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  • Courtesy MBN Properties MBN Properties members, from left, Jonathan Weber, John Sommer, Nate Norris and Silas Norris film a pilot episode of a proposed HGTV series called “Small Town, Big Flip” at an Elkhart property their company is flipping.

Thursday, May 11, 2017 1:00 am

Fort Wayne friends set to appear in HGTV show pilot

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

Why would brothers Silas and Nate Norris and their friends Jonathan Weber and John Sommer ditch their jobs at Granite Ridge Builders, Fort Wayne's biggest new-home construction company, to start their own business flipping houses?

Well, it wasn't to become stars on HGTV, that's for sure, said Silas Norris, 31, of Fort Wayne. “That was the furthest thing from our minds,” he said.

But that just may happen with the debut at noon Sunday of “Small Town, Big Flip,” the pilot episode of a proposed HGTV reality series featuring the four Fort Wayne-area millennials who turn northeast Indiana's fixer-uppers into dream houses.

“It had a lot to do with us all being millennials, actually, and wanting to go out and do our own thing,” Norris said of starting their flipping company, MBN Properties, five years ago. “We all had the desire to chart our own course.”

But that course changed about a year ago, when, as a result of postings of their work on social media, producers from New York City's Boy Wonder Productions contacted MBN, which had grown from flipping one house to working on 30 to 50 homes at one time, or about 70 a year.

Most flippers – people who buy low-priced homes and rehab them for profitable resale – are small businesses that do only a handful of houses a year, making it difficult to get enough shows for a season, Norris said.

“We were kind of a producer's dream because we had so many houses going on,” said Norris, who, with his brother, are sons of Lonnie Norris, Granite Ridge's vice president of sales and nephews of Granite Ridge owner Tony Reincke.

“We've flipped in 62 small towns and cities (in northern Indiana) in the last five years,” Silas Norris said. 

“Small Town, Big Flip” follows the formula of the many successful shows about flipping, following the process from beginning to end. That being said, Norris said, there are no guarantees that this show, whose pilot details the rehab of a two-story traditional-style home in Elkhart, will be picked up for a full season.

The show's future “depends in part on ratings, of course,” he said, but also on a host of other TV-business conditions, including availability of sponsors, competition for available time slots and the development of other similar show concepts.

“It could take a week for us to be told we're going to a series, or it could take a year. If we do get picked up, it may not be an overnight thing. … And that's literally impossible for us to tell,” Norris said. 

The two brothers say the show is more like HGTV's “Flip or Flop” in that it focuses on the business angles of the flip, than the channel's “Fixer Upper,” which goes into more depth about the family who owns the house.

“Small Town, Big Flip” will feature MBN's modest homes suitable for the budgets of first-time buyers. 

Nate Norris, 33, said that makes the show seem more realistic to him than some TV home revamps, which start with houses selling for $500,000 or more in big-city markets and have renovation budgets of nearly that much.

“With our shows, we're in a market that's a lot more affordable to the average American,” he said, adding that the Midwest, brimming with small towns and cities, is the meat of HGTV's viewing demographic.

“I hope it (the show) resonates with the viewer because … these aren't pipe-dream houses. … I hope the viewer will think about buying this way because they can think, 'I can actually afford what's going on here.' ”

The pilot show's home was a prime candidate for flipping, Silas Norris said. Bank-owned after foreclosure, it needed a lot of work – a new roof, new siding, new windows, new kitchen cabinets and countertops and a revamped master bath.

After an initial investment of about $65,500, plus $75,000 in renovation, the home sold for $185,000 to a young couple from Fort Wayne who had been looking at the company's work and wanted to move to Elkhart, he said. 

Although the four have concentrated on the building business, they all have TV experience. More than a decade ago, Granite Ridge started producing a local TV show, “Between the Studs,” about various aspects of home building, and all four helped with or appeared on the show.

Although “Between the Studs” went on hiatus for a time, it resumed a few years ago. New episodes are being produced and air weekly on local channels.

Nate Norris, who is married and lives with his family in Avilla, used a one-year intensive program in film direction and production on “Between the Studs,” and Weber, 34, of Fort Wayne brings an Indiana University communications degree to the HGTV project. 

Fort Wayne resident Sommer, 33, brings job-site experience with the drama of working with subcontractors.

Regardless of what happens with “Small Town, Big Flip,” the two brothers say they don't plan to change the bread and butter of their business, which started with $100,000 in savings to buy and rehab the first property.

MBN recently expanded into remodeling homes – a now-booming aspect of the business, according to Silas Norris. The company also recently started building a few new homes. “We're beyond-the-seams busy,” he said.

“But,” added Nate Norris of their budding TV careers, “it's going to be cool to see what the next step does.”

rsalter@jg.net