My interview with Tarek El Moussa, host of hit HGTV show Flip or Flop, feels a bit like flipping a house: a slightly harried race against the clock.
His answers are smooth and succinct, and it is easy to see how he made a name for himself first as a real-estate agent in Orange County, California, where he sold multi-million-dollar mansions, and then as the star of HGTV favourite Flip or Flop, where alongside his now ex-wife Christina Anstead, he successfully finds, buys, renovates and flips distressed homes for profit.
Now in its ninth season, the show will return to screens on Saturday, February 27, with 15 new episodes.
The series has also charted El Moussa’s personal struggles, including a divorce from his co-star wife and a double cancer diagnosis that came in 2013 after a nurse emailed in to express concern over a lump she had noticed on El Moussa’s neck while watching the show.
He was declared cancer free in 2019 and is now in a much-publicised relationship with Heather Rae Young, star of Netflix series Selling Sunset.
He attributes much of Flip or Flop's success to the human element, and to the way that audiences connected with this young family on a journey that didn't always run smoothly.
“I think it's such a success because people believed in us,” El Moussa says. “When we got on TV, we had no idea what we were doing. We didn't know how to flip houses. We were a young family and people fell in love with that aspect and the fact we were chasing our dreams and they got to watch us build this business on TV. I think that's what really set us apart.”
Even so, that constant intertwining of his private and public lives must be challenging? “At this point I've been on TV for 10 years. I don't know the difference,” he says. “My life is kind of business-personal. It’s all out there for the world to know.
“There are great things about being on television and there are not too great things, like going through a public divorce and having my name and face bashed on the cover of every magazine. That's not fun, but building businesses, inspiring people, teaching people, that's fun. So, there are pros and cons to anything.”
In addition to Flip or Flop, El Moussa currently stars in a spin-off series called Flipping 101 With Tarek El Moussa, which launched on HGTV on January 9. So, what is his number one tip for people looking to flip a property in 2021?
“The riskiest thing I think, right now, is time. The longer you hold an asset, the more risk you have because we're in an uncertain economy. It's much safer to buy and flip a house that's going to take you 90 days, versus buying land and building a house that's going to take you two years.
"In 90 days, real estate prices ... shouldn't drop 20 per cent, you know? But over a two-year period that could happen. So, the risk is much higher the longer the project.”
And his biggest no-no? “Don’t pay too much for a house. The biggest no-no in real estate is just because the house looks like junk, it doesn't make it a good deal. You have to buy it for the right price.”
El Moussa and Young are currently renovating a new home of their own – a property in Newport, California, with expansive sea views.
“We are doing a really neat rooftop deck on the top of the house to take advantage of the view,” he reveals. “We’re going to have a hot tub, two fire pits, a patio area, lounge chairs and then, on the rooftop, we have an enclosed room which we're making a media room. And, of course, on the inside, we're doing a big remodel and it's just going to come out gorgeous.”
Luckily, despite both being real-estate professionals, their tastes align, he says.
“We agree on everything. We love the same designs, so it's been a great experience, because you never know what your partner is going to be into when it comes to design and remodelling. Heather and I, we have the same taste, which makes it really, really nice.”
His own tastes veer towards “Hollywood bling”, with a penchant for black and gold, and patterned wallpaper. But home, ultimately, he says, is about family. “It’s where you build memories and strengthen relationships.”
Part of his dedication to family may stem from his Middle Eastern roots, even though he himself has not been to the region.
“My dad is Lebanese but grew up in Egypt. I have not been to the Middle East, although I would love to one day. But I still have family that lives in Lebanon and family that lives in Egypt.
"To this day ... the entire family comes over once a week for family dinner nights. We're real close."