Can you believe that until recently, I had never caught an episode of Selling Houses Australia (we don’t have Foxtel – at least not yet… this may now change) and the show has been around since 2008. Now in its eleventh season on Foxtel’s Lifestyle channel, this multi-award winning show is bigger than ever. I would always see tantalising updates for it pops up on my news feeds and knew the premise already. The hosts, property expert and author Andrew Winter, interior designer Shaynna Blaze and landscaper Charlie Albone, tour Australia helping out people having trouble selling their home, usually because the house isn’t presented at its best. So the team set to work renovating and styling each listing to help it sell. They’re refreshingly frank about each property’s good bits and bad, and there are wonderful before and afters of the property makeovers. Right up my alley. I know this – because I was asked by Foxtel if I’d like to recap a couple of sneak peek episodes – and of course I was keen! I put Little Nerd to bed and got ready for some delicious real estate viewing. (You can read my other recap here!)
SELLING HOUSES SERIES 11 – EPISODE 13 – Little Forest
We’re following the hosts as they drive through miles of lush countryside into what seems like the middle of nowhere. They’re heading to a house in an area I’ve never heard of called Little Forest on the south coast of NSW.
We get to the house, built on the side of a steep hill, and the sweeping forest views are SPECTACULAR. I’m not going to lie, my first thought was, “Wow that’s beautiful… who would want to live there?” While scenic, at first the house seems miles and miles from even the closest neighbour or amenity. Ok, I see the allure but I just like to know I’m relatively close to a café with good coffee. They are million dollar views though, and the hosts ooh and ahh.
And it turns out plenty of people would want to live there. Little Forest – and its neighbours, Mollymook and Milton – are sought-after pockets of NSW real estate, acres of spectacular forest, amazing beaches and rolling ranges. Lifestyle blocks and beautiful country homes often fetch a million or more. Host Andrew Winters says the median house price in Mollymook has grown a whopping 43.5 percent in the past five years (now $689,000). There are a ton of spectacular properties and really charming renovations with features like wraparound verandas, lots of timber and exposed brick. They’re warm and welcoming country homes and I start to see the appeal. “It’s an exceptional location,” says Andrew.
Yet the owner of this home, Peter Ryan, is struggling to sell. He’s had the four-bedroom, two bathroom house on the market for 15 months for $875,000 but is yet to get a nibble. It’s a dead listing – a house that has been on the market for a long time without luck. The problem is there tends to be a stigma around dead listings – the mere fact that the property hasn’t been snatched up yet can put new prospective buyers off, as they think there must be a reason no-one has bought it yet. Meanwhile, other house hunters will see a house that’s stagnated on the market as their chance to put in a very low bid, figuring the owners must now be getting desperate to sell. We see some ‘prospective buyers’ (I use that term loosely, none of them seem very keen) come through for a home open and walk around being brutal and telling the film crew their low-ball offers. “I wouldn’t offer more than $500,000 for this,” says an old guy cheerfully.
$500,000 is clearly not what Peter wants! The hosts introduce us to Peter, who has owned the house since 2014. He and his three kids had always dreamed of living in the country and so he bought this place. But as soon as they moved in, the kids realised they didn’t want to live so far out of town away from their friends. Ah! Kids. So delightful.
Then two years later, Peter met Abigail Sheridan, who lives in Sydney. They fell in love and he proposed. Abigail has two kids of her own. Shayna starts singing Brady Bunch as soon as I do. Andrew cuts her off the exact same moment Mr Nerd cuts me off. We are twins. Peter, Abigail and their kids decided to live together, splitting their time between Little Forest and the city, where they work and the kids go to school. But it soon becomes evident that the Little Forest house needs to be sold so they can live in Sydney full-time and so Peter puts it on the market, but it just doesn’t sell. It becomes a financial stressor and this is where the Selling Houses Australia team steps in to help.
They tour the house and are frank about its faults. “The building itself is depressing,” says Andrew. The floorboards are shabby and need love, and the balustrade to the wraparound balcony is so rickety that palings sway in the breeze. You guys all know how much I like black houses and what I do like about this house’s exterior is the charred-looking black weatherboards. But even here the black is kind of depressing rather than cool. The scrubby gardens and clear view of the water tanks as you’re walking up the driveway don’t complement the home at all. Peter’s partner, the lovely Abigail, kindly describes it as a “bit of a hodge-podge kind of garden” and even Peter looks at her in surprise. She is being generous; they need to hire skip bins and clear off massive piles of debris.
Inside the home are spectacular views from every aspect and I think the open-plan kitchen, living and dining has lots of potential, but the black kitchen cabinets, orange floorboards and blue and red furniture isn’t doing the space any favours. We see from other houses in this area that buyers seem to favour houses with interiors that are classic, light and bright.
Peter’s home’s best redeeming feature is its absolutely spectacular views. We visit a few other houses in the region that have sold for more than what Peter is asking. While these houses have been done up and landscaped in a nicer way, none of them have breathtaking panoramic views as good as those from Peter’s place (except for the house next door, which sold for $1 million).
But while Peter’s place has incredible views, the house hasn’t been styled to sell at all – not in a way that highlights the views. The dated furniture and décor detracts from the views. In one bedroom, the bed is in the wrong spot – facing away from the view and in a corner. And with exposed clothes on a rack, orange pine furniture and a big screen TV on a cheap white melamine sideboard, the main suite shouts more uni student than romantic parents retreat. “It’s a man cave,” Shayna declares. In the dining room, plastic crates are stacked together to create a sizeable wine rack. Wine rack is a good idea; but it’s unattractively executed. “It’s a man’s house,” says Shayna. “It just needs a woman’s touch.”
Work begins. Landscaping host Charlie screens the huge water/septic tanks from view as one comes up the driveway. It’s an excellent idea. (I want to screen our split system air-conditioning unit that you see as you walk up the front path. There is something not right about having a beautiful house and an eyesore right next to it. It’s like a beautifully made-up girl with a cold sore).
Charlie also frames the black house’s windows with white and this small change makes such a huge difference – it immediately takes it from ‘creepy black’ to ‘sexy black’. The rickety balustrade is fixed – phew! – and Charlie also explains why they’re painting the whole balustrade black. “This will make it disappear into the landscape,” he says. I love that idea. Charlie is as big a fan of ‘green against black’ as I am, and brings in a ton of potted plants to place against the black cladding and they pop.
While the home’s exteriors will be dark, keeping the focus on the forest vista, inside it’s all about lightening up the interiors to make them feel fresh and airy, and the patchy, flaky orange floorboards are the first thing to get rejuvenated. I first feel dubious when Shayna said they were going to whitewash the floors but they come up a treat. They are sanded, then receive a whitewashing and polyurethane stain.
The walls are painted a beautiful fresh white (Taubmans Cotton Sheets) and the timber kitchen cabinets wave bye bye to black and are painted in a lovely grey-green kind of duck egg blue, Taubmans Misty Grass. The kitchen and dining looks amazing! The transformative power of paint never fails to impress me. The light colour scheme also works perfectly with one of the few features in the room I liked before its renovation – the wall of grey encaustic-look tile behind the fireplace. Properly teamed with white and the lovely grey-green cabinets, it all works to give the house something of a coastal feel. (I also approve of the kitchen’s existing subway tiles – probably because they look almost like mine). The little black industrial-style cage lights above the dining table I don’t like so much (for this house – would be cute in the right setting) are swapped out in favour for huge pendant lights inspired by trees, and the real estate staging works with this – with a palette of white, blues and neutrals with little pops of black. It looks fantastic.
Shayna also decides to turn the main suite into a studio/second living area – thinking this will be more widely appealing to potential buyers. I’m often surprised when people are real estate styling and decide to take away a bedroom in favour of another kind of space as it seems like you’re kind of decreasing the worth of your listing (most of the time you see people trying to squish another ‘bedroom’ in, rather than the opposite) but I have to say here the studio idea works. The room has a funny layout with a big pole in the middle, and having a big bed in there just didn’t look good. The studio enhances the wow factor of the space and the views.
Woah! The main bathroom – a dated 90s affairs with terracotta tile – is having its tiled walls covered up with huge pieces of terrazzo tile – glued right onto the 90s terracotta tile by a company called Granite Transformations. I didn’t even know you could do that. They’re also covering the existing terracotta floor (with little picture tiles) with a waterproof vinyl called VEGA Vinyl Floor. Aside from the weird wall of cubbies, I didn’t think the original bathroom was TOO bad – but the renovated version is a vast improvement and I’m impressed, they’ve shown me two things I didn’t even know could be done. My ego is slightly deflated, but well done SHA.
Then it’s home open time! The end result is amazing – you feel like you could be living on top of the world. People love the house, the renovations and the styling. Peter and Abigail are stoked. And soon enough they manage to sell – for a very respectable $900,000. They love the house and the changes the SHA team have made – but it’s time to move on and they’re really happy to move onto the next chapter of their lives. Cue the Brady Bunch theme song again. Maya x