HGTV's New Focus: Helping Distressed Homeowners

He gave the couple two options for the conversion: a three-bedroom, two-bath model that could rent for $1,500 a month, or a two-bed, one-bath plan that allows them to keep a shared laundry room and extra storage downstairs, but still bring in about $1,000 a month.

They ended up choosing the second option.

While many housing shows like to paint a rosy picture, McGillivray wants "Income Property" to show reality: the huge crew that makes those quick turnaround renovations possible, and the real cost of the work -- $40,000 in Hopei and Hill's case, though they'll split that with the show.

Perhaps surprisingly, fascination with the housing market didn't plummet with the market. HGTV's ratings remain high -- about 63 million viewers, up 3 percent during the first quarter of 2009. Two of its highest rated shows -- "House Hunters" and "House Hunters International" -- indicate that viewers still want to dream.

Did Housing Shows Fuel the Bubble?

Samples resists the suggestion that the number of shows focusing on the home and housing market fueled the bubble.

"I saw some, some discussion of that and thought, well, they're surely attributing a lot of power to HGTV," he said, laughing. "But I do think that generally, in the country, we had this expectation that it would never end. But we always stayed away from shows that were -- we never did a flipping show, for example, where we were encouraging people to make a quick profit on a home. It was more about increasing the value of your home."

Hill and Hopei are looking forward to increasing the value of their house, but as with most renovations, there have been snags along the way. McGillivray ran into some water problems with the couple's basement apartment -- nothing major, but it did require extra money and time. McGillivray said those kinds of surprises add drama and realism to the show.

"This is not super-super traumatic … it adds drama but it also teaches people a lesson which is why we go with it," he said. "OK, we can just solve the problem, and move on and no one would ever know it happened, or we can educate people and say, these are the kinds of things you're going to run into."

It will all be worth it, he reminded them, when the rent checks start coming in.

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