Student Project Leads to Lucrative Career and TV Stardom

Television host Scott McGillivray still fixes leaky faucets for his Guelph tenants

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Scott McGillivray

U of G grad Scott McGillivray -- Photo Courtesy HGTV

In university towns, the fall signals a new rental season. As the owner of a number of Guelph properties, U of G grad Scott McGillivray has been busy securing tenants for the school year. But this fall is extra special for McGillivray, who is hosting his third season of the wildly popular HGTV show Income Property and also appearing on the first season of HGTV’s All American Handyman, which premiered Sept. 5 in the United States.

Income Property follows the experiences of homeowners as McGillivray offers advice and guidance in turning part of their properties into money-making rental spaces. Each episode ends with a renovation reveal. All American Handyman, which has been described by some as the American Idol for tool belt titans, features 15 men and five women who are vying for home repair supremacy. McGillivray is part of a trio of show judges that also includes Mike Holmes, host of Holmes on Homes, and Carmen De La Paz, star of Hammer Heads.

McGillivray’s road to becoming one of HGTV’s most popular faces started in the summer of 2000 when, as a second-year student, he moved off-campus in search of new digs. Leading up to the move was stressful, he says, and it led to some long conversations with a small group of friends he’d made in class about the struggles they were facing as they tried to find affordable, well-maintained rentals that were close to campus.

“We all had house-hunting horror stories to share,” says McGillivray, who graduated from Guelph with a degree in marketing management in 2002.

Rather than just sitting back and complaining, McGillivray decided to do a little research and roll it into a course assignment that focused on developing business plans. He and a small group of classmates examined the housing dilemmas students were facing. They interviewed a real estate agent, a broker and a lawyer in hopes of securing both good grades and clean, comfortable and affordable homes for the following term.

Based on what they learned, McGillivray and a friend decided to buy a house on Koch Street in Guelph, fix it up and rent it out to other students. The success of this initial investment inspired McGillivray to buy two more houses the following year.

“I decided to continue buying properties instead of getting a regular job,” he says. “I knew that if I had six or seven properties, I’d be making more money than I’d make at any of the jobs I was applying for.”

Today, he has 29 properties in his portfolio, spanning Guelph, Cambridge, Vaughn, Etobicoke and Toronto.

His investment strategy and his burgeoning career were featured in a Sept. 4 article in the Financial Post.

“Getting started is a lot of work. It’s not like you just buy a house and start taking your cheques to the bank. If you want to grow your business, it’s a lot of sweat equity.”

And McGillivray is as hands-on as ever, often personally handling minute tasks like installing new faucets, fixing closet doors or replacing lost keys.

“It sounds random, but that’s what some of my days consist of, and I absolutely love it. Being on TV is just an interesting sidebar.”

That “sidebar” started after McGillivray attended a home show in Toronto and was introduced to international television personality, bestselling author, syndicated newspaper columnist and interior designer Debbie Travis.

Travis asked McGillivray about his professional background and learned that he is a skilled carpenter. As it turned out, she was looking for a carpenter to join the cast of HGTV’s Debbie Travis’ Facelift. She asked if he’d be interested in coming on board, and he jumped at the chance. He eventually became project manager for her next show, From the Ground Up.

With natural on-camera presence and a growing fan base, McGillivray was approached by the network to host his own show. “It’s been quite an adventure,” he says. “It’s amazing how big the show is in the United States. We’re a top five show in Canada, but in the States we’re consistently No. 1 or 2 on the network. The States is a huge market, and they can’t get enough of it. With the economy struggling, people really look at something like our show for solutions.”

Income Property airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on HGTV.