"When can I see it on TV?" a neighbour, working in his front yard, asks as I approach.
He's referring to the action going on at the house across the street from his, currently hosting a Love It or List It Vancouver film crew. "That's what I'm here to find out," I say, explaining I'm in his Upper Lonsdale neighbourhood to meet with the hosts of the hit TV show, interior designer Jillian Harris and real estate expert Todd Talbot.
The house is buzzing with excitement and busy production crew members mill about both inside and out. Each episode of the series focuses on a different set of Lower Mainland homeowners considering whether to remain in their current home or put it on the market. The competitive nature of the show sees the two hosts go head to head, putting their respective expertise to the test. Harris executes a wish list of renovation projects in hopes of making the home more livable, while co-host Talbot tempts the homeowners with a variety of homes elsewhere in the city that might better meet their needs. Throughout each episode, the spirited rivals go to great lengths in their quest for bragging rights, working to overcome any challenges that arise - budgetary or otherwise.
Today, Harris is revealing the completion of her latest major renovation that, thanks to the show's construction and design team, took just under two months to complete. In the real world, an overhaul of this magnitude would have likely taken a year.
"It's an older heritage-style home, but a lot of the house had been updated - not well," says Harris, who, along with Talbot, is taking a break from filming in a trailer parked in front of the house. Overall, the home lacked consistency as a result of being renovated in patchwork fashion over the years. Elements that pop to mind range from its '80s-style kitchen to a coal burning fireplace. "It was kind of slapped together over time," says Talbot.
"It was kind of like your outfit," quips Harris, adding, "I'm trying to get warmed up for later."
The co-hosts' banter and exchange of quick, witty comebacks is a trademark of the show, adding to its entertainment value, and it's clear the good-humoured shots can't help but spill out into real life. However, what's also clear is the camaraderie and strong bond that exists between them. "We have a lot in common other than shoe size and lipstick colour - actually Todd is much more of a diva than me," says Harris, going on to describe her gratitude for their close, brother-and-sistertype relationship. Not meeting until after being cast in the show, they both enjoy giving each other a hard time as well as being on the receiving end of the jokes.
Very early on the dynamic duo committed to being honest with each other, which has definitely paid off. "Jill and I are in certain roles on the show where we have to be fairly black and white about the process, but we actually agree most often when it comes to the fundamentals of choices to make," says Talbot.
"Between the two of us, we do rely on each other to have each other's back," he adds, explaining they support each other both in the context of the show, and are quick to run different ideas by one another as well as seek the other's opinion on a variety of matters, professional or otherwise.
Going on to describe the current North Vancouver home makeover she just completed, Harris says an added challenge she faced was that the homeowner has some serious health issues, so factoring in how to create a healthy space for him was a main priority. "Because it's an old house there were issues with the air," she says. To improve the situation, she updated the home's air filtration system and had new ducting and air conditioning installed, as well as used no-VOC paint throughout.
"A lot of people focus on the pretty factor at the end. The end result is almost always spectacular, it looks fantastic ... but the context of the show was designed to be about function. It's sometimes hard to focus on that because it's more enticing sometimes to just look at beautiful things, beautiful renovations, beautiful houses, views, all that kind of thing. We try and focus on the things that everyday families are dealing with - space issues, storage issues, running out of bedrooms, spaces that are cut off so that there's bad flow in the house - while at the same time trying to juggle the insanity that is the real estate market in Vancouver. That's where television and reality collide on a certain technical level," says Talbot.
With the show set in the Lower Mainland, the impact of the area's hot real estate market is most definitely being felt and has at times affected filming schedules. "The market honestly has put a wrinkle in the show's plans in terms of being able to actually find places that are appropriate," he says. The renovation side of the process is a controllable entity - "you have the ability to fix things that are within the show's control - whereas when we go out, at least right now in the marketplace, we go out looking for houses and there literally isn't any on the market."
Harris and Talbot are continually called to speak across Canada and the United States at home shows or other events. A common question they're asked is what sort of advice they would offer to homeowners from their unique perspectives. When asked today, they're happy to answer, though both point out they used to answer the question differently.
Harris of course maintains the importance of taking your time when considering a home renovation project, getting multiple bids and consulting a design team, though goes on to say, "In this kind of market when you're dealing with a home that's going to be worth millions of dollars, you might want to avoid some of the DIY projects because the projects that you're going to execute have to reflect the quality and value of the home. I think that people need to really think about where they're going to put their money and how they're going to get the return on that because sometimes you can devalue a house by trying to do things yourself and not really investing in the materials and the finishes."
Talbot says he used to answer the question of what advice he has to offer homeowners with, "smart investment." Now, he points out that, specifically in this market, time and time again people are seeing the impact that a renovation has on the value of a property diminish because so much of the value, especially in the detached housing market, is in the location. "My biggest piece of advice for people is to, if you have to sacrifice somewhere - it sounds odd to say, right now this is how I feel - sacrifice on the house and prioritize location because at some point you can always do a renovation. Anything can be renovated, but you can't renovate location," he says.
When they're not working on Love It or List It Vancouver, which airs in the United States on HGTV with the title Love It or List It, Too, Talbot and Harris are continuing to cultivate careers in a variety of different areas. Talbot, who lives in Lions Bay with his wife and their two small children, launched his career as a teenager on the Nickelodeon series Fifteen. He went on to have a bright career in the theatre, with continued opportunities to appear in film and television, as well as got involved in real estate. "For me it's been an interesting journey because I've been in the film and TV and theatre world for a long time but this is an interesting coming together of my two passions," he says.
He's grateful to the show for helping to propel his career in exciting new directions. Other recent creative projects include voicing Who Lives Here for W Network, guest judging Game of Homes Season 1 and 2, guest hosting morning shows, serving as an MC for events across the country, as well as being named HOSS (Homeowner's Simple Solutions) Magazine's West Coast editor. He also maintains a blog at Toddtalbot.ca.
Harris, who splits her time between Kelowna and Vancouver, is no stranger to reality TV, known for her stints on ABC's The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, as well as Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. She also maintains a website (Jillianharris.com), showcasing her life and personal style, as well as offers an online shop. In addition, she has turned her design eye to fashion through her JH for Privilege and LOVE Jillian Harris for Korhani collaborations. "When I was on The Bachelor and then there was many different opportunities, I was like, 'I've got to take every opportunity because who knows when this will end.' I'm so lucky I still have so many incredible opportunities but I'm 36 and I'm really excited to have a family like Todd. I look at his family and I'm really envious of what he has and so I want to try to balance a little bit more. I think that will hopefully be my focus for the next few years, not that I'm going to stop working, but just a different focus," she says.
Harris is already moving in that direction as she and longtime boyfriend Justin Pasutto were recently pleased to announce their first pregnancy via her blog and social media accounts.
Season 3 of Love It or List It Vancouver airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. on W Network. The episode being filmed during my visit will air during Season 4 in the fall. To be featured on a future episode, visit Big Coat Productions at bigcoatproductions.com.