Watch the HGTV show “Property Brothers” long enough and you canbe lulled into believing that with a sledgehammer and enough wide-plank wood flooring, any ugly duckling house could become a dreamhome inan hour or less.
But if you’ve actually lived in a house that needs a face-lift, youprobably know that even the simplest project costs far more than youexpect, takes forever to finish and is invariably fraught withcomplications.
Jonathan and Drew Scott, the 40-year-old Canadian identical twinstars of “Property Brothers,” have built a small empire trying to proveto 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 alocal Canadian station in 2010 — the affable twins have written books,including a children’s book and a memoir, starred in and sometimesproduced spinoffshows, gotten a TV sitcom in the works, started adesign website and a line of home furnishings, and now have apartnership with Chase Bank and Pinterest to help homeowners makeScott brother-inspired design boards with financing tips.
I spoke with the Scott brothers by phone to find out what advice theycould offer to those of us with aspirations for our homes, but withoutthe good fortune of a TV-ready duo to guide us.
To better understand the philosophy of the Scott brothers, considertheir flagship show, where each episode follows a standard refrain. Thebrothers take a happy, but hapless couple to see their dream home, agorgeous turnkey that checks all the boxes, only to dash their hopes bytelling them the obvious: They can’t afford it.
And so begins the quest to find a less attractive house, usually one withshag carpeting and wood paneling. With fancy graphics, the brothersshow the couple the home’s potential, once contractors take the wallsdown and install a new kitchen.
Their first piece of wisdom for would-be renovators: Not all datedhomes make good fixer uppers.
“Find a home where the bones work and you’re merely changing thingson the inside,” said Jonathan Scott, a contractor and the brother who’soften seen wearing a tool belt and ripping out a gross toilet withoutruffling his carefully coifed black hair.
But if the house is simply too small, new cabinets and an open floorplan won’t deliver that missing bedroom you’ve been pining for.Instead, you may need to expand the footprint, a huge expense. Thenational average for an addition is around $43,300, with a high-endone costing $120,000, according toHomeAdvisor.
Even cosmetic projects don’t come cheap. HomeAdvisor estimates thatthe average cost of a new kitchen is around $23,000, with a high-endone costing $55,000. It’s no wonder that Americans handled roughly43 million home improvement projects on their own from 2015 to2017, according to United States census data. Do-it-yourself projectsaccounted for 38 percent of all home improvements, but just 18 percentof home improvement costs, according to a NerdWalletanalysis ofcensus data.
But unlike other home improvement TV stars, the Scott brothers arenot fans of D.I.Y., even though they began their careers buying andrenovating properties while they were still in college.
Some projects, like installing a backsplash, are manageable afterwatching enough YouTube videos, they say. But plans can quickly goawry. “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 brokerand the brother who’s usually in a dapper suit walking buyers throughthe offer process. A failed D.I.Y. project can make a homeowner resentthe house “because it’s not turning out the way that they wanted,” hesaid.
He recommended starting small, with a project that can be done in aday and that isn’t too disruptive. “Maybe there’s an old side table orchair you can refinish,” he said.
Well, sure, but that hardly feels like an accomplishment, unless youthink of the fuchsia end table as a conversation piece. “If friends comeinto your space and they say, ‘I absolutely love that side table, it’s sounique, where did you get it?’” Jonathan Scott said, you can respondwith 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 hiringprofessionals.
Americans certainly invest heavily in their homes, spending $300billion a year on home improvements and repairs, according to theJoint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. How are theypaying for all this work? Sixty percent of people who responded to aChase survey said they planned to take out loans to finance it.
“Cash out refinances were a very popular product in 2018,” said AmyBonitatibus, the chief marketing and communications officer for ChaseHome Lending.
In their partnership with Chase, the Scott brothers appear in the bank’sadvertisements and website, marketing a Pinterest board that is asmuch about financing as it is about design. They recommend tacklingprojects sooner than later, and financing them with loans or lines ofcredit.“Some people will save up for three years, five years to do arenovation on their kitchen,” Jonathan Scott said. “But why not just dothat renovation now and enjoy that kitchen?”
Homeowners should choose their projects wisely. And in the Scottbrothers’ 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’sbeen renovated, but all they’ve done is they’ve ripped out a kitchen andput in brand-new cabinets into the exact same bad layout, then all youhave is a cramped, dated layout with your new kitchen,” Jonathan Scottsaid. “It’s worth spending the money on opening things professionallyso you have a new footprint.”
Once those walls are down, someone has to choose the furniture. DrewScott, who recently moved to Los Angeles with his wife, Linda Phan,describes his style as“rusticky modern,” while Jonathan Scott, wholives in Las Vegas, sees himself more as “elegantly eclectic.” In otherwords, “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 welike.
While they insist that professionals should lay the floors, they do nothold the same reverence for design experts. Jonathan Scott is usuallythe 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 meansanything,” he said. “Designing is a lot easier than people think. There’snot some secret sauce.”