30 Secrets from the Set of HGTV's Fixer Upper
For five years, Chip and Joanna Gaines dominated HGTV with the popular home remodeling series known as Fixer Upper. In that time, they transformed old — sometimes condemned — homes into dream homes for their clients, and viewers got to see every minute of it. Or did they?
As with many other reality series on HGTV and other networks, what viewers see on television doesn't always exactly match what goes on behind the scenes. These 30 secrets from the set of HGTV’s Fixer Upper might change your opinion about the Gaines family and their hit show. Take a look!
Participants Had Already Picked Their Houses
Every episode of Fixer Upper begins with Chip and Joanna Gaines taking participants on tours of three potential homes to consider before ultimately deciding which house they want to purchase and renovate. This is a key element in the show's structure — but it was actually staged. A season three participant, David Ridley, revealed the truth: Clients had already chosen the houses they wanted to renovate before the cameras started rolling.
House Hunters Uses the Same Trick
House Hunters is a guilty pleasure show for many HGTV viewers. Once you start watching an episode, it’s impossible to stop. The premise is always the same: Participants look at three potential homes to buy and select one at the end of the episode. If you think some houses are the complete opposite of what the participants are looking for, there’s a reason for that. It’s staged.
The Homes Are Still Flawless
Although some people are quick to criticize Chip for not performing as much manual labor as the show indicates, blogger Rachel Teodoro interviewed a couple who appeared on the show and asked their opinion. They were quick to defend Chip, saying the couple is extremely busy with their many projects in Waco, Texas, and the finished quality of their home didn’t suffer. The couple commented, "Chip Gaines may not have driven every nail, but you would be hard-pressed to find a single flaw in our home."
Participants Didn't Get to Keep the Furniture
Who wouldn’t want to keep the furniture selected by Joanna Gaines? Her farmhouse-style décor has inspired homeowners across the nation since Fixer Upper first premiered in 2013. It’s natural to think the tour of the completed renovation shows participants and viewers exactly what the new home looks like, furniture and all.
Tell Us the Budget
Budgets aren’t usually discussed on Fixer Upper, mainly because the budget was already decided prior to filming. The budget for renovations started at $30,000, and participants had to agree on the final budget before agreeing to appear on the series. When the show first aired, viewers were led to believe HGTV covered the costs associated with the show’s renovations.
Participants Hardly Ever Saw Chip and Joanna
Fixer Upper portrays participants working one-on-one with Chip and Joanna during the renovation process. On each show, they discuss project plans and make decisions as a team. However, that isn’t an accurate representation of what actually happened during filming. Participants hardly ever saw the power couple. Rachel Whyte stated that she and her husband, Luke, only met with Chip and Joanna a few times during the renovations. Otherwise, they communicated via text messages or phone calls.
They Didn’t Renovate Every Room
This might come as a shock to some viewers, but Chip and Joanna Gaines didn’t renovate entire homes on Fixer Upper. The show might walk participants and viewers through the entire house, but the rooms you see in the work segments of the episode are the only rooms the couple actually renovated.
Renovating the Entire House on Special Occasions
Sometimes, Chip and Joanna renovated an entire home for a couple, but only if they had the budget. In an interview, Joanna explained that a couple’s budget determined whether she and Chip helped finish renovations for the entire home, rather than just the priority rooms highlighted on television. If the budget allowed for additional projects, then the couple continued to work on the home.
A Lengthy, Expensive Lawsuit
The $1 million lawsuit alleged that Chip bought out his former business partners for $2,500 per share, only to reveal the HGTV television deal two days later. His partners purportedly felt they should have been informed of the TV deal prior to closing on the sale.
They Were “Horrible”
When Joanna first shared the news with Chip that HGTV wanted them to appear on a television show, he thought it was a hoax. Obviously, it was a real offer from producers, and just a few months later, Chip and Joanna started filming in front of a production crew. Their first experience on camera was far from perfect.
Causing More Damage
Cenate and Wendy Pruitt were happy to have their Atlanta, Georgia, home featured on HGTV’s Curb Appeal: The Block. They received a $20,000 makeover, but the upgrades weren’t exactly pleasant. In an interview with The AV Club, the couple claimed that some of the renovations to their home were detrimental. Designers added a retaining wall in the basement that trapped water inside, and the homeowners had to buy a pool pump to prevent excessive flooding.
Some Homes Aren't Even Fully Staged
On several HGTV shows, designers stage homes before putting them on the market or presenting them to clients. The homes always look gorgeous on screen, but they don’t always look the way you see them. Instead, much of the staging is completed through virtual editing after the filming process.
One Couple Was Angry
Although it always seemed like every participant was happy with the Gaines, one couple was furious with them. Ken and Kelly Downs, a couple who appeared during the show’s third season, were sleeping in their renovated home when a car drove into their house. Although they weren’t harmed by the accident, the couple was furious and insisted they were misled by the Gaines and their real estate firm about the safety of the neighborhood.
Chip Only Worked When the Cameras Were Rolling
Why would HGTV stage its shows? Because television shows must always entertain viewers, and producers call the shots and make the rules with a goal of increasing ratings. Nonetheless, viewers want to believe what they see on the show is what actually happens. Unfortunately, Chip Gaines didn’t work as much as it seems on the show. Chip only engaged in real physical labor when the cameras were rolling.
Chip Gaines Was Sued
Long before HGTV approached Chip and Joanna to film Fixer Upper, the couple co-owned Magnolia Real Estate Company in Waco. After securing their television deal, Chip bought out his partners and assumed sole ownership of the company. A few years later, his former Magnolia partners filed a lawsuit, accusing Chip of keeping them in the dark about the original TV deal.
People Rent Out the Homes
Because of the show’s popularity, the renovated homes often became valuable homes in their markets, prompting several homeowners to rent out their homes to eager fans. After production wrapped and their episodes aired, these participants recognized the increased value of their renovated homes and decided to take advantage of the opportunity to make a profit.
How They Got on TV
Long before HGTV entered their lives, Chip and Joanna bought, remodeled, lived in and flipped more than a half-dozen homes through Magnolia Real Estate Company. Joanna posted photos of the home projects on her personal blog, gaining internet attention. A producer at HGTV saw Joanna’s design work and knew she was special.
The Gaines Are Entrepreneurs Too
When Joanna first learned the Barretts were charging $360 per night to stay in one of her renovated homes, she was surprised — but not by the business plan. In fact, she thinks the Barretts could charge more money.
Waco Loves Them — but Who Wouldn't?
Before Fixer Upper, Waco, Texas, was known as the home of Baylor University — and, of course, those two unfortunate things: cult leader David Koresh and a 2015 biker shootout that killed nine people. City officials never want their communities to be known for bad things, so they couldn’t have been happier when Chip and Joanna popularized the city of Waco with positive publicity.
Other Secrets on HGTV Shows
It seems every show produced on HGTV has its behind-the-scenes secrets. Often, the shows are dramatized and don’t operate the way you see in the episodes. For example, Deena Murphy and Tim Sullivan had their home remodeled in 2016 on the popular show Love It or List It. They later complained that after production wrapped, their home had "damaged and stained floorboards, open holes ... and low-grade carpeting over chipped concrete."
Being on the Show for the Right Reason
Chip and Joanna always wanted to make sure participants signed up for the show for the right reasons. They took extra precautions to ensure clients wanted the renovated homes for themselves, not just as new sources of income. According to Jill Barrett, "What they don’t want, I think deep down, is for people just to do a home on Fixer Upper with the intent of just VRBO-ing it to try and make a buck."
“House Hunters” Didn't Pay Enough
You already learned that House Hunters stages entire episodes, starting with participants already buying houses before filming. Of course, participants still have to film their episodes, and it requires more work than you might think. Kim Christenson devoted more than 30 hours to the show in 2015.
They Can Keep the Giant “Before” Posters
One of the most memorable parts of Fixer Upper is the big reveal at the end of each episode. Chip and Joanna stand next to gigantic posters featuring the house before the renovation. The couple asks the participants, "Are you ready to see your fixer upper?" After a dramatic pause, Chip and Joanna pull back the poster and reveal the gorgeous home.
The Stars Don't Do All the Work
Chip Gaines didn’t perform all the hard labor on Fixer Upper, but he’s not the only one who had some help. HGTV shows have stars — like Drew and Jonathan Scott from Property Brothers — whose personalities contribute to the show’s success. The shows make it seem like the projects require a week or so of construction and voila! The work is all done.
Reactions Are Still Genuine
Although the house-hunting process was completely staged, most of the show featured real situations. The reactions from participants during the reveal were genuine — for the most part. Sometimes, producers and directors asked everyone to recreate a moment to capture a better shot, but for the most part, what you see during each reveal was an authentic moment.
Some Storylines Are Fictional
If you ever thought someone was being too unreasonable with their demands on House Hunters, that’s because the participant was required to exaggerate their requests. After all, no one wanted the storylines to be boring. According to Bobi Jensen, her family’s reason for buying a new home on House Hunters was too boring: She just wanted a house that was a little larger than her current home.
Open Houses Are Fake
On Designed to Sell, homeowners remodeled their homes to successfully sell them. Each episode ended with an open house that looked totally real — but it wasn’t. According to an anonymous participant, show producers used the participant’s closest friends and family members to fill up the house. The contacts were told what to say about the renovated home.
Drew Scott Isn't the Only Realtor
When people apply to appear on HGTV’s popular show Property Brothers, they probably think they will work exclusively with realtor Drew Scott. That isn’t true. In fact, to even be considered for the show, applicants must have already found their "dream home." On screen, Drew presents houses to participants, but, off screen, another realtor completes the deal and assists with the home purchase before filming begins.
The Runaround on Flip or Flop
Another successful HGTV show, Flip or Flop, dramatizes the action to make the show more interesting. Former husband and wife team Tarek and Christina El Moussa always made it seem like they made their real estate purchases on-the-fly, running around Los Angeles with very little time to consider their options. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
It’s Not Good to Be Single
Perhaps one of the most annoying secrets is that HGTV supposedly doesn’t like to air episodes with single individuals. Many episodes of House Hunters, Property Brothers and Fixer Upper focus on a couple. Although a few participants have been single, they have always needed a friend or family member to accompany them on the episode to make the show more entertaining.