From disaster to dream house
Tune in to see Winnipeg siblings breathe new life into hoarder homes
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/06/2022 (359 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Hundreds of cans of soups, 967 to be exact. Seventeen brand-new wallets. Eight shavers. A chestful of burnt-out dolls, faces and limbs a melted mess. A harmonica covered in cat pee. And last but by no means least; animal remains.
Like some grotesque version of The Twelve Days of Christmas, the list just goes on and on as Heather and Nathan Porteous reel off the unexpected and downright bonkers things they encounter in the houses they buy to flip.
“There was a whole room just filled with cans of soup,” Nathan exclaims as his sister laughs.
“And in every house we’ve ever flipped we’ve found two or three marbles just rolling about on the floor.”
The Winnipeg siblings — Heather is older by two years — feature in HGTV’s latest flip-to-sell offering, Hoarder House Flippers.
Their appearance on the show came purely by chance although Nathan begs to differ.
“My charm is the only reason we are on TV,” he jokes as his sister tuts in the background, chiming in to explain.
“We have our Instagram account @porteoushomes, which, at that time, had 170 followers. Insta is a way for me to post the before and after of our projects and I made a hashtag #hgtvnoticeme. They got in touch after a year of me doing that and said ‘we noticed you’,” she explains.
Their first episode aired earlier this month and showed them tackling a house so jam-packed with stuff they weren’t able to get the front door open.
“I think I have a pretty strong stomach,” Nathan says, “ but opened the fridge for a couple of seconds and we had to tape it shut after that; if there was ever going to be a body somewhere it would have been in there.”
Their next episode airs on Thursday and viewers can expect to see more of the same: piles of belongings filling up rooms, an unsavoury kitchen and disgusting bathrooms.
“When you are doing a hoarder house you can’t see behind the boxes, you can’t see the walls crumbling and sometimes we come across surprises you don’t expect,” Heather says.
“There are so many odd things that we’ve found. At the beginning of COVID we bought a hoarder house and I am still, to this day, using the toilet paper from that house. Floor-to ceiling paper products in there.”
“The nephew of the man who sold the house found $35,000 in the wall,” Nathan adds.
Now that’s a bit of luck. How often do they find money in houses?
“It wasn’t a chance find,” Heather says. “He had told his nephew he’d hidden money in the walls. But we have found cash in houses. We once found $800 and sometimes people leave behind a painting because they think it’s not valuable. Nathan took one home and when he got it valued it was worth $1,000.”
When the Porteous’s buy a hoarder house, they take possession of all its contents. Items which can be salvaged are either repurposed, or sold for a profit which is then used towards house renovations, or donated.
The self-professed “mechanically-inclined” duo have been working together for four years and often get the whole family involved in their projects.
“Dad owned a plumbing company, mom is great at landscaping and my husband is a general contractor,” Heather says.
They also call in friends and cousins to help out when extra hands are needed.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not free labour. There are usually lots of treasures in the houses and they can fill their cars with whatever they want to take,” she continues.
Working in all conditions is part and parcel of this job, although they try to wrap everything up before the harsh Manitoban winter kicks in.
“We tend to buy based on the season if we can. If we buy in the winter we try not to have stuff that needs outside work,” Heather says.
But in -25 and below temperatures, even working indoors can be uncomfortable.
“The worst part of this job is winter,” Nathan says. “Working on houses in winter kind of sucks. Generally we have heaters and stuff but it can be a real pain in the butt.”
For Heather, the worst part hits when it’s time to sell.
“The stress when it comes to listing and selling makes my anxiety go through the roof,” she shares. “We’ve put all our money and energy into it and it’s really worrying when it comes to listing time.”
They work closely with their real estate agent Carla Arnason who gives them a heads-up when suitable properties come on the market.
“Word of mouth and random listings also play their parts. We probably get 40 per cent of houses through private sales and bank repossession,” Heather explains.
And while they’ve concentrated on hoarder houses during the filming of the HGTV show, they are happy to buy and flip most houses… unless there are really bad structural issues.
“We generally tend to stay away. We’re spending all our own money and we don’t want anything major,” Nathan says.
“Of course you’re always finding weird plumbing and weird electrical but we haven’t had many majorly big expenses.”
“The very first house I did, Nathan wasn’t part of,” Heather says. “It was built in 1901 and on the second day of construction, the whole outside wall of the house fell off! We did’t know that going in… that was a pretty big structural problem.”
Conversely the easiest house they flipped required a simple paint job and a new floor.
“We were in there for four and a half days and we made $100,000 on it. That was a good one,” Heather says.
Both say a sense of vision is needed when working in this field.
“You need to be able to walk into a house and see what it could be. You need to be able to see past the years and years of built up stuff.”
“I agree with Heather. You need the vision to be able to see what’s not there. And you need to have people you can work with,” Nathan adds.
The siblings spend a lot of time in each other’s pockets and admit that working together has its ups and downs.
“It’s pretty much exactly how you expect it to be,” Nathan says. “For most part I would say it’s good but there are times when we really hate each other. She’s a kind of a nightmare sometimes but she’s a very good designer and we work well together.”
Heather laughs, agreeing. “You have those moments when you want to throw a hammer at the other and then you go back to being really good friends. He’s surprisingly patient with me. I can be a little manic at times and he can settle me down pretty quick.”
The next episode of HGTV’s Hoarder House Flippers featuring Winnipeggers Heather and Nathan Porteous airs on Thursday at 7 p.m. and again at 10 p.m.
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AV Kitching is an arts and life writer at the Free Press.