Nina Metz: The real estate fantasy that we see on TV is just that, a fantasy | app


Why is there such a disconnect between the real world and what we see on TV when it comes to real estate and the costs (and stressors) of putting a roof over your head?

In a recent episode of “And Just Like That…”, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) buys a bright apartment with a huge terrace and a view of the Hudson River. It’s an antiseptic white box with floor-to-ceiling windows in a new building that presumably comes with all the expected amenities. What she’s actually paying for this place is never mentioned – she’s a wealthy widow, money is no object and she has a high class real estate agent Seema (played by Sarita Choudhury) who doesn’t tell her. shows only the best of the best. But a quick Google search found a comparable building with prices between $2 million and $18 million, and looking at what we saw on screen, Carrie’s house would likely land somewhere in the middle.

This is how she talks about visiting the apartment with her friends. “Guys, I don’t like this.” So don’t buy it, one said. Well, Carrie reveals that she actually bought it. “I had to do it, I’ve been dragging Seema for three months. I made my way through 46 apartments.

I can guarantee you that no rich person ever said that. Nor felt a pang of guilt because their agent was spending an inordinate amount of time showing them property. I know this because I’ve watched enough real estate fantasies peddled on Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing” reality shows (there’s both a New York and LA version) that I can assure you that no customer don’t worry about wasting time or money but theirs. And their realtors live with it because a six-figure commission is on the line. (Oh yeah, realtors are rich too.)

At the end of the episode, Carrie tells Seema, “I hate the new apartment.” Then we’ll sell it, comes the answer! And bloop, bloop, it’s as easy as buying and returning something at a department store. No mention of any closing costs and the possibility of her losing money on what is essentially a rollover. No, just… she hates the fabulous apartment and no worries, it’s an easy fix.

The thing is, even when you’re rich, there’s all sorts of hassle and haggling involved in buying and selling property, but like its predecessor “Sex and the City,” the show works like escape ; it was never meant to be rooted in anything resembling reality for most of us.

But “And just like that…” is not an outlier. When you look around, television as a whole – whether scripted or reality – isn’t particularly interested in capturing, or even incorporating, the headaches that come with housing, whether you rent or own. , especially at a time when it’s becoming increasingly expensive to do either, even in areas once considered unaffordable.

The racism that prevents people from being approved for apartments or loans, or the kinds of predatory housing contracts of 1950s and 1960s Chicago that robbed black families of $3 billion to $4 billion? Rarely, if ever, integrated into the narrative.

Comedy or drama, I’d love to see that anxiety reflected in the stories because it’s such an important part of our lives. And yet it’s virtually absent from television, which tends to portray homes as simply there – where the subtext is one of comfort and economic stability – or as something very ambitious, fueling an avalanche of reality shows compete with the Bravo slate, including Netflix’s “Selling Sunset” and “Selling Tampa.”

A few years ago, writer Dani Alexis Ryskamp published an article in The Atlantic about “The Simpsons,” noting that “TV’s most famous dysfunctional family of the 1990s enjoyed, by today’s standards.” today, of an almost dreamy and secure existence that now seems out of reach for too many Americans. Homer’s union work at the power plant supported a family of five: “A house, a car, food, regular doctor’s appointments and enough beer at the local bar were all achievable with just one working class wages.

But more than 30 seasons later, their lives no longer resemble reality for many Americans, where a life of “constant economic uncertainty – in which some of us are one step away from losing everything, no matter how much we work – is normal”.

Here’s a general observation about television: When the characters are rich, it’s usually part of the story. When they experience hardship or financial insecurity, that is also part of the story. But then there’s that broad middle where the costs and concerns associated with just finding and living in a place just don’t exist.

Anjulie Rao is a Chicago-based journalist who writes about how we live – or die – by the built environment and I was curious if she had any theories about how this is reflected in pop culture.

“The most realistic portrayals of the reality of ownership are found in horror movies,” she said.

Oh that’s right !

“A lot of times you find families moving into a super haunted house and being asked, ‘Why don’t you move out? and they say, ‘Because everything I have is tied to this building!’ I recently rewatched “The Conjuring”, which is a lot about people trapped in their homes for financial reasons. Or watch horror movies like ‘Poltergeist’ or the new ‘Candyman’ which are actually about the land and what happened there that created a disaster for this property to become available.

She also mentioned recent episodes of the “You’re Wrong About” podcast, which focuses on the real-life “Amityville Horror” origin story, based on that of a couple who moved into a huge house with their children. in 1975, about a year after someone shot and killed six family members there. A month after moving in, they left.

Even though they got the house for a robbery, thanks to those grisly murders, here’s host Sarah Marshall: “Important to note that they bought a house $30,000 over their top price.” To which co-host Jamie Loftus replies, “My instinct with them is that they realized they were $30,000 in debt and needed to make something more profitable” than the dad’s job was bringing in .

Or maybe they needed to fabricate a reason to get out so soon after buying something as mundane as: we’re drowning in debt and this house could be our financial ruin.

“There’s a lot to be said for the idea that once you’ve bought a house, you’re stuck with it,” Rao said. Maybe the ghosts in these stories are really just a metaphor for all that deferred maintenance hanging over your head.

“While when you compare that with ‘And just like that…’ where she says, ‘I don’t feel it anymore,’ that to me is more in line with the American dream of real estate — that you can pick up and unload property as often. that you wish.

What we look at, Rao said, “influences how we dream about our future. I wish there was some sort of plot element in some of these shows or movies that really explains why this couple you’re watching was able to buy this house. Nobody talks about devalued lands, segregation and stories of destruction. Instead, profligacy is the pinnacle of American idealism, which is: I’ll be rich someday.

“I love television,” she added. “But the more we can respond to what we see on television with policy changes that create real protections and investments in infrastructure, the less we will feel betrayed by the fantasy we see on television.”

Incidentally, Rao launched a seasonal newsletter called “Weathered” last month, which will explore ideas and issues around “the built environment in winter.”

Why winter?

“I am very interested in the conditions of change. So when people talk about things like gentrification or climate change, winter represents a microcosm of how we live differently and adapt to change over a period of 3-5 months. I hope this series of essays inspires people to think about what kind of adaptation we are capable of, and then project it into a broader lens of how we can be more adaptable to other kinds of change.

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(Nina Metz is a Chicago Tribune critic who covers TV and film.)

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