than a year ago, and Hilde, George, Amy Wynn and the rest of the crew are slowly watching their 15 minutes tick away.

But never fear. TV producers have unlimited ideas for shows to take their place. There’s a program (My Parents’ House on HGTV) in which grown children get to redecorate their folks’ outdated digs. How Clean Is Your House? (Lifetime) has two British women finding more grime than I want to think about in people’s dwellings. And the international version of House Hunters shows home-buyers seeking bargains in countries where the tradition is to save up for, rather than mortgage, a house. If that’s not your bag, there are literally dozens of other shows to choose from, and I’ve assigned grades to 10 of them.

After all, why get off the couch and actually work on your house when you can watch others work on theirs at no cost to you?

B Clean Sweep, TLC
In Clean Sweep, tummy-baring host Tava Smiley (no relation to the PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley) cuts a vaguely annoying figure as homeowners talk about how two rooms became overrun with crap, truck all of the crap outside and shift it around from pile to pile as organizer Peter Walsh uses his devastatingly cute Down Under accent to convince them to toss or sell most of it, preferably after a few tears add a psychological component to the clutter. ("This coat is not your dead mother. You mother is in here [pats heart area].") The yard sale portion bores, but in a refreshing twist, the designers put together relatively affordable rooms that people actually like.

B+ House Hunters, HGTV
The smartest thing House Hunters producers did this season is add two key pieces of information that had been glaringly omitted in the past: the price and location of the properties being toured. House Hunters still suffers from stilted commentary: “I don’t know if we could do with just one bathroom [awkward silence].” But it’s fun to try to guess which house they’ll pick and then fast-forward a few months later to see how they miraculously found the time and money to remodel and redecorate.

B- Designers’ Challenge, HGTV
The Bachelor host Chris Harrison has kept his day job, hosting this polite show in which three design teams are pitted against each other as a client chooses which one best grasped their vision for the room at hand. The pitches are the best part, followed by the finished product. Don’t expect conflict in this show, but the rooms turn out great. There’s also Landscapers’ Challenge, basically the same thing but outside.

A- Flip This House, A&E
I crave new episodes of this show, in which a team from Trademark Properties buys, renovates and sells houses in South Carolina, usually within a couple of weeks. From cutthroat foreclosure auctions to fights among employees to rat infestations, Flip This House has plenty of action. They’ll spend $8,000 to repaint a house they just painted, just because the company owner doesn’t like the color, but they talk openly about not giving a rip about permits and “sugar-coating” a house with minor improvements rather than doing a full-scale remodel.

A- Property Ladder, TLC
After watching Property Ladder, you’ll have a distrust of contractors and an awareness of regional housing markets, but most of all you’ll wish you had the capital to try it yourself. They’re first-time flippers who blatantly ignore the advice of the show’s helpful expert, Kirsten Kemp. The show captivates by playing up the time factor, as the flippers sink deeper into debt as they go months past deadline. Property Ladder makes it seem like the most bumbling, non-handy fool in town can make tens of thousands of dollars in a few weeks.

C Curb Appeal, HGTV
Here, the pleasure is in the before and after. Home owners want to spruce up the outside of their house, from landscaping to paint to decorative elements. The process often involves the pulling off of shutters, gingerbread and security window bars. Sometimes, designers coerce the homeowners into upping their budgets, or going with colors or elements they don’t want. This adds to the viewing pleasure, but I usually fast-forward to the end for the “reveal.”

C- Cash in the Attic, HGTV
Here’s the premise: To raise money for some desired extra (wood floors, a hot tub, a finished basement) a family culls through its antiques, collectibles and family heirlooms to sell at auction. Appraisers and family members guess what the items will sell for, and the owners—who parted with some of their possessions with great emotional distress—are on the edges of their seats at the auction awaiting the final tally, which is usually around $5,000. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, but it’s an OK half-hour of Clean Sweep meets Antiques Roadshow.

B Sell This House, A&E
It’s amazing how house-seekers can’t look past rugs full of matted dog hair and 300 knick knacks to see a home’s potential. Sell This House finds homes that have been on the market awhile, show what comparables have sold for, host a hidden-camera open house, paint, declutter and “stage” rooms and then have a second open house, which garners praise and maybe an offer, despite the fact that the Sell This House team works on only two or three rooms. Host Tanya Memme is not only sexy, she can wire a lighting fixture and install a window. Designer Roger Hazzard is mellow and muscular. Spinoff Move This House pales in comparison to the original.

C+ Buy Me, HGTV
This show’s intrigue lies in the fact that its producers extract as much conflict as possible out of each situation—even if it’s kind of creepy, like when a divorced couple tries to sell their house without talking to one another. A Canadian import, Buy Me shows insights into real estate agent contracts that can’t be cancelled and other quirks of the market. There’s usually a tight deadline, botched open houses and lots of bickering. This is one show that doesn’t always have a happy ending.

B- Moving Up, TLC
Trading Spaces survivor Doug Wilson was smart enough to branch out with Moving Up, an hour-long prime time show whose standout feature is a willingness to tell it like it is. (It can get fairly mean-spirited.) The premise: Three families are shown, with two of them swapping lesser homes for those higher up the property ladder. First, they’re filmed in their old house and then touring the new one, explaining why their style is great and the previous owner’s taste sucks. Next, they set about knocking out cabinets and painting over sentimental décor, sinking tens of thousands of dollars into the house they just took out a massive mortgage on. Finally, they go back to their original house and mock or recoil at what the new owners did to it.