Frugal Confessions — Live a VIP Life on an Average Paycheck

Can You Get HGTV to Pay For Your Home Renovation?


You’ve heard me mention all of the work we’ve completed on our home, and all of the additional work left to do (hello sinking-subfloor, vanity cracked-sometime-in-the-70s, 2nd-floor outhouse bathroom).

When we are faced with any type of cost, I try my best to brainstorm ways to decrease expenses. And honestly, I’m really good at it. Perhaps because no idea is too ‘out there’ or weird for me to consider…including the potential of applying to be on an Home & Garden Television (HGTV) show.

Like for our upstairs bathroom. We’ve just had our first child, and I would love to renovate the heck out of that place. The problem? The cost, the amount of energy it would take (we’ve renovated two other bathrooms and realize what’s involved at this point), etc., etc., etc.

So I’ve thought a time or two about applying to one of these shows.

I mean, why not?

But obviously I’d like to apply to one that would pay our expenses (the Frugal Confession of the century, eh?). Plus I think it’s just completely fascinating to figure out which shows pay for your home renovations versus which shows make you pony up.

home renovation_1

So, Do these Shows Pay for the Cost of the Renovation?

Let me guess: while watching one of these drool-worthy home renovations you’ve had wild fantasies of your own home getting the VIP experience, complete with quartz countertops, stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors, and that sunroom that’s been dripping into your dreams…but your actual budget if you were to give into these fantasies would be somewhere along the lines of $5,000 (a stretch at that).

So would your budget + wants be realistic if you got accepted to an HGTV show?

A 2011 interview with Kathleen Finch, then Senior Vice President and General Manager of HGTV, sheds some murky light on the whole issue. “In some shows, we come in and we pay for everything. In others we are following along on a regularly scheduled renovation anyway. In some cases, we share the costs with the homeowner. There is no hard and fast rule.”

Thanks for the clarification, Kathleen.

From my research, I’ve found that a plus to getting on one of these shows is that unrealistic expectations combined with a small budget can actually sometimes win. That’s because most of these shows contract with local companies to cut their costs down to half or less of what the job is actually worth. According to this article by Kiplinger, “Networks often partner with advertisers that provide free materials, and some contractors that appear on these shows will work at discounted rates in exchange for free publicity.”

It’s quite similar to the blogging world, where I get a constant deluge of emails from advertisers asking me to write a blog post for their company for free in exchange for awesome traffic (admittedly, it gets a little shoddy when you try to pay the electric bill with all that prestige, as I’m sure is the case with those local contractors as well).

Real Show Examples Curated from the Internet

It would be awesome if this type of information — which shows pay for home renovations and which do not — was readily available to the public. But after much research, I’ve found that simply isn’t the case. In the meantime, I’ve tried to gather as specific information as I can.

  • The Unsellables: This half-hour show debuted in 2008 on HGTV Canada. Featuring British “property guru” Sofie Allsopp and contractor Anthony Sayers, this pair coach home sellers through clean-up, staging, and repairs (no large home renovations) with the end goal being to sell the property quickly, at the most profit for the homeowners. Since its debut, the show has completed homes in both San Diego and Savannah area. According to a casting call looking for 7 unsellable homes in the San Diego area, this show will pay for all the costs of upgrading a home in order to make it sellable, estimated at an approximate $10,000 value per property. On top of that, “the homeowners/sellers may keep the moveable items used for the design makeover.” Yes, please.
  • Curb Appeal: In 2010, Cenate and Wendy Pruitt and their Atlanta-area home were featured on this show with a $20,000 exterior redo. The work done on their home was considered their payment, and yes, they will owe taxes on that money. “Our compensation [for being on the show] was the work. And so at the end of the production, we were given a 1099. We were given a contract that said, ‘You were contractors on this production for two weeks. Your compensation is 20 grand and some change. As a contractor, you owe Uncle Sam and the state of Georgia ‘Y’ amount of money.” Sweet.
  • Extreme Makeover Home Edition: While off the air, it’s interesting to see how some of the finances worked behind this show. The company behind this television series, Endemol USA, essentially took advantage of a tax loophole to help the new homeowners avoid a huge income tax bill from their financial windfall (getting a brand new, castle-large home built by a combination of contractors and volunteers). According to, “[u]nder section 280(A)(g) of the Internal Revenue Code, if a taxpayer uses a dwelling as a residence and rents that dwelling to a lessee for a period of less than fifteen days, the rental payments are not included as income for tax purposes.” So the way they worked this is they made a lease agreement with the new homeowners for less than 15 days, with the actual home improvements being the rent paid. This resulted in a tax-free transfer of value to the homeowners instead of having them get hit with a huge income tax bill.

How to Make Your Debut on One of these Shows

There are some more considerations to make when deciding if you want to apply for one of these shows. Aside from the invasion into your life + privacy, you need to know that your property taxes could increase due to an increased appraisal on your home, the repairs may be shoddy/hastily done due to the show’s time constraints, and there could be added maintenance costs because of things like huge fountain fixtures, pools, etc.

Still interested (and have a good angle you could pitch)? There are casting calls all the time for them. You can find all the casting calls and applications for two of the biggest networks here: HGTV casting calls and DIY Network casting calls.

As for us, perhaps one day our bathroom will make it onto a show like Bath Crashers…you just never know.

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