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Scott McGillivray

Interview by Jay Cooper

I got the chance to catch up with Scott McGillivray and get him to answer some questions about his HGTV success over the years and the newest addition to his resume, Scott’s Vacation House Rules.


JAY COOPER (ATOTK):   How are you, my friend?
SCOTT (SM):  I’m good, and you?
ATOTK:  I walked the Great Dane and now I’m talking to you, so a wonderful start to the day.
SM:  Perfect morning, I love it.

ATOTK: I have to say, this interview is 2 years in the making and I have the email rejections to prove that (laughs).
SM: No! That’s crazy! It was probably a timing thing as I love The Kawarthas. I have my cottage there so it is a great place.

ATOTK: I have had the great pleasure to feature many HGTV personalities and you are one that was missing.
SM: Ah, the last piece of the puzzle, I love it. Well, I hope it was worth the wait (laughs).

ATOTK: I’ll be chatting with Bryan Beaumler later today about Renovation Resort and you, so if you have something to say about Bryan, lets get that out of way.
SM: Well, that’s unfortunate and too bad, so your starting your day nicely and going to end well (laughs). You know the saying, ‘If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all’ (laughs). Well, on Renovation Resort we were RV neighbours and he wasn’t a bad neighbour. Bryan and I are Frenemies, perhaps is the right word. We’ve worked together in a lot of capacities but we’re very different, that’s for sure. Sometimes when you are different, it’s a little easier to get things done as we take our own approach to renovations. Living beside Bryan for six weeks was interesting. It was intense but not too long. If it was six months, I never would have made it (laughs).

ATOTK: History lesson, you were student council president in High School, you were in a boy band, graduated from University of Guelph, property developer, entrepreneur, contractor. How did you take all of those achievements and end up on HGTV?
SM: That’s a story that isn’t as obvious as the rest. It was never my intention to be on TV, it was never part of the plan. However, after getting into the real estate investing space in my early 20’s, a friend of mine who worked at a production company asked if I could help on a renovation show she was working on. She said, ‘I know you have your contractor license and I have to help cast for this show and thought you might be interested’. My answer was maybe, as I was pretty skeptical about the whole thing. It was funny because that night I turned on HGTV to find out what these renovation shows were all about, as at that age I really didn’t know much about the network. I thought, I could do that and doesn’t look that difficult, so I agreed to do it. It wasn’t what I expected as it was a lot of hard work and intense. The time lines were short and everything had to be done as fast as possible. I enjoyed it and the show was called Debbie Travis’ Facelift in the early days of HGTV. I worked behind the scenes and partially on camera for 2 seasons before I explained to the network what I do. I mentioned that the one thing you don’t have is a real estate investing show. You have decorating and renovations, but investing is really interesting. And that’s where the idea for Income Property came from. Tons of other shows spun out of that. It’s been quite the journey but started organically really.

ATOTK: Are you a Realtor?
SM: No, although I got my real estate license years ago. But I’m not a practicing realtor.

ATOTK: Did you come up with the concept for Scott’s Vacation House Rules or was it presented to you?
SM: It was a combination of myself and the network. We were looking at a natural progression from the shows I had done in the past and I knew that the short term vacation rental market was the fastest growing segment of the investing market. We all said it’s appealing, exciting, flashy and educational, so we agreed it was the right path.  

ATOTK: You started filming at the same time the pandemic started?
SM: Ironically, yes. And it became really appropriate. We would ask ‘Who wants to get out of the city and live at a vacation property and you don’t have to stay in a hotel with other people’ (laughs). It turns out it was the perfect time and it’s only gained momentum over the 4 seasons and we are working on season 5 now.

ATOTK: Is it a show that you really love doing?
SM: Yes, it’s fun and authentic since I have many vacation rentals myself. It’s something that can help the average person who might not be able to afford something in the city to find a smaller community that is still affordable and get some cash flow in the meantime.  

ATOTK:  We featured your co-host, Debra Salmoni, last summer. How would you describe your chemistry between the two of you?
SM:  You know, it’s funny. I’ve worked with a lot of designers in the past and it’s hard for a contractor and designer to find the right rhythm. Typically the relationship can be push and pull between what needs to be done and priority. I worked with Debra in the past and we just have this fluidity where I could say ‘I think this would work better’ and she says ‘I can make that happen’ and it works both ways. We really have a respectful relationship. We help each other out and have similar personalities. We love our jokes, we like to have fun when we work, we always want to try new things and a brother sister relationship is probably the best way to describe it. We like to goof around and we get distracted easily but we know the assignment and get the job done.

ATOTK: We see you ripping down walls or railings, but you’re going from site to site so there has to be quite a large crew involved?
SM:  Yes, the show is an evolution. Typically, a contractor will work in a certain geographical area. I’ve had to partner up with many local trades as we do an episode in The Kawarthas and the next day an episode in Niagara Falls. You can’t travel your crew 4 hours every day to different sites. There is a lot of local talent but finding them can be a challenge, so I do travel with a couple core members.

ATOTK: So if someone was interested, what is the process to be part of Scott’s Vacation House Rules?
SM:  It’s called casting. You can go through my website or HGTV, fill out your application and see if you qualify to take part.  What I will say about casting is that every time we start a new episode and I’m talking to the property owners they always say ‘I can’t believe we’re on the show. We filled out the application and what are the odds that they’re gonna pick us’.  You might think it’s a long shot but if you’re in the geographical area we’re looking at and the timing works out, you could be next.

ATOTK: In the four seasons so far are the home owners over welled with the final results?
SM: We have different types of owners. You have people that are there that want to rent out, it’s a real estate investment for them. Their concerns are, is it getting rented out, am I getting the rates that I want and are the guests happy. Other people already owned the property or are 2nd generation inheriting it in ruff shape or they didn’t expect to inherit it so quickly or buy out a sibling or aunt or uncle. It’s more of a financial burden to them but they want to keep it.  So renting it out is more of a preservation strategy and is highly emotional for them. All that said, and I’m being honest with you Jay, we have about one a year that is not exactly where they want to be or they have trouble accepting all the changes that have been made.

ATOTK: Do you help them with this new opportunity they have when it’s uncharted waters for them?
SM:  Yes. Part of the show that you don’t see, is that I work with the home owners to become rental hosts. We have a deal to put them on Stay App and cover all of their host fees so they have the best opportunity to monetize these properties in the first few years. Most are renting for more than we anticipated. So being on the show does help  showcase beautiful, interesting vacation options.

ATOTK: Do you have a favorite reno so far on the show? Mine is the Boat House.
SM:  That was a good one. I thought it was a little exotic, and it was floating, which was wild. On a windy day with a lot of waves you could feel the place moving. For me, I love the water or beach front properties as I find them super exciting. And they do rent the fastest for the most.

ATOTK: How do you keep the show fresh from season to season? Is there a story board for this?
SM: Yeah, so before we start a season we do a lot of prep in office and casting. We might go see 200 properties and pick maybe a dozen. Then we do story boards and mood boards for the design, work on themes and I’ll bring in thought-starters, like it has a big beach so let’s do a surf vibe or this one has a camp feel to it with the whispering pines. Debra, myself and the production team discuss all of those things. Including what are we going to call this project and what are we going to get the owners to do for the ‘roll up your sleaves’ segment of the show.

ATOTK: So with all this pre-planning, is your dialogue scripted?
SM: (laughs) No, we don’t know what we’re going to say. There’s no script on this show. When people meet me, maybe at a grocery store or Homedepot, and they say wow you’re just like you are on your show and I say, ‘Yeah I play myself’ (laughs). Family and friends from school say ‘It’s funny to watch you on TV because it’s like hanging out with you, with the same terrible jokes’  (laughs).

ATOTK: What would you like to say to all your Kawartha friends?
SM:  I think the Kawarthas is a hidden gem. Not only for the vacation rental market but for the experiences that can be had. Don’t be shy to share it with family and friends because The Kawarthas has so much variety and so many interesting places. And go through the Trent Waterways system - you will not regret it!

‘Scott and I partnered on Renovation Resort, it was a great concept and we lived in vans down by the river.

It was a lot of fun and work, more work for the contestants but a lot of fun. Now, six weeks was my limit to spend time with Scott and that was pushing it. It was like being at summer camp and when you’re at summer camp there’s always one weird kid and that was Scott.

Scott owned the property so it was great for me to stand back and watch him stress about all the things I’ve been through and spend his own money. (laughs) Renovation Resort was a success, so you never know I may have to put myself through another show with my little brother I never wanted. (laughs) I hate to abandon him now after his 15 minutes of fame.’

COMING SOON! Watch for Bryan’s new show, BRYAN’S ALL IN. Stay tuned in a future issue!

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