While we’re on the subject of television….Have you caught Holmes on Homes? It’s an absolutely fascinating fix-it show, a bit like Extreme Home Improvement without the “extreme” – or the disease of the week. (I’m not putting down the unfortunate families who are often the subject of EHI. I’m simply pointing out that part of the experience of sitting through an episode is viewing the often heartbreaking reasons Ty and his crew landed on this family’s porch. Bless him for taking care of these folks, but after my first five or six episodes, I found the show to be a lot more depressing than life affirming. Maybe it’s a good thing, right before bed on a Sunday night, to count your blessings and be thankful that everybody in your family is – more or less – functional. Maybe I’m just too empathetic for my own good.) Another reason Holmes on Homes may be a bit more sedate than Extreme Home Improvement is because its star, Mike Holmes, is a Canadian. (“Oh, sure! Now he’s having a go at Canada! Keep your opinions to yourself, bucko!” Before you arm that e-mail torpedo in my direction, I sincerely mean it as a compliment that we would not catch Mr. Holmes on a bullhorn waking the neighborhood and wheeling the family off to Disneyland. Mr. Holmes is far too polite and businesslike for that. Sometimes – even on TV – “less sensational” is good. More appealing. Besides, it’s my blog and I can say what I want.)
Whether or not the name “Holmes” is strictly an invention for the sake of the show I can’t say. After all, Contractor Holmes is playing investigator much of the time, so much so that my daughter came up with the conversation between the fictional detective and his homebuilding counterpart. Call it Holmes and Holmes on Homes.
Sherlock Holmes: I say, Holmes, I fancy solving a mystery today.
Mike Holmes: Great. How boot the mystery of why this hoose sucks so bad, eh? Or the mystery of who gave this contractor a license? The butler didn’t do that wiring job, I can tell you that. And look at this sheet rock….Monkeys coulda done better, eh?
You get the idea.
A couple articles ago, I mentioned that some headaches facing home improvement companies can be attributed to the cable shows floating around the cosmos at the moment. “Fix-it” shows are undeniably popular these days – your cable company probably has at least two channels devoted to home improvements and another seven or eight that dabble. Mike Holmes’ program happens to have roosted at the Home and Garden Network – HGTV – and it’s popular enough that it seems to dominate the schedule some days. Understandable. Mr. Holmes is – by all appearances – a stand-up, ethical contractor who goes from house to house fixing up projects that other contractors were too cheap, incompetent, or underpaid to properly accomplish. He’s uncovered some pretty spectacular blunders on the show – my favorite of which is probably a bathroom renovation that went down the toilet (sorry) when the fans were vented into the attic. The moisture that collected in the attic space caused all kinds of mold and rot under the roof, which resulted in a tear off of a good quarter of the otherwise pristine roof and deck. In another episode, an addition was built with such stupidity that the drywall screws were fixed to nothing, missing the studs by six or seven inches, so that the entire wall could pretty much be tugged out by hand.
Holmes is good. He may over-bluster sometimes, but that’s part of any TV gig. And, like any show, you can find detractors who claim that his often-repeated battle cry that something isn’t up to code may be in reference to some internal Holmes code, but not necessarily a real provincial building code wherever he is in Canada. Some fellow contractors claim that he completely guts projects that could otherwise be saved because it’s more spectacular on TV – maybe you didn’t need to replace the entire wing of the house, just a couple of walls. I understand those comments, but I think most homeowners appreciate the guy’s skepticism when he bites into a simple electrical project and, three or four steps in, finds HVAC and lumber problems on the same wall. Rather than risk trusting someone who’s already proven himself incompetent, Holmes starts the job from scratch. You have to appreciate that, even if it’s completely unrealistic. In the real world, there are real dollars to consider and that’s seldom the case on a television show. Not in this case.
Mike Holmes is a big advocate of many of the same things Better Business Bureaus across North America have been telling homeowners for decades. Check out the contractor. Bone up on your knowledge of the project and what you should know before you trust someone to rip apart your house. Check references. Know what you’re in for to get the project done right, including your investments of both time and money. Stop me when this sounds familiar.
Holmes may cause some unintentional headaches for his fellow contractors by what he doesn’t say. Maybe it’s different in Canada and consumers don’t make mistakes. Speaking with my Canadian BBB CEO counterparts, though, I don’t think that’s the case. I have yet to see an episode of this show where Holmes uncovers a homeowner who admits to screwing up the project themselves, either by going with the lowest bidder or misusing the new addition in some way. It’s never quite the homeowners’ fault, even when the couple says, “We knew things were going wrong, but we were so deep into the job we didn’t want to say anything to upset the apple cart, so we kept writing checks hoping things would get better.” I may have been sitting behind a Bureau desk for too long, but it’s counter-intuitive for me to think that all of the homeowners Holmes works with are completely blameless in all these shenanigans.
What I’m most curious about, as a practical matter, is who pays for the materials when Holmes redoes a project. I’m betting it’s not the homeowner. I suspect the manufacturers of the products get a perk by having their goods appear on the show, so they donate the materials (or at least offer them at a deep discount). Most of the families featured on the show bemoan the quadruple-digit investment they’ve made in a project gone bad, and there’s only so much water in the financial well. I wonder how cavalier Holmes – or other the homeowners – would be about redoing the rooms from the slab up if they were paying full boat for the necessary materials.
I do get a spark every time Mike Holmes mentions the Better Business Bureau. He is Accredited by the BBB and does run into situations in which the local BBB office has been involved in mediating the dispute between the homeowner and the original contractor. I recall one kitchen episode in particular in which the daughter of the homeowner went to great lengths to explain that she had taken her complaints about the shoddy work to the BBB, gone through the complaint process – and that the “bad” company had agreed to redo the job and refund part of the cash paid for the project. The show skipped a couple of steps, but the bottom line in that case was that the daughter didn’t want the company to come back and make it right. She wanted Holmes to redo the floor. Not the original contractor’s fault, exactly, and certainly not the BBB’s. Clearly, there’s a trust issue – there was more to the story than the bad floor, they were pulling and replacing everything from the appliances to the cabinets, too, and I can’t say that the guy who was responsible for the bad floor was the same guy who messed up the cabinets or walls. No doubt, Holmes is a “take charge guy,” but not giving the original flooring guy the opportunity to fix what was wrong falls flat with me. If nothing else, it would have given Holmes the chance to show the guy what he did wrong the first time around. That might have made for some great TV, assuming the poor schmuck was willing to be “schooled” in public.
That’s something else you don’t see on the show: A confrontation with the incompetent boobs who made the mess Holmes is cleaning up. There are reasons for that, I’m sure -- good ones. Legal ones. Naming the contractors who’ve been raked over the coals for the past thirty minutes is bad form – and maybe actionable, since many aspects of his critiques are open to opinion – so I’ve never heard Holmes actually say exactly what contractor made what mistakes in which house. Add to that again that he’s in Canada and the names of local builders might be meaningless (and punitive) outside their own scope of travel. At worst, you hear that the contractor was taken to court, but that’s not all too interesting, is it? Most times, it seems, the provincial government’s collective hands are tied against moving against the contractor because of some technicality or – almost humorously – because the contractor acted just within the law. Unfortunately, the law protects Canadian homeowners in that situation no better than anywhere else. But I would like to hear – just once – the contractor’s side of the story. At least some of the time, I’m betting that there’s a good reason why the project went bad that has nothing to do with the professionalism or skills of the contractor.
Holmes has a number of tee shirt worthy mantras at work on the show, dominant of which has to be “Make it right.” That’s fine. And I think the guy really believes in doing a quality job. Every BBB has at least one Accredited Business in its ranks, probably in each of the trade fields, that can say the same. And we’re proud to have them…even if they don’t have their own TV shows.