I am in the process of planning a trip to Belgium — hopefully full of frites, beer, and waffles slathered in chocolate. Last night, to “research” my destination, I dug deep into my nearly 40 recorded episodes of House Hunters International for inspiration. (As a perpetual renter in a city where property prices are INSANE, it’s the only HGTV show that doesn’t completely depress me.)
HHI follows an expat couple or family (usually American) as they navigate byzantine housing markets in some of the world’s most desirable and exotic cities. Participants present a local realtor with their wish lists and budget constraints, and in turn are shown just three properties from which they must choose.
A few things are almost inevitable:
- Each adult in the equation will have a different wish list for his or her new home, and the biggest point of contention will be modern vs. quaint/historic/charming.
- The house the participants left behind – usually in Texas or the Midwest — was big, with a spacious open kitchen central to their family and social lives. Mom/wife will cling to this ideal like grim death, refusing to entertain (pun intended) the notion that guests could gather and socialize in a dining or living room, adjacent to a tiny kitchen.
- The old homestead will also have had a massive backyard, shielded from the prying eyes of nosey neighbors by mighty oaks or acres of cornfields.
- “Home” will be less expensive than the destination city. I’ve yet to see participants from San Francisco. It’d be too boring to watch a couple high-fiving during a walkthrough, and giggling over how much money they’ll be saving in Hong Kong/Paris/Melbourne.
- At least one property will feature a toilet that is separate from the bathroom. This will provoke confusion and/or consternation in my countrymen, accustomed to having several bathroom suites to choose from whenever nature calls.
- Participants will plan for a constant stream of visitors, requiring a guest room and (if possible) a bathroom. “Yes it’s $200 over budget, but we can’t expect Great Aunt Gert to stay in a hotel if she comes!”
- Nobody will be satisfied with the size of the fridge.
Also certain: whichever property I say will win out, I will be wrong. I rarely pick the house that’s over budget – but some participants do. I say, more money spent on housing means less spent on gelato, shoes and train tickets.
The fact that no one follows my telepathic advice can be frustrating. What really chaps my hide, though, is watching people with the chance of a lifetime – an adventure in a beautiful, historic city like Brussels or Antwerp – fret because life will be DIFFERENT.
Because that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
If the fridge is tiny, you can hit the market daily and become great buddies with the lady who sells stinky cheese. And if your kitchen is too small for entertaining, invite friends over just for drinks.
If your kids’ rooms are smaller than in the US, I promise they won’t be scarred for life.
Besides, they should be running outside on the cobblestone streets, eating waffles slathered in chocolate – not hanging out in their bedrooms.
Change is good.