We were approached last week by a producer for the television show ‘House Hunters International”, who had read this blog and thought that our family might be a good fit for their show. We knew nothing about the show, which is apparently a smash hit in many countries on the Home & Garden channel (HGTV). Based on the producer’s enthusiasm, we started to become excited about the possibility of our overseas adventure being documented on a television show. A flurry of emails back and forth with the producer escalated the excitement and my wife and I started to think about the possibilities. He told us that they would need to start filming on location in Peru in 2-3 weeks and they needed our audition video within two days in order to get executive buy-in.
That evening I skyped my mom in Northern California and asked her if she had ever seen the show. It turned out she was familiar with the show and her take was that it was only for people who were actively seeking to purchase a home overseas. We were neither seeking nor purchasing; we’d already found our rental apartment in Peru. Later that night, our Internet connection finally stabilized to the point where I could watch a few YouTube videos of the show and this confirmed my mom’s view. The basic premise of the show was to follow a couple or family who are looking to buy property in a foreign country. A real estate agent shows them three homes and guides them through the emotional process of buying a home in a foreign environment and the couple ends up choosing one of the properties. I watched an American couple in their 20’s go to Costa Rica to choose a property from which to run a Bed &Breakfast and I followed a San Diego couple as they went to the Amalfi Coast to find their retirement villa.
At this point, the gap between what seemed like the show’s format and our Peruvian experience needed to be reconciled. Were they planning on altering the format for us or did they want us to pretend to be looking to buy a house here? At this point, my wife's and my collective state of mind had gone from naïve excitement about our expat experience being documented on TV to guarded optimism and the creeping suspicion that we’d be asked to act out a “Reality TV” scenario that had nothing to do with us. Around midnight, I fired off an email to the producer in New York with a couple questions: Is it OK that we are not looking to purchase a house? Is it OK that we are not actively seeking a property? The response back was that these were not issues, we had a great “story” and it was actually a requirement of the show that the people on it already own their property.
[Cut to light bulb brightly shining above my head]
Of course! Now this seemed like a great business model. By choosing people who had already bought their house, the show doesn’t have to rent a foreign location and it avoids any unforeseen delays in the purchase process. By using a local realtor, they gain free access to two other properties for filming, and of course the realtor is only too happy to forego payment in return for free television publicity. As for the show’s participants, all they have to do is “re-create the scenario” that led to their property purchase. Now the question was: how much did they pay the show’s participants?
Initially, when my wife and I thought that they wanted our story, we were extremely flattered and probably would have done it for free. As it became more apparent that they wanted us to fit into an existing format and “recreate the scenario,” money became more of a factor due to the time involved and the disruption to our schedule (we’d need to fly back to Northern California to recreate some scenes there as well). We felt that there was value in our experience and to some extent we were losing control over our “story.” My wife and I sat down and asked ourselves: “How much money would make this worthwhile for us?” Once we had that number, we fired off yet another email diplomatically asking how much we might be paid for the show. When the answer came back – far, far lower than our number – we politely declined and our television careers came to a screeching halt.