‘House Hunters’ features Tri-City couple, showcases local real estate

By Jennifer L. Drey

When Sierra and Darin Chase Foster decided it was time to buy their first home, they naturally gravitated toward watching “House Hunters,” a popular television show on HGTV that takes viewers behind the scenes with homebuyers as they choose between three potential properties.

As newlyweds with two dogs, a cat and their first baby on the way, the Fosters had the same desire as the show’s participants to find the perfect new home, though they were still figuring out exactly what features they both wanted.

“We started to watch the show because we wanted to get a better idea of all the things that we may be seeing when we looked at houses and to start to decide whether we thought those were positive things or negative things,” Darin said. “We did learn quite a bit by doing that.”

On a whim, the Fosters went online and filled out an application to be featured on the show. Not really expecting to be selected, they went on with their daily lives — she working in hospital administration in Sunnyside, he working as a grant administrator in Walla Walla, and the two of them scouring the new-home listings whenever they found the time.

A month later, they were happily surprised to get a call from the producers at “House Hunters.” Having recently made an offer on a house in the Tri-Cities, it turned out they were perfect candidates to be featured on the show, which does all of its filming only after participants have made a final decision on a house. The filming crew then goes back and re-creates the process.

“We really didn’t take it very seriously or even expect to be on the show when we applied,” Darin said.

Their realtor, Kay Lehmann with the Schneider Realty Group in Kennewick, was equally surprised — and thrilled — when she found out. Unbeknownst to the Fosters, when they submitted their application, Lehmann was a longtime fan of “House Hunters.” With five years as a Realtor in the Tri-Cities under her belt, Lehmann said she loved tuning in and trying to guess which house the show’s participants would ultimately select.

“I was blown away when they told me,” Lehmann said. “I had no idea you could go online and apply to be on ‘House Hunters.’ ”

During the five days of filming, which took place in October and November, the Fosters, along with Lehmann and the film crew, visited three houses, all in Kennewick. They debated the pros and cons of each on camera, then revealed their final selection in an episode that originally aired May 1.

The filming also included scenes shot at J. Bookwalter Winery, Rockabilly Roasting Co. in Kennewick and along the Columbia River, all spots where the couple were shown talking through their options on the path toward a final decision.

In the end, their choice reflected the criteria they knew they both wanted in a home — a non-cookie cutter house with its own unique character, easy access to the highway and a few projects still left to be done. But it was the nearly half-acre yard that finalized the decision for them.

“We had never been more impressed by the shape of a yard when we saw it. It wasn’t just that there was space, it was that the space was meticulously groomed and there were eight or nine different breeds of trees that are pretty well aged,” Darin said.

Despite having jobs in other Eastern Washington cities, the Fosters had selected the Tri-Cities as a desirable location because of its ability to offer bigger-city amenities while maintaining the feel of a smaller city, which Sierra said was especially important to her, having grown up in rural western New York.

“Tri-Cities is so spread out that it never feels like a major city. We have one mall here, but we don’t have multiple malls. We have lots of great restaurants but it’s not such a city environment that you have to walk everywhere — and no paid parking. That was something that really got on our nerves in Spokane,” Darin said.

With hundreds of episodes currently in production, a representative from “House Hunters” said she was unable to comment on the specifics of why producers chose to feature the Fosters and film in Eastern Washington.

But the Fosters are far from alone in their desire to buy a home in  the Tri-Cities. In October 2017, the month they closed on their home, 385 homes were sold in the Tri-Cities, with another 400 sales pending, according to the Tri-City Association of Realtors.

In total, 4,414 homes were sold in the Tri-Cities in 2017, about even with the 4,423 sold in 2016, but up from 4,153 sold in 2015, according to the association, which tracks residential real estate sales in Pasco, Richland, Kennewick and West Richland, plus Benton City and Prosser.

Lehmann said the increased demand for housing in the Tri-Cities is making it difficult for first-time buyers like Darin and Sierra to get what they want at the price they can afford.

“Entry-level home buyers in our market are finding a ton of competition for every house,” Lehmann said. “There’s just not enough homes in that price point, and whenever there’s a new one that comes on the market there’s a line outside the door, full of people waiting to come in and see it.”

Prices also are creeping up as land in the Tri-Cities becomes more expensive.

The average selling price on a home in the Tri-Cities was $267,051 in 2017, up from $244,035 in 2016, and from $224,699 in 2015, according to the Tri-City Association of Realtors.

“We have people moving here all the time for jobs, and we have people moving here for retirement, and although interest rates have gone up a bit, they’re still historically pretty low,” Lehmann said.

There simply aren’t enough houses to go around right now, she said.

For the Fosters, the initial move to Tri-Cities involved a short-term rental that pushed them to be aggressive in their pursuit for a house. Like many buyers in the market, they made an offer within about 24 hours of first seeing the home.

“We saw it, and we knew we wanted to put in an offer by the time we left the house,” Darin said.

Knowing one offer had already been made on the house, they took the night to determine how to make their offer appear most attractive, then submitted what turned out to be the winning bid the next day.

Looking back on the “House Hunters” experience, the Fosters both said they would recommend it to a friend, though Sierra noted there is a significant time commitment involved. The episode has already aired, but the link to it hasn’t been posted on the HGTV website.

Lehmann said she would definitely do it again if another client were to ask.

“It was a blast,” she said.

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