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'Bargain Block' Real Estate Expert Talks LGBTQ+ Allyship and 'Love at First Sight' for Keith Bynum and Evan Thomas — Her Chosen Family

Shea Hicks Whitfield on better understanding the struggles of the queer community through her relationship with the dynamic home reno duo

Jason A. Michael

A lifetime Detroiter, Shea Hicks Whitfield is the third member of the superhero team on HGTV’s "Bargain Block." For three seasons now, the real estate agent — along with real-life couple Keith Bynum, a designer, and Evan Thomas, a contractor — have taken some of the most dilapidated houses in Detroit and transformed them into stylish homes that any first-time homebuyer would be proud to own.

The show has proven to be a smash for HGTV, attracting more than 14 million viewers and ranking high as a non-news/sports cable series. It's been such a success that it's not only getting a fourth season, but its own kind of addition — along with a fourth Detroit-based season, HGTV recently greenlit a five-episode spin-off series, "Bargain Block New Orleans," set in the Big Easy. Both will premiere in the fall.

At the same time, Detroiters get to experience the thrill in seeing their city brought back to life one house at a time. Husbands Bynum and Thomas, who moved to Detroit sight unseen a handful of years ago, have quickly become serious Michiganders. In addition to their home, the couple has a cabin in northern Michigan. They also have their own design firm and resale shop in Detroit.

For her part, Hicks Whitfield has her own successful real estate firm, Homes Sold By Shea, in conjunction with PREP Reality. She knows an unsightly home when she sees one, so it's not surprise that she often looks horrified as Bynum and Thomas take her through tours of houses filled with muck and mire. But once they’re transformed, she stands in them proudly as she watches lives transformed by the team’s work.

Recently, Hicks Whitfield, who grew up in Detroit and went to Cody High School, spoke to Pride Source about Thomas and Bynum's influence on her as an ally, the past and future of "Bargain Block" and what makes her hometown so special to her.

Shea Hicks Whitfield (right) shows a home to a prospective buyer on "Bargain Block." Photo: Warner Bros. Discovery
Shea Hicks Whitfield (right) shows a home to a prospective buyer on "Bargain Block." Photo: Warner Bros. Discovery

How did you initially link up with Keith and Evan?

A mutual friend was aware of my knowledge of all things Detroit. So they thought we would be a good fit. We met for dinner, and it was love at first sight. We have not separated since that day.

How have you grown closer to the LGBTQ+ community through your relationship with Evan and Keith?

My relationship with Evan and Keith has evolved and shaped my views on the beauty that exists within the LGBTQ+ community, and the challenges they face every day to live their best lives. The best role I've learned I can play is that of a champion of every one's right to live how they want to live, love how they want to love and engage in our society in ways that grow togetherness in the face of those who would rather keep us separated.

What were your first impressions of the couple?

I found it to be very inspiring what they were doing, revitalizing homes in neighborhoods where a lot of investors weren’t. The fact that they were living in the homes, too, was very special.

You’ve become very close to the couple since then….

They’re like my baby brothers-slash-uncles to [my son] Beau. We do hang out and as far as our onscreen connection, it’s because we’re friends in real life. It plays well, and that’s one of the reasons people seem to like the show so much.

What has your relationship with them and their relationship with Beau taught you about chosen family?

Chosen family is the best family. Every day we get an opportunity to choose how we spend our time, and the people we spend that time with. That is the ultimate symbol of love. The fact they are not from Detroit, and as our relationship has evolved into what it is, I do consider them my "little brothers" and our relationship continues to thrive with the love we've grown between us.

How did they become Beau’s “uncles” and what does that relationship mean to you? Though Beau is thankfully in remission now, how were they supportive doing Beau’s battle with cancer?

Keith and Evan have been super supportive to our family, and Beau has benefited directly from their presence in his life. As a term of endearment, Beau's uncles maintained a consistent connection through regular check-ins on his health, providing myself and my husband "couples time" by babysitting Beau, and they have always extended themselves to be there when Beau needs them. Their presence through that process was a true blessing, and they continue to be positive adults in Beau's life.

You’re the real estate guru on "Bargain Block." How long have you been a realtor and how did you get into it?

This month marks 20 years. I lived in my apartment in Corktown, and I was looking for part-time work to earn some extra money. There was a newly constructed development in the area and the sales manager was looking for a real estate assistant. I applied and got hired on the spot. I started selling condos and I was like, "I need to get a real estate license because I’m pretty good at this." And the rest is history.

Why is affordable housing for first-time buyers so important?

The importance of affordability for a first-time buyer is really critical. Mostly because the median income in the city of Detroit is only $35K, which means a home buyer would qualify for a home between $100K and $150K. Rental rates have increased over the past few years. So a lot of times, rent is far more than it would cost to finance a mortgage and own a home. So it makes sense for many first-time homebuyers to invest in themselves and create generational wealth in their family. [For] a first-time buyer and their family, a lot of times they’ve never even envisioned themselves in their own home.

Evan is the master builder, and Keith the designer. Everyone loves the fun design concepts and the original art touches he incorporates into every home. What's your favorite reno so far?

My favorite would be the Black House from Season 1. I love that house. I was so skeptical about Keith painting the interior of the house black, but it came out beautiful. Then from Season 2, when they revitalized our first flip, Chez Shea. And also their house. They did an amazing job renovating and adding onto their home.

Keith Bynum, Evan Thomas and Shea Hicks Whitfield. Photo: Warner Bros. Discovery
Keith Bynum, Evan Thomas and Shea Hicks Whitfield. Photo: Warner Bros. Discovery

What is about Detroit that you love so much?

I just love the vibe of Detroit. It’s like I always say: Detroit is a big city with a small-time city feel. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone seems to be very connected. The neighbors speak to each other and look out for each other. I really appreciate the sense of community. 

What do you love doing with Evan and Keith around town in Detroit? Can you share a favorite memory of you, Beau and them hanging out in the city?

Well, we do look forward to bringing Beau along in the future. Our best moments are spent having grown up time around Detroit, checking out new restaurants, enjoying art spaces and cocktails after a long work day, and many times, just relaxing at each other's home, being in community with each other. Best believe, no matter where we go, the party tends to follow, and laughter is always on the menu.

Tell us about some of your favorite spots in the city….

I would say the DIA. Then I love Belle Isle and the aquarium on the island. It’s top notch. The corridor of development along Livernois between Six and Seven Mile has created some awesome walkability and is creating business. And I really love the sports teams. It’s great to have all four teams downtown. 

What can we expect from Season 4 of "Bargain Block"?

More of the same. In Season 3, you got to see us hanging out a little more and doing things other than real estate. So, Keith and Evan have me walking through dungeons before turning them into beautiful dream homes. You get to see us hanging out as friends and having lots of fun and laughs. And, of course, Keith hitting it out of the park with his designs.

Between Evan and Keith, there’s always really fun, unique details. Each is done with tons of love. Each home is like a work of art. Even though they’re using building-grade materials, they lean toward custom work with a luxury feel that you don’t find in homes at that price point.

You can find Shea Hicks Whitfield on Instagram at shea.whitfield. If you’re interested in purchasing a home in Detroit, you may also email her at [email protected]

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