What To Expect From The Screen: Fictional Homes v. Actual Homes

It happens all the time. A 20-something character in a fictional New York, is allegedly broke but still manages to afford a two-bedroom basement apartment in Manhattan with close proximity to the subway. A gang of teenagers head up to their parent’s rented mountain ranch only to get murdered by a crazy guy who mistakenly thought the property was worth millions.

Too often, there’s a discrepancy in what the properties we see on TV and in movies look like, and how they would actually look in their given location, price, etc. We’re going to investigate this phenomena and narrow it down to four major categories: New York, Beachfront, the Midwest, and the Mountains.

Category 1: The New York Apartment

NYC apartment

Sorry to burst your bubble, twenty-somethings. Despite what Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt tells you, even the shabbiest basement apartments in Manhattan carry a rent check that will make your student loans look like the penny in the mall fountain.

A typical Brooklyn rent along the L might set you and your roommates back $1000+ a month not including utilities in 2015, and that might be a bargain depending on your location. We recommend turning to neighborhoods like Queens and The Bronx, which offer plenty of styles to choose from, including townhouses that are doable with the right roommates. But good luck trying to find even a space like that in Midtown on the salary of Robert de Niro in Taxi. The key to renting or purchasing is to know what you can and can’t afford. Take Jim Gordon’s “Gotham” family pad  in The Dark Knight. Sure, he’s a police captain, but is it enough for the multiple-story, two-bedroom property that Batman visits occasionally? Probably not. In real life, that’d set the Gordons back around a cool million on initial cost alone. He’d be in a better place if he and his family looked to a longer commute, maybe a Queens townhouse. Heck, if they’re willing to commute, pick up a space in Beacon, NY, an extremely pretty small town with transportation to the city and ample opportunities for hiking. Don’t let Hollywood fool you even more than it already has.

Category 2: The Beachfront Property

beach home

If your youth was spent in any way like those teenagers from beach-town classic TV shows like The O.C. or 90210, then bless you. But could those teenagers and their families have actually afforded them through gossip, murder, or cliffhangers?  No, Dylan, don’t shoot! You might hit the Mona Lisa behind you, and you have no idea how it got there.

Similarly to a New York startup, affordable beach bungalows are still extremely hard to come by. Even if we give the criminals of NCIS: LA a pass and say that their hideouts are actually rentals, the fact is that the average income of a Newport Beach resident is $106,333 in 2015. Around 40 percent of Newport’s 95,000 people lived in rental units last year, so it’s not that big of a stretch to guess that that’s mostly what’s going on here. If you’re looking for a teenage beach soap opera or movie with some sense, find the one that acknowledges the summer rental culture and take its advice.

That’s right, we’re talking about Point Break. A refresher: Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey are two FBI agents pursuing a gang of bank robbers who surf on the side. (Still with us?) However, in order to catch the gang, they have to act before the surf season ends, and the gang’s summer rental property changes again for the next season to an unknown property along the beach. This is about the only thing from Point Break that you can call accurate and sensible. Even with their ridiculous bank robbing stunts, the gang (known as the Ex-Presidents) doesn’t have the sort of stable income that creditors will appreciate. But they can probably satisfy the landlord looking for $750 — $850 rental for their two-story (estimated), five-bedroom hideout with that bank money. The summer beach season sees many of the same customers, who may want to renew their same agreement or experiment with a new property. Point is, there is flexibility if you keep in mind that — unlike the Ex-Presidents — you’re looking to come back alive again next year.

Category 3: The Midwestern Home

midwest home

From the suburbs of New Mexico in Breaking Bad to the high school kingdom of Friday Night Lights, Middle America seems to have almost the opposite problem as fictional New York or Malibu. In markets like Oklahoma City, the financial shift from New York feels like letting a dumbbell off your shoulders. For the price of that same Brooklyn apartment, you could start making payments on a one-story house, and be done before your student loans are even formed (that might be an exaggeration, but so is everything in Smallville, so we’ll leave it at that). However, this vast difference in property cost almost never reaches the mass media, and we’re left with an entire generation ignorant of the affordable, great properties in the Midwest. As such, we’d like to congratulate HBO’s Girls for making light of this situation in season four’s “Triggering.” Main character Hannah’s shock at renting a full house for $800 a month was a brief reprieve from the insistence that everything is too expensive for prospective homeowners.

Category 4: Any Mountain Residence, Ever

mountain home

You know what the most unrealistic part of the horror-movie classic “Friday the 13th” is? No, it’s not that a masked murderer has survived for god-only-knows-how-many number of years at the same lake just to murder every teenager in his path (nor is it that he can apparently breathe underwater and will live forever). It’s that a camp with such little business can hold such enviable property for that long without any other potential suitors. The out-of-the-way mountain sanctuary is the most misunderstood property in film and television, bar none. To be sure, there’s plenty of variety. We can get vistas as incredible and scenic as Friday the 13th‘s Camp Crystal Lake, or we can get the claustrophobic cabins of the incredibly underrated Wrong Turn series, and everything in between. Simple, 3-bedroom properties along the Rockies in Fort Collins, CO can be as low as $250,000, but drive a short hour and a half outside of Denver and that figure can skyrocket to $2 million. The mountains are where vacation cabins at $50 a night freely coexist with open-air mansions.

The main real estate angle that filmmakers forget in their ever-present search for that perfect cabin: rentals. Sure, we have films like Joss Whedon’s horror-satire Cabin in the Woods that touch on this, but the rental market for faraway cabins is thriving, even if it’s seasonal. Many cabins and other rental properties surrounding a U.S. National Park can have the benefit of unbeatable natural beauty, consistent opportunities for adventure, and the chance to meet new and exciting people. But if you’re not near there, consider a tip from Citizen Kane and become a newspaper tycoon. Maybe you can build your own Xanadu someday without fear of paying rent checks every month.