RIVER OAKS, Texas —Television wasn’t part of the life plan for Andy and Ashley Williams.
The stars of Flip or Flop Fort Worth, HGTV’s new reality series, which premièred Thursday, merely happened to be in the right place at the right time.
It all started when Andy treated his wife to an island vacation in 2015 for her 30th birthday.
"We were there, just relaxing," Ashley recalls, "and Andy found someone who was interested in talking business. They hit it off and we literally went through the whole vacation talking to him."
Andy has a passion for buying neglected houses, renovating them and then selling them for sweet profits. He can talk for hours about his successful flips.
He’ll whip out his cellphone and swipe through hundreds of before-and-after photos. That’s what he was doing with the stranger he befriended while on vacation.
Little did they know that this new acquaintance was in the television business.
"He never actually said what he did for a living," Ashley says. "But one thing led to another. Then one day, Andy gets a phone call: ‘Hey, the show might be an option.’ Andy’s like, ‘The show? What show?’ And he says, ‘Well, I didn’t tell you. I pitched your show. People loved it.’
"After that, it was like a boulder rolling downhill."
The couple — military veterans who met and married while serving in Iraq — were asked to make a "sizzle reel," or a short video pitching a potential series.
When network executives liked what they saw, a pilot episode in which they flipped a house in Hurst was filmed. It first aired on HGTV in February as Flipping Texas.
Next came the green light to make a full-on series, beginning with a nine-episode order and a new title that officially made it part of the network’s burgeoning Flip or Flop franchise.
"We’re excited, we’re lucky, we’re blessed." Andy says. "But it’s a happenstance situation."
The Williamses might have backed into television, but they’ve turned out to be an ideal fit for it.
"They’re so genuine and I love their chemistry together," says executive producer Steven Alvarez (who knows a thing or two about telegenic personalities, having worked with Chip and Joanna Gaines when Fixer Upper was fast becoming a TV sensation). "They’re also really good at what they do."
Andy — a fourth-generation Texan who grew up in Gatesville, about 65 kilometres west of Waco — was a Marine serving in Iraq when he decided to get into the real-estate business.
"I was running a mission and we had a close call with an IED (improvised explosive device)," he says. "If it had been a little closer, I would have probably been done. When I came back from that run, I was like, ‘Either I’m going to die out here or I’m going to come out with a little bit of cash.’
"So I decided to take a stab at real estate. A lot of the guys during their down time were playing Call of Duty, but I was doing research and learning. I bought my first house back in 2005 (at age 22) and then I just continued to buy more.
"The next thing I knew I was up to 10 or 12 houses and my buddies were calling me the ‘Madcap Economist.’"
Ashley, a Chicago native who served in the Army, met Andy in Baghdad.
"I was still in the military and he was now contracting (with Blackwater)," Ashley says.
"We met in the gym. I was working out and he was like, ‘Hey, do you need a personal trainer?’ I was like, ‘Uh, no.’
"But he was persistent. I worked the night shift — 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. — and he would come up to my job at night just to sit and talk with me. Later I found out that he worked in the daytime — 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. — so it was like he never slept!
"I finally said, ‘Oh, OK, I’ll give this guy a chance.’"
They married in August 2009. After moving back to the States in 2011 and settling in Fort Worth, they started a family. They have two young children, Ashton and Amina, who complete their "A-Team."
Andy’s real-estate moves made their not-always-smooth transition into civilian life a lot easier.
"First we built a pretty nice rental portfolio," Ashley says. "Then we said, ‘You know what? We’re kind of good at this. Let’s try flipping.’"
They turned out to be kind of good at that, too.
In the past decade they’ve been involved in more than 100 real-estate deals and flipped well over 50 houses. They still own quite a few rental properties as well.
The couple and their team recently put final touches on a three-bedroom makeover in River Oaks. The house, on Meandering Road, was a disaster when they bought it, with broken-down plumbing and claustrophobic rooms, but they’ve turned it into a spacious yet cozy gem.
Soon, people will be clamouring to buy it and call it home.
But as far as Andy is concerned, what they’re doing isn’t just about flipping a property, pocketing a profit and moving on to the next score. He’s a big-picture kind of businessman with a larger world view.
"It’s very common for me to buy multiple houses in a single ZIP code," he says.
"Because a big thing with me is I want to be part of the team that helps revitalize an entire community."
If you’ve seen even one episode of Flip or Flop or its spinoffs, you already know what to expect from Flip or Flop Fort Worth.
There’s a tried-and-true formula with the shows: in the span of 30 minutes, an enterprising couple scours the area for a diamond in the rough and turns the beleaguered property into a showplace for quick resell.
There’s often a panic moment or two along the way. Will this be the disaster that ruins our heroes financially? But usually there’s a happy ending in the form of a contract offer and substantial profit.
The original Flip or Flop, featuring Southern California-based Tarek and Christina El Moussa, launched in 2013 and quickly established itself as one of HGTV’s highest-rated programs.
Earlier this year, while Tarek and Christina were making tabloid headlines involving a marital breakup, the network announced plans to expand to other cities across America.
They began with Flip or Flop Vegas (which premiered in April) and Flip or Flop Atlanta (which began in July).
In the works for 2018, meanwhile, are Flip or Flop Nashville, Flip or Flop Chicago and Flip or Flop Paradise (in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California). Ashley says they had no idea they were being considered for a Flip or Flop spinoff when they filmed that pilot episode in 2016. "We just thought it was a regular flipping show," she says. "When it was announced, we were like ‘We’re going to be in the franchise? That’s crazy!’"
That said, maybe it was for the best that HGTV kept them in the dark.
"I’m a nervous Nelly," Ashley says. "It definitely would have been extra pressure on me.
"So it was good to have a clean slate and not know.
"Plus, I love surprises. This was definitely a surprise."
Andy and Ashley say they hope viewers will see Fort Worth as they see it: a great place to call home.
"I think our viewers will take away that Fort Worth is not just Stockyards and country living," Ashley says.
"It has so much more to offer. It’s really an up-and-coming city. I really want the show to put Fort Worth on the map as a destination to start moving here."
Adds Andy: "I also want the people of Fort Worth to feel that we represent them well."
— Fort Worth Star-Telegram