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— by Nancy Chu

DID YOU KNOW THAT HGTV COULD BE CAUSING YOU TO PAY MORE FOR YOUR NEXT HOME?

Let me tell you a little bit about my husband’s pride and joy.  His name is “Wilbur” and he is big. He plays all the balls…football, baseball, basketball…even soccer (or as some call it, “futball”). He sounds crystal clear and is sharply focused, and when he is on, boy I tell you, no one can take their eyes off of Wilbur. He is heavy & square and measures about 86 inches across.  Yep.  He is a beautiful HD television, and he is gearing up for the “big game” that everyone is talking about – we can’t wait to jump up and down and throw popcorn at him (let’s hope no wing sauce will grace his screen).

I very much appreciate all that Wilbur – and ALL high definition television technology – has done for our movie and game watching experiences. Heck, the Discovery Channel has shown me the intensely fuzzy surfaces of a variety of insects, Food Network has made me drool over fish tacos coming in for their close-up and Travel Channel has shown me the beauty of Norwegian fjords like I am standing at Sognefjord myself…oh the MAJESTY…

But…then there is HGTV – the great almighty HGTV, also known as the bane of my existence, the thorn in my side, and the reason why grey and white home hues are here to stay. Why is every single home buyer obsessed with smooth light grey walls and stark white semi-gloss trim? 

At first, I thought the Property Brothers (among other stars of the HGTV line-up of home renovation & buying/selling House Hunting shows) were to blame by hiring designers who were responsible for setting trends that were taking the color and joy out of homeownership. Warm home colors (such as soothing tans, neutral beiges, and even colors that play up the warmth of a southwestern palette) appeared muddled – I couldn’t gauge the depths of the room and the edges of the walls were non-distinct….not like the sharp, razor-like edges of walls that were painted in cool greys and chilly blues (even with tints of sage or lavender).  Was this some sort of conspiracy concocted by Benjamin Moore, Valspar, and that jerk, Sherwin Williams to ensure an icy pale future in the interior design war against Behr’s “P210-5 Cheerful Tangerine?”

Have these TV shows inadvertently taught our home-buying public that well-painted homes in frosty hues imply a significant QUALITATIVE improvement over homes that present in softer toasty tints, simply because our current broadcast technology happens to favors one family of tone over another?

If an entire generation of future home buyers is expectantly watching FLIP OR FLOP, LOVE IT OR LIST IT and FIXER UPPER for home renovation ideas…or if they believe that the flipped home is the only condition of the home they are willing to put up with (or even worse, are ENTITLED to), then an entire generation of millennials and gen z’ers are ok with getting fleeced. In markets such as the one that I am in (northern NJ just west of the Hudson River & NYC), we essentially carry a non-elastic product base – not much by way of land for new builds, so we nurture along an aging, 100+ year old inventory. On the one hand, details & charm are the key, and “they sure don’t build them like they used to” for sure, but on the other hand, if TV is telling you to equate “old” with “bad” then I am trying to figure out how you make the move to the suburbs with our fancy good public schoolin’ and this magical thing called a (say it with me) “…baaa…ck…y…y…yarrr…d.”

Let me show you an example of how the battle of the warm vs. cool colors has greatly affected the market.  Case in point, 2 houses mere steps from each other, both colonials, both sold in Summer 2020 within days of each other:

77 Xxxxxxx Ter (2576sqft): List $520,000; Sold $520,000 ($202/sqft) @ 100% L:S ratio

57 Xxxxxx Ter (1768sqft): List $559,000; Sold $684,000 ($387/sqft) @ 122% L:S ratio

Please note that both houses have recessed lighting, nicely polished hardwood floors, attractive curb appeal & charming fireplace mantel details. Both have updated kitchen and baths, BUT I DO admit that #57 has more contemporary fixture choices, but that is easily remedied by a good shopping spree on Wayfair. The color choices are fixable through a good painter, as well. SO LET ME ASK YOU – Is #57 worth the 94% increase in price per square foot over #77? Does the work that is needed to make #77 LOOK LIKE #57 cost more than $164,000 (AND please remember that #57 is 800+sqft BIGGER than #77)???

I am not suggesting these 2 houses should get the same sale price – truthfully, #77 does need work to bring it into this palette decade (both in color & fixture choices), but are we, as Realtors, presenting all the options to our clients? Are we offering them the full picture – perhaps we should present #77 along with a painting quote with our favorite contractor? As listing agents, can we not provide these quotes before listing so that buyers have verifiable costs to think about when considering which house to bid on? Not every buyer will have the stomach for renovation, but we can’t let ALL the less updated inventory go into the hands of investors, and I do think we owe it to our clients to present an option that saves them up to about $600 in monthly payments, as well as an opportunity to build equity faster in a home. While we can’t stop all our buyer clients from paying maximum or above appraisable market value in a home just because it looks cooler, we can try to offer them a solid argument for why they don’t necessarily need to – after that, you’ve done your job, and the decision is up to them.

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