The Untold Truth Of HGTV's Bargain Mansions

Of all HGTV's hit series, Bargain Mansions is certainly one that lives up to its title. As a press release promoting the show's third season pointed out, the series follows Kansas City's Tamara Day, a "busy mother of four, expert designer and restoration enthusiast" who purchases "surprisingly cheap" old houses in her hometown, and uses her knack for "budget-conscious design" to transform them into stunning dream homes.

As Day undertakes these ambitious renovations, she's joined by her father, Ward Schraeder, who brings decades of home renovation experience and his time-tested philosophy of "finding something broken, fixing it, and turning it into a success" to the show. As Day said in an HGTV release, whenever she discovers a dilapidated mansion in need of TLC, she feels like she's won the lottery. "They are true diamonds in the rough with so much potential and bringing them back to life for new families to love is the best job in the world," she explained.

As Bargain Mansions continues to gain popularity with viewers, there's a lot fans may not realize about what goes into producing the show. Keep on reading to discover the untold truth of HGTV's Bargain Mansions. 

Tamara Day initially turned down the chance to host Bargain Mansions

Tamara Day had built a reputation for interior design and creating custom furnishings in Kansas City when she was approached by Conveyor Media, which produces Bargain Mansions for HGTV. As she explained in an interview with Think Realty, Day was initially skeptical about being on television. "I was just anticipating it being a waste of my time and I didn't really put much into the first meeting because there's nothing else like this in Kansas City," she explained.

However, Day ultimately relented, and was happily proven wrong when Bargain Mansions became an out-of-the-box hit, much like HGTV's Fixer to Fabulous. According to Day — who's also a mother of four — her youngest son once told her she has "the coolest job of anyone he actually knows, except for [former Kansas City Royals first baseman] Eric Hosmer."

Day admitted that she's continually surprised when people approach her and tell her she's inspired them. "It's been a huge blessing in my life, in my children's lives, and my husband's as well because they get to see that there's really no limit to your dreams," she added.

Bargain Mansions enjoyed its highest ratings ever in 2020

It didn't take Bargain Mansions long to become a solid hit for HGTV, and ratings just kept on growing from season to season. According to a press release issued by the network in June 2020, the show's third season was its highest-rated ever. Since its premiere that April, Bargain Mansions "consistently ranked as a top 10 cable program" in its time slot among various demographic categories, attracting more than 16.3 million total viewers. 

This proved to be a big jump over the previous season, which was watched by a total of 11.2 million viewers. Meanwhile, the first season — which aired on DIY Network before jumping to HGTV — boosted the entire network's ratings by an impressive 29 percent.

HGTV laid credit for the show's success squarely on the shoulders of star Tamara Day. "Tamara is one of our most exciting up-and-coming home reno stars," HGTV president Jane Latman shared in the release. "She has gained legions of fans with her stunning renovations in Bargain Mansions." Latman also pointed out that plans were already in place "to showcase her in other HGTV programs, including our fully self-shot series, Design At Your Door."

Fans can buy Bargain Mansions furniture and accessories

Viewers of HGTV's Bargain Mansions received a rare opportunity in July 2020, particularly those who lived in Tamara Day's hometown of Kansas City. That was when furniture that had appeared on the show was being sold to the public, via a special sale held at Growing Days Home, described by Kansas City magazine as Day's "home decor shop, showroom, and interior design studio."

According to the magazine, among the various items up for grabs were "outdoor patio pieces and a Moroccan bench" that had appeared in the third season. In addition, a wicker daybed and some side tables that were featured in home renovations from the second season were also being sold.

Meanwhile, fans of Bargain Mansions interested in finding the furnishings, fixtures, and materials used on the show are in luck. Day's website features her personal blog posts, in which she gives viewers a deeper dive into each renovation, including detailed information about all of it, even the artwork she selected to hang on the walls after the completion of a reno.

Bargain Mansions incorporates smart technology and sustainability

Two key things that Tamara Day tries to integrate into her renovations for HGTV's Bargain Mansions are sustainability and smart technology. Speaking with Residential Technology Today, Day addressed the former by explaining there are "different ways to look at how you're being more efficient in the home." One big example she pointed to are windows, which she admitted are "always a toss up." While there's a lot to be said for replacing old vintage windows with new energy-efficient ones in order to save money, she explained, that "also means you're taking windows out of the house and throwing them into a landfill."

When it comes to smart technology, Day explained that what she decides to do really depends on a project's budget. So what about using an iPad to turn on the fireplace? "It sounds pretty cool, but... can't you just flip the switch on the wall?"

Of course, if you're rich, that's a major factor. "If money is no object, then those are awesome things to be able to do," she continued. At the end of the day, however, "it's gotta make financial sense for me to want to do it."

Bargain Mansions led Tamara Day to launch her own e-design site

The ongoing success of HGTV's Bargain Mansions not only helped HGTV's ratings, it also allowed Tamara Day to take her design business in a whole new direction. That came to pass when she launched her own e-design website through her firm, Growing Days. As Day told House Beautiful in 2019, the new site marked the culmination of two years of effort aimed at being able "to get my visions out there for the people that are asking."

As a result, Day became able to help homeowners with redesign advice, regardless of where they're located, without having to travel to the physical site and oversee things in person. "We can do as much or as little online as someone wants, so from literally picking paint colors for one room to any full-scale design," she explained. 

Day's online clients are able to choose from four distinct packages, each named after one of her children. In addition, she also offers some extras for those willing to pay a bit more, such as a 40-minute video consultation.

Bargain Mansions shifted from half-hour to hour-long episodes

When Bargain Mansions first debuted, it aired on the DIY Network — which, like HGTV, is under the corporate umbrella of Discovery. However, in 2019 Discovery announced that the DIY Network would be no more, as it's set to be rebranded when former Fixer Upper couple Chip and Joanna Gaines launch their Magnolia Network.

In anticipation of that launch (which, like so much other television, was delayed by the pandemic), Discovery programmers moved Bargain Mansions from DIY to HGTV for its third season. "I got upgraded," star Tamara Day joked to The Kansas City Star. "I leveled up."

The network switcheroo wasn't the only thing to change; episodes of Bargain Mansions were also expanded from a half-hour to a full hour. However, as Day explained, the longer format "hasn't really changed my process or how we film it necessarily. The audience gets to see more of the houses and a little bit more of our fun that we have." In addition, Day revealed that her children would be making more frequent appearances on the show than they had previously. "Each episode has a little more personality this season," she declared.

Tamara Day's "farm mentality" influences her Bargain Mansions renos

For those viewers of HGTV's Bargain Mansions who may not be in the know, Tamara Day grew up on a family farm in Salinas, Kansas. As she explained in an interview with Think Realty, that upbringing and the lessons she learned from farm life have served her well on Bargain Mansions. "I grew up with the mentality of 'You fix it and you figure it out,'" she revealed. "As I've grown up, I've never been afraid of projects and I've always been willing to just get it done because that was what you did."

Not only is that philosophy on display on Bargain Mansions, it can also be traced all the way back to Day's childhood. "I remember I got sent to time-out for something, and while I was sitting on the staircase, I had to put wood putty in all the nail holes," she recalled with a laugh. That "farm mentality," she added, proved to be "a huge benefit to me in my career because I've seen things break, I've broken things, and then I've just figured out how to fix them."

Tamara Day's Bargain Mansions Renos are all about "laid-back luxury'"

The creative design ideas that Tamara Day brings to her Bargain Mansions home renovations come from growing up in a home that didn't have a whole lot of interior decor style. "My appreciation for design comes from the lack of design in my own home growing up," Day told Think Realty, describing her parents' penchant for "hand-me-down furniture." While the spaces they cobbled together were "cozy and homey," living that way helped Day gain an even greater appreciation of the "beautiful spaces" she would see in other people's homes.

As a result, the style that Day has developed over the years is something she described as "laid-back luxury," a design aesthetic that's "affordable, attainable but aspirational." According to Day, that can be as simple as having "one fancy item" in one's home. 

However, this doesn't necessarily mean that everything else needs to "be at that same level," Day added. "Having a mixture of things that are attainable is important and makes it something that a family can live in."

How did Tamara Day's dad come to be a Bargain Mansions mainstay?

As viewers of HGTV's Bargain Mansions know, Tamara Day's secret weapon is her dad, Ward Schraeder. His role on the show, she revealed in an interview with HerLife Magazine, came about accidentally; producers inadvertently discovered him when he dropped by one of her renovation projects in order to see an episode being shot. "He came to watch me film and really got into the process. The producers loved him," Day gushed, describing him as "larger than life, somewhat like John Wayne."

As Schraeder wrote on his website, he fell into home renovation by accident when, unable to afford a professional contractor, he renovated the family home by himself. "Out of sheer necessity, we couldn't afford to have it finished, so I did the painting, basement construction, and decking to finish the home," he wrote.

While Schraeder came to the show with extensive building skills, he was an utter neophyte when it came to reality TV. "I knew absolutely nothing about television other than how to turn it on," he joked to Kansas City's Fox 4 Now, however, he's the Tarek El Moussa to Day's Christina Anstead.

Bargain Mansions doesn't need to manufacture fake drama

While some reality shows have been known to drum up drama out of thin air, Tamara Day insists this isn't the case with HGTV's Bargain Mansions. Describing the show to HerLife Magazine as "a documentary of what I'm doing and what is happening in the process," Day explained why the show's premise — fixing up old heritage homes — pretty much guarantees each renovation comes pre-equipped with its own specific hurdles to overcome. "With houses of this age and size, there's no need to manufacture any drama or conflict," she revealed. "You get it every day."

As an HGTV press release pointed out, those challenges can run the gamut, from wood rot to unfortunate discoveries that appear after demolishing walls or ripping up floorboards. However, it's these same elements that add an extra degree of difficulty that make Day's Bargain Mansions projects so fulfilling for her. "I see potential in these properties that no one else sees so I can get them for a great price," she continued. "When I'm done, these homes are ready to be loved."

Tamara Day shares tips with wannabe flippers on Bargain Mansions

HGTV's Bargain Mansions rests on a simple premise: Tamara Day buys dilapidated old homes, brings them back to life, and sells them at a profit. For viewers who watch her show and feel inspired enough to try their own hands at a DIY home renovation followed by a flip, a la Flip or Flop, Day has some sage advice.  

Speaking with Business Insider, Day said one of the most important tips she has is to not skimp on materials; a potential buyer, she said, will be turned off if a home has a bargain-basement look. Buyers are "not looking for basic, they're looking for beautiful," she said. So selecting materials based strictly on price is "throwing good money away."

Another good use of money, she advises, is to hire an interior designer. Bringing in the skills of an experienced pro is an expense that can ultimately save money. "If you pick the wrong granite — you put it in, and you hate it, and it's not adding value to your home — that was a huge cost that didn't have to be spent," Day explained.

Bargain Mansions had to settle with the EPA over lead paint violations

HGTV's Bargain Mansions landed in hot water with the EPA when Tamara Day and Rehab Addict's Nicole Curtis were both busted for improperly disposing of lead-based paint during their respective renovations. According to a report in Remodeling, in early 2020, the companies of both Curtis and Day had reached settlements with the EPA after allegedly violating the Toxic Substances Control Act's Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule.

According to a press release from the EPA, the agency didn't have to look too hard to uncover evidence of the alleged violations; they were actually featured on their shows. The issue at hand, noted the EPA, was that neither had obtained the required "EPA renovation firm certification" and were seen not complying "with several work practice standards required for the safe handling and disposal of lead-based paint."

As part of their settlements, both companies agreed to fork over civil penalties, and had also promised to "take steps to ensure compliance with lead-based paint regulations in future renovation projects." They also agreed to use their celebrity status "to educate the public about lead-based paint hazards and appropriate renovation procedures." 

Tamara Day tends to keep one item when renovating a heritage home

When renovating a deteriorated old home for HGTV's Bargain Mansions, Tamara Day's sledgehammer is typically put to good use in the demolition phase of each project. While the process of smashing down walls would seem to be a bit of a no-brainer, Day actually puts a lot of thought into what needs to be demolished and what should be saved.

When asked by the Los Angeles Times to single out the one item in an older home that she tends to preserve, Day didn't need to think too hard to come up with an answer. "Interior doors," she revealed. "They add so much character, even if they've been painted." 

Day also tries to rescue an older home's original windows whenever possible, even if the frames have rotted. "You can't make a new window look old no matter what you do — no way," she continued. "I've found that trimming them out in a beautiful way makes the best sense."

Tamara Day revealed how the pandemic affected Bargain Mansions

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused film and television production to screech to a halt in March 2020, HGTV's Bargain Mansions was not immune. 

During an interview with KTWV Radio, Tamara Day was asked about how the pandemic had affected production of the show. One big issue, she shared, was grappling with the fact that her children's school had been cancelled. This, she explained, led to a sort of domino effect. Now that Day found herself now spending time with her kids during the day and helping with remote education, she was still going through the process of "finding out what that's gonna look like." The pandemic also affected her recently launched retail outlet in Kansas City, Growing Days. "We opened in December and closed in March, and have reopened since," she continued. "That was not exactly in the business plan."

However, Day pointed to a silver lining, revealing her recently launched e-design website had "gone crazy because everyone is so tired of their houses. They've been in it for months, they wanna fix it, they wanna change it, and we can help you all the way across the country."