So what's the problem? By now, the onus is on the viewer to consume all "reality television" with a chuckle and a grain of salt. The genre's underlying appeal is often rooted in its escapist, aspirational qualities (or, at other end of the spectrum, its indulgence of our basest schadenfreude).
But "House Hunters" was always much more about showing us an attainable reality than a fantasy. The show (and its many iterations), in which people just like us (juggling budgets, worried about school districts, pulled between city and suburb), go shopping for the best home their money can buy, not only glorifies the dream of home ownership, but makes it seem achievable. (If that IT guy and his elementary school teacher wife can successfully get out of their dingy apartment and into a new home with the requisite granite countertops, "marriage-saving" double vanities, and bedroom-sized walk-in closets, so can I!)
This plays right into our inexplicably unwavering attachment to home ownership: Despite the collapse of the housing market, polling continues to demonstrate that we regard owning a home as the cornerstone of the American Dream — a perception that undoubtedly played a role in the home-buying craze prior to the bubble's burst.
Showing houses that aren't even for sale at prices divined by its producers, "House Hunters" is presenting dangerous misinformation about the home-buying process and deleting all of the accompanying complications and consequences. It's turned what is actually a messy, frustrating, often dead-end process into a seamless (and perhaps necessary) path toward fulfillment. What's more, it seems likely that viewers use the prices, locations and home criteria discussed on the show as barometers for their own house hunts because the information is presented as fact.