‘Our Home Was Renovated on a Reality Show’: What It’s Really Like, Warts and All

If you’ve ever watched “Fixer Upper,” “Flip or Flop,” or “Property Brothers,” you’ve probably wondered what it’s like to have your home renovated on a reality TV show. Alex Shaw, a casting producer in Los Angeles, had pondered that same question. So when she heard that TLC’s “Nate and Jeremiah by Design” was looking for applicants last November, she applied—and was picked!

At first, Shaw was beyond excited, knowing that Nate Berkus had gained fame designing Oprah‘s home and served as an expert on her talk show before branching off to star in his own home makeover show with husband Jeremiah Brent. Plus, Shaw’s house with her fiancé, Tom Schultz, was run-down and in dire need of renovating (as you can see below in the before pic).

Nonetheless, Shaw would soon learn that having your home made over on a reality TV show is a bit of a roller coaster ride. As Shaw admits, “There’s really no way you can anticipate all the crazy things that will happen.”

So in case you’re fantasizing about having your own place prettied up on camera, read this behind-the-curtain sneak peek about what it’s really like.

The audition process is extremely time-consuming

All told, “we spent about 60 hours on the audition process spread out over a two-month period,” Shaw estimates. First they submitted photos and a short video of their home, as well as a few paragraphs about who they were and what they needed. That was followed by numerous Skype interviews with producers, and requests for the couple to shoot more lengthy videos of their house and interactions with each other.

From there, they had to submit to background checks, put together Pinterest boards with examples of their favorite designs, and open their home to film crews several times—even when they weren’t there. All this, before they were even selected for the show!

They had to pay to play

Shaw and Schultz were told upfront that they would have to pay for most of their remodeling fees—a minimum of $40,000. Since there was a lot they wanted done, they tapped their savings account and refinanced the house to come up with $100,000 for the designers to spend. Sure, it was scary, but as Shaw explains, “This was our only shot at an opportunity like this. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

They had to move out—fast

Shaw and Schultz thought a camera crew had come to their house to shoot the last step of their audition when Berkus and Brent snuck in to let them know, on camera, that they’d been selected for the show. Then they revealed their grand plans for the remodel. Oh, and then they informed the couple that they had to move out of the house—in the next 48 hours!

“Moving was painful,” Shaw recalls. Although only a few rooms would be remodeled, the couple had to remove everything from every room. The producers promised them a large storage pod to contain everything, but it arrived just two hours before deadline.

No professional movers were sent in, either.

“We recruited our neighbors to come and help us stuff everything into plastic trash bags,” says Shaw. “And all this was during a terrible rainstorm, so it was almost impossible to keep everyone and everything from getting soaked. It was chaos.”

And they had to stay out for a whole month

Since Shaw and Schultz had to move out immediately, they didn’t have time to arrange to stay with friends or family. The good news is that the production company had booked and paid for Airbnb accommodations for them. The bad news? Since everything happened so last-minute, no single home could be booked for an entire month, so they ended up having to move five times.

This wreaked havoc on their jobs, since both work from home. “There was so much upheaval, we virtually couldn’t get any work done,” says Shaw, who had to forgo numerous projects. Schultz, an animation producer, had to pass on a number of lucrative opportunities as well.

They had no say about what would be renovated

Although the couple had made up a wish list of the rooms they most wanted renovated (which included the bathrooms, bedrooms, and exterior) and conveyed their tastes through Pinterest boards and numerous conversations with Berkus and Brent, they were also warned that they’d have no say on what the designers would decide to do. So after a month, when the couple were finally allowed to see their overhauled home for the first time, it was not exactly what they expected. For one, their living room had been repainted a color called “golden rust,” but Shaw wasn’t in love with it.

“The brown walls weren’t my favorite,” Shaw admits.

Shaw was also shocked to find that her dining room was painted “canary green,” although she now loves it.

But some renovations they loved

But Shaw says she did genuinely love many of the upgrades the designers had done.

“We loved what they did to the kitchen,” says Shaw. “The crew went above and beyond in some aspects, like putting in beautiful wood flooring throughout the entire house.” She added that they also fixed a dangerous vent in the hallway, even though something like that would never make it on camera.

The ‘free’ stuff isn’t exactly free

When all was said and done, Berkus and Brent used only $85,000 of the couple’s $100,000 budget. Plus, they also received $75,000 worth of freebies from sponsors of the show, including furniture, appliances, and accessories. The catch? Since those freebies are technically “gifts” in the eyes of the IRS, they’d have to pay taxes on them later.

“They told us in advance that I would have to pay taxes on everything that they gave to us, so we were prepared,” says Shaw. “And we were OK with it, because the taxes would be just a fraction of what the items cost. We would never spend, like, $4,000 on a sofa.” Schultz estimates their tax bill at the end of they year for the items they got for free will be about $4,000 to $5,000.

It might have been cheaper to just hire a designer on their own

While visitors have admired their revamped home, “people look around and they wonder was what was done here really worth $155,000, all totaled? ‘Where did the money go?'” says Shaw. That said, she understands that much of the expense went into construction issues like insulating some walls and knocking down others, repairing the roof and plumbing, putting in new subflooring—things you can’t see.

When asked if it might have been cheaper to just hire a designer on her own, Shaw admits that’s possible. But the process would have also dragged on for far longer, too.

“For all the hassle of moving in 48 hours and switching homes five times, the entire renovation process only lasted one month,” Shaw points out. “Permits alone would have taken months, and the crew was able to get them in 24 hours.”

In spite of the hassles, they still think it was worth it

All in all, the entire process—from sending in her application last November to the show airing this April—took nine months. Even though their lives went through major upheaval, they spent almost $100,000 of their own money, and they lost thousands of dollars worth of work, Shaw insists she and Schultz would “do it again in a heartbeat.”

For one, aside from a few color choices, they were genuinely thrilled with their new house.

“We had been living in the house for eight years, and hadn’t been able to accomplish a fraction of what was done,” Shaw says. “It took a huge load off us. The biggest plus was having someone else make the decisions. We’re both hard-headed and think we know better than the other. It took us two years to decide on a color to paint the front door.”

Plus, “the designers were a blast, and we had an adventure not many get to experience.”

“Nate and Jeremiah by Design” airs on TLC. See their episode, called “Happy Hour,” on demand or online here. And come back tomorrow for tips on getting your own home on a renovation reality TV show!

Article by Lisa Johnson Mandell