Call it Fixer Upper, Pittsburgh-style.
The pilot episode for Steel City Rehab airs Sunday at noon on HGTV. The show follows husband and wife duo Kris and Tara Bennett, of Bloomfield’s K Bennett Development Group, and their team as they flip houses in the Pittsburgh area.
Kris and Tara, both originally from Titusville, PA, now live in Fox Chapel with their three children. Kris is a former professional BMX bike racer who participated in the X Games on four separate occasions.
“I think the first year I participated I was the youngest competitor [at age 16],” says Bennett. “I wasn’t buying Ferraris, but I was making enough to get by, and was traveling the world for free. It was an awesome experience.”
Kris admits to “floundering a bit” after he retired from racing. “It’s not like baseball or football where you retire with a pile of money. I was 28 with no college degree and no job experience.”
For a while, he bused tables locally before a friend suggested he try his hand at real estate. This was in 2008, right after the housing market crashed, so finding affordable homes was not a problem. He ended up buying his first house in Penn Hills.
“It was a disaster,” he says with a laugh. “I ended up learning every lesson the hard way. But I did end up making a little money on the project. Maybe it’s that same personality trait as BMX [bikers have]. That risk-reward? I honestly don’t know.”
Since 2009, K Bennett has flipped about 30 homes in the Pittsburgh area. They currently have about 15 projects in the works, including The Cargo Lofts in Lawrenceville.
“We really like to make our [houses] different and stand out,” he says. “We probably go over the top with too many key features. It cuts into the profit margin but it sets us apart.”
Asked if he has given any thought to the issue of affordable housing in the East End, Kris says it is a concern that he and his team are cognizant of.
“As much as I think we’re doing a good thing in these neighborhoods, I’m certainly not ignorant to the fact that there’s, unfortunately, a byproduct with [a low stock of] affordable housing.”
“The Friendship Community Group was pleased to hear that a location in our neighborhood was chosen for the pilot episode of Steel City Rehab,” says Mora McLaughlin, co-chair of the Communications and Community Building committee.
“Renovating these homes for a new wave of neighbors is important to us and we are excited to see Kris and Tara’s work.”
Bennett says that HGTV reached out to them in December 2015 through Instagram and that filming for the pilot took place over the summer. If the pilot does well, it will be picked up for a full season by HGTV.
If the show does get picked up, he says he’s not too concerned about the effects of celebrity. He and Tara have given plenty of thought to the matter and decided that not only is the show good for business—they also run the real estate service Lifespace Pittsburgh—but they’re optimistic that they’ll be able to separate their business and personal lives.
Moreover, Kris says he’s seen the pilot and is pleased with the portrayal.
“We heard horror stories but [production company Bodega Pictures] was great. They weren’t trying to capture or create any crazy fabricated drama.”