Wondering how to get on a home improvement reality show or what it’s like to be on Magnolia Network? While I’m certainly no Joanna Gaines, Erin Napier or Leanne Ford, I can tell you how I landed on Magnolia Network’s First Time Fixer, and what the experience was like.

Alison and Tim Shooting First Time Fixer

Working in Broadcast, Print and Podcasting

Way before I made it through the casting process for First Time Fixer, I made a career out of broadcasting and storytelling. I went to school for journalism, specializing in electronic media at Iowa State University. I worked in television stations across the country, and that’s how I ended up in Greenville, South Carolina. I was a general assignment reporter in the Greenville bureau for WSPA. After deciding to shift from television to freelance writing, I wrote articles for REDBOOK and SELF, along with many blogs and websites. I also started writing for local women’s magazine Belle, where I still contribute each month. I also spent five years hosting the morning show for HIS Radio, which airs across the Carolinas and coastal Georgia. In 2020 I launched the Chickfila fan podcast: My Pleasure: The Unofficial Chickfila Podcast. But through all of this I had a dream in my heart.

My Dream of Hosting a Home Improvement Show

I have been a huge fan of home design shows for decades. I’ve also loved decorating my own homes over the years, but have never done anything professionally. For years I dreamed about fixing up a property and of combining my passion for visual storytelling with my love of HGTV. I was at a women’s conference in 2017 when the speaker asked us to write down our big, scary dream. I wrote, “host a show on HGTV.” I worked on hosting a pilot for another program about dogs, but my dream seemed unrealistic.

After adopting our daughter and taking a 3-month maternity leave from my job in radio, I decided not to return to my job. It was not giving me the development and forward movement that my personality requires, so it was feeling very stale. Without much of a plan, but a peace from God, I started focusing on my podcast, my ministry, and my family. Little did I know, my dream of renovating a property was right around the corner.

Finding Our Fixer Upper

Finding a Fixer Upper

My husband and I decided to move forward with building a home, but when we started researching the cost of renting an apartment for a year during construction, we felt frustrated with the idea of throwing away rent money. I suggested looking for a small home to fix up, and we found the perfect candidate in the summer of 2020. It was 2 bedrooms, one bath and featured a nice, big, rotten hole in the floor right by the front door. Once used as a church, there were pews in the living room, a pulpit in the kitchen and a drum set by the back door. There was a rickety DIY wheelchair ramp running up the front of the home and the out-of-control backyard was a total jungle. It had been on the market for a while because it had some major issues and would require a lot of work. But to me, it was a dream come true. After some negotiations and a heartfelt letter to the owner, we closed on the property. We were actually on summer vacation in Yellowstone National Park when we became the proud owners of our tiny house on Vance Street.

kids demo day

Getting to Work

When we got back from our summer vacation we got to work. We started demo’ing the house. The kids helped me remove wallpaper in the primary bedroom. I scraped off the popcorn ceilings from the entire house. We also started trying to beat back the vines off the house. A few weeks into our work, I was sitting on the couch scrolling through Instagram. A sponsored ad appeared in my feed. The ad was looking for first time home renovators for a TV show on Magnolia Network. I clicked the link, and filled out the application. My heart beat fast and I couldn’t help but smile. I knew in my gut that this was for me. I fired off a couple of texts—to my sister and my husband. I shared a screenshot of the ad and told them I had just applied to be on this show.

First Time Fixer Text

Hearing from Magnolia Network Producers

Not too long after filling out the application I heard from a producer. He did a quick, preliminary call to hear a little bit of our story. After that we heard from a casting agent. They wanted to set up a video call with my husband Tim and I. We did the initial interview and it went great! They asked us to shoot some video walk-thrus at the property. We uploaded everything and waited. We were on a weekend getaway in Asheville celebrating our 13th anniversary when the producer called with good news. Everything was moving forward! Our producer later told us we were “the easiest yes,” which I thought was very flattering!

Casting call for Reality Show

When Things Get Really Real

Things got really real when the gear showed up. It was two kits that included an iPhone, microphone, two tripods and other odds and ends. We got a quick tutorial on how to use the cameras and after that, we did everything with cameras rolling. We were constantly filming our work and capturing diary cam moments. The goal was to process everything as it happened to bring viewers in on the experience as much as possible. While our original goal was to finish the renovation in time for Christmas, we blew past that deadline. We ran into bumps in the road including missing kitchen cabinetry and an unresponsive contractor. One thing we did not blow—our budget.

Magnolia Network Gear

Being a Frugal Fixer Upper

If it’s free, it’s for me! That was my favorite line during the renovation process. More than once I filmed myself lugging home free stuff I found on the curb on garbage day. Saving money is a huge passion of mine, and I have helped people in my community pay off more than $100,000 in debt by facilitating Financial Peace University classes at my church. To me, this is a way of life. I think anyone could fix up a house with the right budget. My goal was to get to the end of this project saying, “can you believe we did it for THAT?!” I didn’t want the fact that this show could be seen around the world impact that goal and I’m happy to say, it did not. In the end, we went slightly over-budget, but considering we had to replace everything from rotten floor joists to the roof, I think we did a great job. Now on to the next project!

Don’t forget to watch our episode of First Time Fixer, “Taking on a Carolina Clunker” on the Magnolia Network! Let me know your thoughts! 

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