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Housing market might be cold, but real estate shows are hot

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By David Bauder
Associated Press / March 11, 2008

NEW YORK - Real estate may have slowed considerably as an investment, but not real estate television.

House flipping and home renovation programs are still big hits on cable. While "for sale" signs sprout on lawns across the country, TV programmers are like developers who plow ahead with new housing projects anyway.

A new season of the A&E Network's "Flip This House" - one of a troika with TLC's "Flip That House" and Bravo's "Flipping Out" - premieres Saturday night.

A&E has several new programs in development. At least six new ones are beginning on TLC in the next year, starting with "Date My House," where former "Bachelor" Bob Guiney hosts a program on which potential buyers spend a night in a home on the market.

HGTV had its highest prime-time ratings ever in January. Nine of its top 10 series deal with the housing market, including "House Hunters," "My First Place," "Hidden Potential," "Buy Me" and "Design to Sell." The network did a special Feb. 29 theme day of investing in that first house.

"What's driving interest right now is that people are worried about it - 'What's the value of my home? How can I increase interest in my home?' " said Jim Samples, HGTV president. "Then there's the 'life goes on' factor. People are still changing jobs, families are still getting bigger. If anything, they tend to nest in this environment."

Samples has a personal interest in the topic. He's in the process of selling a home in Atlanta and buying one in Knoxville, Tenn., where HGTV has its headquarters.

He admitted, though, that one of his first questions last fall upon taking over HGTV was how the housing market downturn would affect HGTV's programs.

HGTV built itself on the public fascination with property. At its start, the network had shows on crafts and landscaping, but now the home is the focus.

"House Hunters," which premiered in 1999, helped introduce real estate as a prime TV target. When TLC's "Trading Spaces" became a sensation, it proved that renovation and decoration could be entertainment instead of simply chores.

The network has concentrated recently on reviving that franchise, even bringing back original host Paige Davis.

"Flip That House" will become more reflective of the economy, said Brant Pinvidic, TLC's senior vice president of programming. Not every "flipper" gets rich quick. The show will make sure to clearly outline how each investor did, he said.

"If the programming reflects the attitudes in the community and what people are feeling it will do better than if the programs feel outdated," Pinvidic said.

The new "Date My House" reflects how a seller's market has become a buyer's market, he said. "At its core it speaks to the sellers who are now saying, 'What can I do to reach the buyers on an emotional level and make them commit to my house,' " he said.

Peter Schiff, author of "Crash Proof: How to Profit From the Coming Economic Collapse," said he's not very surprised that the market slide hasn't led to a downturn in real estate programming. "The myth dies hard," Schiff said. "It's going to take awhile for Americans to understand the reality that what happened in real estate the last decade was a fantasy."

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