London (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Helen Rowland said “Home is any four walls that enclose the right person.” which aptly describes the new homes that many of the participants in my new addiction, House Hunters International. I have never lived abroad and am envious of those who have; the experience of being totally immersed in another culture, often in a different language is completely enticing.  And of course the benefits of a widened world view are also important; tolerance for different ways of doing things as well as appreciation when you return to home base for the way “we do it here” are not to be sneered at.

My fascination with the TV program is a little different; while many of these folks are about to begin wonderful adventures in a new country, the allure of the show is decision the people must make.   HHI as it as known by aficionados like myself is a spin-off from the House Hunters franchise, which I have to admit I have never seen. As with the original show, the couple or family must choose between three presented properties, each purporting to meet their stated needs in terms of features, amenities and budget.  As we see them viewing each home or flat, the varying priority of those features to each becomes more apparent and the dynamic between the couples’ differing values comes to the fore.

HHI adds the dynamic of a foreign location which gives a peek at the type of living to be had in a number of great cities.  Some of the stories of why folks are moving are fascinating – sure you’ve got the usual corporate and military transfers; those ones seem relatively straight-forward, composed as they are of people with steady income and often some kind of re-location assistance.  Others are young couples who want – carpe diem – to get the experience of living abroad before they start a family, or before the kids are too old (and more likely to complain).  The more intriguing ones are those who are giving up the rat race and moving to another country as a lifestyle choice.  It surprises me the number of people who’ve decided their current pace of life is too hectic and materialistic, and they’re looking to find an environment where they can take life one day at a time.  Of course it helps if this is a tropical climate, as often it is, but frequently it also means a return to one of the couple’s roots, where grandparents and other family members can enrich the experience.

The archetypes that appear on the program are instantly recognizable.  There’s the American princess moving to Europe who can’t live without her giant fridge and a walk-in closet.  There are the couples with wants and desires exceeding their budget. There are the gay couples – I’m not sure why this program attracts more than its share of same-sex couples, but it seems to – not that there’s anything wrong with that.    There are the impoverished couples where one partner has moved to the other’s country for love – maybe it is my twisted mind, but I always wonder how long past the episode filming the relationships last.

The extremes in budget from episode to episode are amusing; in one case a couple decided to move to a tiny Italian village and bought a place with a budget of $26,000.  In another case, a couple was cashing out to buy a $3 million place on the beach in Port Douglas, Australia. The range of locations is also broad; Europe, Australia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Asia, the UK and Scandinavia have all been featured.  Major European cities like Paris and London appear frequently, as does, surprisingly to me anyway, the Australian Gold Coast.   I now know the asking price of a flat in central Bangkok, Melbourne, Barcelona and Mérida.

My husband, who got me hooked on the broadcast, enjoys betting me which of the three properties the family in question will ultimately choose.  The techniques for winning are thus – most significant is to asses the importance of the budget.  Is the couple flexible enough to exceed their budget and get the best property, or financially pressed so that the one that comes in a little under will be key, even it has a few flaws?   Like everywhere else, money talks in HHI. Little clues are key; I rely on the degree of budget nervousness in the man for my assessment.   Next comes the compromises of location – a place can be perfect, but too far from, work, schools or the centre of the city, making it a deal-breaker for one of the partners.   Compromise is constant and in the formulaic decision-making scene that appears towards the end of each program, the pair weigh the pros and cons of two remaining choices, having ruled an obviously less suitable third.  How they arrive at their choice is often a mystery but only rarely do you feel that they’ve made a mistake.

The best part is when they return to the new place a few weeks or months later, and provide a before and after view.  In all cases, they’ve done a marvelous job in making the most of the new home, no matter what the circumstances (no doubt with a little help from some television “fluffers”).   When you see their satisfied expressions as they entertain in the new envirnoment, it is enough to inspire a little wanderlust of your own.