Peter Pagenstecher

Peter Pagenstecher of Pagenstecher Group, in Kensington, Md., is a native Washingtonian with 30 years of construction and remodeling experience. With a focus in residential remodeling, his professionalism matches his stature (he’s 6 feet 10 inches tall).

Greg Polen

Greg Polen of Case Design Remodeling, in Bethesda, Md., is a project manager with three decades of experience. Fascinated as a boy with cabin building, he has inadvertently made his hobby a reality by building cabinets and refurbishing homes as an adult.

David Merrick

David Merrick is president and owner of Merrick Design and Build, in Kensington, Md., specializing in kitchens, baths, and additions. Even after getting kicked out of architecture school during the ’70s for voicing his passion for design/build, he wasn’t deterred from doing what he knew he always wanted to do.

This Old House: Washington, DC | A Home Saved

Reality Rating 4 stars

Synopsis: A historical, two-story row house in Washington, D.C., suffering from neglect and fire damage receives presidential treatment in this full-house remodeling project. From the restoration of a roof turret replacement to a set of specially made wrought iron steps, our reviewers agreed that this reality TV pioneer also gave the best view of what they do.

This Old House

Pagenstecher: In its favor, this episode stresses craftsmanship and maintaining the integrity of the historical home rather than entertainment value, which is far more transparent in the other shows, Pagenstecher says. But while the show’s crew work on the roof, Pagenstecher notices a “terrible joint” visible at ground-level—an eyesore he’d never allow on one of his own projects. In addition, a shut-off valve for a fireplace isn’t operating—code violation!

Polen: Using a synthetic roofing material as a substitute for actual slate on this project is worth noting, Polen says. For cost-effectiveness, he thinks this is a good way to show viewers interested in re-roofing that another material can provide a very similar effect at one-third the price. But he’s concerned that the crew doesn’t have any fall protection—a violation of OSHA rules.

Merrick: Merrick thinks the show provides an accurate explanation of the materials and techniques used for this type of job, but the time-and-materials setup gets a thumbs-down for being a poor business model. He also says that the contractors’ professionalism deserves far more emphasis by citing their credentials. Omitting that info misleads viewers about what to look for when hiring a pro and what level of expertise is needed—in case the viewer’s thinking of doing the job himself.

Love It Or List It: Doors and More

Reality Rating 1 star

Synopsis: A family of four becomes restless living in a home they’ve outgrown. The house has enough wrong to drive a remodeler batty: a conservatory with no insulation, a ravine with a dangerous drop, and a suffocating basement without any playroom for the family’s twins. But even worse is the bitter dialogue exchanged between the client and co-host Hilary Farr.

Love It Or List It

Pagenstecher: The conflict between remodeler and homeowner worries Pagenstecher—viewers might expect this kind of relationship when pursuing a remodeling project. The matter of budget is openly addressed throughout the show, but the timing could be better. “Working toward a cost that is manageable for everybody is important,” he says. “Unless you address it on a daily basis, it’s difficult to hit that goal.”

Polen: There's nothing positive to say about this show, largely because “entertainment value”—playing up the tension between client and contractor—trumps staying true to remodeling professionalism. Polen says that Farr lets the project go on for way too long before informing the clients that she can’t complete part of the basement. “There’s no way a job should get to this point and you still haven’t talked about things,” he says. “You give ’em the reality up front.”

Merrick: The lack of communication that ultimately leads to the demise of the entire project is unforgivable as far as Merrick is concerned, and he can’t find anything positive about this episode of the show. “This is why contractors have a bad reputation,” he says. “Talk about bait and switch! Did anyone look at the project before they made these promises to the owners?”

Vanilla Ice Project: Ice My House

Reality Rating 2.5 stars

Synopsis: Notoriously regarded as a one-hit wonder, rapper Vanilla Ice makes a comeback as a remodeler picking from a slew of submitted home projects to make them “nice, nice baby.” In this episode, his crew takes on a decrepit pool house for a young couple in Houston. While the finished project is surprisingly refined, celebrity quirks and donations are most likely factors for that outcome.

Vanilla Ice Project

Pagenstecher: These TV shows often feature flashy products, prompting viewers to ask remodelers about them during a project. But because you can’t always see the quality of the item on TV, it’s best to do your research on Consumer Reports, Pagenstecher says. Toward the end of the show, the crew works until 3 a.m. the night before the project deadline. “Not allowed!” Pagenstecher declares. “Noise ordinances. And there’s the safety hazard of having tired employees”— although the jobsite is (conveniently) never visited by OSHA or slowed down by regulatory inspections.

Polen: Because clients don’t always understand what the project will look like, Polen gives a thumbs up to the show’s use of a rendering to depict the finished product. But the fact that the crew often doesn’t wear masks or take safety precautions gets a thumbs down, and Polen doesn’t endorse letting clients take part in the project. Also, when it comes to budget, Polen smells a rat: The project budget is supposed to be—at most—$30,000, but the 16-foot glass accordion door they install, “that’s $5,000 to $10,000 easy,” he says.

Merrick: While he’s doing stucco work, with hawk and finishing trowel in hand, Vanilla Ice almost has Merrick convinced that the rapper might be able to hang with the pros—almost. But then comes the outdoor shower part of the show, and Vanilla loses all credibility. “You can’t just dig a hole, fill it with rocks, and call it a shower,” Merrick says. Another strike against the show is the help provided by a professional contractor who then doesn’t get any of the credit.