🖤 Donations of all sizes power our public service journalism Give Now
By The Numbers

The real cost of upkeep for a TV show home

Sally Herships Oct 11, 2013

Living in a stately, old English home may seem romantic (we’re looking at you Earl of Grantham!), but have you ever thought about the cost of keeping up those epic lawns? There are more acres than plot twists at the famous stately home.

“They obviously have someone full time on staff.” Perry Guillot, a landscape architect in New York’s Hamptons, says “Downtown Abbey” is set in an English park, which means the job of the caretakers there is primarily to look after grass and trees, rather than flowers and shrubs. So, while all that trimming and mowing and pruning could potentially rake in bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, acre-by-acre it’s not half as labor intensive and costly as maintaining a formal planted garden. 

Still, it’s a far cry from the lawn care costs associated with 10336 Dunleer Drive in Los Angeles. That’s the house, according to the research team at Zillow.com, that’s featured on the show “Modern Family.” The website lists property taxes as $23,538 for last year and shows that the home was last sold in 2006 for just under two million dollars. Guillot estimates that maintaining the gardens there would run about $150 a week for all the lawn care: mowing, leaf blowing and doing the fall cleanup. But he notes while that isn’t even close to the costs associated with the upkeep of a British stately home, it isn’t necessarily the same in every American home either.

“I’m in Southhampton, that’s a little bit skewed,” he says.

Think you know TV show homes? Play our new brain game and match the famous home to its TV show. Play now.

While location can affect prices, it’s not always what has the biggest impact on cost. There’s the human factor, which can have people with expensive tastes driving expenses far higher than those inclurred by frugal types. Just imagine the complex and contorted negotiations that must go on between Bill Henrickson and his three wives, Barbara, Nicolette and Margene, on “Big Love,” HBO’s take on polygamy.

“Three wives? Interesting. Maybe nothing would get done.” Atilla Ozturk, owner of a residential contracting firm in New York says most of the decisions, especially about details on the jobs he works on, are made by the women of the family and that involving three, especially competing love interests could get complicated, quickly. “If they work together it would be fine, but if they worked against each other… it could really drive you up the wall,” he says.

But Ozturk is quick to point out that maintenance work on a house like the one in “Big Love,” would be relatively inexpensive. Relative, that is, to an English estate. Most of the materials in the “Big Love,” complex type of house, he says, are generic and inexpensive. Off the shelf moldings and windows and kitchen cabinets that you can pick up at a big box store like Home Depot. He notes that per square foot, doing  repair jobs would probably run only about a quarter of the price of repairs at “Downtown Abbey.”

And in case you’re wondering, according to Zillow, the average price for a home in Sandy, Utah — a suburb of Salt Lake City, near where “Big Love” is filmed — that could accommodate a largish family, is $356,800. A home like this, says Zillow, would need a mortgage payment of about $1,500 a month. But that doesn’t seem much to pay for so much triple the love and, if it seems high, hopefully your script writer can write you in a new mortgage.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.