I’m sure that this week Mérida’s real estate agents were slightly busier than normal because one of the Mérida episodes of House Hunters International aired Sunday. Over the weekend, we also enjoyed an episode of House Hunters Renovation, which is an hour-long occasional series that is part of the House Hunters franchise. The first half hour resembles a normal HH and house no. 1, 2 or 3 is chosen. The second half hour follows the buyers renovating and designing the house they bought. We see the owners go through all the ups and downs that large projects like this entail. The latest episode showed a young do-it-yourselfer in Van Nuys skulk into his bedroom and slam the door when 12-inch floor tiles turned out to be 18 inches and didn’t fit into the space he intended.
So far, episodes are set only in Los Angeles, but can you imagine if they brought this format to foreign locales, like you-know-where? (HH‘s domestic episodes are shot by a different production company than the international ones, so I don’t know if that complicates the concept of a House Hunters International Renovation.) What a great show that would be, especially if they centered on historic homes.
Which got me to thinking. Of all the episodes HHI shot in Mérida, six in all, only the very first episode (which I haven’t seen in a long time and isn’t online) showed a single mom in 2008 looking at a $60,000 “ruin,” a major fixer that had been abandoned for 60 years. And that’s the house she chose, although we see she was mislead by an overoptimistic contractor who he told her a renovation would take two months and $50,000. I remember being so startled by that segment. Little did I dream I’d be doing the same thing down the line, unfortunately not with pre-HHI prices. The streets of Mérida’s seemed to me a sundrenched, cement hellscape. It was the second Mérida episode that rang my bell. The houses and streets in this episode were much nicer, and you didn’t need the best gaydar in the world to infer that there was an expat community in which we might fit in, and its large homes have lots of potential. In reality, the guys’ chosen house was a property that they had bought as a ruin and redid with an architect. They did a great job of restoring it.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but after the first episode, all the expats on TV are being shown completely renovated homes, including at least one new-construction home at the country club. It’s a nice weeknight diversion to watch a young couple swing a hammer at their mid-century modern house in Van Nuys, but what about a 200-year-old concrete casona in a historic tropical city? The pathos! The drama! The “big reveal” at the end! Now that’s entertainment.
Even in the half-hour format, I’d like to see more episodes like that first one. That second episode would have been much more interesting if the cameras had captured the renovation process rather than tour three polished properties. HH often revisits the new homeowners three months after the little scene in which they choose 1, 2, or 3. Imagine if HH stuck to real-life storylines. In three months, the camera would return to find a weeping homeowner, frustrated by the lack of progress. Or maybe weeping with joy because everything went so well and their ruin is now on the cover of Ambientes. If the cameras had returned to us three months after we were under contract for our property in Santa Ana, you’d find us still waiting as the real estate agent wrestles with paperwork trying to reconcile conflicting documents while we pray that the seller, who’s in her 90s, doesn’t die. Once that was resolved, cameras might have returned in another three months, and you’d see us meeting architects and trying to figure out how they compare in style, method and price. (The first two we could figure out, but not the third.)
Come back in another three, camera crew, and you’ll only see us back in Connecticut approving the floor plan and admiring drawings of an imaginary house. You’ll also see us tapping our feet waiting to hear that the work crew has become available. A year and a half after choosing “house number 3,” only then would the camera crew capture our happy tear-stained faces, grateful just to see a shovel connect with some earth. A year after that, we might have the keys to a finished house. Then furniture. That will be another six months, a year, who knows. We might need more than an hour. Maybe a whole series would cover it. We’ll call it Project Expat or maybe Real Expats of the Yucatan. Then we could spin off into a competition show and a panel of judges will crown the Top Expat, the winner receiving a year’s supplies of Agua Cristal.
The houses of the Centro are antique, built on rock, and connect to each other. Sometimes the neighboring house shares gutters or pipes because it had originally been one larger property. Some people are documenting their construction on Facebook, which I look at with great interest. These are the lucky people who get to live in Mérida and oversee progress in person. It’s a shame that these true and dramatic stories aren’t on TV.