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A Free Makeover for My House?

To be chosen for fix-it TV, you need location, energy and, yes, even money

Q. I'm a big fan of home improvement TV shows. How can I get my home picked for a free makeover?

A. First, consider the golden rule of real estate: location, location, location. Check the "casting call" pages for shows on the DIY Network and HGTV and you'll notice that to be eligible for a makeover, homeowners usually need to live in or close to a specific city.

See also: Renovating for love, with the long term in mind.

You'll also need to be "energetic" and "personable," at least that is how the websites describe the homeowners who'll be selected. You're usually asked for photographs or video of yourself and your property. In other words, the producers are generally looking for camera presence.

They also want some measure of do-it-yourself skills, or at least a willingness by newbies to attempt them in front of a lens.

Free is not free

And you should know that not all TV makeovers are really free. Some shows expect you to pay the bills.

You'll need a budget of at least $20,000 (and live within 35 miles of New York City) to be featured in DIY Network's 10 Grand in Your Hand, in which homeowners seeking to save that amount do hands-on work typically handled by contractors.

At least a $5,000 budget (and a home near Minneapolis) is needed for DIY's Sweat Equity. A few shows provide free labor and materials, but you may be liable for taxes for the donated materials.

For PBS's This Old House, the granddaddy of home improvement shows, you can expect to put up even more. "All out-of-pocket costs are paid for by the homeowners," reports Jessica Hartzell of WGBH Boston. "However, the show coordinates product discounts and donations where possible."

This Old House projects tend to be multi-room and focus more on preservation than simple renovation. Only two renovations are done each year, one in the Boston area and the other is often in a warmer climate.

Camera-shy need not apply

"The TV crew looks for an old house with plenty of features to save and update," Hartzell adds, and owners who "aren't camera-shy." Projects need to be completed within seven months.

For sister show Ask This Old House — where a host comes to viewers' homes for everyday repairs — labor and materials are, for the most part, provided free and homeowners are invited to help.

Spokespeople for the DIY and HGTV networks did not return emails and phone calls seeking additional selection criteria for their shows.

If you'd hoped to get your house on the most heartwarming of the fix-it shows, ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, you've missed your chance.

After nine seasons of helping homeowners who have stirring back-stories such as battle-injured veterans, down-on-their-luck community leaders or parents of special-needs children, the show will air its last episode on Jan. 13.

Also of interest: Make your house a home for life. >>

Sid Kirchheimer writes about scams and consumer issues.