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Casting Call How-To

Do you have a dark basement, sparky wiring or a kitchen straight out of a horror flick? Are you tired of just watching home reno shows and feeling ready for a little TV magic yourself? Join the club

About five years ago, Toronto mom Christine Roberts applied to HGTV’s Disaster DIY and was thrilled to get contractor Bryan Baeumler’s help in transforming her century home’s “typical low-ceiling dirt pit” of a basement into a family-friendly space. Roberts says it was a great experience. Not only did her family get quality workmanship and a well-thought-out design, the job was done in under three weeks. Plus it was crazy fun. “I mean, I love Bryan Baeumler, and it was pretty funny to see all the ladies on my street just constantly watching the house trying to see a glimpse of him.”

If you’re desperate to welcome cameras and a winsome celeb into your home, there’s good news. The proliferation of design shows means there’s a steady demand for fresh faces and tired old spaces. Before you complete that application though, here’s what you need to know about making your bid stand out from the crowd:

Follow proper procedure 

It all begins with an online application (see the sidebar for details). Kit Redmond, executive producer of HGTV’s Income Property, says when producers need applicants, they’ll post a standard application form on the official network, show and/or celebrity host’s website. Upon receiving responses, she says, “We turn around those form s pretty quickly, probably in two to three weeks.”

After that, Redmond says you’ll either find out you’re being considered or that you’re not a good fit for the show. If you get good news, expect a casting director to tour your home and film a casting tape. If that goes well, you’ll get a visit from the contractor and an executive producer. The final step, says Redmond, is network approval. “Then we set up a schedule with them for when the renovation will happen.”

Inject your personality

When applying, be sure to play up your personality. “First we’re casting for people,” says Redmond. “Stories have characters. Real people are our characters.” Increasingly, she adds, the focus of design shows is towards storytelling. “So if you have somebody who is interesting, they’re engaged, they’re animated, they’re excited. They have a particular story that they have to tell, that can be the very first thing we look at.” She cites one recent example where McGillivray’s empathy towards a couple struggling with infertility was palpable onscreen.

Absolutely, agrees Maria Armstrong, executive producer at Big Coat Productions, makers of the popular show Love It or List It. “People have seen more renovations and people painting walls and putting new floors down than you can imagine, right? But the reason they keep coming back to those shows is the story, and the people whose stories we’re telling.”

Confirm your house meets the requirements

The next thing to consider is your house. First, says Redmond, “We have to see, does that house meet the criteria of the show?” So do your research and make sure you can tick off all the boxes. For example, “ Income Property is about putting in an income suite to make money to either pay your mortgage or fulfill your dream,” says Redmond. “In Open House Overhaul, our new show, we’re looking for houses that have been sitting on the market and need a lot of TLC.”

You should also check if shows are currently filming in your home city. Love It or List It , for instance, has been scouting in Vancouver and North Carolina.

Lastly, know municipal codes and make sure your home doesn’t present obvious deal-breakers. With Income Property, Redmond says, “A lot of great homes want to put in income properties and the ceilings are too low.”

Understand the pros and cons

It’s not hard to grasp the pluses. As Redmond says, “Landing on a show can get you tremendous benefits in both money and time.” But you’re also looking at a considerable financial investment. In the past, some shows (as in Roberts’ case) provided free transformations courtesy of sponsors like IKEA. But with the major renovations we’re seeing today, producers say a free reno is no longer the norm.

In total, Armstrong estimates a TV reno saves homeowners between 30 and 40 per cent. “So if it’s a $100,000 renovation, [homeowners are] probably putting in $60,000.”

Part of that price break comes in the form of free design and contractor services. “For example, Scott McGillivray is a licensed contractor. He does not charge the homeowner for his service.” Show designers can also get you savings on materials and fast-track projects through municipal permitting, Redmond adds.

How long does the whole thing take? After network approval, Armstrong says, “It’s probably, from beginning to end, a three- to four-month process and then obviously there’s the editing.” The actual renovation, she adds, takes six to eight weeks, a speed that Armstrong says is “unheard of” outside of TV renos.

But applicants should be considering the cons too. For starters, your renovation schedule is dictated by the show. And while you’re asked about your design preferences, homeowners definitely give over some control, says Roberts.

Finally, there’s privacy. Armstrong says you must come prepared to open up. “It’s not easy exposing yourself to millions of people and allowing people to come inside and see your life and your home and your family.” Still, she says there’s great fun to be had. “Our approach is if we can’t make it fun for you then we shouldn’t be doing it. And the majority of people come away and they’ve had an enormous amount of fun.”

Ready to Start Your Application?

Applications for home makeover shows are generally found on network and/or show websites. Here are some great places to start:

In the U.S.

In Canada

-by Connie Jeske Crane