Real estate shows keep their value

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Slumping housing market? Not on realty TV.
Home sales are stagnating, prices are falling, foreclosures are

More From USATODAY:

+ Trade groups oppose splitting home appraisal, lending

+ Experts, consumers share home market views

+ Home stores ache from home market's pain

+ In housing market, it's the worst of times and best of times

+ Real Estate Features

Slumping housing market? Not on realty TV.

Home sales are stagnating, prices are falling, foreclosures are up sharply and the credit crunch has made it harder for consumers to finance mortgages.

Yet the housing market's effect on real estate-themed programming is far less pronounced. Audiences are holding up, and new shows — albeit with less of a go-go feel — are still being churned out.

Real estate programming specialist HGTV's viewership rose 11 percent year-to-year in the first three months of 2008. Nine of its top-10-rated shows among the target 25- to 54-year-olds are real estate-based. 'Property Virgins' (Sundays, 10 ET/PT), which premiered last fall with a focus on first-time buyers, has hit peak viewership (about 1.5 million) in the past few weeks.

Stocked with more than a dozen realty shows, HGTV plans to launch several more by early next year. Comparison-shopping show 'Good Buy, Bad Buy?' begins July 21 (10:30 p.m. ET/PT). 'The Stagers' — featuring design-selling experts — starts July 2 (10:30 ET/PT).

HGTV's two new offerings are designed to help both struggling buyers and sellers. And the network has launched a series of specials, such as the tip-featured '25 Biggest Real Estate Mistakes.'

TLC, with several real estate-themed programs on the air and in development, just launched 'Date My House' (multiple weekly airings), which suggests makeovers — and sleepovers — to help owners hasten sales.

For cash-strapped homeowners debating whether to sell, TLC plans a summer rollout of 'Should I Stay or Should I Go?,' part of its Saturday prime-time "property block" lineup, says chief programmer Brant Pinvidic.

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HGTV programming chief Michael Dingley says realty TV's attraction remains strong largely as a result of the public's fixation on property values. That's part of the appeal of 'My House Is Worth What?' (check listings for airtimes). Yet HGTV's 'House Hunters' and 'House Hunters International' (multiple weekly airings), which focus on properties in a variety of domestic and overseas cities, are also strong, stoking viewer curiosity on prices in other markets, Dingley says.

"These shows offer a reality check and help (viewers) make smart, prudent decisions," Dingley says.

This summer Bravo brings back its small lineup of big homes — 'Million Dollar Listing' and 'Flipping Out' (premieres not yet set) — because both performed strongly in their first seasons catering to upscale and "aspirational" viewers.

"Looking at big, beautiful houses is real estate porn," says Andy Cohen, Bravo's production chief. "We're wary of the real estate market. But we have the most affluent audience on cable, and we program for them."

Other cable channels are tweaking lineups and show content to address the down market. TLC dropped longtime mainstay 'Property Ladder,' and 'Date My House' replaces one of the Saturday time slots of 'Flip That House,' whose viewership has dropped significantly from its peak of 1.8 million in fall 2006. And in a programming twist, TLC plans a late-spring rollout of 'Your Place or Mine,' a novel game show that offers home makeovers.

The sagging California market also has affected professional house flippers such as 'Flipping Out' host Jeff Lewis, Cohen says. During 2007's inaugural season, Lewis had five to seven homes in various stages of renovation. This season, Cohen says, Lewis has fewer of his own flips and takes on clients who are flipping their own investment properties.

Will a prolonged housing slump affect real estate TV? Some cable execs doubt it, given that homes are the biggest purchases for most consumers.

"People are looking at homes in different ways," says TLC's Pinvidic. "A couple of years ago, selling a house was considered the quickest way to get rich. Now it's, 'How much could I sell it for?' It's more a question mark rather than an exclamation point. We want to be reflective of our audience and continue to adjust. But this is a genre we'll always be in."

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