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RISMEDIA, December 21, 2009—(MCT)—Flip on your television and tune into HGTV’s “House Hunters,” and you might see yet another set of Chicago homebuyers and a local real estate agent in action.

The popular cable TV program seems to like the local real estate market; it’s certainly been featured before. And with every show, another buyer and agent learn the skinny about what’s real and unreal on reality television.

“House Hunters” is one of those programs you can stumble across and then find yourself sitting down to watch, critiquing the three different properties being shown and the buyer’s tastes, and then guessing which one they’ll pick. It also provides a sense of property values in a given locale, as in “look how much more/less house we can get if we moved somewhere else.”

So hearing the behind-the-scenes details of several episodes that have been filmed here recently is a bit like pulling back the curtain to reveal the real Wizard of Oz.

A few months ago, while they were looking for another set of homebuyers, the show’s producers stumbled across the blog of Chicago Realtor Eric Rojas and asked if he had a willing buyer. He did. But Chicagoans Kurt and Kelly Schnakenberg had to be more than willing to appear on television. They had to have the financial wherewithal to actually close on a home, and they had to have the right personalities for the show, something they demonstrated in a videotape sent to the producers.

Rojas, meanwhile, had to fill out a questionnaire about how he does business.

For the show, the couple looked at three properties in Lakeview: a $415,000 loft, a $355,000 vintage condo with a kitchen that needed work and a $400,000 loft-style town house that needed updating. Of those three, one of them was the unit the couple did indeed purchase. Another one was under contract to someone else, so the listing agent had no problem showing it. The third unit was for sale, but the couple had never seen it before and had pretty much already made up their mind.

The conversations aren’t the same, either. Kurt Schnakenberg said he and his wife did debate the merits of various condos but it was never so serious and “usually over a bottle of wine.”

Chicago agent Carrie Georgitsis, who showed properties to her father for a different episode, had no idea how tiring it would be until she found herself involved in 40 hours of filming for what amounts to less than 25 minutes of programming. She found herself having to say the same things over and over, while the camera crew shot her conversations with her father from different angles, and had to be careful not to tip off viewers to which property was chosen.

Why can’t it be more real than it is? Here’s three good reasons: One, it’s a TV show and it’s meant to be entertaining. If it turned out that the buyers had bad credit and couldn’t close on a home, there’d be no happy ending and no “after” shot showing the new homeowners in their abode. Two, sellers—and homeowners associations—have to agree to the filming and some don’t want to be bothered or don’t want to deal with the legal ramifications if a crew member gets hurt during filming. And three, if the buyers and the real estate agent are totally unlikable and mumble, do you want to watch them buy a house?

Rojas doesn’t think so. “‘House Hunters’ is house candy,” Rojas said. “It’s not realistic. It’s directed. You don’t learn anything about buying. You learn about real estate values. You learn about how houses look.”

Despite all that, agents who’ve done it say they still watch the show, and they’d go back on it again. After all, it’s great marketing exposure, particularly because programs are repeated.

“It’s totally fake, but does anybody think reality TV is real? It’s all canned, but it’s fun to watch,” said real estate agent Karl Vogel, who was also featured in a recent episode helping a Boston native find a home in Chicago.

The Schnakenbergs, who’d never before seen the show, already plan to capitalize on their upcoming 30 minutes of fame when it comes time to sell their condo. “Listing it ‘as seen on HGTV’ couldn’t hurt us,” Kurt Schnakenberg said. “I’m not sure if it will get us more money, but it will help us get more showings.”

(c) 2009, Chicago Tribune.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.