The untold truth of Flea Market Flip

Here's the premise: two teams of two are given a limited amount of time and 500 bucks to buy three pieces of furniture at a flea market. They take one day to completely rehab them and transform them, according to a rotating set of assigned design themes, into something creative and new, and then try to make the biggest profit by reselling them at a flea market the next day. Whoever makes the biggest profit wins a cool $5000 prize. 

Sound interesting? It is! If you're design-obsessed like me, HGTV's Flea Market Flip provides an excellent opportunity to relax with a glass of wine in your hand, and spend 30 minutes alternately shouting at the TV (and your watching partner) about what you would do differently, or about how awesome something looks. 

If you're looking for new HGTV shows to watch after you've cycled through every episode of Fixer Upper and Property Brothers, then I highly recommend FMF. Over the years I've seen most of the episodes, and even though the narrative follows the same basic formula over time, the creative details mean I never get bored as a viewer. And if you're already a fan of the show, you'll definitely want to hear some of these secrets and juicy tidbits I dug up about the previously untold truths of Flea Market Flip.

Host Spencer also co-hosts Good Morning America

The host and executive producer of Flea Market Flip, Lara Spencer, is not only a great designer in her own right, and a warm and compelling HGTV host, she was also a major national TV personality even before the show. Spencer was promoted to the coveted role of Good Morning America co-anchor along with Robin Roberts, and George Stephanopoulos. Previously, she was the show's "lifestyle anchor," and even before that, she worked with Good Morning America as a national correspondent between 1999 and 2004. She's certainly no stranger to the camera.

Besides her lengthy experience in TV journalism, Spencer is also a self-styled expert of the furniture flip, and is the author of two successful books on the topic: I Brake for Yard Sales: and Flea Markets, Thrift Shops, Auctions, and the Occasional Dumpster published in 2012, as well as 2014's Flea Market Fabulous: Designing Gorgeous Rooms with Vintage Treasures.

Spencer sometimes gives the teams advice

In addition to her hosting duties, Spencer often takes it upon herself to scoot up next to whatever the individual teams are working on, and offer her two cents on the matter. In fact, I've seen many episodes where she acts as a helper and a mentor in addition to hosting. 

I just watched season eight, episode 11, in which Spencer counseled one of the teams to back up on a project where they had already installed a mirror into an armoire they were flipping. She advised, "Take it to the next level," first, by "[taking] the mirror out and painting the interior." 

And though you may wonder if that's at all fair, remember two things. First, she offers her sage advice to both teams, so they all get help. And second, let's recall the original design reality show — Project Runway — where Tim Gunn was always giving advice to the contestants in the workroom. So perhaps Spencer learned from the best!

Each episode takes three days to shoot

Furniture store owners and season four, episode seven winners, Sarah and John Trop, opened up in detail on Sarah's popular DIY blog, FunCycled, about what it was like to be on the show. Sarah dished lots of juicy tidbits on the behind-the-scenes filming practices, sharing that each episode is shot over three days. The first day of filming is the shopping day. This takes place at a rotating number of low-price flea markets and antique malls in more rural areas away from New York City, like Brimfield Antique Flea Market in Brimfield, Massachusetts, or Elephant's Trunk Flea Market in New Milford, Connecticut.

The second day of filming is the "build day," where contestants have help from professional furniture builders to make their designs into reality on the quick. As Sarah wrote about her day two, "We had a master carpenter and a welder/builder that helped us most of the day…You have about 12 hours to finish the projects. We arrived at the workshop at 9 am and worked straight until 9 pm."

The third and last day of filming, the "selling day," takes contestants and their wares to the popular New York City flea market, Long Island City Flea & Food, where teams try to lure in big city buyers with deep pockets. Sara described "unwrapping" and "staging" their finished pieces, and hustling to sell them for more profit than her opponents.

There are surprise assignments

With their designated time and budget, each team of two has to find and flip three different furniture or decor pieces. Contestants know that going in, but what they don't know beforehand is exactly what their assignments will be. 

During each episode, the teams are given three specific themed assignments (called the "flip list"), describing what kind of flip they'll be completing. For instance, in a recent episode I watched, number 11 from season eight, Spencer gave the teams the following three assignments: "1) Rags to Riches: breathe new life into a broken old piece, 2) Simply Zen: create a piece featuring simplicity, and 3) Unconventional Dining: create a unique dining set." 

Sometimes the assignments specify a design period, like mid-century modern, or a specific product they need to come up with — like a dining set, seating, or storage.

Contestants have to work fast

Lots of designers and furniture rehabbers are capable of amazing and creative flips…when they have plenty of time. But one of the true challenges about Flea Market Flip is that contestants are operating on a short and specified time crunch. 

So in addition to thinking quickly and being creative on your feet, you also have to be a fast shopper, choosing things quickly, making plans, negotiating, and sealing the deal within the one hour time period allotted by the show's producers.

Contestants sometimes get a sneak peek

Flea Market Flip winner, Sarah Trop divulged the fact that multiple episodes of the show are filmed at one time. So, on "shopping day," the two teams for each episode all receive an hour each to go through the market on-camera, and make their purchases. However, as Sarah said she had read on the blogs of past contestants, "You usually get time to look through the flea market to get an idea of what pieces you would like to buy before filming starts." 

When Sarah and her husband John learned that they were "the first team up for filming," that meant they "had no time to check out the flea market" first. So what did she do? She "asked the producer if we could run it for like 10 minutes to get an idea of which direction even had furniture, [since] every other team would have time to look as they waited for their turn to be recorded. They gave [the Trops] 10 minutes and [they] ran!" 

But while contestants seem to get more browsing time than ends up airing on TV, Sarah did mention that before their official hour countdown starts, contestants "can't talk to any vendor for any reason," and can "just look."

Most of the teams are married or related

No, there's no rule that the people on the competitive teams of two need to be married or related, but they almost always are, as you can see on the HGTV website's episode guide. With some exceptions, like "childhood best friends" on season eight, episode one, or flight-attendant co-workers on season six, episode four, most teams are couples in real life, sisters, brothers, mother and daughter, or father and son. 

It's just speculation, but maybe that's because you have to be pretty close to start with, in order to really trust and work well together in such a fast-paced, high-stress challenge!

The host's favorite flip involved an antique bicycle

In an interview with SheKnows, host Spencer responded to a question about "the craziest item she's seen flipped," by saying she was once "completely blown away" by contestants who purchased an antique bicycle and completely rehauled it in one day into "the most fabulous tavern table." 

You have to respect that kind of creativity, even if few people are clamoring to buy a bicycle table. "It was one of a kind. It was so chic, totally unique, and I would've never thought of it," said Spencer. Well, I say anyone who can transform a bike into a piece of furniture deserves to be on TV.

An upswing in the "trash talk"

As the show piles on season after successful season, contestants are starting to see what has worked for past contestants, using that information to become even more competitive. Spencer told Parade that the resulting team-to-team "trash-talking, no pun intended, has also heated up exponentially," as a result. 

If you've seen the show (and I most certainly have), you can tell it usually features a little light-hearted rivalry. Still, newer contestants of more recent seasons are "incredibly talented," Spencer said. "They know what they are looking for at the flea market, negotiate like nobody's business, and some of the transformations they come up with are incredible." 

So is the intensifying "trash-talking" a result of pure competitiveness, or is it encouraged by the producers? While Spencer didn't say, she did explain, "These teams have seen the show so they have their own take on how they'll win and they are super competitive."

Flea market flipping into the future?

What's in store for all you new (and old) fans of Flea Market Flip? Can you count on future seasons of your new favorite furniture rehabbing show? While HGTV hasn't announced dates for future seasons beyond the current season eight, viewers can rest assured that ratings are good enough for syndication on not one, but two networks besides HGTV: DIY Network, and Great American Country

So, fans of this Emmy-winning lifestyle show will have many more chances to see some of the amazing rags-to-riches furniture and decor flips the show is famous for. And if you'd like to see more pics of some of the coolest flips from past seasons, check out DIY Network's slideshow of some truly memorable transformations!