09/16/2013 11:24 EDT | Updated 11/16/2013 05:12 EST

Richardson helps homebuyers see 'Real Potential' of fixer-uppers in new series

TORONTO - From leading her own design firm to spearheading real-life renovations showcased on the small screen, Sarah Richardson has countless creative projects to her credit. With her new TV series, she's adding househunting and property purchases into the mix.

On "Real Potential," which premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on HGTV Canada, Richardson helps prospective buyers scout out a trio of homes, focus on a stumbling block within each property. Once they've settled on one, she encourages them to "see past the ugly" as they overhaul the disaster room in the new dwelling.

Richardson said they "cast the net pretty wide" with the 14 homes featured in the debut season. Working mostly with first-time homebuyers, rooms were renovated in properties spanning from several decades to more than a century old, encompassing everything from split-level bungalows to Victorian homes.

In the first of two back-to-back episodes, Richardson meets Ayesha and Michael, a couple on a fruitless three-year search to find a home. Michael is keen on finding a house with character that the pair can put their stamp on, while Ayesha envisions a move-in ready property.

Richardson said the "opposites attract" dynamic is a familiar scenario when it comes to the house hunt.

"I find that usually in a couple, somebody is more keen to take on more debt and more challenge and a bigger project," the affable home expert and host said in an interview at her downtown design firm. "Somebody is more eager about renovation and change and chaos, and the other person is usually more reserved, more pulled back, can't see it, want to be able to walk in, experience it, done. Turn the key and say: 'This is home.'

"The show creates a very interesting portrayal of how two sides of any relationship come together. And it's an honest and truthful portrayal of what their priorities are, what they like, what they don't like, and how they view the househunting process. What excites them, what scares them, what gets their imagination going, and what is a total block they can't see past."

Well before signing on the dotted line to purchase a property, Richardson said would-be buyers should look at the home's overall condition to determine if it's structurally sound and in good overall shape before giving thought to sprucing up the interior.

"What you don't want to buy is the money pit," she said. "You don't want the house that has the bad eavestroughs, the leaky roofs, the problem with the foundation, the wet basement, all the doors and windows are falling apart. Because realistically, before you even get to the pretty, you are so caught up fixing everything that's a problem.

"You're fixing the overall structure of the house and that takes a huge amount of money. That will run you dry before you even have a time to look at a swatch of fabric or a paint colour."

For individuals who struggle to see potential in less-than-stellar rooms, Richardson encouraged them to look online for homes with similar features and to peruse design websites.

"If you can focus on looking for ideas and inspiration that (are) achievable for you from something's that's already done, that's how you can better inform yourself as a novice of what's achievable."

While some may prefer to buy a turn-key ready home, Richardson said the more that's paid upfront for the property, the less left in the budget for renovations, decor or other expenses. She said individuals need to be able to envision that an ugly space can be turned into something great — and within budget.

"I think that if you walk in and you love it and that house has a gourmet kitchen, chances are you're paying not only for that renovation, but you're also paying a premium for the time that the previous owners spent renovating that kitchen, and for the fact that there's a convenience factor that that kitchen is done.

"I would say to you, you would be better off to buy the house that needs the renovation, get the kitchen you really want, do it yourself. It's a bit of sweat equity, bit of mess, bit of chaos, but you'll end up being invested for less and get more of what you want."

While some may be reticent to discuss money matters, Richardson said it's important to embrace and set a budget. Her approach to both design and renovation is to try and save at every stage of the process versus shelling out too much right out of the gate.

"If all you have in total is $20,000, then I think you should try and do a $14,000 renovation, because something is always going to come up," said Richardson.

"There will always be unexpected costs, and there's something that you haven't thought about. So you're better to think: 'This is the highest I can go,' come down a little bit, and hopefully, you end up in a realm that you can feel comfortable in."