HGTV Pilot Shows Local Real Estate Expert Taking House from Flop to Flipped
By Tonyia Cone
Community member Shay Millheiser is giving viewers around the country a glimpse of Austin’s hot real estate market on HGTV’s “Flipping Austin,” a pilot that first aired September 11.
Born and raised in California, Millheiser moved to Austin in 2008 to attend the University of Texas at Austin, where she played soccer and majored in nutritional sciences.
While visiting family in California during her junior year, Millheiser began working with a family friend who was renovating homes. After six months of going back and forth from Texas to California in 2011 and 2012, the Austin real estate market was on an upswing and he told her to pick up a house at auction to flip in Austin.
Her next move has played an important role in Millheiser’s house flipping work to this day. When she took on the Austin-area renovation, Millheiser approached Amador Verastegui, the leasing manager at an apartment she lived in during college. She knew his family worked in contracting and thought he could help her make some connections. Instead, he told her he had always wanted to flip house, and suggested they do it together. Today, he is one of her best friends, and they still renovate homes together.
Millheiser spent her last year and a half in college working full-time, attending school full-time and flipping homes on the side. When she graduated, she began a PhD program in nutritional sciences. But she was also working full-time at the Dell Pediatric Research Institute and renovating half a dozen houses, and she dropped out of the PhD program in spring 2013.
“Almost nobody thought it was a good idea when I made the jump,” she said, adding, “I haven't regretted it since.”
Since the first home she renovated in the Austin area, she has dealt with all kinds of projects, ranging from basic -- just needing new carpet and paint -- to a house that almost ended her real estate career before it began. One of the only dome homes in Austin, the yellow and pink structure was infested with rodents and filled with mold.
“I bought the wrong house at auction,” Millheiser said, adding that while the project was disgusting, after a lot of personal time and landscape work, she was able to make a profit when she sold it.
“The investor said, ‘You made a really big screw up but I was really impressed with how you got out of it,’ and he committed to 10 more that year,” she explained.
Another challenge Millheiser faced initially was her age – she is in her 20s – and that she is a woman. When she first entered the scene, she struggled to get people to take her seriously, and people would over bid her for work because they assumed she did not know any better.
She turned the situation to her advantage, though. The auction and contracting worlds are almost exclusively men, and some were willing to help her out.
“I’m confident if I was not a young female, I probably would have had a much harder time breaking into the industry. I worked really hard, and I think a lot of people recognized that. I think the people who I think would actually see youth and gender as a barrier, were able to overlook that because I was always working. Always,” said Millheiser.
She explained that her Jewish background may figure into her work ethic.
“My grandparents and father were raised to work really hard. It is engrained in my brain to work my hardest and be the best I can be,” said Millheiser, a member of the Pomegranate Club who has been involved in YAD and met her husband Ian Spechler at the group’s Milestone Gala.
Millheiser has now flipped more than 100 homes, most on behalf of her investor pool. She explained that her warranty makes her work stand out.
“We don’t just flip a home and dump it on someone,” she said.
Millheiser also now dabbles in new residential construction and helps clients as a residential Realtor with Select Austin Real Estate. Client work is her favorite, and her specialty is finding a high end look but figuring out lower priced hacks that give the same appeal without the same price tag.
“There are a lot of younger home owners who are having to buy older, more banged up houses to get into a certain area, and there is a lot of risk that comes with those. Since I’ve bought and renovated so many homes that are in these same neighborhoods, I’ve kind of developed an expertise on helping buyers navigate what could be some unforeseen things to expect, what kind of budget would we need, and helping them, even with little things, like understanding what their options are for adding a bedroom, opening the floor plan, putting together a five-year plan,” she said.
Millheiser’s foray into HGTV began when the cable and satellite television channel’s show “House Hunters” came through Austin and needed homes for prospective buyers to tour.
Since Millheiser had a lot of homes being renovated or pre-renovation, they would sometimes use their properties for film. When a producer from a production company realized she was the person renovating a property, Millheiser learned they were filming to pitch somebody else in town. The producer included a pitch for “Flipping Austin” with other proposals submitted to HGTV, and hers was the show that was picked up.
Millheiser explained that a fun angle of “Flipping Austin” is that is first in a round of young talent. She also likes that she works with her best friends, including Verastegui.
On the show, Millheiser and her team generally renovate with a modern rustic palate, although it can vary based on the neighborhood.
“It’s really just about our fun, quirky cast doing some fun, quirky renovations. One of the things that’s been fun is that, to me, I’m trying to treat it more like a diary than an actual TV show. We’ve had a lot of fun with being willing to look dumb and say and do stupid things and make weird noises and make weird faces,” she said.
Renovating homes for “Flipping Austin” has differed from her usual work because it is a faster timeframe – she has about five weeks to renovate a house that would usually take four to five months – and because they are filming, she has to look decent while doing hard work in a dirty house all day.
“Flipping Austin’s” pilot first aired Sunday, September 11. Millheiser explained HGTV aired it a few more times over the next month, and will next decide whether to pick it up for a full season.
Millheiser explained that she hopes the show will broaden her opportunities and perhaps lead to work in other cities. It has already given her the chance to collaborate with people from New York and Los Angeles who she would not have connected with otherwise.
“Some of the design tips I learned I now use every day,” she said.
For more information, visit Shay Millheiser on Instagram @dumptodiamond or Facebook @shay millheiser, or contact her at email@example.com.