You might know Cristy Lee from her car expertise on the “Garage Squad,” “All Girls Garage,” and “Celebrity IOU: Joyride.” But lately, she’s broadened her skills to work on houses.
On the new HGTV show “Steal This House,” Lee takes prospective homeowners—who’ve had no luck in house hunting—on a search for a fixer-upper in Detroit.
We had a chat with Lee about how she got started in real estate, as well as her best advice for homebuyers today.
You’re known for your work with cars and motorcycles. What made you want to do a home renovation show?
Cars and motorcycles have been a huge part of my life my entire upbringing. My dad was a shop owner and mechanic. So that has always been a part of my life. That’s a huge passion for me.
But in 2005, I moved from Daytona Beach, my hometown, to Detroit to invest in real estate. I would say my favorite thing about working on both cars and bikes and homes is that it’s a learning process, and getting in there and figuring out how to get the job done and then executing that job. I mean obviously, there’s a vast difference between the things that you need to renovate and restore a car versus a home. But in terms of the learning process of getting a job done and the steps it takes through that process, they’re both very similar.
In the show, you encourage clients to buy fixer-uppers. What’s the advantage for buyers?
There’s always something to be said about a property that needs work. It definitely can scare a lot of people away. In addition to the stress and concerns of buying a new home, you’re adding in a potential major renovation. So that’s a lot.
So I understand that. I’m empathetic with the homeowners that we see on the show in that they’re not sure that they want to take up that renovation. But as far as looking at homes that are in a state that is less desirable to the general public, I think that’s the best way to find a steal—and that’s what this show is exactly about, is looking at a home in a different way.
I’m just trying to guide them and help them through the process. These buyers have been struggling to find the right house. They need to adjust that price point and look at different houses that they may have not considered before.
What’s the market like today? Do you have any advice for buyers?
The market is ever-changing. The market right now is so different than it was six months ago, even three months ago. Sellers don’t know whether it’s time to sell their home—whether to cash out to get the best value for their home—or sit back and wait because they think that inflation and interest rates are changing.
The best thing for those considering buying or selling a home is to hire the best real estate agent to help you through this process.
The market is incredibly competitive right now. The last property that I purchased, I was the first person through the doors and I made an offer within a few hours. That’s kind of crazy for the average homebuyer to go through that same type of experience. But that’s the way the market is right now. So having the right person and right team to help you out through this process is more important now than it ever was before.
My second recommendation would be to change the scope of how you’re looking at the market. Maybe you aren’t going to find a house in that exact block that you’ve been looking for. Maybe you aren’t going to find the house within a very specific price range. Start considering homes that do need renovation. Start considering homes that are maybe at a lower price tier or considering homes that are maybe even 5 to 10 miles away from the area that you’ve been looking in before.
Now is a great time to really open up your expectations for what types of homes you’re looking at.
Do you have a favorite project from this season?
I’m really happy with how all of the different projects that we tapped into on this season turned out, because there is such a wide variety of different styles and different projects. I’m able to bring to the table some of my car experience, which sounds kind of crazy, but I do have experience working with metal, and I’ve been able to bring some of those skill sets to the home projects as well.
In one episode, for example, we created this amazing custom steel staircase railing, something that the homeowners didn’t even think about putting in place. It turns out the existing railing wasn’t up to code and we had to replace it. Instead of just putting in a wood railing or a wood banister, we decided to go with this full custom steel hand railing—this extremely beautiful and unique piece that they now have in their home that looks amazing.