On HGTV’s new show “Bargain Block,” Keith Bynum and Evan Thomas are renovating run-down homes in Detroit—but it’s up to real estate agent Shea Hicks-Whitfield to sell these houses for top dollar.
On every episode, Hicks-Whitfield helps Bynum and Thomas find homes at bargain-basement prices—sometimes as low as $1,000! Once they’ve been revamped, she then finds the right buyer who’s happy to pay much, much more for these flips.
Curious to learn more, we spoke to Hicks-Whitfield about how she finds these amazing deals and helps Bynum and Thomas turn them into profitable investments. Here’s how she works her magic, including plenty of take-home lessons for both home buyers looking for bargains and home sellers hoping to make big bucks.
How did you get into real estate?
I got my start when I was looking for a part-time job, something to just supplement my income as I was planning my future. I found a position as a real estate assistant for a company building condominiums that were a mile from my apartment.
When I got that job, I was assisting the sales manager and selling the condos, and I’m like, “I’m really good at this!” And the builder encouraged me, like, “You know, you can just go get your real estate license.” So that’s what I did.
When the market crashed, I did real estate part time while I made engines for Chrysler. I did that for many years, and then my husband, as well as a friend who was a real estate agent, said, “You realize the market is picking back up, you need to get back out there.” So I went hard and got back into it.
How did you end up partnering with Keith and Evan?
A year and a half ago, I was introduced to Keith and Evan. I had already been following them on social media.
I saw what Keith and Evan were doing, and I’m like, “These guys are amazing!” They’re completely renovating these homes in the neighborhoods where they’re not necessarily making the biggest profit. They’re not like your typical investor who is living out of state or is in a much better suburb of Detroit, and it caught my eye.
When I was introduced to them, it was an instant connection. We developed a friendship and a chemistry that I appreciate. Obviously I love real estate, but it’s always so rewarding to have clients that you consider friends so you can enjoy yourself while you’re working.
What’s so special about Detroit?
I was born and raised in the city, my first apartment was here—so I absolutely love Detroit.
Detroit has a rich history and historic homes, but then there are also new builds. I’ve always loved when a person has done a good job of maintaining the historic character of a home and then also adds some modern flair to it.
Detroit is very unique in a way that the neighborhoods, how can I put this, the values are high and low. There’s a neighborhood in the city of Detroit called Indian Village where there are homes for sale anywhere from a half a million to a million dollars, but just across the alley, you can buy a home for $15,000. So the value in Detroit, with these different neighborhoods, is very unique.
Houses have been selling fast in most of the country. Is it the same in Detroit?
The real estate market is on fire here, just as it is anywhere else. Buyers are paying well over asking. But what’s unique with Keith and Evan is, they’re taking advantage of a program that’s offered through the city of Detroit where a lot of homes that were abandoned and reverted back to the city can now be purchased for $1,000.
So that’s where Keith and Evan buy multiple homes, which in turn helps increase the value for other homeowners in the area. It’s improving neighborhoods that kind of got left behind.
What’s it like working on these fixer-uppers? It seems like you, Keith, and Evan are always finding the ugliest houses.
All the time! You can only imagine what we see and smell. There’s always a random hole in the roof or the floor, or something’s falling right in front of you, or there’s some poop on the floor from some random animal or rodent that’s living there.
As you can see on the show, I try to push Keith and Evan to buy homes that cost slightly more, but they’ll go rogue and buy a home and say, “Oh Shea, what do you think of this place?”
I recall once we were doing a walk-through and we move to the back of the house—and there’s no back of the house! You go to the back room and the two back bedrooms—they’re just open to the backyard.
Keith always impresses with great designs on the cheap. Are there easy upgrades that can really help a sale?
Of course! They’re really good at showing that, for not a lot of money, you can create a high-end design.
They’ve shown buyers that you can easily do a butcher block countertop, or a concrete countertop, or a wood laminate floor that looks high-end. Or that you can find furniture that’s gently used and restore it for staging. Or Keith and Evan show that, with paint, you can create a whole new design on a dime.
It’s certainly a seller’s market right now. Do you have any tips for sellers entering?
When looking to sell, you always want to declutter. If you can store everything in the garage or rent a storage facility, it’s very smart because having a lot of stuff makes a buyer feel overwhelmed, and it makes the space feel smaller than it is.
Also, use paint to brighten up the space. A very inexpensive way to update a space is to paint it, change the light fixtures. If you have old, dated cabinets, to make them feel refreshed, grab a coat of paint and some new hardware and you’ve basically done a kitchen makeover.
And, especially as Keith and Evan have shown us, you can easily go to the thrift store and repurpose some items to create a nice design.
Those are very inexpensive things that you can easily do yourself. These things can make a huge difference.