Scott McGillivray
Scott McGillivray
arash moallemi Scott McGillivray

It can be easy for professional remodelers to dismiss home improvement shows for giving customers unrealistic expectations. But Scott McGillivray, star and executive producer of HGTV Canada’s Income Property, aims to avoid the drama. Through his show, McGillivray has helped 150 families in the 11-season run of the show.

“I actually do try to give people value to the show and do try to be realistic with the budget and the timeline,” McGillivray told REMODELING. “I want to make sure they get value. When you’re watching the show and you’re not getting value, what’s the point?”

Income Property’s newest season has yet to arrive. In the meantime, people who want their McGillivray fix can go online to a free video course series entitled “Dream. Plan. Do.,” in partnership with quartz producer Cambria. Through a series of videos, McGillivray and Toronto-based interior designer Jane Lockhart offer up design tips to clients on making smart design investments.

McGillivray’s advice and charisma have made him a hit among HGTV viewers. And, like most stars, he wasn’t always planning to be on TV. For McGillivray, it began with his father, who was handy around the house and did contract work on the side. “I’ve always been into it. Even as a kid, I was into woodworking, carpentry, building furniture just as a hobby,” he says. In college, he bought a rental property with his student loans and ended up fixing up the place. By the time he was 25 he owned 25 rental properties, and by 26 he was a licensed contractor, turning a hobby into a full-time business and then, via the suggestion of a friend, a TV show. Currently, he splits his time between Toronto, Ontario, and Fort Myers, Fla.

One suggestion and a lot of hard work later, he now owns his own business and production company, stars in his own show, and more. “You just don’t know where these things will take you. You’ve got to try everything and you’ve got to do your best and sometimes it just hits.”

He stresses setting clear expectations with his clients and being a clear communicator. “Communication is number one,” says McGillivray. “All communication needs to be front-loaded: be realistic, be honest, get everything in writing before you even start.” At the beginning of every project, McGillivray will sit down with the client to go over their vision, talk random thoughts with them, and ask a bunch of questions such as “What do you think of this color?” and “What about these pictures?” as a way to narrow the options.

“There are too many choices out there. … It is our job as design consultants or contractors to understand our client and then narrow down the options for them,” he says. “The hardest part about this business is that there are decisions that need to be made and any decision causes delay and costs more money.”

Scott McGillivary filming episode 105 of "Income Property"
Scott McGillivary filming episode 105 of "Income Property"

McGillivray gives his clients a package with several product recommendations so that they can make confident decisions moving forward but not be overwhelmed with endless options. He says that this way, clients are able to pinpoint exactly what they do and don’t like about certain parts of the package. This allows contractors to better narrow in on what the client is looking for.

Once they give the OK, McGillivray moves on. “There are certain decisions they won’t even be involved with. I won’t consult them on the 2x4s, or the installation I’m using; I’m doing my best stuff. [They] hired me, so [they] must trust my judgment when it comes to building materials. “

When it comes to laying out a budget, he continues to stress the importance of communication. Normally McGillivray will go through an estimate with a client to go over the scope of work with as many initial details as possible. He then makes sure every project has a contingency budget in case there is asbestos, water damage, electrical problems, etc. This way the client is covered. McGillivray strives to make sure he doesn’t leave any home unsafe. “I’m just straight up honest. I’ve never had a client say, ‘No, I’d rather leave my house dangerous than fix the problem.’ That’s never come up.”

He also makes sure he has change order forms available. Many clients ask remodelers to add an extra electrical outlet, move this item a bit closer, make this thing bigger or smaller, etc. However, homeowners are often unaware that, for instance, adding an extra outlet requires not just a contractor but an electrician—and perhaps several other people too. In order for the client to feel as though there are no hidden fees, those contingency work orders go on a separate document. Through and through, McGillivray says that he practices what he preaches: Communication is key.

The same principle is true for making sure clients have realistic expectations, McGillivray says, “I don’t want to people to be disappointed. If you don’t have enough money to do what you want, that’s disappointing itself. You try to work with the budgets people have and be realistic about what they can and can’t do. I do a lot of advising on value. I make a suggestion: ‘You know what? Instead of doing a larger bedroom right now you should update that kitchen. Because the value of your house will go up and you can pull up equity on that later.’ I may give them financial advice and real estate investing because people want a way to make more money on their homes; then they’re usually happier as well.“