The First House Hunters Couple Had A Lot To Say About Their Time On The Show

"House Hunters" has long been one of the most-watched TV shows in America and it's easy to understand why. "It's happy television," said Terri Murray, executive producer of "House Hunters" (and the series' many spinoffs) to The Washington Post. "It's so safe. It's like an old sweater," Murray added. In each episode, viewers watch as an individual, couple, or family searches for their perfect home with the help of a realtor. Though there are rules you have to follow when appearing on "House Hunters," points of contention rarely go beyond hardwood versus carpet or marble versus quartz. Despite the simple plot and often-predictable choices, the show continues raking in the views.

While "House Hunters" may be somewhat formulaic now, that certainly wasn't always the case. The first-ever "House Hunters" couple, who made their debut in the early nineties, had pretty much the opposite of a "safe" and streamlined experience. We're looking back on Jayne and Mitch Englander's interesting — and, at times, disturbing — experience on the show.

The original House Hunters couple was on the show in 1999

Mitch and Jayne Englander were joined by their three-year-old daughter, Lindsey, in search of the perfect home. At the time, the Englanders had a tight timeline: They had another baby on the way, so it was time for them to upsize to a larger home. The family had also been renting a house paid for by their insurance after their previous condo had burned down in a fire. "That insurance was running out, and we had to buy a home as soon as possible because we were expecting our second child," Mitch told Vice.

Some may wonder if the pair — who were the first couple to appear on "House Hunters" in 1999 — had any previous connection to HGTV. But according to Mitch, it wasn't industry networking that led the couple to be on the show; it was actually their realtor. "Our realtor's office got a phone call from someone [at the production company] who said, essentially, 'We're looking for a couple who is seriously committed to buying and is in the market now," Mitch shared. "And apparently, the realtors said, 'We have just the couple.'" 

Their serendipitous connection to the show stands somewhat in contrast to how things usually go for "House Hunters," which accepts direct applications from couples. 

Mitch and Jayne were clear about what they wanted

Mitch Englander, a former political consultant, and Jayne Englander, a stay-at-home mom, were on the same page and knew exactly what they wanted from their prospective family home: a nice backyard, no stairs, and a dining room separate from the kitchen. On their episode of "House Hunters," viewers learned that the Englanders had already looked at 50+ properties, with none entirely fitting the bill.

On camera, the couple looked at four different properties (a departure from the show's later formula, which would only feature three properties) and they weren't particularly impressed with any of the homes. But eventually, the last property grew on them, and they settled on a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom, Spanish-style home in Glendale, California.

In later seasons of "House Hunters," you'd see the couple make their final selection and then live happily ever after. But in the series' first episode, the Englanders had to field competing offers and walk through the home with a contractor to make sure everything was good to go. While this may be a more realistic look at the process of buying a home, the stressful details that come with securing a home don't necessarily make for good television. So it makes sense that those extra steps are no longer part of the show!

The producers showed them homes that didn't fit their criteria

For many people, being on a TV show sounds like an exciting experience. But for the Englanders, their time on "House Hunters" was a bit of a nightmare. "Going through it at the time was a horrific experience, as we recall. It was terrible," Mitch told VICE.

Their lousy experience was mostly due to a lack of direction from the producers. "[The producers] had no idea what they wanted," Mitch explained. "Not only was it a pilot [episode], but they had no concept whatsoever of how to film it or what they wanted from us in terms of dialogue."

Though it can be unclear how long it really takes to film an episode of "House Hunters," the Englanders' shooting schedule was incredibly demanding, which was frustrating for the busy couple. To make matters worse, the show left huge amounts of footage on the cutting room floor. "We probably cut 65 to 70 hours of film for a 22-minute segment," Mitch estimated. "So it was excruciating." 

Elizabeth Newcamp and her husband Jeff, who were on both "House Hunters" and "House Hunters International," also had a difficult time on the show, though for slightly different reasons. "Our camera guy was fastidious about shots. We had to hit marks in the house to get different angles of basically the same conversation," Newcamp wrote for Slate. She also noted that the process felt "businesslike" rather than "relaxed and fun."

The couple wasn't sure about the timing of their appearance

Though the Englanders are now empty nesters, at the time their episode was filmed, they were quite the opposite. Jayne was eight months pregnant, and the couple was frantically searching for a home after their previous place was destroyed in a fire. So it wasn't exactly an ideal time to be on a TV show. "The last thing we need[ed] is a film crew on top of us day and night," Mitch told Vice in 2019.

According to Mitch, the Englanders got along well with the "House Hunters" crew, but that didn't lessen the stress of the situation. "I mean, [the producers] were so kind, but it was really tough because we were under a lot of stress — and they were under stress because they didn't know what they wanted," he recalled. The lack of organization on the show was likely due to the fact that the Englanders appeared in its pilot episode before the producers had really gotten the hang of production. In any case, this resulted in a challenging experience for everyone involved.

The producers were hard to work with

Sometimes, on "House Hunters," you run into a couple or family who doesn't seem to know what they're looking for. But on Mitch and Jayne Englander's episode, the problem wasn't them — it was the producers. From a lack of direction to a chaotic filming schedule, the couple went through the wringer as the producers tried to figure out how to make a good show.

To make matters worse, the producers put pressure on the Englanders to make sure the show was a success. Mitch shared with Vice, "They kept telling us, "If this first episode doesn't make it, this show will not continue on. You will be Season 1, Episode 1, and there won't be an Episode 2. It's up to you guys to make it happen.'" Apparently, the Englanders did a pretty good job, considering the show's success.

Although it's safe to say that "House Hunters" has a more streamlined process these days, it appears there are still some chaotic elements to filming. For example, Elizabeth Newcamp shared with Slate that when she appeared on "House Hunters: International," her family struggled to keep their episode's story straight. "The five days of shooting were organized by location availability, not in any sort of chronological order." She explained, "One day we would film seeing the town of Delft "for the first time," and the next day we were all moved into our house as though we had lived there for a few months."  

The process was long and tedious

When you watch "House Hunters" these days, the episodes are so streamlined and consistent that it makes homebuying look like a breeze. But for the Englanders, being on "House Hunters" was not the fun and easy process they were hoping for.

Jayne Englander told Vice, "It was definitely a long process, and there was no expectation of how long it was going to take. If I would have known, I probably wouldn't have done it." This was partially because of the difficulty of juggling a home search, filming, and caring for their toddler all at the same time. "We didn't have babysitters," Jayne explained. It also didn't help that the producers didn't want the Englander's toddler to disrupt any scenes. "So, [while filming it was like] 'Your daughter can't talk. Can you put her in a closet?' No, we can't put her in a closet! We had the crew take her outside and walk her around," Jayne recalled. 

The couple wasn't paid anything for being on the show

After all the trouble the Englanders dealt with due to the producers' disorganization, you'd think that maybe they'd be paid for their time on the show. But nope: "We didn't get a dime," Mitch told Vice. "We didn't get a thank you card at the time. We didn't get anything. We got a VHS tape about six months later." 

This is a bit surprising, considering the fact that, these days, "House Hunters" guests are compensated for their time on the show. Elizabeth Newcamp, who shared her "House Hunters International" experience with Slate, said that when she filmed for the show in 2016, she was compensated with $1,500. Elizabeth shared that domestic "House Hunters" guests only make $500 for their time, however.

Ultimately, the Englanders weren't particularly upset about the lack of payment, since they weren't expecting to make any money from their time on the show. "We did it for fun, and it was experiential," Mitch said, adding that they don't make any royalties from the episode. "We thought we'd have something for the kids that one day they could show maybe their grandkids, like, 'Here's a program that never made it.'" Or in this case, a program that really made it.

Their episode was raw and completely unscripted

Most of us know that reality television is rarely a fully accurate portrayal of events. From choppy editing to scripted scenes, many of our favorite reality shows use a bit of production magic to create more drama. But for the first-ever episode of "House Hunters," there were no scripts whatsoever — however, that wasn't necessarily a good thing.

In fact, according to Mitch Englander, "That was the whole problem." Instead of feeling like they knew what the producers were looking for while filming, the Englanders had no direction and were clueless about what to do and say. "We certainly watch the shows now and see that they know exactly what they need to get out of the people, and there's a long list of checkboxes. For us, they had no idea what they wanted," Mitch shared. "Not only was there no script, they didn't know what angles they wanted or what they wanted us to look at. It was all raw and very fresh." Sounds like a mess for everyone involved!

But there was one scripted element

The secret is out: the people you see on "House Hunters" already know which house they'll be choosing. This is true now, and it was true for the Englanders back in 1999. The couple had already found the house they wanted to live in — and the house they ultimately chose on the show — before they began filming. But, to their credit, they weren't 100% decided on the house before they went on the show. "We found the final house right before we were cast, but we weren't certain and it was a little beyond our price range," Mitch said. "We had to recreate much of house hunting and look at properties we'd already seen, but it was also very real because we weren't sure yet if we wanted those properties or not. So, it gave us a second look."

For some people, this element of "House Hunters" ruins the whole premise. After all, viewers are meant to believe that couples are seeing each house for the first time when in reality, they're feigning surprise. A publicist for "House Hunters" tried to clear things up in 2012 by telling Entertainment Weekly, "To maximize production time, we seek out families who are pretty far along in the process. Often everything moves much more quickly than we can anticipate, so we go back and revisit some of the homes that the family has already seen and we capture their authentic reactions." 

The family sold their house to a celebrity

It seems like the Englanders' Glendale home was destined for fame. First, it was featured on "House Hunters," and then, it was sold to a famous actor. When the family moved out in 2005, James Denton (of "Desperate Housewives" and Hallmark fame) bought the house. "When we moved out, either '20/20' or '60 Minutes' filmed us because the guy who bought the house was James Denton from 'Desperate Housewives,'" Mitch said. "It was the biggest show on television at the time, so it was a big deal. We were killing ourselves going, 'Really? They filmed us moving in, and now we're getting filmed moving out.'"

However, Denton didn't stay long in the house. His fans quickly discovered where he lived after a tabloid revealed a photo of the home's exterior, which made the actor understandably uncomfortable and worried for his newborn child's safety.

Ultimately, the Englanders are grateful for the experience

Though being on the show was a less-than-perfect experience for the Englanders, they certainly don't regret buying their house. "[The house] was a great investment for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, our kids really enjoyed living there. We had great memories, and we built a life-size dollhouse in the backyard. And then financially, it was a phenomenal investment and tripled in price when we sold it," Mitch said.

When asked if they'd ever be on "House Hunters" again, Jayne Englander wasn't so sure. "I don't know," she said. "Mitch was an LA city councilman for many years, so he's used to the spotlight. I'm definitely not that type of person, and it's hard for me to be on camera. So, probably not," she said. Still, Jayne didn't regret going on "House Hunters," and she's now also an HGTV convert, thanks to her appearance on the show. "I had never watched HGTV before, and I didn't realize what a big deal it would be," she confessed. "Now, it's all I watch."