Watch the HGTV show “Property Brothers” long enough and you can be lulled into believing that with a sledgehammer and enough wide-plank wood flooring, any ugly duckling house could become a dream home in an hour or less.
But if you’ve actually lived in a house that needs a face-lift, you probably know that even the simplest project costs far more than you expect, takes forever to finish and is invariably fraught with complications.
Jonathan and Drew Scott, the 40-year-old Canadian identical twin stars of “Property Brothers,” have built a small empire trying to prove to the rest of us that if you take out just the right wall, joy will be yours.
In the years since HGTV picked up their show in 2011 — it debuted on a local Canadian station in 2010 — the affable twins have written books, including a children’s book and a memoir, starred in and sometimes produced spinoff shows, gotten a TV sitcom in the works, started a design website and a line of home furnishings, and now have a partnership with Chase Bank and Pinterest to help homeowners make Scott brother-inspired design boards with financing tips.
I spoke with the Scott brothers by phone to find out what advice they could offer to those of us with aspirations for our homes, but without the good fortune of a TV-ready duo to guide us.
To better understand the philosophy of the Scott brothers, consider their flagship show, where each episode follows a standard refrain. The brothers take a happy, but hapless couple to see their dream home, a gorgeous turnkey that checks all the boxes, only to dash their hopes by telling them the obvious: They can’t afford it.
And so begins the quest to find a less attractive house, usually one with shag carpeting and wood paneling. With fancy graphics, the brothers show the couple the home’s potential, once contractors take the walls down and install a new kitchen.
Their first piece of wisdom for would-be renovators: Not all dated homes make good fixer uppers.
“Find a home where the bones work and you’re merely changing things on the inside,” said Jonathan Scott, a contractor and the brother who’s often seen wearing a tool belt and ripping out a gross toilet without ruffling his carefully coifed black hair.
But if the house is simply too small, new cabinets and an open floor plan won’t deliver that missing bedroom you’ve been pining for. Instead, you may need to expand the footprint, a huge expense. The national average for an addition is around $43,300, with a high-end one costing $120,000, according to HomeAdvisor.
Even cosmetic projects don’t come cheap. HomeAdvisor estimates that the average cost of a new kitchen is around $23,000, with a high-end one costing $55,000. It’s no wonder that Americans handled roughly 43 million home improvement projects on their own from 2015 to 2017, according to United States census data. Do-it-yourself projects accounted for 38 percent of all home improvements, but just 18 percent of home improvement costs, according to a NerdWallet analysis of census data.
But unlike other home improvement TV stars, the Scott brothers are not fans of D.I.Y., even though they began their careers buying and renovating properties while they were still in college.
Some projects, like installing a backsplash, are manageable after watching enough YouTube videos, they say. But plans can quickly go awry. “Don’t even take it on unless you know you’re willing to finish it,” Jonathan Scott warned.
A contractor will likely get the job done faster and better. “Most people, they don’t value their own time,” said Drew Scott, a real estate broker and the brother who’s usually in a dapper suit walking buyers through the offer process. A failed D.I.Y. project can make a homeowner resent the house “because it’s not turning out the way that they wanted,” he said.
He recommended starting small, with a project that can be done in a day and that isn’t too disruptive. “Maybe there’s an old side table or chair you can refinish,” he said.
Well, sure, but that hardly feels like an accomplishment, unless you think of the fuchsia end table as a conversation piece. “If friends come into your space and they say, ‘I absolutely love that side table, it’s so unique, where did you get it?’” Jonathan Scott said, you can respond with something like: “Oh funny story, I didn’t just buy it at the store.” And then, take it from there.
For bigger projects, the Scott brothers wholeheartedly endorse hiring professionals.
Americans certainly invest heavily in their homes, spending $300 billion a year on home improvements and repairs, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. How are they paying for all this work? Sixty percent of people who responded to a Chase survey said they planned to take out loans to finance it.
“Cash out refinances were a very popular product in 2018,” said Amy Bonitatibus, the chief marketing and communications officer for Chase Home Lending.
In their partnership with Chase, the Scott brothers appear in the bank’s advertisements and website, marketing a Pinterest board that is as much about financing as it is about design. They recommend tackling projects sooner than later, and financing them with loans or lines of credit. “Some people will save up for three years, five years to do a renovation on their kitchen,” Jonathan Scott said. “But why not just do that renovation now and enjoy that kitchen?”
Homeowners should choose their projects wisely. And in the Scott brothers’ vision, that often means ripping out some walls.
“I can’t stand it when I go into a house that’s listed and they say it’s been renovated, but all they’ve done is they’ve ripped out a kitchen and put in brand-new cabinets into the exact same bad layout, then all you have is a cramped, dated layout with your new kitchen,” Jonathan Scott said. “It’s worth spending the money on opening things professionally so you have a new footprint.”
Once those walls are down, someone has to choose the furniture. Drew Scott, who recently moved to Los Angeles with his wife, Linda Phan, describes his style as “rusticky modern,” while Jonathan Scott, who lives in Las Vegas, sees himself more as “elegantly eclectic.” In other words, “I don’t like things being too matchy-matchy,” he said.
As for the rest of us? The Scott brothers say we should just buy what we like.
While they insist that professionals should lay the floors, they do not hold the same reverence for design experts. Jonathan Scott is usually the one accompanying anxious homeowners to the furniture store, offering advice on sofas and throw pillows.
“All the fancy design terms that you see out there, none of it means anything,” he said. “Designing is a lot easier than people think. There’s not some secret sauce.”
Published at Fri, 04 Jan 2019 19:02:07 +0000