Sold on the before and after
Lisa LaPorta, co-host of HGTV's Designed to Sell, says it pays to invest in making over the house you're selling.
By JUDY STARK
Published April 16, 2005
[Photos courtesy of HGTV]
|In a Designed to Sell project, the kitchen’s a bore: yellowed flooring, dim lighting; worn sink, cabinets and countertops that are showing their age. Cluttered counters make the kitchen seem crowded and smaller than it is. Lisa LaPorta’s advice: Make it sparkle, get some light in there, freshen it up. It needs to look brand new.
|Now, sunlight pours through the uncovered window and the new French door. The floor and sink sparkle. Fresh paint and cabinet hardware make the kitchen look new. A fresh window valance and some pretty decorative accessories complete the look.
You're about to put your home on the market. Or you're going to spend the weekend visiting open houses, looking for one to buy.
Before you do either, listen to the advice of Lisa LaPorta, interior designer and co-host of Designed to Sell. That's the HGTV show that spends five days and $2,000 to make over a home for sale, leading to a contract and big profits.
"The No. 1 most-common and the biggest mistake people make is to think, "I'm selling the house now and it's been fine for me, so what's wrong with it?' " she said by phone from her home in Hollywood, Calif., where she was planning the next few weeks of shows.
Once owners make the decision to sell a house, she said, they mentally check out of it. They no longer care; they've moved on to the next house. They don't want to do anything to the old house, and they certainly don't want to spend any money on it.
"That's penny-wise and dollar-poor behavior," she said. "It's a big mistake to assume that they don't need to do anything to put their house on the market."
Or if they do acknowledge they need to do something, they make the wrong choices. "I get letters and e-mails all the time from people saying they've been told they should do all white: white carpet and white walls. I totally disagree with that concept. If that were the best solution, model homes - which are done up so beautifully to sweep you off your feet - would be all white and white, and they're not!"
It's certainly not what LaPorta and her team do on the show. As regular viewers know, standard operating procedure for a makeover includes warming up cold white rooms with color, eliminating clutter, spending effort and money on kitchens, and making rooms appeal to a wide swath of buyers. Most people roll their eyes at a drum kit or weight bench in the living room and are turned off by the hamster cages in the family room, no matter how much the sellers love them.
Homeowners may check out of the old house financially and mentally, but sometimes they cling to it emotionally, LaPorta said. "They think they shouldn't have to change anything. But the house they're selling is not their house any more. They need to neutralize it to appeal to somebody else."
LaPorta offered a checklist of tips for sellers to attend to, and for buyers to be mindful of, as they visit homes for sale:
* Get rid of clutter. "When people see clutter, they imagine the house isn't big enough." Box it up and put it in a storage unit, she said. If you can't afford that, box it neatly and stack it in one room, or in the garage. "I'd rather see that than see every room cluttered, especially common areas, living rooms and kitchens."
* Give a room a focus. Sure, lots of our rooms multitask. The guest room is the home office and the storage room, and the exercise bike is in the corner. "But when a room is serving double duty, the implication is that you're wanting for more space," she said. When owners "stage" a room, setting it up to focus on one purpose during the sale, it doesn't plant the notion in buyers' minds that there isn't enough space. "Without being deceitful, even if it's true, we do not want to draw attention to that." (Buyers, are you listening? Look closely at the rooms in the homes you visit. If a room is set up exclusively as a spacious home office, where will guests stay, or where will you keep the sewing machine and the exercise bike?)
* Perceived maintenance is important. The house should look as though it's been kept in great condition. Buyers who are stretching to the max to afford the house don't want to look at a dingy kitchen and think, "Oh, great, the first thing we'll have to do is gut this kitchen, which we can't afford to do." They'll walk away. New countertops make a tired kitchen look move-in ready, and may truly be all that room needs. Change out switch plates and receptacle covers and replace light switches with toggles "and people will assume good maintenance," LaPorta said.
* Perceived value works to the seller's advantage. "Many times the changes cost less to make than people perceive them to be," LaPorta said. Appliances are always a good investment: "Spend $1,000 on appliances and you're probably going to get your $1,000 back in a higher sale price of the home, plus you'll sell the house faster," she said.
* Little things matter. A fresh welcome mat and two pots of flowers at the front door "really change the overall impression of the front of the house."
* Separate the superficial details from the real issues. Flowers and fresh paint are fine; they'll get buyers in the door and they'll eliminate red flags or superficial reasons not to buy. But buyers should separate that eye candy from real issues, like a cracked foundation, roof problems, or electrical or plumbing inadequacies.
* Educate yourself at a home center. Sellers, find out the costs of some items that might spruce up your home: faucets, door hardware, light fixtures, countertops. They may cost less than you think. Buyers, do likewise, and learn what not to pay top dollar for.
The show's budget of $2,000 per house sometimes draws criticism from viewers who say they can't come up with even that much, LaPorta said. And the figure does not include labor costs, she acknowledged, since the show provides its own team of carpenters. LaPorta defends $2,000 as a "good, fair amount most people can wrap their heads around." The show's pitch to homeowners is that the money they spend to fix up the home will come back many times over in a higher sale price. Co-host Clive Pearse often reports at the end of the show how much more the house sold for than the sellers originally asked, and it's usually well in excess of that $2,000.
Pearse breaks down the spending at the end of each episode to show where the money went. "There are many changes that cost zero," LaPorta said, like taking down heavy window treatments that block light and views, or cleaning up clutter. Even on that $2,000 budget, creativity is called for: LaPorta shops at Big Lots and Target, has used table place mats as window valances and has made items out of castoffs and scraps. The budget is certainly more realistic than the budgets on some TV design shows. (LaPorta once designed a bathroom for another show that cost $150,000.)
The show always ends with an open house. Prospective buyers ooh and aah over the transformed home; Pearse not-so-subtly prompts them to make offers. The homeowners often mention in their newspaper ads that the home was "featured on Designed to Sell," LaPorta said, "and there's often a crowd waiting in front" when the open house begins.
Designed to Sell airs on HGTV at 8 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday; 9:30 p.m. Monday; 9 p.m. Friday; and 1 a.m. Saturday.
Judy Stark can be reached at 727 893-8446 or email@example.com
Messy homes make for tidy TV
"The houses that make the best episodes are a mess and full of clutter. But they require the most work," said Lisa LaPorta, co-host of HGTV's Designed to Sell.
The premise of the show is that with five days and $2,000, homeowners can repair, refresh and renew their homes so it will sell quickly and at a good price - ideally, more than they're asking. The long, busy days of work on the house culminate in an open house and, they hope, offers and contracts.
"Many times we're there until 9 or 10 o'clock at night," especially on the night before the open house. "But we've never had to cancel an open house for not being finished."
Typically there are two on-camera work days, one off-camera, and two or three staging days. There's also plenty of work for the homeowners off-camera.
Usually the show's cast is working on four projects at once, to be completed in the space of about a month. "My job is not only to do all the design work and be on camera, but also to supervise the work, schedule it, and make sure all the materials and supplies are on the job sites for shoots or workdays. There's a lot of budgeting. We keep track of all the items we've used and put them on the HGTV Web site so anyone can see what we've used." Visit www.hgtv.com.)
LaPorta spoke from her home in Hollywood, Calif., where she acknowledged she was wearing a T-shirt from the show's production company, Pie Town Productions, and sweat pants - "very glamorous!"
Owners are typically eager to be on the show and promise to do whatever's asked of them, "but I don't think they realize how much work it is," she said. There are sometimes homeowner meltdowns after a stressful day of working on the house ("Camera people in your house for days on end, it's midnight and the baby needs to sleep"). Occasionally, she said, homeowners have just refused to do anything, "and we end up having to work into the wee hours, and it throws things for a loop."
The show will soon open a second office in Chicago, to satisfy HGTV's demand for more episodes. The carpentry team of Jim Collins, Nick Ralbovsky and Brad Haviland, who have been with the show for three years, recently were replaced by two new carpenters, Brooks Utley and Steve Hanneman, "who are really good and have different abilities and get into a lot of different projects. That has stirred the show up a little," LaPorta said.
And some tips for buyers
Donna and Shannon Freeman are the mother-daughter real estate agents who preview each home on Designed to Sell and offer their advice on how to make it sell. Here is their advice for buyers:
* Don't choose condition over location. You can't change the location, but you can always change the condition of a home.
* Learn to look past a home's poor decorating, dirt or clutter and see what's really there: square footage, good location, desirable features (fireplace, top-of-the-line appliances, great views, hardwood floors).
* Get preapproved by a lender before you start house shopping. You'll know what you can afford, you won't waste time looking at homes outside your price range, and your eventual bid will be stronger if you provide a copy of your approval letter.
* Have a home inspection.
[Last modified April 15, 2005, 10:30:06]
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