Agents tip off ‘Hunters’ to locations, casting

American Film Market 2011: Global Locations

Movies and television shows that shoot in far-flung locales depend on location managers and scouts to set them up in the perfect spot. But HGTV’s “House Hunters International” also relies on an unusual type of guide to steer the series toward the best sites and discover interesting casts for the show: real estate agents.

Show’s production shingle, Leopard Films USA, has built a carefully selected group of real estate agents all over the world who keep an eye out for clients who’d be perfect for the show: They’ve got to have a great story about their impending move from one side of the globe to the other and a TV-ready personality. Once an agent finds someone he thinks would be good for the show, the agent pitches a producer, who then may do a little more background work and put the person on tape for others to see.

“It’s a long process finding the right people for this show and then an even longer process shooting each episode,” says Freddy James, senior VP of programming for HGTV. “We follow them as they start to make their move and learn what their money will buy them in a different city, we watch them make a choice, and then we come back six months later to see how that move went for them.”

On an episode that recently aired, a couple with children moved from a remote farm in South Africa to a slightly more urban location in Australia. Though the husband and wife eventually compromised on the kind of house they would buy, it took some time for them to hash it out. As with all drama, conflict is a big part of what makes the show work, James believes.

“Whether you’re in New York or Los Angeles or buying a house in Australia, buying real estate is a mystifying process and when you’re doing that with a partner it just becomes that much more complicated,” James says. “But we want people who have disagreements and then find a way to work it out through the choice they make.”

It’s not just the home seekers who have to be right for the show. The real estate agents also need the right mix of personality, salesmanship and knowledge of their market to make the show work. Agents are often referred by one another; the producers then follow up on leads and expand their network.

It’s clearly a formula that works. In 2006, HGTV aired 26 episodes of “House Hunters International.” There will be approximately 130 episodes in 2011, and the plan for 2012 is around 200 episodes.

“There’s something voyeuristic about looking at someone else’s home,” James says. “We’re all curious about how other people live, and I think we get even more interested when the house is in a location that’s romantic or unusual.”

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