Q&A With Design and Real Estate Expert Carmine Sabatella

This Pasadena native and star of HGTV’s new show Inside Out shares tips, insights, and experience.

How did you get into design and real estate?

It’s always been a passion—ever since I was a kid, when I’d rearrange the furniture in our house. In my 20s, I taught myself about horticulture, learning about plant identification and climate zones, how to plant efficiently depending on which direction your property faces…

I was born in South Pasadena and moved to Arcadia when I was 8. I graduated college from USC and decided to open a restaurant [Carmine’s] with my dad, and later a lounge [Magnolia], which both had a good run. I eventually got tired of working 75 hours a week and got into real estate in 2013 with the intention of doing design as well to create an all-encompassing platform.

The first house I sold was my mom’s in Arcadia, which went for $3 million and set a new record per square foot in the neighborhood. I’ve since become more of a seller’s agent, with a lot of clients asking how to make design investments to increase the value of their homes. I make sure that money doesn’t go to waste.

What’s the market like in Pasadena right now? 

Fire. Since COVID, people are exiting big cities and metro parts like Downtown and West Hollywood and moving east for more space. Our business was up more than 20% over last year. Interest rates are low and staying low, and there’s not a lot of inventory.

Before the pandemic, your house was like a pitstop: you’d wake up, go to the gym, get ready for work there, work, go to happy hour, have dinner, come home, go to bed, rinse, repeat. That’s not the case anymore. Now, people want a functional floor plan and a usable yard. Instead of a barren 4,500-square-foot home, buyers would rather have a 2,000-square-foot house with smart home features, custom lighting, automated window treatments, sound systems…people will forgo square footage for amenities. The little things matter now.

How did Inside Out come about?

I wanted to create a show that was about Southern California. People live here because of weather, but 50% of people don’t have a functional outdoor space. There’s a yard for the dog, maybe table and chairs—but people aren’t hanging out in their backyards because they don’t feel like a functional extension of the home.

The show is like a “battle of the budget,” which tends to range from $50,000 to $200,000. The prerequisite is that the house needs work, but the homeowner doesn’t know where to begin. It’s not just about my co-host [Mike Pyle] and I coming in and doing it for the homeowner though—we’re engaging the homeowner so that they’re making decisions as we go, deciding what they want to invest in, and truly making it their space. The first episode is a bachelor pad we redesigned to accommodate the homeowner’s new wife and make it less of a frat house.

What’s your own home like?

I never thought I’d be back in South Pasadena, where I was born, but I love it—it’s actually five houses away from where my grandmother lived. It was supposed to be a flip—a 1939 ranch-style home, hideously renovated in the ‘80s. I never get emotionally invested in a project, but I just felt drawn to it, and I realized as I was doing it that I was asking my husband, Ryan, and daughter, Gianna, for their input a lot. We transformed it into a modern ranch/farmhouse, and the day it was complete, we all just thought it felt like home.

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