"Have you discovered the 'Property Brothers' yet?'" my mother-in-law, Zee, inquired? "It's a program on HGTV and those boys are really amazing." So with several days of rainy weather and with some actual free time on my hands over the holidays, I treated myself to not only a "Property Brothers" marathon, but got hooked on the show that follows as well: "Love it or List It?" (Gee, you think I'd have enough Real Estate in my life without watching it on TV. Apparently not.)
In "Property Brothers," a pair of handsome, photogenic twins work in conjunction with one another to upgrade, remodel, and list the Sellers' current house, while identifying a replacement home that better meets almost everything the clients"must have" in order to move. (Spoiler alert - they always move.)
The goal isn't much different in "Love It or List It?" except that in this program, the Realtor and the Decorator are competing with one another to see whether staying or selling proves more compelling to the Sellers by the end of the show. Now that the house has been remodeled, will the Sellers still want to "list it" or have they learned to "love it?" (It's anybody's guess.)
In both cases, regardless of the amount of work required or the "surprises" they invariably run into, such as mold and mildew, bad wiring, pest and asbestos issues, or load-bearing walls that (surprise!) aren't in fact, load bearing; the Renovators still manage to complete ALL the work and buy new furniture for about $50,00o! Invariably, the scope of work almost always encompasses opening walls, refacing fireplaces, installing gourmet kitchens and state-of-the-art bathrooms with custom cabinets, shelving, skylights, French doors, etc., etc., etc.
Really? (No, not really.) AND if that hasn't strained credibility enough, here's the best part . . . ALL the work gets completed in less than four weeks time! (I know this is "Reality Television," but I ask you, what's 'realistic' about that?)
Okay, it's good TV for sure, and I'm all for shows that encourage home ownership and improved functionality, but take it from a serial renovator (that would be me) there's absolutely NO WAY those homes are getting the amount of work completed anywhere close to the budget as represented on TV - NO WAY! (Is no one getting paid for their time? What of the permit process?)
So while I love a good transformation, I also think that reality shows like these are incredibly misleading to the uninitiated who might actually think that these unrealistic numbers are actually attainable. (They're not.) At least, not here in Piedmont, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Mill Valley, or the Bay Area at large where everyone confronts higher costs of living, including painters, plumbers, electricians and gardeners, which invariably, translates to higher building costs to you - the home owner.
I suppose it's the price we pay for being able to walk on the beach in January.
So love these programs all you like, but watch them with a grain of salt. DO involve a contractor and an architect upfront and PULL PERMITS, especially if a "fixer" is in your future. And if one is, understand the REAL costs going in; what repairs should be addressed right away, what can wait, and more importantly, what problems need immediate attention - and then start saving for a rainy day. (Even seemingly "done" homes can have expenses that are unexpected as we live in them.)
And if you are on the fence about listing your current home OR remodeling it instead, the answer is found in its location and size. If you absolutely LOVE your current neighborhood (and your neighbors) and there is room to grow . . . you may be better off staying put and remodeling - in spite of the expense and inconvenience. On the other hand, if despite all your best efforts, you are never going to be satisfied with the street on which you live and you are bulging at the seams, then list your home now and let the next Buyer take on the improvements.
"Love it or list it?" That's up to you, but either way, I'm here to help.
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.