Tube Talk: How can we afford home improvements as seen on TV when property taxes keep going up?

By Paula Hendrickson

Contributing Writer

I love almost everything about this time of year. For me, the way the angle of the sun starts to shift as we get closer to the autumnal equinox signals a return to hearth and home. Thoughts turn to a simmering pot of homemade soup and the aroma of fresh-baked bread. Call me crazy, but I kind of look forward to washing windows on a crisp autumn day.

As days grow shorter, I can be found knitting or crocheting most evenings while watching the new fall shows on TV. When not watching the fall premieres, I’m usually watching cooking shows—that whole sense of hearth and home makes me want to seek out new recipes to try, especially if they involve cinnamon.

Despite so many reasons to celebrate the change of seasons, there’s one thing just about everyone I know here in Rockford loathes about this time of year: property taxes.

Having just paid the first installment in June, we all seem to scramble even harder each year to pay the September installment. For a lot of us, that leaves little money left for home improvements, making it painfully depressing to watch anything from Hometime and This Old House to all of those HGTV shows where people come in and spend several thousand dollars sprucing up someone’s home.

Hearing hosts say things like, “And we did it all within our $2,000 budget!” rings false, especially on some shows where you know the TV carpenters’ labor isn’t included in the total, and some of the supplies were provided by sponsors. (A good clue is when they use the same brand name over and over, and labels are prominently displayed in every shot. I recently saw one TLC show, which will remain nameless, where they spent so much time hawking Owens-Corning products and Corian solid surfaces that it felt like I was watching an infomercial.)

Those savings alone are probably worth several thousand dollars, and who among us wouldn’t want free skilled labor and a few complimentary products to help renovate or repair our homes? Even with all the freebies, few people I know in Rockford could afford those fabled $2,000 worth of home repairs after having paid property taxes.

The irony is that when people don’t have enough disposable income to maintain and repair their homes, property values decline. So, instead of raising multipliers as a back-handed way of increasing property tax revenue (without technically raising taxes), wouldn’t it make more sense to offer some sort of property tax discounts to homeowners so they can afford to make a major repair once every few years? Doesn’t it figure that better-maintained homes might actually improve property values, thereby creating more tax revenue in the future?

In a dream world like that, I could actually enjoy home improvement shows this time of year. For now, most of us will go right back to saving money, not spending it. After all, the first installment of next year’s higher property taxes will be here before you know it.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to

From the September 9-15, 2009 issue

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