It’s the newest show on the HGTV network and it’s filmed right here in Detroit. “Bargain Block” stars personal and professional partners Keith Bynum and Evan Thomas, transplants from Colorado, and follows the couple as they put a unique spin on the concept of house flipping. They buy boarded up and abandoned houses in neglected Detroit neighborhoods for as little as $1,000 and live in them while they invest their own money fixing them up and bringing them back to life.
“We love taking on the absolute worst of the worst,” Bynum tells Pride Source. “The house that no one wants or believes in, that’s our jam.”
Bynum, who shared he was disowned by his family when he came out, feels especially at home in Detroit’s land of misfit houses. He sees himself in the properties they rehab, he says: “I kind of personify the houses. I was down and beat up and even my family didn’t want me after I came out, but someone believed in me and I’m in such a better place now. The houses are the same. They just need someone to believe in them again.”
Bynum and Thomas had to believe in themselves, though, to move across country to an unfamiliar and misunderstood city. Bynum, an artist, and Thomas, who has a PhD in physics from the University of Colorado, met through Match.com. They moved to Detroit, sight unseen, in April 2017.
“Neither of us had ever been to Michigan before we moved here,” says Bynum. “Detroit kind of has, you know, a little bit of a reputation, and so when we moved here, we were a little scared. But almost immediately we realized how amazing Detroit is, and how kind and loving.”
It didn’t take long before Bynum and Thomas’s neighbors surrounding their first property befriended them — the same neighbors that, inevitably, became fans of their HGTV-worthy renovation work.
“Every neighbor — and there have been a lot — we’ve met in the city has been kind and amazing,” Bynum says. “Never one time has so much as an eyebrow been raised, which was sort of shocking and not our experience in other parts of the country. A neighbor once asked if we were brothers, and I said, ‘No ma’am, he’s my partner‘ and she grabbed me and hugged me and said, ‘Good! No one tells me who I can love and no one better tell you.’ That just stuck with us. It was the most amazing answer.”
And how did their Motor City makeovers attract the powers that be at HGTV and land them their own show?
“The TV journey has been a long and winding road that started about four years ago,” says Thomas. “Back when we lived in Colorado, a friend asked Keith if he wanted to build a tiny house for a casting call she found online. Keith thought it sounded fun, so they ended up building one for an episode of ‘Tiny Paradise’ on HGTV. That process exposed Keith to a few production companies that followed Keith’s work for the next few years up until 2018 when a production company had us self-produce a ‘sizzle reel’ for HGTV.
“Initially,” he adds, “we resisted. We weren’t sure if we wanted to go the TV route. However, the production company convinced us and we created the sizzle, which was picked up for a pilot in 2019. The network liked the pilot enough to order a season of ‘Bargain Block.’ We started filming about six months later.”
Working in such close quarters, said Bynum, has actually been good for their eight-year-long relationship: “This has been on one of the best experiences, because you really get to know somebody in this type of environment. It’s about finding a respectful balance.”
“A lot of people have told us that it would be a struggle to work with their partner and essentially be around them 24 hours a day,” adds Thomas. “We joke about being worried we have become co-dependent being around each other so much, but overall it’s a great relationship and we are very fortunate.”
As far as the homes they flip go, Bynum designs each house with a theme, furnishes them with funky second-hand furniture and adds touches of his personal art — from custom wood headboards to paintings and sometimes even murals — to finish them off. The houses, usually around 1,000-square feet, sell for on average $100,000 or less once finished and make perfect starter homes.
“We do tend to treat the houses like our children or a friend, and it gives them life,” Bynum says. “You walk through and find out all their ailments and get to work fixing them kind of like a doctor. Then when the bones are back in shape, we give them a personality”
And Bynum makes sure that each house has a personality all its own.
“I hate the idea of duplicating designs because each house has so much personality and charm and each has a very unique energy,” he says. “So I try to custom tailor each one. It’s the most fun putting them back together and seeing renewed life in the house and the neighborhood.”
“Bargain Block” airs Wednesdays on HGTV at 9 p.m. ET.