Wake County

Raleigh property owners settle lawsuit with ‘Love It or List It’

HGTV’s “Love It or List It” hosts Hilary Farr and David Visentin
HGTV’s “Love It or List It” hosts Hilary Farr and David Visentin N&O file photo

Reality TV shows such as HGTV’s “Love It or List It” often leave viewers wondering what really happens off camera.

In a span of 60 minutes, the show’s fans can see a house in need of renovations transformed. What the highlight segments leave to the imagination are the nuts and bolts of construction projects that can lead show participants to tears of joy, or in some cases, unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

That was the case with Deena Murphy and Timothy Sullivan, a Chatham County couple who sued Big Coat TV, the Canadian-based company that produces the show, slightly more than a year ago in Durham County Superior Court.

Murphy and Sullivan, owners of a Wake County rental property, signed on with the show in 2015 while considering renovations to their home at 7212 Catamount Court in North Raleigh and possibly moving into it with teenage foster children. During the show a crew renovates the home as the couple is shown other homes in the area, building to a choice at the end: Will the couple love the redesigned home or list it for sale?

The show’s characteristic “big reveal” in their case revealed big problems with the remodeling, Murphy and Sullivan claimed in the lawsuit. Not only did they complain of shoddy work. The couple also alleged that Big Coat TV and the contractor selected to do the Wake County work had engaged in unfair trade practices in violation of North Carolina’s general contractor laws and used a business model that created “an inherent conflict of interest” for a production company that makes most of its money on TV advertising.

Big Coat TV countered with a lawsuit accusing the couple of defamation, of knowingly spreading inaccurate information to damage the company’s reputation.

After a year of wrangling in the courts, through documents that created a file nearly four-inches thick, Murphy, Sullivan and the “Love It or List It” production company settled the case.

Sullivan, who is listed as the property owner, sold the house on April 13, according to Wake County property records, for $570,000 to Carcanet Properties, a gain of $235,000 over the $335,000 he paid for it in 2007.

The single-page big reveal in the court file tracking the case offers few details of what happened outside the courtrooms to lead to the April 24 agreement that led to the dismissal of the lawsuit and subsequent counterclaim 10 days after the sale.

Neither side is talking either. Each offered only a “no comment.”

“We have no other comments other than that the case has been settled. Thank you,” Maria Armstrong, CEO and executive producer of Big Coat Productions/Big Coat TV, said in a statement.

James White, the Chapel Hill attorney representing Murphy and Sullivan, said last year that the couple had signed a confidentiality agreement with the show and that he had recommended they not talk about their case. “I cannot comment,” White said about the settlement.

“Reality TV”

The couple’s lawsuit offered a glimpse into the amount of staging in “reality TV.”

Murphy and Sullivan, or Deena and Sully as they are referred to on episode 152 of “Love It or List It,” were selected for the series in April 2015.

Sullivan owned the house at 7212 Catamount Court and had been leasing it as a rental property before contacting the show.

As part of the agreement with Big Coat, the lawsuit contends, the couple would “deposit” $140,000 with the production company to use the money only to pay for work performed by the Triangle-based contractor selected for their segment.

They contended that money was not distributed according to terms of the contract.

The couple alleged that “Love It or List It” did not use a licensed architect to develop renovation plans, that they never were shown houses on the market by any North Carolina licensed real estate agent who could broker the sale of those homes and were left to put up with “disastrous work done by Big Coat and its subcontractors.”

The couple contended that flooring in the home was “irreparably damaged” and that duct work left holes large enough that “vermin could enter the house.” They complained of low-grade industrial carpeting, unpainted surfaces and windows painted shut.

“Big Coat’s purported agreement,” the lawsuit contended, “admits that it is in the business of television production, not construction. ... The homeowners’ funds essentially pay the cost of creating a stage set for this television series.”

Big Coat disputed many of the claims in its response to the lawsuit.

It denied the claims that money provided by Murphy and Sullivan was not distributed properly. The company contended it spent an additional $36,000 toward the North Raleigh project, too.

In August, a Durham judge dismissed Big Coat’s defamation claims, but the case was on appeal when the parties agreed to settle.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1