New HGTV show set in Detroit creates stylish, 'Bargain' homes for first-time buyers

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

When it comes to rundown houses, Keith Bynum and Evan Thomas have seen it all in Detroit.

The designer and builder, the owners of Nine Furniture + Design who call themselves partners in business and life, have flipped homes damaged by fire, water and with missing walls. One house the duo renovated had a family of squirrels living in the attic.

"I was convinced we had ghosts for a bit with that one," said Bynum.

But the challenges don't faze them. They work their magic on each home and the results are stunning.

Now, Bynum and Thomas are getting ready to make their HGTV debut with a new show, "Bargain Block," that follows the couple as they renovate starter homes for first-time buyers, often juggling multiple homes on the same block. It premieres at 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 14, and also features real estate expert Shea Hicks-Whitfield, who helps sell the duo's completed properties.

Keith Bynum, Evan Thomas, and Shea Hicks-Whitfield pose in the living room at the Santa Rosa house for their new HGTV show, "Bargain Block."

"The big, unique quality of the show is we're taking forgotten and abandoned houses -- a lot of them are on demo lists -- and they're in areas that are really hard hit. We're grabbing as many of them and giving them a design flair on a budget," said Bynum. "I like to think of it as high design for as little money as possible."

"Bargain Block" is the latest HGTV show to shine a spotlight on home renovation in Detroit. "Rehab Addict" star Nicole Curtis, a Lake Orion native, has been filming in the city since 2013.

But "Bargain Block" is unique in that it focuses on starter homes, often for first-time homebuyers, and several homes on the same block. Nearly all of Bynum and Thomas's renovated homes, each of which they give a fun, design-forward style, sell for under $100,000.

"We just love being able to offer houses that have a little bit of design for a price that a first-time buyer can actually buy," said Thomas.

And ultimately, Bynum said, it's about boosting the values of an entire block. The duo's first house they flipped in Detroit, which they bought for $12,000, wound up selling for $64,000 after renovations, about $74 a square foot.

"At the time, that was the highest in the neighborhood," said Bynum. "We just sold our ninth house in that neighborhood and the price per square-foot is $126. It's helped the values of the people that live there. They have a more valuable home."

Bynum, who is originally from Texas, and Thomas, who is from South Dakota, met in graduate school in Colorado. They were flipping houses in the Denver area -- a much more expensive market, both say -- when a friend asked Bynum to help build a tiny house for another HGTV show. It eventually led them to the production company that created "Bargain Block."

But when Bynum visited Detroit to look at houses for the first time in 2017, before any show was in the works, he'd never been to Detroit -- let alone Michigan -- but the city had been on his radar for awhile.

"It was always popping up as  a cool art spot," said Bynum. "I love art and I’ve always been into it. It just has this really cool energy. For the art community and creatives, Detroit is a mecca."

Thomas wasn't planning on moving to Detroit  but Bynum "is very convincing," he said. 

Since their start in 2017, they've flipped more than two dozens homes, focusing primarily on one neighborhood at Livernois and 8 Mile and another off M-39, or the Southfield Freeway. Eighteen houses will be featured on "Bargain Block."

To keep costs down, they do most of the work themselves, though they use some contractors, and they also live in their houses while their flipping them. When one house is done, they move to the next.

And the neighbors are why they stay in Detroit, both say.

"I love Denver and we always will (but) we were a nuisance there," said Bynum. "Construction was looked at as a nuisance. Here, people were excited about the neighborhood transforming."

Along with the new show, Bynum and Thomas also plan to open a retail space to sell some of their own furniture lines and art. They're finalizing the purchase of a commercial space near the former Michigan State Fairgrounds.

"We've put down roots here," said Thomas.

'Bargain Block'

  • 9 p.m. Wednesdays on HGTV