The fifth season of Bravo’s docu-series Flipping Out just ended and, interestingly, this season focused on frenetic house flipper Jeff Lewis converting his floundering flipping business into a successful interior design company. But why change what has made him a successful reality star? After all, he was discovered when Bravo was reviewing his assistant’s audition tape, and within 48 hours Lewis had a show of his own.
But while he’s known for his brashness and over-the-top personality while hiring and firing friends along the way, his flipping business was no match for the country’s suffering economy. It was four years ago when market turned for Lewis and he faced the worst financial year of his life.
“In 2008, everything turned and turned fast, and I was stuck holding several multi-million dollar homes. Fortunately, I was able to sell them and pay off my debts, but I did lose a lot of money,” he says. “I felt lucky, though, because some people lost everything. I wish I would have acted a little faster, but I was paralyzed for a couple of months because I just didn’t know what to do and I had to form a game plan.”
Having a national reality show once helped Lewis to promote his flipping business, so he realized that he also could use it to launch a new business. “There’s this notion out there that you don’t make money doing reality shows, and that’s not true,” he says. “As a businessman, I never would have done this if I wasn’t paid well. So for me, I looked at it as a nice income supplement for running my business and having them just watch.”
Even with a national platform and a new game plan, Lewis still faced an uncertain future. “People were holding onto their money, because they didn’t know what was going to happen with the economy and they were reluctant to spend,” he says. “Everybody was scared, even truly wealthy people.”
Lewis noticed that remodeling jobs were being done more out of necessity than pure want. For example, a homeowner needed to convert a garage to a home office because the home office needed to be a nursery. Another homeowner remodeled because of a fire. In 2009, Lewis says that pockets loosened up a bit and his customers felt that most of the damage was done.”
“All of a sudden I was trying to reinvent myself with a brand-new design business in a bad economy, and the show was a multimillion dollar marketing campaign for my business,” he explains. “When the season started, within two hours I had 18 legitimate business inquiries, so the design business has definitely loosened up.”
If the market improves even more, Lewis says he may start to flip houses again. “Being in the design business is a different kind of stress,” he says. “Flipping is like gambling. I probably wouldn’t do it to the extent I was doing before – maybe just one or two at a time. There was a point where I was doing six homes at a time and had $12 million in property out there. That was very, very scary.”
With the show’s income, endorsements, speaking engagements, appearances and more, he says he’s making more money now than he was when he was flipping homes, but without all of the risk. “It’s spread out in several different streams of income, so it’s a little bit more recession-proof that way. I had all my eggs in one basket, and now I have my eggs in different baskets, and that’s important because I can never be in that situation again.”
This year, Lewis signed an endorsement with Cornerstone, a quartz surface supplier, and with Johnson & Johnson. Bravo has also signed Lewis to a second series called “Interior Therapy.”