Some first-time home buyers have it easy. They find the perfect home, it passes an inspection, and they purchase the place.
Others, among them Erik and Caley Svensson, go through a much more complicated process. Their experience will play out at 8 p.m. Tuesday in front of millions of viewers on a segment of My First Place — the HGTV series documenting the adventures of first-time home buyers.
The episode titled “Farmhouse Delivers Country Charm and Inspection Woe" follows the Aleppo Township couple on their quest last year to find the perfect home.
Caley, who teaches at Winchester Thurston School in Shadyside, wanted a farmhouse with a barn for her horse, Emma. Erik wanted enough room for their bulldog, Huxley, to run and play, and to be close to Allegheny General Hospital, where he is working on his residency program.
They didn’t anticipate so many ups and downs.
“It was such a tumultuous process,” Caley Svensson said.
The newly married couple found out the show was looking for first-time home buyers in Pittsburgh while Caley Svensson’s parents were visiting from out of town. She said her father buys the newspaper every morning and saw an ad. Her father began joking with her about being on the show, considering she had already appeared in 2008 on TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress, a show about engaged women looking for the right wedding dress.
“I was on ‘Say Yes to the Dress,’ and he thought it was kind of funny,” said Caley Svensson, a self-described "reality show junkie." “I turned to Erik and said ‘This is perfect. Let the reality show continue.’ ”
Caley Svensson sent an application into the show. Producers responded right away, she said.
“The process started from there,” she said.
It couldn’t have come at a better time. Caley Svensson, who is from New Jersey, and Erik, a New York native, moved to the Pittsburgh area a year and a half ago. Their lease on a Fox Chapel apartment was set to expire, and they wanted to find a place of their own.
“Like typical home buyers, we didn’t want to continue paying rent,” she said. “Obviously, it’s a really great time to buy right now, and so everything sort of fell within our timeline.”
Still, Erik Svensson said the overall process of finding the perfect home was “incredibly stressful” and filming required a big time commitment over months. The couple was the first to begin filming in the Pittsburgh area, though shows involving other couples from the region.
Every other weekend, from March to August, the show’s production crew followed the Svenssons and real estate agent Jennifer Markus of as they went through about 15 homes.
The show had to obtain permission from the property owners before filming, based on the couple's interest in those houses. Filming took hours, and sometimes a month would pass between house viewings, though the half-hour show is edited to make it appear as if the couple went through two homes in one day.
Caley Svensson said they brought along extra clothes because they had to plan the outfits they wore. The couple received special directives on everything from wearing makeup to the right clothing colors.
“It was a lot of work,” Caley Svensson said.
Erik Svensson said he was working nights and would come home and prepare for house-hunting, "when I should be sleeping during the day.”
The Svenssons never got involved in a bidding war, but they did run across a few inspection issues. A house in Mars, Butler County — their first ideal location — ended up being too far away. A home in Moon Township ended up having structural issues.
In Wexford, the couple found a farmhouse built in the 1800s, and Caley Svensson instantly fell in love with it. Although the house was small and had only one bathroom, the Svenssons dreamed of putting on finishing touches to make the place their own.
“We wanted to put another bathroom on it and paint and fix up a bunch of things,” Caley Svensson said. “A big caveat was that it was a great price.”
They learned the $200,000 home required repairs for which the seller refused to bear the costs. Those repairs would have cost the couple $80,000.
“I thought we were getting in over our heads, and we just weren’t meant to be,” she said.
The couple decided to raise their budget to find a house that wouldn’t need much work. They ended up finding the perfect house on Glen Mitchell Road in . The Svenssons said the house was the perfect size and had all the amenities they looked for in their dream house as well as close proximity to the hospital. They also loved , the friendliness of locals and the quaintness of the village with its shops and restaurants.
“We just jumped on it,” Caley Svensson said. “If this house didn’t work, Erik and I were under the agreement we were just going to keep renting.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Erik Svensson said the overall process of finding the perfect home was “incredibly stressful,” but he and his wife wouldn’t trade the experience of having their journey documented.
“It was pretty fun and exciting, and the opportunity to see yourself on TV. I thought was kind of neat …” he said. “I thought it would be fun to look back and see it when we’re older how we got our first place.”
There is enough land for the dog to comfortably roam around. And while there isn't a barn on the property, the house is within a five-mile radius of the horse’s barn off Mt. Nebo Road. Caley Svensson previously had to drive an hour to ride.
“What’s meant to be will be," she said. "I’m so happy in this house.”