Your favorite HGTV show may be Canadian

To meet demand for home-improvement shows, the cable channel imports real estate programming from up north.

By MSN Real Estate partner Nov 14, 2013 9:18AM

The hosts of “Brother vs. Brother”. (© HGTV)By Karen Johnson, The Wall Street Journal


Nicole Beniamini knows what it takes to sell a house in Toronto and talks like a veteran of the bidding wars in the city's real-estate market. And she's never even been there.


The 31-year-old Hillsborough, N.J., resident, like many Americans, is a devoted fan of home shows that have grown up on HGTV in the U.S. but were born in Canada. Currently, 11 shows in the cable network's weekly lineup have Canadian roots, more than on any other U.S. network. The Canadian shows are helping to fill strong demand for home and real estate programming.


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HGTV, based in Knoxville, Tenn., says three Canadian-grown shows — "Brother vs. Brother," "Property Brothers" and "Love It or List It" — rank among its 10 most-watched. According to ratings firm Nielsen, nearly 2.1 million Americans have regularly watched "Brother vs. Brother," and nearly 1.3 million Americans have watched "Love It or List It" this year, significant for a niche network though far below the 21 million viewers of a major network hit like "The Big Bang Theory."

"Love It or List It" ran for four seasons on the W Network in Canada before landing a spot on HGTV in the U.S. in 2011. Each hourlong episode follows homeowners through a renovation and house hunt, and suspense builds as they decide whether to "love" the newly renovated home or "list" it for something better.

The show's concept came out of executive producer Maria Armstrong's personal experience. Armstrong said she faced a "love it or list it" quandary when her twin boys reached school age. With her two-bedroom family home feeling crowded, she wondered whether to renovate the basement and add a third-floor master bedroom — or make the leap to a bigger place.

"It's a common dilemma," Armstrong said at a recent taping of an episode in Toronto featuring a couple who had purchased a small house 10 months earlier sight unseen, trusting online photos and family members who had walked through it. 

"His parents assured them it was a perfect house," Armstrong said. "It's not a perfect house." 

The co-hosts — and about a dozen crew members and their gear — squeezed into the 900-square-foot home for about four hours of taping to capture the starring hosts' first impressions of the house. 

True to form, designer and show co-host Hilary Farr dubbed the small home "lovely," and real estate agent and co-host David Visentin called it "a disaster." There's no script, but there is a formula, and the two hosts do repeat their ad-libbed jabs and observations multiple times with various camera angles.


The show accepts applications from Toronto-area homeowners. At the recent taping, the homeowners had an $82,000 renovation budget — their own money — and had lender approval for a $900,000 new-home purchase.  

The crew took pains not to cross each other on the stairwell as they set up downstairs and upstairs for each new scene. "Bad luck," Armstrong said. And little space.

"Love It or List It" has quickly built a large fan base — and a fairly high-profile one. Hillary Clinton called it her favorite program last year in a New York Times  interview, calling the show "calming."


"Maybe that was a little international diplomacy on her part," said Kathleen Finch, president of HGTV and DIY, its sister network. "But I think it's because she's got great taste."

In the third quarter of this year, HGTV was the most-watched cable network among viewers whose household income exceeds $100,000, in the weekend, total day and primetime slots, according to Nielsen data. These viewers are highly prized by advertisers.


"Property Brothers," which features Canadian twins Jonathan and Drew Scott, is among the most popular shows on HGTV in the U.S. and the W Network in Canada.


The brothers, who now have three shows, this year were on the website BuzzFeed's list of HGTV's "15 All-Time Hottest Hotties." They have an assistant who "is kept very, very busy" answering fan mail, Finch said.


Content crosses the border in part because of relationships the U.S. HGTV network has with Shaw Media, which operates HGTV in Canada and a number of other networks. They co-produce shows, share content and license each other's programming.


New Jersey viewer Beniamini, a research director at Edison Research, said she likes the Canadian shows, which often feature Toronto real estate, because prices in the city more closely align with her own. "In New York or New Jersey, a small house with no yard will go for $400,000, and in South Carolina, you will get a five-bedroom, four-bath mansion with a pool for $250,000. That's frustrating."

Elsewhere in the U.S., however, Toronto home prices strike many Americans as "very, very high," Finch said. "So what we have to do is say 'This house is $800,000, which — for this neighborhood — is a fair asking price.' Because if you're sitting in a town in the U.S. where a house like that would be $300,000, you'd be sort of quietly gasping."


The median house price in Toronto, in U.S. dollars, is about $435,200, according to Canadian government data. Across the U.S., it's $203,500, according to the National Association of Realtors. "When we first started watching these shows and we saw those home prices, we kept saying 'Where in the world are they?'" said Tracey Allison, 45, an IBM program manager who lives in a suburb of Cincinnati.

As for Armstrong, whose dilemma inspired "Love It or List It," she "loved" her tiny two-bedroom Toronto home after the renovation and stayed there for five years. Then one day, a five-bedroom house with a big yard came up for sale right around the block. That's when she listed it.


More from The Wall Street Journal





Nov 20, 2013 5:35PM

My fave is Income Property. Just wish the city where I reside would allow an apartment in my large and finished walkout basement.  But I suppose the various high priced apartment buildings in the area need tenants... Sigh.....

Other faves are Property Virgins, and House Hunters International.... and one about finding an apartment to rent..... although some of the people looking to purchase or to rent get on my last nerves with some of them lowballing the seller trying to get something for very little money. So happy when the home seller turn down the offer. LOL

In love it or List it, it is time that some of these homeowners are told the truth, that you cannot expect to repair and rehab a whole house including new furnishings and appliances etc. on a 40 thousand dollar budget. Something gotta give....

Perhaps that is why I prefer Income Property because all the money goes towards converting the space into the new apartment, and does not include the furniture and the host teaches the new landlord to be how to repair and maintain the property.

Love Bar Rescue and also love  Hotel Rescue when Blanche is the designer on the project. These programs are not on HGTV.

My pet peeve is when people buy heritage homes or very old homes and then mess it up with their 'Open Concept' nonsense, which used to be known as  Great Rooms several years ago.

Perhaps these remodelers do not realize that it cost more to heat an Open Concept/Great Room house than a home with clearly defined rooms with doors that can shut off rooms keeping the warmth in, or be heated with a portable heater with that expensive whole house central heat turned down. Walls and doors also provide privacy and security, rather than the person at the door being able to see straight through to the back door also forcing the homeowner to try to keep the house pristine and tidy all the time, which is especially difficult with children in the home. Open concept is only good for  small single level flats, apartments, and condos imo.

Nov 20, 2013 4:17PM

i prefer the canuck stuff to the American stuff (whatever is left of it on HGTV).  well, not so much the

LIOLI.  kinda like THIS OLD HOUSE used to be.    HH or HHI are "champagne taste and beer

budget". lets face it... HHI seems a bit farfetched...Americans moving OVERSEAS to find a house.

some are noted to be "working for the home or subisidiary company" yet the homeseekers make no effort to find out what is available BEFORE they get there. bad planning.

but ..HGTV beats reruns of ROSANNE ..but NOT  yan can cook.

Nov 20, 2013 12:08PM
love it or list is so full of crap. Come on every single episode she get's a budget from the homeowner only to find something lurking behind the walls or city code that demands more money for what they want to accomplish. They expect Hillary to give them what they want with the same amount of money. Every episode is like this. It's like they seek out houses they know they will find problems with. I can understand a few shows where the homeowner has this frame of mind. Not every single episode. It is so scripted. You expect to get a 40 thousand dollar remodel for half that? Some of Mike Holmes's shows are too critical. He has the best show on the network. Every deck has to have 4 foot footers or it will fall. We built our deck here in the south it is a standalone deck sitting on the 4by4 blocks about 4 feet high. I know our frost line is not as deep, but the deck has not moved an inch in 10 years. The early episode where he rebuilt a deck that had them blocks only needed ralings. Instead of the ramp going to the paved driveway he took it all the way to the sidewalk where the guy in the scooter would have to get out of the car and traverse a much longer ramp and that's assuming the sidewalk is clear of snow. The people in the house went a year without railings before calling him. I would have had someone else put them up. This deck was maybe 3 feet from the ground and the end of the ramp he put in was put in the dirt. Even treated wood will rot if enough time has passed. And what's with distressing everything to make it look old and weathered. They hit it with chains and hammers and love the heck out of rust. People in the day would consider this stuff junk and so do I. Mega Dens is the worst with this. Antique furniture does not have gouges in it. It was taken care of. The only one on the network who try's to incorporate old into old houses the right way is Nicole on Rehab Addict. She try's to make it look as original as possible. Not new houses with distressed this and distressed that thrown in and it looks like crap.
HGTV has become so boring they only have about 3 shows and they play over and over. What ever happend to the design programs they were so interesting. I have pretty much stopped watching HGTV becasue it's all about Real Estate and nothing more!
Nov 20, 2013 10:18AM
I like home improvement shows.  But there budgets are nuts.     It would be nice to see a program that instructs  people that need a little encouragement to do  home remodels one room at a time and on the average Joe's salary not these $20,000   bathroom make overs.   . Back to Basics Huh for the blue collar folks.
Nov 20, 2013 9:47AM
Nov 20, 2013 9:45AM

How could you not know they were Canadian?  It doesn't matter to me.  I do miss the older shows that actually gave you ways to accomplish things.  I don't know why everything has to be a competition.  there are no gardening shows at all anymore except yard crashers, and Ahmad was way better at that than the guy now.

  So, I don't watch as much as I used to. 


Nov 20, 2013 9:26AM
All you have to do is watch one episode of one of these (or many other) shows on the network.  Forget the credits... the Canadian accent gives it away every time. 
Nov 20, 2013 9:15AM
Candice Olson's show is Canadian too. This isn't news. The network has used Canadian shows since the beginning, I thought. The giant red maple leaf at the end credits usually gives it away...

That being said, I don't watch the network much anymore. It used to have helpful hints and design ideas. Now it is all competition and reality style without much education. I miss Sabrina, Clive, Candice and especially from a related network DIY I miss Ahmed Hassan! I was entertained AND educated by their shows. Liked and still see David Bromstad too, but the other "Design Star" people are no where to be found any more.

The network lost me a long time ago with endless "contest" shows. Team A does the living room, team B does the den...

Nov 20, 2013 8:51AM
My favorite show is Addicted to Rehab made about renovating property in Minneapolis.  It is upbeat and shows all kinds of uses for scrap and junk and how you can save those old properties with a lot of hard work and dedication.  Nicole is awesome!
Nov 20, 2013 8:48AM
I don't mind that they are Canadian, but really, Mike Holmes, Property brothers, Love it or List it, Why do they have all of these people pretending to gripe about everything?  Do they think we enjoy coming home after a hard day of work and listening to people Bit*h?  I realize that they are just actors, but their scripts are that they have a budget, and they want everything.  Don't the producers of these shows know that the message is annoying?  Even House Hunters is so "not believable" pitting the spouses against each other with one being budget conscious and the other with a hefty wish list.  Complain, complaint, complaint.  At first I started watching these shows for design ideas, but the shows are a big turn-off now because of all the negativity.  If they don't change the theme to be a little more upbeat, the next time I tune in it may be my last. 
Nov 20, 2013 8:39AM

All the people that have won design programs that have been cut out is not good.

I really enjoyed many of them. Antonio Kim just to name a couple. There were so

many that were only on during the day and then taken off. Why???? I liked the ones

that they did over for a much cheaper cost. Now it's all Canadian shows and they

are good but what about the ones made right here in the USA??? 

Nov 20, 2013 8:32AM
I have watched and enjoyed these shows for years and knew the whole time they were Canadian. So what. They are great shows and you get to peek into other peoples lives.
Nov 20, 2013 8:28AM
That's my Sunday morning ritual, a breakfast, coffee and tune into Love it or list it or property brothers, and afterwards, I have enough motivation to visit my neighborhood Lowes or home depot.
Nov 20, 2013 8:25AM

So this is news? I've been watching these shows for close to 2 years and knew, the first time I saw one of them, that they were from Canada! Don't people pay attention to the closing credits? Plus there are a lot of other shows that are Canadian based such as Mike Holmes and Bryan Baumlers (sp) programs.

So I ask again, this is news?





Nov 20, 2013 7:52AM
I love ALL the shows listed above.  I didn't know they were Canadian based, but that does not matter.  I'll continue to watch them all!
Nov 20, 2013 2:34AM

Canadian television and movie companies adhere more closely to the rules set up by the BBC.

They are so much cheaper than US productions since they don't have casts running a reality show.

You have one or possibly two stars, and these stars can easily cash in on their fame like Bob Vila and Rachel Ray did.

The Canadian networks do not accept the union contracts established in stone by Broadway or Hollywood executives who have more imaginative accounting procedures.

Lastly,they follow the lead of NASCAR and give abundant space to investors who provide the materials.

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