Give Me Back My Five Bucks

6 things I’ve learned from watching home buying shows

Over the weekend I watched two full seasons of My First Home on Netflix. Yes, I said seasons.

I couldn’t help myself – I love home buying shows for so many different reasons. I love comparing Vancouver real estate to the rest of North America, and also other places in the world. I love learning about their budgets, expectations, style, and renovation reveals. And still, even to this day, I find it insane that a $200k house in a small town in the U.S. would be worth $3 million if it were located here in Vancouver. Sometimes when watching home shows, I get envious, sometimes I’m puzzled, confused, or irrationally angry … but I love them and I always come back for more.

Here are 6 take-aways I learned from binge watching My First Home on Netflix:

Men are obsessed with man caves

What is the deal with man caves? Why is this even a thing? It just seems really weird to me that men get a special space in the house that’s all their own to “get away” from their wife and children – where they can shut the door and drink beer and watch football and play video games with their friends. Where is that same space for women?! Look, I understand hobby rooms and places in the house dedicated to certain activities (RD wants an area in our condo so that he can set up an easel and paint, for example), but having a space in the house that’s so aggressively male – and only for males – just irks me I guess. And the fact that not having one can be a deal breaker to an otherwise perfect house? Come on.

Buyers believe what the banks tell them they can afford

I was constantly surprised that buyers would just take what the bank told them they can afford and that so many people spent to their maximum pre-approval. Not that there’s anything wrong with that if you’ve run your own numbers and can fit that mortgage payment (and all other associated housing costs) into your budget, but many of the buyers just said things like “the bank pre-approved us for $140k, so that’s our budget.” No. Please please please. If you’re thinking of buying a home, please run the numbers and consider all scenarios – what would happen if you (or your partner) lost your job? What happens if you have kids? Do you have an emergency fund? Are you saving enough for retirement? Did you leave room in your monthly budget for property tax, insurance, and strata fees? I’ll admit that perhaps my budgeting spreadsheet(s) are too detailed to be enjoyed by most people, but the minimum you should be doing is spending a few hours looking at your finances and seeing what you can actually afford, not what the bank says you can afford. Because the bank? They’re not looking out for your best interest. They’re looking to make as much money off you as possible.

Nobody had a 20% down payment

I think out of the entire two seasons I watched, only two buyers had a 20% down payment, and one was because he received an inheritance. As for the other buyers, some didn’t have down payments at all. But I was mostly surprised that many were going house hunting with such a small amount saved (even though they often had good salaries). It made me wonder if they even had any additional money set aside for an emergency fund or moving costs. Because if they say they’ve been able to save $4,000 for a down payment, that’s a small enough number that it makes me think that’s probably all of their savings, no?

Related: Why I don’t want to burn my mortgage

In some places, normal people with normal salaries can afford houses

The amount that RD and I paid for our condo was more than anyone paid for their house on the show in the 2 seasons I watched. It made me cry a little bit inside when one guy (who had no down payment, btw) signed the papers on a 3-bedroom house where his mortgage would be less than $500/month. Or another episode where a guy bought a 2,200 sq.ft. house for $200k. That same house would have easily cost $3 million if it were located in Vancouver!

I definitely got super envious at the housing prices – I’d love a house for $100k, thanks – but then I think about living in Rural Wherever and I’m okay with spending what we did to live in a big city. :) Lifestyle and demand and all that stuff mean that in big cities like Vancouver or Toronto or New York, normal people with normal salaries will never be able to afford houses.

Some people don’t have Realtors

Okay this one really did shock me. I didn’t realize people went house hunting on their own without representation. I’m not saying that in a snarky way, I really was surprised. I know that sometimes Realtors get a bad reputation, but not to have one at all to give you advice and protecting your best interests … I dunno, it feels like going to court without a lawyer.

In this one episode, a woman was looking to buy a house and had searching on her own for MONTHS without any luck. She was getting into multiple offer situations, often got outbid, and was extremely frustrated. Yet she kept commenting that there was no way a Realtor could do a better job than what she was already doing. Her friend reluctantly convinced her to use a Realtor, and she ended up finding her dream home with them. When you’re buying real estate, using a Realtor is free (you only have to pay commissions when you sell using a Realtor). I’ve only had very positive experiences using a Realtor, and can’t imagine ever navigating the property market without one. But of course that’s my own experience and my own opinion!

(Curious – has anyone been successful in not using a realtor to buy?)

Buying a home with someone is a huge commitment

In some ways, buying a home with someone is more of a commitment than marriage, so you better be sure that person is the right one for you! There was one episode where a couple had been dating for 7 years, but when she realized that a mortgage meant they’d be committed for the next 30 years? She freaked out and they broke up. There was another episode where the woman wanted a huge house to fill it up with future children, and the guy looked so frightened and the Realtor looked like she wanted to die it was so awkward.

I personally think it’s important to figure out what you both want (now and in the future) before you start your home search. Think about where you want to live, if you want kids, if you plan on getting married – all of the big life decisions don’t have to be made immediately, but at least openly discussing them before committing to a home could potentially save a lot of arguing, and also money. From a financial perspective, I think it’s also important how you plan on combining financing, splitting mortgage and household payments, as well as who actually owns the house (or how it’ll be split). It was interesting to see the creative solutions the home buyers on the show came up with in terms of ownership rights, and payment to the mortgage, which goes to show that there’s not one right way of doing things.

Related: Combining our finances

Anyway part of me is really glad that we don’t have cable, otherwise I’d have access to all those other home buying/house flipping shows that I’m obsessed with. :) What are some of the things you’ve learned from watching shows like this?!

Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


  1. strandedrocks says:

    Hi Krystal,

    I also watch the entire series and I was really surprised by the low down payments too. A lot of the combined salaries were six figures and they still had small down payments. I figured if they lived in low cost of living areas where houses were easily under 3x yearly salary it would be easy to have at least 20% down payment. I tried to rationalize it by saying, “oh maybe they have a ton of student debt or they haven’t been saving for long.” What irks me like men caves bother you, are the women who won’t consider a house without granite and stainless steel appliances in the kitchen. It’s as useless as complaining about the wall colour. Those things can be upgraded in the future meanwhile they don’t seem to worry over things like location, neighbourhood, condition of the house as much. The things you can’t change. I guess it’s all done for dramatic effect. I don’t think people like you and me shopping for houses would make interesting tv. :)

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I totally agree about the granite/stainless comments. Those things are easily changed out, but people seemed fixated on it when perhaps they should have been more concerned with the bigger things that can’t be changed. Especially in your first home when your budget likely isn’t huge. Those kinds of superficial things didn’t bother me when I was searching for my first home (I had set aside about $5k for renos/improvements once I moved in), but this time around, I do have to admit that it was a consideration. I wanted a completely updated, turn-key place. And while I did end up getting those granite counter tops, we’re still going to paint the entire place and do a few small renos. :)

  2. Tara says:

    I think the biggest difference between real estate in Canada in the and the US is the fact that a majority of Canada is not an area with a climate people enjoy. So as a result, real estate does have to cost significantly more since there’s less “hospitable” land available. Isn’t like 75% of the Canadian population within 100 miles of the US border or something like that? I think a more realistic comparison to real estate would be a smaller country with an equivalent land mass and economy to that 100 mile border range in Canada.

    Climate does make a huge difference: in the US, the south wouldn’t have nearly the population boom it has now if not for the advent of air conditioning! A/C made it possible for all types of people to live in the south, and since the south lacks the harsh winters, the south continues to grow in population.

    But yes, it’s crazy how many people don’t have 20% down for a home. We had 20% down plus closing costs, but only for a home around the $100,000 range, so that’s the home we purchased.

  3. Jess says:

    What a judgmental post!

  4. Great takeaways! I have the same thoughts about a man cave. Why don’t women get the same space for themselves as a spa or something similar. But then when I watch those shows, I also realize that women are often the ones picking what house to buy (i.e. depending on the closet, kitchen). Maybe it’s not too bad that men want a small space in the whole house?

    My husband’s been obsessed with having his own study room where we can study, read, play video games, and such. *sigh*

  5. Annie says:

    Oh my gosh, yes! I haven’t seen the particular show you watched, but I can totally relate to the irrational anger they provoke (and I’m not a homeowner). That’s part of the reason I don’t watch so many any more. The lack of preparedness on the part of the majority of house hunters astounded me – there was never any mention of the condition of the structure / insurances / utilities / maintenance, etc. costs, and like strandedrocks said, the number of folks who ‘had’ to have granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances got a bit ridiculous when there are so many other, more important (at least, to me) things to worry about. Despite all that, I keep coming back. I love those shows!

  6. We actually didn’t use a realtor when we searched for our current home. It might not be common but it happens. We had a flexible timeline and very specific requirements so we looked casually for about 12-16 months and then jumped on our house when we saw it.

    To actually purchase our home the sellers agent did a duel representation so we did have a realtor in a way.

  7. jill says:

    I wonder how staged this show is as compared to House Hunters? Once I realized that HH is super staged, it lost the appeal. I always assumed people were faking their over the top requests… like couples who always needed a double sink bathroom, or one guy who absolutely had to have space for his home beer project. People come off entitled and so over the top.

    Same as Property Brothers (who I like) – they never get them within their mortgage, and they always seemingly blow the reno budget – it’s crazy!

  8. Carrie says:

    Realtor: I did the same as Owen, we had bought a condo 9 months before (well longer as it was a pre-build) and were only casually looking. We fell in love with a house and the realtor ended up representing us to sell our condo and another realtor from the company represented the sellers of the house.
    Man Cave: I look at this differently. One reason we moved from the condo was we worked different shifts and when spouse came home late I couldn’t sleep hearing him watch tv or playing games and enerally the living room is closer to the bedrooms. We also don’t watch the same things on tv at all and I don’t want a tv in the bedroom, so having two tv spaces is necessary for us. He doesn’t call it a man cave. I think putting that title on it creates a vision of a space JUST for the man, but in a lot of cases it’s not and is an entertaining space or extra tv room.

  9. “normal people with normal salaries can afford houses” – this made me LOL, because that’s the story of my life here in NYC. It’s definitely a shock to know you could buy an $80k house in Texas with cash, but can’t afford a 1-bedroom in your own city, even with above-average salaries.

    I also am shocked when I hear people can buy with less than a 20% down payment. Like, 10% or even 3%! That’s crazy.

  10. Dana says:

    With regards to not using a realtor — your real estate lawyer can also be utilized to draw up an offer on your behalf. I’ve found that it’s so beneficial in terms of a price reduction because the seller isn’t handing over thousands (or tens of thousands) to a buyer’s agent.

    Ultimately many people build into their conditions a lawyer signing off on the agreement anyways, so this just means cutting out the middleman.

    This assumes that the buyer is knowledgeable on the market.

  11. getting there says:

    We’ve owned two houses and we bought them both without the use of a realtor. The first house, the homeowners had it listed on a classified website exclusive to our province. My partner and I toured the house with the sellers and later negotiated the price while sitting around their kitchen table. The woman found a general purchase and sale agreement online, which the lawyer said was perfectly fine. I have to say it all went quite smoothly.

    The second house, we found that on Everything was quite easy with this one as well. I communicated directly with the homeowner to arrange things like home inspections, getting the well water tested, things like that.

  12. Beth says:

    My sister works for HGTV – she says almost all their shows are available for free to watch on their website! They are such a guilty pleasure of mine – I find it so crazy what people prioritize and the budgets they come up with.

    I agree with the man cave frustration! However, I do have a few friends whose wives have ‘banished’ their hobbies, guitars, game consoles etc to the basement and I think at times, they feel unwelcome in their own home or not given equal consideration in determining decor or how to use the home. I think that is equally unfair – I really dislike how my partner’s giant gaming computer looks but I don’t think it would be fair to tell him he can’t have it near our living room when it’s his favourite hobby and an important part of his life.

    I am helping my MIL out with casually looking for a place to retire in my town. We have been to two homes that aren’t using a realtor for selling – and it is so AWKWARD. Having the homeowners show you around their own home feels so strange. I’m a naturally very polite person so I find it uncomfortable to voice opinions, ask questions or really look around without feeling like I am pushing boundaries. They also usually ask way over what the market is at. Having a Realtor involved, while it does cost more, makes the whole thing feel more above board and professional to me.

  13. Anonymous says:

    How do you figure enlisting the services of a real estate agent is free for the buyer when the only party bringing money to the table IS the buyer?

    • Krystal Yee says:

      If you’re buying, you don’t have to pay a Realtor anything for their services – they make their money by taking a portion of the selling commission.

  14. Time Hedge says:

    Great points. Buying a home with someone can be as big of a commitment than marriage. I also like the part about downpayments. It is incredible how the original standard 20% is so rare these days. Imagine how this affects price. What if mortgages require or people decide to be more responsible and use 20% again. Home prices likely would adjust down as a result.

  15. Rebs says:

    Great post! I had cancelled my netflix as we weren’t using it recently but this new show is something I would totally watch!

    We purchased our home without a realtor but I’m the first to admit that it just so happened to work well for us. He was very helpful for showings and inspection, drew up all the papers to sign (which are standard forms in Quebec anyway), and which I carefully reviewed (paralegal training). The best thing was that to get us to the price we wanted – but since the seller wouldn’t budge – he offered us a refund from his commission since he wasn’t sharing it with any agent of ours. We ended up with a $7K refund cheque after signing. I doubt that would ever happen again though since stereo typically agents are pretty intense with their commissions! lol

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