We talked to Rachel Street of the HGTV pilot, “Philly Street Flippin’.”
Flip or Flop, Flip the House, Flipping Out, Flipping Vegas, Flip or Flop Atlanta, Flipping Boston. It was only a matter of time before our area joined the flippin’ frenzy as the setting for a television show dedicated to the dream of flipping houses for fun and profit.
In late July, HGTV previewed “Philly Street Flippin’” featuring Chester County local, Rachel Street, who did just that and starred in the TV pilot about it.
We talked to her about how she got to be in a show named after herself and featuring her passion.
First question, of course, is how did you get this great TV gig?
The producers found me on social media—I’d been posting about my projects—and then came to Philly for a meeting. They filmed a short video, following me working as a realtor and contractor. After a few months, we were lucky enough to do the pilot for “Philly Street Flippin’.”
Before working in Philly, you lived in Chester County. What’s your connection to our area?
Well, Chester County is where I was born, raised and went to school—at Westtown School.
Just after I was born, my parents bought a dilapidated, old farmhouse in Chester County, which is also where my father grew up. They restored the original house, expanding it, sourcing historically accurate materials from local shops and antique dealers, and researching other historic homes.*
Later they added a big vegetable garden and barn, along with horses, chickens, dogs, cats and rabbits. On weekends we got up early to take care of the crops and animals, helped out around the farm, put up fences, drove tractors. Living in the country meant we built hay forts, rode bareback through the hills of East Nantmeal and with the Pickering Pony Club, and played in swimming holes in French Creek.
My dad and I rode dirt bikes together, made furniture and built forts. Before dinner, my sister and I cut fresh asparagus while my mom made pies from the strawberries we picked.
There’s nothing like farm life to teach kids about hard, physical work! For girls, it’s really important to feel confident and strong in their own skin. I loved it!
Can you tell us about your background—leaving the farm and becoming a realtor, general contractor and designer? How did that evolve?
It’s a round-about path, starting in a very different place—literally and figuratively.
I loved music and studied opera in college, then moved to Italy to work as an opera singer. But it was hard to make a living in music, so I moved back to the States.
When I returned to Chester County and worked with my father—a commercial mortgage broker—I got my real estate license and studied to be an appraiser. That’s when I started buying houses on the side to rent them out—mostly houses that needed work, since I couldn’t afford renovated properties.
Growing up on the farm and having been a tomboy, I was used to working with my hands and with different tools, so I did most of the work myself or with friends. And because I loved design, I’d experiment with different ideas in my projects. People got really excited seeing something that wasn’t a plain white box!
Meanwhile, my father fell ill and into a coma. My life changed overnight. Suddenly I was responsible for the family business. When he passed away on Christmas Eve, I’d lost my father and my career. The short version is that I grew from someone nervous about answering the phone to negotiating deals, and eventually closing out his business.
The silver lining was that I sold the property I’d worked on and made a good profit. My new business idea was born!
I was ready for a change, so I began working with Space & Company in Center City, a boutique woman-owned real estate firm. A few months later, I opened my own construction company, Hestia Construction, LLC.
Now I work as a realtor and contractor, choosing a few interesting properties to renovate and sell.
What’s your approach for a renovation project?
My business is more about quality than quantity. I try to offer something different from what’s on the market by doing design-driven renovations that preserve some history of the homes.
Growing up in a historic home with parents passionate about design and quality, I came to love homes with a story. So I preserve the interesting original details and mix them with modern elements to create unique spaces for people to enjoy.
The project in the TV pilot, on Tasker Street, is in my own neighborhood. I met the family who lived there for many years, and wanted to do a quality renovation that would honor their history and make the new owners (who’d be my neighbors!) happy.
So I restored the old door, made here in South Philadelphia, and kept the original façade. The original floor plan didn’t work for a modern home—too many small rooms—so we opened it up and exposed the brick to bring in some Philly row-home character.
Each home I work on is a labor of love, so I try to come up with new designs, thinking how each room can be used, and adding fun features for the new owners—like unusual design elements and hiding spots. In fact, at closing on one of my properties I told the owners where the secret hiding spot was in their new home!
On the pilot episode, we saw a unique way you keep yourself occupied while you work. Care to share?
Yes, I sing while I work. With my opera background—my first career—and performing all over Italy and Spain for three years, singing is still part of me. Now I mostly sing for the people who work with me, whether they enjoy it or not! Mostly they just make fun of me, as you saw on the show.
What’s your best advice for armchair flippers?
My advice is just get started! The sooner you get into real estate, the better! Philadelphia is one of the cheapest big cities, so there’s still room to grow. Plus there’s so much information online and lots of classes about using tools or learning about real estate.
The biggest challenge is finding the courage to start. From there it’s all about building your team. You don’t need to be an expert in everything, but you do need to know where to turn for help.
What’s next for you?
Of course I’m hoping the show becomes a series, so we can bring you more episodes of “Philly Street Flippin’.” Otherwise, I’m busy finding and renovating properties—looking for new challenges and interesting projects.
And I also started a team—The Street Group—at my real estate company. That keeps me busy training my realtors in both construction and real estate, to offer a well-informed approach to our clients. We help people buying, selling and investing in Philadelphia and the western suburbs—from the hills of East Nantmeal to the Main Line!
Here’s hoping we get to see more of Rachel and “Philly Street Flippin’”!
Contact Rachel Street at The Street Group at Space & Company, 215-625-3650; SpaceAndCompany.com.
*Editor’s Note: Rachel’s home is featured in “Home of the Month” in this issue.