Leslie Davis and Lyndsay Lamb are twins in Washington state on a mission: to sell homes that seem utterly doomed to sit on the market—and document their efforts on “Unsellable Houses.”
On their HGTV show—which premieres its second season on Tuesday—Davis, a real estate broker, and Lamb, a designer, work together to prove that even the ugliest homes have hope, and may not require as much work as sellers might think.
Curious to hear their secrets to a successful sale, we chatted with these twins to hear more about the worst houses they’ve ever seen, how they turned them around, and more. Read on to learn what it takes to ink a swift and profitable real estate deal—whether you plan to sell soon or years down the road.
You two have fixed up a lot of homes. What’s the worst house you’ve seen so far?
Lamb: A couple years ago, we sold a house we lovingly referred to as “The Bird House.” It had about 15 birds that they allowed to just roam the house. And they had eaten the Sheetrock off the walls, they had eaten through doors—I didn’t realize that birds did this! I would say that that was easily the worst house that we ever sold.
Are there any features that owners should always keep when trying to get top dollar for their homes?
Davis: It would be very unusual for us to have somebody take out good-quality cabinets or countertops even if they’re not to date. We are called regularly from people who want us to remodel their kitchen before selling because they have dark tones, and today’s popular style is whites and grays. We often convince them to leave the cherry cabinets and tan countertops because the cost of replacing those is not going to be justified in the long run.
Now, if we’re going to reconfigure a kitchen and make it an open floor plan, and that’s going to bring us more money, then yes, we’ll put in today’s style of cabinets and countertops. But we would never suggest just replacing cabinets and countertops because they’re not today’s color.
What are some easy fixes homeowners can do themselves to sell their house?
Lamb: I would say paint, paint, paint! The cost of ripping out trim and putting in new trim is so expensive. Paint your trim, paint your walls. You always need a fresh coat of paint on the walls. Paint doors. If you’ve got really good cabinets and you’re convinced that they need to be a different color, paint the cabinets.
Also, probably one of the most dramatic and easiest changes is to just change out light fixtures and hardware in a home. They can make such a difference selling a home.
Leslie, your expertise is in budget and negotiating. What financial tips do you have for those hoping to sell their house?
Davis: We walk into homes where sellers have these to-do lists for themselves, or for their handymen, that’s a mile long. And by the time we leave, it’s only seven or eight things. So I would suggest sellers speak to an expert in their area before they start doing a major project.
There are a lot of things buyers are willing to look past, especially in today’s market, that a seller doesn’t realize that they’ll look past. For example, buyers might not care that your pantry door is a little bit misaligned. They might not even notice until they move in and are there for six months.
Have you ever made a big mistake trying to sell a house?
Davis: We’ve underestimated budgets quite often. Like, in one episode, we got into a rental property, and the renters did not take care of the home and there was substantial damage that no one, not even the inspector, could see. So we had to invest almost double our budget to get the house done. Luckily, this market is so great we were able to recover it, but there’ve definitely been homes that we either just barely broke even on or ended up in the negative. So it’s not a flawless system by any means. We learn as we go. You have to make mistakes to grow!
Do you have any renovation or financial advice for those looking to invest in real estate or start flipping houses?
Davis: I’d say start small. Lyndsay and I started this concept by investing in people’s homes, about $10,000, only doing carpet and paint and countertops. Very cosmetic, surface items. We started by never touching homes that were more than 1,200, maybe 1,500 square feet. Often, we want to go back to those days because it was a lot easier when the projects were smaller.
2020 was a wild year—how has the coronavirus changed the way you sell houses?
Lamb: This last year, we focused a lot on staging with multiple office spaces.
So we like to stage a primary office space, and then we also stage what we would consider a kids’ office space, or what would be a home schooling space, because we want to show the buyers how they can use the house.
We also always stage the backyard with yard games and fire pits. Because, again, we want to show them how they’re going to use that space.
What trends have you noticed are on the upswing of late?
Lamb: The trend that I’ve seen most often is people are building covered patios or covered porches so they can extend their living space from inside to outside. Because we’re getting a lot of people moving, but we’re also getting a lot of people who are staying put and just renovating their own homes or just updating them some.
They can’t necessarily add another floor, or they don’t want to do these massive renovations, but they want a little bit more entertaining space. So they’re adding maybe a 20-by-12 covered living space or covered patio in their backyard, adding some bistro lights and nice furniture, and they’ve got this great entertaining space.
Has starring in a reality show changed your lives in any way?
Lamb: When we film, we have to put tape over our license plate so that they don’t get our license plate on TV. Well, I forgot to pull off the tape before we took off. So we’re driving down the road in our Volkswagen and I get pulled over by a police officer. And Leslie and I were like, “No really, we’re filming. Do you watch HGTV? Do we look familiar? Can I show you our Instagram?” He had no clue who we were, but he did let us go!