If you’re like me, there’s nothing you love more than unwinding with HGTV. At the end of a long day, there’s something soothing about watching other people make high-stakes decisions. Whether it’s buying a beach house, renovating a kitchen or choosing a family home, HGTV has a total lock on homeowner-based entertainment. But how much of what you see is real? As it turns out, HGTV secrets influence the way you watch.

While on-screen house hunts and renos seem to go smoothly, appearances can be deceiving. Don’t get discouraged if you feel like your house situation is less than picture perfect. Much of what you see is good, old-fashioned smoke and mirrors. Here are some of the HGTV secrets that keep you watching.

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Sold sign covering "for sale" home sign

Some of the “hunted homes” might be off the market. Image: Andy Dean Photography/Shutterstock

1. Home hunting is already complete

If you’ve ever searched for a new home, you know that viewing three properties probably won’t cut it. And even if you’re lucky enough to decide on a new place, it’s not a guarantee you’ll be able to secure financing, win a bidding war and actually move in. So how is it that every owner on House Hunters is able to view, buy and move in what seems like a week?

The secret is that homeowners are usually already under contract for their chosen home before they’re cast on the show. They already know which home is theirs and view other homes to increase drama. It’s less of a hunt and more of a confirmation that they chose the right home. In some cases, they’ve already purchased the home and even moved in before filming starts. Creative filming and staging the home to look empty make it seem like prospective hunters are seeing their home for the first time.

2. Some homes aren’t even for sale

Feel like HGTV always has the best homes to choose from? That’s because they don’t limit hunted homes to those that are currently on the market. To ensure compelling content, House Hunters will lead prospective buyers through homes that have already been purchased by other buyers and even the homes of nearby friends and family. Not only have the hunters already chosen their home, but some of the places they see aren’t even an option. It’s all in the name of creating a narrative where you, as the viewer, become more invested in the process.

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Kitchen and dining room

Staged homes might be more Photoshop than interior design. Image: Breadmaker/Shutterstock

3. Homes are virtually staged

Staging homes isn’t exactly one of the most protected HGTV secrets. It’s a well-known practice among realtors, homeowners and those in the industry. But what HGTV doesn’t tell you is that some of the staging you see is done virtually. They’ll utilize computerized models to make a home look more put-together than reality. Even grass can be painted and edited after the fact to make it look lusher. So when they say that the grass is greener on the other side, remember that it might be the result of Photoshop over fertilizer.

4. Construction is contracted

Anyone who’s ever renovated a home knows it never goes as smoothly as they show on HGTV. What’s more, many of the projects seem like they’re completed singlehandedly by a charismatic host and a plucky sidekick. A week under construction by a do-it-all TV star and voilà! The big reveal shows a home that has been renovated top to bottom.

In reality, most shows contract out the heavy lifting to local construction crews. The stars come in and demo a couple of cupboards or paint a few strokes before handing off the project to the real pros. Just remember that real renovations are the result of time, effort and expertise.

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Contemporary master bedroom with metal accents

Not every room is renovated as part of the contract. Image: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

5. Rooms are left out

The show Property Brothers is a ratings smash for HGTV, and why not? What’s not to love about a couple of attractive identical twins showing homeowners they can have their dream home for a little elbow grease and a small investment? The show doesn’t, however, make it clear what is left undone at the end of the big reveal.

The show actually only contracts for four rooms to be designed and renovated. Usually, homeowners pick their highest-traffic areas, like the kitchen and living room. But there is still a lot of work left once the brothers offer up the dramatic finish. Sure, renovating a cheaper home can be a sound investment, but remember it’s much more complicated than what’s show on HGTV.

6. Homeowners don’t keep decor

You might wistfully watch your favorite shows to see the gorgeous rugs, furniture and decor used in each show. Most HGTV shows finish with a before and after, with homeowners’ previously tired furniture replaced with updated, expensive decor.

Don’t get too envious, though. In most cases, the decor is used for staging only and doesn’t belong to the homeowners. After the “after” shot is filmed, that stuff gets put back into HGTV storehouses for the next before and after. In some cases, the owners get the chance to purchase the decor, but only if it’s in their budget. Usually, the renovation budget is long gone to pay for expensive staples like flooring and repairs. Those magazine-worthy finishing touches? They’re a short-term illusion.

Hey, I get it: HGTV is, at its best, pure escapism. No matter what your home is like, you can forget some of its challenges by watching other people deal with the ups and downs of homeownership. Still, it’s important to remember that as much as it’s billed as reality TV, most shows use HGTV secrets and have huge production budgets, directors, assistants, high-paid stars and behind-the-scenes experts. You don’t expect your home to always look like a professional movie set, so don’t make the mistake of comparing your place to what could be a TV mirage.