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'Designed to Sell' on Air

Two local Realtors selected for HGTV's national program

The camera, which points right at her, is like truth serum. “People don’t like to hear it, but the smell of your house is important,” said Terry Haas.

Playing herself in Home and Garden TV’s “Designed to Sell,” the 37-year-old Reston resident is taking her 10 years experience in real estate to the masses, or, more precisely, to about 90 million homes in the U.S. and Canada.

Like Simon Cowell on “American Idol,” Haas tells it like it is. “If I can smell your pet, that’s a problem,” she said in an interview last week. “Bake cookies or something — get that homemade smell in there.”

LAST APRIL, a new cast began filming episodes of the popular reality home improvement show in Northern Virginia and other parts of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, including homes in Arlington, Burke, Alexandria and Falls Church.

In 26 episodes, the program, hosted by Haas’ brother, Shane Tallant, shows sellers how to transform an uninspired home into the “hottest property on the block” — all on a shoestring budget of $2,000.

“Then, after we make over the house, we hold an open house,” said Tallant, 29, who formerly hosted an entertainment show called “The MIXX” on the WB affiliate in San Francisco.

“The changes are magnificent,” said Haas, who is the featured real estate expert in half of the episodes.

The other expert is Shirley Mattam Male, a Realtor with McEnearney Associates of McLean.

“The thing I do for the show is tell [sellers] what they need to do to get more return on their house,” said Mattam Male, an 18-year Reston resident who added that the role is no different than what she does for clients.

THE TWO LOCAL Realtors turned TV stars agree that with the market’s slowdown sellers need to pay closer attention to the little things.

“Often people make some very simple mistakes,” said Mattam Male.

Insider tips focus on reducing clutter, maximizing space with proper furniture arrangement and the use of neutral paint colors, she said. But with the help of the show’s professional decorator from Boston and two regional contractors, transformations are “dramatic.”

In one episode, Haas recalls walking into a Northern Virginia home decorated in a Paris motif. “Everywhere you turned, there was reference to Paris,” said Haas. At the end of the episode, when the changes were revealed, Paris didn’t make the cut.

While the inside’s important, Haas said a home’s ability to sell all starts with “curb appeal.”

“When you walk up to someone’s house, please make sure your front door is inviting,” she said.

Mattam Male agrees. She said nearly all the homes she’s seen needed landscaping improvements. But the home is a package that needs to be treated as such, she added. “I want buyers walking in and not finding a single reason not to sign a contract.”

ONE OF THE SHOW’S earlier episodes taped last spring made over a one-bedroom Colonial style condo owned by Marc and Lisa Gonyea, two young professionals who live in Arlington.

Before the show last April, their condo attracted a total of 20 people at two open houses.

After the show in May, it was a different story. “We had 100 people come through, and you don’t get that in this market,” said Lisa Gonyea. “The fact we got that kind of foot traffic is kind of crazy.” An offer soon followed.