What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen going into area homes?
Soto: How people don’t pick up when they know we’re coming. I mean, we’re not ambushing them. It’s like, Really? You couldn’t pick up your underwear? Rooms covered in cat hair. I’m extremely allergic. If you’ve ever seen me in an episode where I look a little swollen, it’s because the homeowners have cats.
Aubrey: The camera is just not going to pick up what in person is amazing—carpets that haven’t been vacuumed, bathrooms that haven’t been cleaned.
What sells? Have you seen changes in what appeals to homebuyers here?
Soto: Back in the ’80s and ’90s, it was all about homey. Now it really is about creating a minimalist, uncluttered space.
Aubrey: Baby boomers were okay with buying a house that had projects. They were going to paint, pick the colors, and make it their own. I don’t think that’s the way buyers in the Washington market are now. They want to be able to drop their furniture and start living. So many people spend time in their cars commuting, and so much time with work, that they just want a product they can buy that they don’t have to do anything to. The days of projects—that was a long time ago.
What’s the best way to stage a house for quick sale?
Soto: The easiest thing is to clean and declutter. It doesn’t cost a lot. You’d be surprised how much better the space can look just by doing those two things. Then if the furniture’s really ragged, maybe it’s time to either rent or borrow something or make that investment and buy new furniture that you’ll be able to use in your new place.
So it’s not a good idea to show a vacant home?
Soto: No. You can’t really envision how your furniture will be placed. It’s always better to put a few pieces in there to set the scene.
What sort of tough love is needed for real-estate interventions?
Soto: We’re kind of like a good cop/bad cop. If Mike walked in and said, “Oh, it’s perfect,” it wouldn’t do them any good.
Aubrey: Prior to this, things were booming in real estate, and real-estate shows were pretty happy. There’s an edgy side to this show, in part because it deals with a marketplace that changed not for the better. That’s really where the idea of intervention came.
Soto: It’s a very delicate situation Mike and I walk into every week because these people are sometimes in dire straits—they’re wanting to move on with their life and don’t know where to turn. And then here we are with a camera crew.
Mike, do you think you might get into fights if Sabrina weren’t there?
Aubrey: I’ve got news for you—I got into a fight with a couple of people even when Sabrina was there. It was in Arlington, right across the bridge from Georgetown.
Soto: Mike was very honest. The husband did not like what Mike was saying and didn’t want to finish the episode. We had to walk out of the house for a minute.
Aubrey: It is probably the number-one episode I’m asked about by people. And yeah, it was twice as uncomfortable in real life as it was on camera.
When you talk about homes and their value, is that a touchy issue?
Soto: Of course. It’s like saying when you were little that you could make fun of your mom but nobody else could. It’s the biggest investment everyone makes in their life, so they don’t want to think they’ve made a mistake or it’s worth less than what they think it is.
Aubrey: People are super-emotional about it. And there’s this idea of “my house is better than everyone else’s.” I’ve got news for you: Everybody feels that way. If somebody’s house was worth $1 million in 2005, and in 2011 it’s worth $500,000, that’s a big deal.
Besides those caught by declining real-estate values, are there other reasons for taking losses?
Aubrey: People who use their house like an ATM. Lenders were giving out home-equity lines of credit, but you didn’t have to do anything to qualify. Whatever they did with the money, people forget about it because that money is usually gone. And now they’re in a situation where suddenly I’m telling them, “Guess what—you’re going to have to write a $20,000 check to sell your house.” That’s pretty upsetting.
And sellers have the idea that their situation has some impact on the buyer. It makes no difference. The market is what it is. And no matter how horrible or sad or tragic a seller’s situation is, it doesn’t impact worth. Never.
It becomes sort of a cathartic journey for these people, where I hand somebody a reality grenade and pull the pin out.
When should sellers consider lowering their asking price?
Aubrey: In this marketplace, if a house is not getting any offers—nobody is asking me to dance at all—at 30 days I want to move the price.
What would you do in Silver Spring that you wouldn’t do in Georgetown?
Soto: For me, it’s more the architecture and the bones of the home. We did a rowhouse in Northwest DC. Very traditional. I couldn’t put Ikea furniture in there. I bought a vintage map of DC and antique-looking furniture. I can get away with a little bit more in, let’s say, Silver Spring.
Are homeowners resistant to your advice to change?
Soto: Some people really love their taste—they’re very attached to their own decor. It’s sometimes difficult to explain to them why not everyone’s going to love the color salmon, so those things get a little tricky. When they move to the next place, by all means paint every room pink. Have a blast—have a pink party. It’s just about neutralizing your current home so you can get to the next one.
I want the decor to not stand out because I want people to be looking at the house. So I don’t use bright colors or vibrant art or accessories. I want everything sort of muted so the home shines. That’s what staging’s all about.
Sometimes people over-improve. If you think you’re going to move within five years, maybe even ten, you don’t want to make it too specific to your own taste. For instance, we walked into a house and the homeowner loved orange, so she had orange countertops.
Aubrey: In the ’70s people had an expectation that they wanted harvest gold or one of those avocado refrigerators. Never make the mistake as a seller of thinking that your style is what somebody else is going to like.
Next: Pet peeves, quick fixes, and ways to dress up a home quick—and on the cheap