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'Steel City Rehab' to follow Pittsburgh house flippers; debuts Sunday

Mary Pickels
| Wednesday, April 26, 2017, 12:13 p.m.
Cameron Nicols, Jesse Wig, Tara Bennett and Kris Bennett will shine a light on W.Pa. in 'Steel City Rehab.'
Frank Vilsack
Cameron Nicols, Jesse Wig, Tara Bennett and Kris Bennett will shine a light on W.Pa. in 'Steel City Rehab.'

What Chip and Joanna Gaines have done for Waco, Texas, Kris and Tara Bennett hope to do for Pittsburgh: Put it on the map as a city to which to relocate and renovate.

“Fixer Upper,” meet “Steel City Rehab.”

The Bennetts, Pittsburgh transplants originally from Titusville, Crawford County, have been flipping residential properties since 2009, primarily in the Pittsburgh area.

They estimate they have purchased more than 30 houses, taking them down to the studs in most cases and getting them on the market three to six months later.

The couple own K Bennett Development Group, a real estate and development company, and Lifespace Pittsburgh, a real estate brokerage firm that helps sell their properties.

Tara Bennett also is a professional photographer. And they are raising three children, ages 10, 7 and 3.

“We like being busy. That's our personality type. We have a day off and we don't know what to do,” says Tara Bennett, 32.

Last year, a production company reached out to the couple after noticing their work on Instagram, she says. A conversation on Skype followed, and a film crew came to Pittsburgh in May to put together a trailer reel.

A five-minute clip caught the attention of HGTV producers and a pilot episode was ordered.

“Steel City Rehab” was filmed and produced by Bodega Pictures, a full-service video production firm headquartered in Los Angeles.

The crew followed the couple as they considered three property choices and narrowed it down to one in the Friendship neighborhood.

“It's a three-story house that had been turned into a multi-unit. It was all chopped up,” says Kris Bennett, 38.

Gutting newly acquired properties is typically standard practice, he says.

“We like to start fresh and know it's done the right way. ... You can't have a lot of faith in what's behind walls,” he says.

They try to preserve some traditional touches many older properties boast, like solid woodwork and brick fireplaces.

“We keep as much as possible,” Tara Bennett says.

Unlike some DIY shows, the couple does not remodel for a particular client.

“This property (in Friendship) was designed with a family with kids in mind. It's near a school; it's a good neighborhood to raise a family, I would say,” she says.

Like any home renovation, the effort was not without drama.

“We had some structural stuff. We definitely had some plumbing issues,” Kris Bennett says.

Tara Bennett jokes that the producers worried they might have to fabricate issues to add some suspense.

“We told them something will come up, no worries about that,” Tara Bennett says, laughing.

The Steel City co-stars in the episode. In between the hammering and painting and flooring work, viewers will be treated to some “picturesque” shots of the city, showcasing Downtown and different neighborhoods, Kris Bennett says.

“I think something new we offer is that this is more urban than a lot of their (HGTV) shows. ... We are right in the city, doing houses with a lot of old history and character,” he says.

The “aggressive” turnaround, he says, includes a team of subcontractors, colleagues and longtime friends Cameron Nicols, project manager, and Jesse Wig, real estate agent.

Former Steeler, Murrysville native and woodworking expert John Malecki also makes an appearance, working with Tara Bennett on custom-made furniture for the home.

Abode Pittsburgh founder and creative director Heather Visnesky assists with staging and styling the finished property.

The couple declined to reveal the purchase price, renovation costs or sale price.

“We will learn that on the show,” Kris Bennett says.

An open house at hour's end will let viewers learn if the property sold.

The couple also remain mum on whether more “Steel City Rehab” shows are in the works, but they are hopeful.

“It's a good national platform for Pittsburgh to be on,” Kris Bennett says.

Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MaryPickels.

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