HGTV is switching things up. The network has gone through some significant changes in the recent months. After a fifth and final season, audiences will say goodbye to Chip and Joanna Gaines’ fan favorite Fixer Upper. Another beloved series Flip or Flop is expanding across the country and will introduce several new spin-offs including the much-anticipated, Flip or Flop Ft. Worth. Starring military veterans Ashley and Andy Williams, this married couple are making a mark on the real estate and design industries while giving back to their community and fellow military veterans.
The couple met overseas while stationed in Iraq – Ashley was in the Army while Andy served in the Marines. Once they returned stateside, real estate became a way for them reimmerse themselves back into everyday life. Since Flip or Flop Ft. Worth was announced, life has been a whirlwind for the couple. “Real estate became important to us because, with us being veterans and transitioning out of the military -- there's not really a lot of options [careerwise] where you can control your own destiny," Ashley explained to me as we chatted on the phone a few weeks ago. “We've had a lot of experience in the military. We've had a lot of job experience, but that doesn't always translate into a civilian job. A lot of times, veterans, including us, were getting docked for time spent in the military because no one understood what we did. A lot of things require certificates and training and a lot of times we don't get the paperwork behind it, so it's like it never happened. Real estate was a way that we could control our destiny.”
The Williams’ business Recon Realty, Inc., was born out of the climate of the country and the couple’s desire to invest in their community. “America was going through its own problems between 2005 and 2008," Andy explained. “The entire country was at war, but also economically, the country was rebounding. Initially, I invested in my hometown. We were renting houses because there's a lot of people that needed rental homes, and a lot of homes were dilapidated and needed to be repaired. However, there's no real financing in that market accessible to those people in that community. So, we decided to invest in our town. One house turned into ten, ten houses turned into a ten-unit, a ten-unit turned into a twenty-five house rental portfolio, and we just built it from there. Then we started rehabbing. When we started the rehab to resale, the war was coming to an end, and a lot of veterans were coming back home. We were like, ‘Hey, you know what, we can make a little bit of money, make a little bit of an impact, and solve a little bit of a problem.’ We started our real estate company with the mission of revitalizing communities and bringing our fellow veteran along.”
The Williams’ staunch commitment to their community in Fort Worth is as social entrepreneurs who have pledged to revivify neighborhoods while empowering veterans. “Ashley and I don't just go buy a house because we want to make a quick buck," Andy articulated. “It's important for us to be profitable, but our mission is superseding. I write a business plan, I do the research, I read the economic development plans for the city, I look at what they're doing and what they're not doing, and a lot of times I share that sometimes cities aren't up to speed. Ashley and I are able to go into neighborhoods before the economic boom happens and we're able to hold properties. We've held rentals for as long as ten years, and we're just now repurposing and reselling a rental portfolio after ten years. So it's not that we're just going in there to capitalize. It's a lifestyle, it's a business process, but the biggest thing is, we're serving."
Despite their outstanding work, the offer for HGTV’s Flip or Flop Ft. Worth still came as a shock. “We were actually on vacation, and we didn't know we were talking to someone in the business," Ashley recalled. “We were just sharing our passion and talking about what we love to do. It just so happened that we were talking to a producer, and the producer pitched the program to the network. He called us later on, and he said, ‘Hey you remember me? Well, I pitched you guys' show.’ I said, ‘Well, we didn't really want a show.’ He said, ‘It was an amazing idea, we think that it's really going to be good.’ So, it was just one thing that led to another. I think what people really caught on to is our authenticity and our passion behind what we do. It's not just about making money. It's never just been about that; it's always been about us transitioning and helping others transition.”
HGTV itself was also a major pull for the Williams who are parents to two young children. “We really believe and love HGTV's platform -- what they stand for, their messaging, and their family-orientation," Andy explained. “So when it came up, I remember sitting down with [Ashley] and my exact words were, ‘If it would help us accomplish our mission faster, we'll do it.’ That's why you hear so much about veterans, on the show. This is going to allow us to create a movement --change the narrative, and to bring value to other veterans that are coming back and looking to acclimatize and reintegrate. We just want to show all Americans that there's a pathway that you can take, and it's not easy, it didn't happen overnight.”
The Williams work as a team but they also stay in their respective lanes. Andy handles the purchasing and the renovations while Ashley stays focused on designing and decorations. “We know each other's strengths and weaknesses, and we play off of those,” Ashley clarified. “Andy's really good at finding the properties, making sure they're going to make money, making sure they're in a good area, and doing all of that legwork. I'm good at making sure the teams are focused on the small details -- you need both areas to sell a house. You need to buy it at a good price, but you also need to produce a good product. So, we really focus on covering our bases and making sure we both work off of each other's strengths.”
Despite going mainstream the couple wants to be sure that their values remain at the heart of Flip or Flop Ft. Worth. “It's not a get rich quick scheme," Andy emphasized. “Some people may think because you're on TV that [everything] happens so quickly. No, this is hard work, and a lot of man-hours put into it --a lot of sleepless nights. You have to be passionate about it. It's about just building awareness around it. I love real estate. Ashley loves real estate. We love the fact that we get to have the flexibility. Real estate allowed Ashley and I to start a family, and Ashley to stay at home with the kids for five years. When Ashley and I left Iraq, the one thing that she drove home was that I could not go back to my skill set. I was in anti-terrorism when I was in the Marine Corps. I was highly trained security -- I could have been anywhere. However, I had to put my guns down because a security guard gets, say, 12 bucks an hour here in the U.S. I can't feed a family of four with 12 bucks an hour. So, real estate allowed me a way to test my entrepreneurial skills and apply military principles and continue to serve and be able to give my time back to the people that matter.”
Flip or Flop Ft. Worth premieres Nov. 2 at 9 p.m. ET on HGTV.
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her Master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami