10 HGTV Home Renovations That Ended In Tragedy

Correction 3/20/23: An earlier version of this article misstated "Love It or List It Vancouver" contestants Norman Waine and Jeanine Almeida's decision to keep or sell their home. The couple chose to "list it," not "love it."

Since 1994, HGTV has been a staple in many homes. What initially seemed like a long shot turned out to be a huge success, as millions have tuned in to watch make-or-break style home renovation shows over the last 25 years. Home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe's Home Improvement reported record sales as interest in the housing market, interior design, and home renovations soared.

Since it launched, HGTV has bloomed from a measly cable show to a household name brand, broadening its distribution to magazines and social media and enticing fans from all walks of life. Tennessee even declared September 9th as "HGTV Day” in 2014. The network's shows like "Property Brothers," "Home Town," and "Love It or List It" have been praised as addictive and binge-worthy, drawing viewers in with incredible home renovation reveals, house-hunting tips, lovable hosts, and homeowners' emotional reactions that pull at the heartstrings.

Despite the success, the network has seen and the countless successful home renovations HGTV has been a part of, there have been many controversies, too. When people are asked to appear on one of HGTV's shows, they envision the fairytale dream homes shown on television, but unfortunately, that's not always the reality. From fraud to shoddy renovations that left homeowners in a nightmare, there have been several HGTV home renovations that ended in tragedy.

Love It or List It faced a lawsuit over irreparable damage

Something many HGTV fans don't consider is that the money that pays for renovations is fronted by guests on the show, and expenses related to work and repairs are rarely covered by the network. That's why, when Deena Murphy and Timothy Sullivan, from Raleigh, North Carolina, appeared on the hit show "Love It or List It," they were outraged that their $140,000 investment resulted in irreparable damage to their home.

The HGTV series focuses on Hilary Farr, a designer, and David Visentin, a real estate agent, who renovate couples' homes and try to convince them to either keep their property or list it for sale and move. Murphy and Sullivan sought the help of "Love It or List It" to renovate the home they shared with their foster kids, but they were left with gaping holes, unpainted surfaces, and damaged floors.

In an interview with CBS Mornings, the couple said they took out a significant loan to make the renovation possible. Murphy and Sullivan filed a lawsuit against Big Coat TV, the production company behind the show, which they allege pocketed around $65,000 of their money, which should have gone to the contractor. If this situation wasn't distressing enough, the couple also claims that the show is extremely scripted and that they were told specifically what to say and do, supporting the assertions of many fans who believe "Love It or List It" is fake.

The stars of Flip or Flop scammed people

Christina Hall and Tarek El Moussa have entertained fans for 10 seasons, with "Flip or Flop" ending in 2022. In the decade-long run of the home renovation series, Hall and El Moussa search for distressed and foreclosed homes, buy them, remodel them, and sell them for profit. While the dynamic of "Flip or Flop" was entertaining (especially with the El Moussas ongoing romantic drama), the show saw its fair share of controversy, much of which was fueled by the hosts themselves.

Christina Hall and Tarek El Moussa were sued by a realtor from North Carolina who alleged that the pair stiffed him on his wages. The plaintiff, who worked for El Moussa's company, said he was hired to expand the "Flip or Flop" operation to the East Coast and scouted homes for the show. Because he was never paid, he sued for $12,800 in back wages and $25,000 in commission.

This isn't the first time the stars faced backlash. They have also been involved in endorsing a real estate seminar scam. Hall and El Moussa were the faces of events advertised as free. Nevertheless, attendees were pressured to pay nearly $2,000 to Zurixx, a real estate coaching business. This shed an unfortunate light on the show's stars. However, the "Flip or Flop" hosts continued flipping houses for profit for some time afterward.

Renovation Impossible left homes unfinished and unsafe

When Ron Onyon and his family agreed to appear on "Renovation Impossible," they had $75,000 left in their renovation budget and had already experienced disappointment thanks to a previous contractor's shoddy work. Their home in Arlington, Texas, was mid-renovation, and they needed help, so they turned to "Renovation Impossible" and host Russell J. Holmes, who helps complete home renovations using cost-effective techniques.

Initially, the family was pleased with the changes, but after filming, they realized the renovation was incomplete, and their home was left in a hazardous state. Onyon dug deep and spent even more money to have some of the issues fixed, including a sliding glass door that wasn't bolted on properly. After the show's contractor told Ron Onyon that repairs would cost them thousands more, he took to social media to share the condition of his home. One of the most shocking features was the shower head that sprayed directly onto an electric fireplace installed in their bathroom.

Onyon's posts inspired other previous guests on "Renovation Impossible" to speak out about the issues they had to fix when their time on the show ended. Many walked away with financial distress, advising people they should think twice before appearing on home renovation shows. In light of the controversy, Holmes took to Instagram, posting, "As far as the haters posting about things they only know one side of... karma is a b***h."

A couple sued Flip or Flop Vegas when their home wasn't up to code

Throughout HGTV's history, there have been some seriously incredible transformations. Unfortunately, this wasn't one of them. In a spinoff of "Flip or Flop," the show's stars, Bristol and Aubrey Marunde, took on house flipping in Las Vegas. "Flip or Flop Vegas" only aired for three seasons, and in the short-lived series, the couple caused some serious damage.

Vegas couple Billi Dunning and Brent Hawthorne purchased a home after seeing it listed online, only to find out that it would be featured on an episode of "Flip or Flop Vegas." They filed a claim that stated they were sold the home under false pretenses, as the renovation left the property with defective remodeling and wasn't up to code. They also stated that the necessary city permits weren't acquired during the renovation.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the couple also claimed that Bristol Marunde "was not and has never been a contractor licensed in the state of Nevada or any other state at the time of the taping or airing of the television episode," despite what the television series has stated. In total, the lawsuit included 10 claims of fraud and misrepresentation. The case has since been settled, but it would come as no surprise if a similar suit takes place in the near future.

The King family sued over poor workmanship

Paul and Mindy King, a couple living in Las Vegas, decided to appear on "Property Brothers" in 2019. The show, hosted by Jonathan and Drew Scott, centers on finding fixer-upper homes for their guests, buying the properties, and remodeling them into dream homes. In an interview with KTNV, Mindy King explained their expectations were high after wiring $193,000 to Cineflex, the "Property Brothers" production company. She said, "Everything will be, you know, perfect HGTV quality," adding, "We've both done remodels before, so we thought, 'Oh, this is great.'"

While most renovations usually exceed expectations, the Kings were horrified when they saw their new home. They reportedly had to film the reveal four times as they struggled to show excitement, having immediately noticed many problems with their home. The Kings noted that while many of the issues with the renovation were "cosmetic," like peeling paint, poorly applied grout, and a bulging wall, others, like exposed wires, posed serious hazards.

Because the money was paid upfront, the couple felt "bamboozled and tricked." They filed a lawsuit against Cineflex and Villa Construction, the company that did the renovation. The Kings cited over 90 deficiencies and requested $1.47 million in damages. Ultimately, only 10 issues were addressed by the Nevada State Contractors Board, which ordered the show's contractors to repair damages worth $94,672.

The Downs family ended up in an unsafe neighborhood

"Fixer Upper," starring Chip and Joanna Gaines, centers on the couple who renovate rundown homes in Texas and convince their clients of the true potential in the properties. Kelly and Ken Downs were new to Waco, Texas, when they opted to purchase a home on "Fixer Upper" for $35,000 and invested $215,000 in renovations. They knew nothing of Waco, and when Joanna Gaines claimed, "We take the worst house in the best neighborhood and turn it into our clients' dream home," the couple was inclined to believe them. "Fixer Upper" was a success, so there was no reason for the couple to doubt the hosts and their team of contractors.

When the renovation was complete, the Downs seemed happy. Filming wrapped, and the couple settled into their new home, but after a drunk driver plowed through their house, knocking down a couple of walls, they pointed fingers at the showrunners. Luckily, nobody was injured, but this was not the first issue the Downs encountered in their new neighborhood, citing loud noises, suspicious activity, and an unsympathetic police department. In an interview with the Waco Tribune-Herald, Kelly Downs dubbed the area "the Wild West" and said they felt "deceived" by the production company

Curb Appeal: The Block left homeowners with a flooded basement

Cenate and Wendy Pruitt were excited to have their Atlanta home featured on "Curb Appeal: The Block" in 2010. The show, starring designer John Gidding, focuses on renovating the exterior of one home, then making minor adjustments to the surrounding properties to create visual cohesion in the neighborhood. The Pruitts put $20,000 toward the remodel, but sadly, the renovation left the house in a worse state than when they started.

Cenate Pruitt spoke to AV Club about the maintenance and upkeep following their time on the show. He said that all of the landscaping and flowers the contractors added to their yard were dead in just a few months due to the Georgia heat. He added that mulch would wash down the road, and they "ended up spending $1,200 to $1,500 a year hiring people to come in and clean it up." The worst part, though, was the basement.

A retaining wall was built around the door to the basement to keep water out, but it had the opposite effect and trapped water inside when it rained. Cenate Pruitt said he had to use a pool pump to drain the flooding at one point. The contractors did return several times to try and fix the issue by drilling holes in the retaining wall, installing French drains, and re-routing the gutter, but the problem persisted.

A couple sued over a fraudulent contractor and defective renovation

Norman Waine, Jeanine Almeida, and their four children appeared on "Love It or List It Vancouver” in 2016. The couple agreed to pay just over $175,000 on their home renovation. Designer Jillian Harris and real estate agent Todd Talbot were the stars of this Canadian spin-off. The renovation went on as usual, with Waine and Almeida ultimately opting to "list it" and purchase another home that better fit their needs. At the time, nothing seemed amiss.

However, soon after the episode was filmed, the couple noticed dangerous flaws with their home's renovation, which they claimed could lead to mold, water or carbon dioxide leaks, and increased fire risks. This was partly because of an underqualified contractor, whom they claimed was just an actor. Kenny Gemmill was the show's usual contractor, but for unknown reasons, Kerry van der Griend, an actor who reportedly has zero contracting experience or qualifications, was hired.

They requested compensation for the production company's negligence, breach of contract, misrepresentation, and further damages. The couple also stated that they were owed a duty of care, which was broken, thus creating a dangerous environment for their family.

Dream Home winners rarely keep the homes they win

HGTV's "Dream Home" giveaway has received millions of applications from viewers hoping to win a brand new fully furnished home, a new car, and $250,000. There have been many winners, with the majority opting to take the lump cash prize over their dream home or selling them quickly — and for good reason. The tax bill associated with winning a multi-million dollar home is too much for most of the winners to take on. Only six of the past winners have been able to live in the prize home for more than a year.

It's estimated that because winners of the prize are responsible for federal income taxes on the value of the property or improvements and state income tax, which varies depending on the location of the home, they could end up paying around 40 percent of the total value of their dream homes in just one year. Additionally, when "Dream Home" winners sell their prize properties, they're often forced to accept offers much lower than what HGTV claims the properties are worth.

Winning HGTV's giveaway sounds like a dream come true — at first. But unless you've planned what you'll do with your winnings to a tee or you're already extremely well off, it can become a nightmare.

The Cruz family's house was threatened with foreclosure

As with many HGTV "Dream Home" giveaway winners, the prize wasn't manageable for Don and Shelly Cruz. In 2005, the couple won the network's grand prize of a multi-million dollar 6,000-square-foot mansion located in Tyler, Texas, a GMC Denali SUV, and $250,000. They decided to move into the home but quickly realized their mistake when they saw the electricity bill and other maintenance costs, which stacked up to thousands of dollars every month. The couple also had to take out a bank loan to pay the hefty tax bill.

The dream was short-lived, as they were only able to live in the house for three years. They were the first winners to attempt it. After threats of foreclosure, they auctioned off the house in January 2008. In an interview with LiveAbout, Don Cruz explained that despite all of this, he would do it all again in a heartbeat. He said that he continues to enter into the sweepstakes in hopes of winning the prize because, as he puts it, "It's definitely worth it! What other sweepstakes can you win where you get the big house, the furnishings, the Winner's Weekend, the car..."