A Conversation With Jeff Lewis, Star of Bravo's 'Flipping Out':
- What's the #1 piece of advice you'd give someone before they hire an interior designer?
- Jeff: It's not just about finding someone who is well known or who has been referred to you or someone that your next door neighbor used ... It's about finding someone who understands you and your aesthetic. Sometimes people feel bulldozed by designers. They tell you everything is ugly or needs to go. They're forced to get rid of things that they really don't want to get rid of.
I think it's important to remember that it's not about the designer, it's about them. And ultimately they're the ones that have to live in the house. They have to do things that are going to make them happy long term. I feel like most designers worry about how it's going to look in the end because they want to photograph it, put it on their blogs and publish it.
At the end of the day, if I can publish it, fantastic. That's just a bonus. But ultimately I'm not going to throw out people's personal things that I don't find beautiful ... for the grand scheme of a page in a magazine. It's really, really important that you find someone with your aesthetic.
- One thing that strikes me about you is your meticulous nature. I wonder what you'd advise people to look for when they're assessing the craftsmanship of a home before they buy it?
- Jeff: I think your inspection report will tell you a lot. I find that a lot of times, I walk into a house and look at the finishes and know if they've skimped on this and that ... and it worries me [about what] is behind the walls. So if this door is crooked, or this hinge is loose, or this isn't closing right, or this is stuck ... I wonder how did they build the house?
If, at the end of the day, they didn't follow through in making sure that the quality is right on the things you can see, what worries me is everything behind the walls that's more important. The plumbing, the electrical, the AC, the framing.
For a lay person ... I think an inspection report, a good inspector, gives a tell-tale sign for how this house was built ... There's nothing worse than committing to a $2 million house and then having a 48-item checklist for what needs to be repaired. That's really discouraging for someone who's about to drop two million bucks.
- Where should people cut their losses with a contractor on a house remodel? What are the red flags people should look for that a project is just not working out?
- Jeff: The one thing that I will do -- and this is probably information that nobody knows -- but when you are hiring a contractor, I will never, ever commit to the entire job upfront. So you can come in and bid the whole job, and maybe to do my whole house it's going to be $175K ... All I will commit to in the beginning is demolition. Just the first part of the remodel because I want to see -- especially with someone I haven't worked with before -- how clean they are, how organized they are, how punctual they are, how professional they are. And if we get through demo, and I'm happy with demo, then I'm going to give them framing.
The point is I'll go step by step versus just signing a $175K contract and give someone a 10% deposit. I think that you're creating all kinds of room for errors and problems [that way].
- What kind of person is the best personality type to flip a house?
- Jeff: I think you have to be decisive. I call it the Wild Wild West for a reason. There are contractors and subcontractors that are not always so professional. You have to be able to lay down the law. Sometimes you have to hire and fire. And sometimes you have to make an example of someone. If someone is disrespecting you, you have to get your power back or they're all going to disrespect you.
I do all my own research even though I know that my real estate agents are trustworthy people. I run all my own comps. I never just take someone's opinion at face value. I always do my own research and I think that's important.
- Where would you recommend people bone up on knowledge?
- Jeff: Fortunately, you have all these websites now like Trulia where you can look up and track prices, active listing prices, so you can track what's in escrow and what isn't.
A long time ago I had some good advice before I got started in this business. A fellow flipper told me, "get to know the neighborhood like the back of your hand." So you pick one neighborhood, whatever that is, like Los Feliz or Hancock Park, and know what's on the market, what's in escrow, what's sold, and why it sold for the amount it did. So when a listing agent says to you ... "The house across the street sold at $1.5M. This is a deal at $1.2M" ... I already know that the people across the street put a half-million dollars into that house. It has a pool, more square footage, and it's move-in condition, whereas this one is not. You have to be able to think on your own, make your own decisions.
- Is sweat equity the best way to maximize your profit on a home sale?
- Jeff: I think sweat equity is a way. But I feel like the biggest way to make the most money is in a buy ... The best deals are the days I close escrow and make a $100K. I had a deal that I did, and I still own it actually today. It's a triplex ... All the units were undervalued. All the tenants were paying a fraction of what they should've been. When I closed escrow, I paid the three tenants $30K total to leave, and the day that I did that, my building was worth a $100K more because those tenants were devaluing the property.
- How are you handpicking who gets selected for the show 'Flipping Out'?
- Jeff: For 'Flipping Out', it's a true documentary ... The people you are seeing are my clients -- they pay me. You're just not seeing all my clients. (There are clients who don't want to be on TV.) With 'Interior Therapy', it's a different kind of show. It's a makeover show where we move in with the family. Those families are cast, but we really do live there for six days and bond with them. (Sometimes we bond, sometimes we don't.) That's a very different show. Those are NOT my clients. They pay [the residents] a location fee and give them a free remodel on top of that.
- Show aside, where do people tend to get burned the most in terms of budget on remodels?
- Jeff: Sometimes I see people get burned on remodels before they've even started it. They've already paid $100K to an architect; they've already paid $50K to a designer. They've already written a deposit check to a contractor. Sometimes people are out hundreds of thousands of dollars before they even start construction. And then they somehow have to make that up.
- Now that the Jeff Lewis paint collection actually sticks to walls, how is it different from other paints?
- Jeff: I think a few things. All these colors are hand chosen by me. We literally mix these things ourselves. We based it on colors we've used in, not only my own flips, but our clients' homes for years. I think it's going to differentiate itself by the price and the quality. We've aligned ourselves with Dunn Edwards -- they've been in business for years, and years. They make excellent paint [and] really were the perfect candidate for us.
But it was also important that these things don't end up at $60 a gallon. I wanted to make sure that it's affordable ... We've narrowed the palette down to 32 colors, so it's less intimidating ... I walk into some of these stores and they've got 1,100 colors. How in the hell can any lay person pick a color when you have 1,100 to choose from? You can't.
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