Answer Man

Answer Man: Homeowners enjoy cut rates, freebies on HGTV shows

Q. What does HGTV (Home & Garden Television) give to the people who have their homes featured on their shows “Fixer Upper” and “Property Brothers”?

— C.M., of Belleville

A. Have you heard the expression “there’s no free lunch”? Well, despite all the bright lights and fanfare you see, that’s true for the homeowners on these shows — but they do get to enjoy a five-star restaurant meal at McDonald’s prices. And some receive a boatload of free goodies to boot.

Let’s take “Fixer Upper,” which stars Chip and Joanna Gaines. Before stepping into the TV spotlight, this Waco, Texas, couple ran a business which convinced more than 100 clients that they could save big bucks and be just as happy by buying homes that usually needed substantial remodeling. When they pitched the idea for a TV show, HGTV jumped at it, and “Fixer Upper” debuted on May 23, 2013.

The show works like this: Either the production company or the Gaineses help people who have a budget of under $200,000 to find a home that needs at least $30,000 in renovations. Once the choice is made, the Gaineses prepare a detailed renovation plan and cost estimate with Joanna serving as the designer and Chip as the lead contractor. The prospective homeowners then make payments as each phase of work is finished.

Still, the Gaineses say, the homeowners get a good deal because they essentially have the work done at cost. In return, the HGTV network pays the Gaineses the 10 percent to 15 percent profit they normally would have charged the homeowners plus overhead. (On a $30,000 job, not paying that 15 percent profit would save you $4,500.)

“The dollars we receive are comparable to what we would see on a project for anyone,” Chip, who, with his wife, also owns and operates Magnolia Homes, a home-building company, told the Waco Tribune-Herald. “But the exposure is more tangible.”

Also gaining plenty of exposure are Drew and Jonathan Scott, who have been enjoying fame and fortune on HGTV’s aptly named “Property Brothers,” which now is seen in Canada, Australia, Brazil and Spain as well as the U.S.

If the real-life twin brothers look more like entertainers than home remodelers, well, they’ve had plenty of practice. About to turn 37 (on April 28), the two reportedly started buying and renovating property when they were 18, purchasing a fixer-upper, renovating it and flipping it a year later for a $50,000 profit while they were in college.

“Growing up we were in a strict household so we weren’t allowed to have posters of our crushes and stuff on the wall — mine was Christina Applegate,” Jonathan once told Glamour magazine.

“But we would move things around and move the furniture,” Drew added. “My mom would just be in there and go away for like 20 minutes and come back and there would be a completely different look in the room.”

Still, before the pranksters became serious about real estate, they tried their hand at acting. If you’re a fan of buying boxed sets of TV series, watch closely for Drew on a 2006 episode of “Smallville” while Jonathan can be seen as an uncredited Blue Beret on an episode of “The X-Files.” They also worked in an improv comedy group, and Jonathan is an illusionist

“The 3D designs we use on the show is what I see in my head when we walk into the space,” he said. “Ever since I was a kid and watched magicians on stage ... I instantly knew how they did everything. In my head, it just all worked.”

Eventually, though, they decided not to give up their original day jobs, so Jonathan became a licensed contractor and Drew, a real estate agent. And just after New Year’s Day in 2011, TV audiences were treated to the first episode of “Property Brothers.”

Since then, the two have been showing potential buyers their dream house, which usually is substantially over their budget. Then, the brothers find fixer-uppers that they say can be turned into those dream homes at substantially less cost. Once the buyers choose a suitable house, one of the twins’ three work crews renovate the house in four to six weeks on a budget approved by the buyers. The buyers pay for the remodeling, but the show reportedly showers the happy new owners with $20,000 to $25,000 worth of free furnishings. It’s a magical formula that recently entered its seventh season.

“For me it’s like telling a story,” Jonathan told Glamour. “I think that’s why we do well with ‘Property Brothers.’ It’s our charisma with each other and with the audience. We’ve always been great storytellers.”

Today’s trivia

What’s the name of the parrot that first taught Dr. Dolittle how to talk to the animals in Hugh Lofting’s famous series of children’s books? (Hint: She’s from Africa but her name comes from a group of islands east of Australia.)

Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: Leslie Scott was a British national who was born in Africa and eventually settled in Ghana. In the early 1970s, her family bought a set of children’s wood building blocks from a sawmill in Takoradi, Ghana, and developed a game that she would call Jenga. It’s the Swahili word for “to build,” because the object of the game is to take any of the 54 blocks from within a tower and move it to the top without toppling the tower. Since it was introduced at the London Toy Fair in 1983, more than 50 million Jenga games with more than 2.7 billion blocks have been sold around the world. According to, the highest known Jenga tower was 40 complete stories with two blocks into the 41st as claimed by American Robert Grebler in 1985.

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