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Yonkers home featured on 'Sell This House'

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YONKERS - When Ray Martinez sold his Long Island home in 2005, he found a buyer within a week. In January, when he put his Yonkers home up for sale, Martinez knew he was entering a much tougher housing market and didn't expect to be as lucky. But two weeks later, Martinez got a surprise that just might give him the edge he needs to make a quick sale. After seeing Martinez's house listed, producers from A&E's "Sell This House" called for permission to feature his two-bedroom, one-bath split-level home in an episode to air in the show's seventh season in the summer. "Sell This House" is a home makeover show that focuses on staging a house for sale in just three days while spending around $500, mostly on paint and updated accessories such as curtains. Standing on the steps of his Curtis Lane home on the final day of the makeover a little over a week ago, Martinez said he was originally hesitant to participate but his wife, Adrianne, encouraged him. "I'm busy at work. I'm a mechanical contractor, and I didn't know if I could make time for it," he said. "But I spoke to Adrianne and she said, 'You're crazy if you don't do it.' " She piped up: "I've seen the before and after, and they are amazing. I knew it would dramatically improve the house." The big problem with Martinez's house was its "bachelor- pad" vibe, according to the show's designer Roger Hazard. "All of the furniture was arranged opposite a TV, which is how people like to live but is not how to sell a house," Hazard said. There is a good reason the house had a single-guy groove. Martinez has been renting the house to his brother since August, when he moved in with his bride. Before that, he lived in the house alone as a widower. Ray met Adrianne, herself a widow with three boys, while reconstructing the driveway of his home. The couple are eager to sell Ray's home and get on with their life together.. "Selling the house is what it's all about. There's a mortgage here. The boys are in Catholic schools. We're in a struggling economy, so we don't want to get caught up in a lot of debt," Ray Martinez said. Martinez bought the home for $400,000 in 2005 and has it on the market for $439,500. His real-estate agent, Teresa Bellino of Regatta in Bronxville, said the home has had just four showings since January. "It hasn't been showing well at all," she said. An open house is planned for today, and she believes the updated look will impress potential buyers. "They warmed it up tremendous. It had a very cold feel, very open with barely any furniture. They redesigned the whole house. They put up curtains, colored the walls," Bellino said. "I look at it as anything can help." While Martinez invested in a new driveway and performed some minor work inside, he wasn't up for a big remodel before the sale. Nor was it necessary, according to the "Sell This House" crew, which focused on jazzing up the home's simple split-level architecture with color. "The house itself was in very good shape, but it felt very cookie cutter. It felt like every other house on the block, so I really wanted it to stand out. People are expecting more for their money these days, so every room had to look dynamite," Hazard said. The biggest challenge was convincing Martinez to paint the off-white walls a dramatic shade of bluish gray. "The homeowner was afraid of experimenting or trying to use color. Because I kept the same hues throughout the house, he realized color can give a space that has no character a lot of warmth," Hazard said. Martinez said the color lecture got through to him. "Everything was color, color, color," he said. "I like simple colors, but they wanted more vibrant colors and they got that." Hazard's co-host Tanya Memme said the Martinez home was among the easiest to spruce up among the 167 homes the show has featured because the house was clean and clutter-free. Sometimes the entire first day of the three-day job can be spent clearing up the dreck of a lifetime. "We tell people that anything you're not using daily, pack it up, put it in boxes and put it in storage. You can have it back when you move to your new house," she said. Memme describes her role on the show as part host, part therapist for families who are reluctant to see their homes pared down and rearranged for sale. "When you are living in your house, it's not a product, but the minute you put it on the market, it becomes one and you have to think of it that way," she said. While one might imagine family photos would be the hardest things to pack away, it's actually convincing people to say goodbye to the TV that gives Memme the most trouble. "People have huge television sets, with wires all over the place, and it just looks horrible. Then they've got DVDs and tapes and all that goes with it," she said. "We're trying to neutralize it all." While the crew from "Sell This House" spends three days painting, hanging new curtains and arranging accessories, Memme said the average homeowner can replicate the effort to get the same results on their own. "It's worth putting two days aside and maybe putting $500 in your home. Tack it onto the price of your house," she said. "The thing about our show is we do it on a budget. So even in tough times you can do it. You might have to put in a little more elbow grease, but you don't have to spend a lot of money to create a dramatic difference." Eighty percent of the homes profiled on "Sell This House" last year were sold, according to producer Lee Christofferson. That's down from 95 percent a few years ago before the housing market went bust. But signs are good for the coming season with the first two homes featured already sold, Christofferson said. The show picked the Yonkers house in large part because of Ray Martinez. "The homeowner was really funny and interesting," Christofferson said. The home also presented a unique challenge given the demographics of the area. "In that neighborhood, it was young families with small children. We found that they wanted three-bedroom homes. That was only a two-bedroom home, so we wanted to make those two bedrooms stick out and seem really big," she said. Home staging guru Barb Schwarz, author of "Staging to Sell: The Secret to Selling Homes in a Down Market," which will be published in June, said staging a home for sale by culling knickknacks, painting walls and rearranging furniture can lead to a quick sale even in a recession. Statistics she gathers weekly from 20,000 real-estate agents around the country show that 94.6 percent of staged homes sell in 35 days or less, compared with 175 days for other homes. The boom in home makeover shows like "Sell This House" on A&E and "Designed To Sell" on HGTV is making homeowners more aware of the value of staging your home to look like you live in a Pottery Barn catalog, which Schwarz said is a good thing. "No matter what the market is doing, it's all about perception and the consumer comparison from one house to the next," she said. "Two things sell a home: One is price and the other is staging."

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