Home & Garden

Will Raleigh couple ‘Love It or List It’?

Homeowners Rodolfo De Martino, left, and Greg Sims with their dogs Sarah and Sissi at their Mordecai home.
Homeowners Rodolfo De Martino, left, and Greg Sims with their dogs Sarah and Sissi at their Mordecai home. jleonard@newsobserver.com

One staple of the home makeover shows on HGTV is “the reveal” – that moment when the homeowners who have worried and wept for 60 minutes get to see their newly remodeled home and rejoice.

Greg Sims and Rodolfo DeMartino have the reveal down pat.

For visitors to their Mordecai home, Sims sets the stage by describing what the space used to look like – exposed ductwork, concrete floor, an unusable bathroom and boxes upon boxes (“we looked like hoarders”) pushed against the French doors to the ceiling. As he finished, DeMartino drew back a curtain to show the transformation.

Gasps all around.

But that’s all we can say.

The renovation was the work of “Love It or List It,” the HGTV reality show that pits designer Hilary Farr and her construction crew against real estate agent David Visentin. And until the show airs on Monday at 9 p.m., the couple can’t tell anyone whether they’re staying or going.

The fact that they’re still in their home is not a clue.

“You have to move back into your house regardless of what your decision is until the episode airs,” Sims said.

The premise for those who haven’t seen the show is this: One homeowner – fed up with what doesn’t work in the home – wants to move. The other wants to renovate and stay. Farr and Visentin are each given a budget to work with. Inevitably Farr’s team runs into problems and has to take things “off the list.” Visentin manages to find at least one house with most of the couple’s must-haves.

At the end, after the reveal, the homeowners decide whether they will “love it or list it.”

The show has been in production on 26 episodes in Raleigh since last fall. It’s the first time the show has been filmed outside its home base of Toronto. Raleigh was a natural choice, Visentin said during a phone interview. He said logistically Raleigh makes sense because it’s a short flight. And then there are the homes, with prices that resonate with more Americans. “New York or L.A. homes would be more like back in Toronto,” he said – incredibly expensive. “(People are like) ‘they paid that much for that house, seriously?’”

The show’s presence in various neighborhoods around the city is noted on Facebook and next-door sites (“Saw Hilary in Harris Teeter ... buying flowers”). Worries abound when they are in historic neighborhoods.

‘He worked every angle’

In Mordecai, DeMartino and Sims told only a next-door neighbor what was going on. Their renovation, which was supposed to last six weeks, took just over seven, delayed by the the snowy winter.

The couple found out the show was in Raleigh when DeMartino was contacted by the producers, who wanted to use his restaurant, Cafe Tiramisu, for the meet-and-greet between homeowners and Farr and Visentin. Sims, a fan of the show, came to watch.

“He’s nervier than I am,” DeMartino said. “He got over there and started talking. … He worked every angle.”

The producers want a storyline, DeMartino explained, and Sims gave them several.

Storyline No. 1: The two, both in their 40s, have been together 15 years.

Storyline No. 2: The home has a ghost.

Storyline No. 3: When they bought the house in 2006, they renovated it with Sims’ father, who owned a construction company. It was the last home his father renovated before his death.

It had to help that the two have an easy way about them and the looks for TV: Sims is tall, with a soft Southern accent, while DeMartino’s Cuban heritage is evident in his dark hair and his manner is a little more cut-to-the-chase. Their conversation offers the give-and-take of a long life together.

The producer told them to apply. A few months later, Sims and DeMartino were doing their own meet-and-greet.

The top two floors of the 3,300-square-foot home look like the “after” shot of a design reveal, but Sims’ father was not able to finish the basement. That’s the space they told producers they wanted remodeled. Sims, co-owner of Interactive Fitness Trainers of America (IFTA), an international fitness certification company, needed a space to make fitness videos and to bring clients. Both wanted more room for entertaining, a new laundry room and a working bathroom downstairs, among other things.

If they were to move, they needed a one-story home with a garage (like many in the historic area, theirs doesn’t even have a driveway), a fenced backyard for their dogs, Sarah and Sissi, and to be closer to DeMartino’s North Raleigh restaurants. He owns the North Ridge Pub as well as Cafe Tiramisu. Sims wanted a pool.

Visentin, of course, found them a house that worked. Farr, of course, wasn’t able to do everything on their list.

‘Know your hot buttons’

During the renovation, they had to move out. Sims worried that the crews wouldn’t turn on the security system. Filming ran from 7:30 in the morning until 8 at night. The situation made for drama – another staple of the show.

The guys say it’s real.

“They push you and it comes out,” DeMartino said.

“He and I argue quite a bit anyway,” Sims offered.

Not that there isn’t manipulation going on.

“They kinda know your hot buttons,” Sims said.

The producers set up a scene, DeMartino explained, by saying: “You’re about to meet Hilary. She’s about to take a, b, c, d, e off the list because this is not working.

“They say that right before you’re on camera,” Sims said, “and you’re like (he gasps). ... “I don’t think they want boring. They want you to be you. ... We literally one time were screaming down the street here and I don’t know if they kept that or not.”

So what do they think of the finished space?

“This is not what we asked for at all, but I like it,” Sims said.

“I was blown away by the ceilings; they did a beautiful job,” DeMartino said.

So they’ll be staying?

“Think of the value of this house now,” DeMartino said.

“This house would sell pretty quickly, we’re thinking,” Sims said. “We can always re-create and redo. … The last house that David showed us was everything on our list pretty much. There was a pool, a beautiful fenced-in backyard. … And it was $75,000 less than this house.”

So they’re listing?

“We’ve grown quite attached to the house,” Sims said, before adding one least tease: “As they say, everything’s for sale.”

Cornatzer: 919-829-4755

A chat with the stars

While the show keeps them busy in the Triangle – they typically are working on five homes at one time – real estate agent David Visentin and designer Hilary Farr fly between Raleigh and Toronto often. Visentin said his wife and 4-year-old son visit when filming keeps him in Raleigh for longer stretches. “We go for walks (downtown) almost every night when my son is here. We see people that we’ve seen before and say hello. That’s unusual for a city.”

Licensed to sell real estate only in Canada, Visentin works locally with broker Laurie Evans, who sets up the appointments and gets them into houses in the Triangle. Farr relies on her North Carolina design team to help her find local suppliers, furnishings and tradespeople.

Farr answered questions by email while Visentin chatted with The N&O by phone.

On the process

Farr: My team is often the first through the door, since I am often on camera on another episode and can’t be there. Photos are taken – and conversations had – all of which is then reported back to me – along with floor plans and drawings. I can direct design based on that – and run by the home on my own time – and the design process starts.

On the Triangle market

Visentin: The prices here are too cheap. That’s going to change.

Farr: The homes are lovely – the lots are gorgeous and the prices are great. Having said that, the standard of building is not always as good as I’d like, which is why we often find serious issues in relatively new homes. I love the challenge of older homes.

On what people want

Visentin: People all want the same thing. They want bedrooms, they want bathrooms, the open concept plan. ... One thing that’s not on the radar in Toronto that is here. People say ‘Get us a screened-in porch.’ It might not be on their wish list but they want it. We have mosquitoes in Toronto, but they tell me you get eaten alive here.”

Farr: Families have the same needs and concerns everywhere – a great home to include space for working and playing and keeping an eye out for their small children – plus bringing in large seating areas for entertaining and maximizing light.

On Southern hospitality

Visentin: I have to really pull out of people (what they don’t like). It takes a little longer to show houses here than back home. ... I have to tell people to stop being nice. ... I’ll take them through and they’ll say it’s OK, and I’m like, ‘You don’t want OK.’ ... I need that information if I’m going to find the home. Canadians are polite but not on this scale.”

On who has the easier job

Visentin: Getting people to move is not an easy thing. When they see that their house is done, it’s easier for them to settle back and to forget about the things that Hilary didn’t do.”

Want to be

on the show?

▪ “Love It Or List It” is filming in the Triangle through October (with a break in August) and are still accepting applications from local homeowners. Apply at: www.bigcoatproductions.com/be-on-tv

▪ The episode with Greg Sims and Rodolfo DeMartino airs Monday at 9 p.m. on HGTV. Locally, HGTV can be found on channels 59 and 160 on TWC; 450 on AT&T U-verse; 229 on DirecTV; and 112 on DISH Network.