How the Property Brothers Became Your Mom’s Favorite TV Stars
It’s been 20 years since Drew and Jonathan Scott got into fight.
Better known as the Property Brothers, the siblings—twin titans of real estate and design who are ruling and reinventing HGTV—certainly seem to get along. Their winsome formula of jovial teasing against the backdrop of major home renovations has made their docket of reality programming the most mainstream success story of their genre since TLC’s Trading Spaces and ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition took over the zeitgeist a decade ago.
Property Brothers, Buying and Selling, and Brother vs. Brother—and their inescapable, hopelessly addicting HGTV marathons—have elevated the Scott brothers to reality TV juggernaut status, not to mention the distinction of your mom’s favorite television personalities. In fact, HGTV has ensured that at least one of their shows airs a brand new episode each week of the year.
That means that when they’re not spending months together in cities all over North America scouting for real estate, renovating houses, and shooting their various series, they’re traveling the globe doing press and promos. That’s a lot of time for brothers to spend together. Perhaps an impossible amount of time, if they didn’t genuinely get along. It’s perhaps unsurprising to learn, then, that it’s been two decades since the twins from Vancouver got into a knock-down, drag-out fight.
“Drew was being annoying about something,” Jonathan says matter-of-factly, straining his brain for the details of their last tiff. They were in their late teens at the University of Calgary. The details were so insignificant that he doesn’t even remember them, just that, “I got so angry that I clenched my teeth so hard that I broke them.” After a searching beat, Drew adds, “And that was the last fight we had.”
You’d think that such a row would be reality-TV gold. But that’s not the Property Brothers. Still, over the course of a two-hour lunch in New York City, a brief stopover on the twins’ dizzying travel schedule, I tried to mine details of more dust-ups between the apparently infallible TV hosts, these apparent beacons of brotherly love.
But to not avail.
Not during their meteoric rise these past three years, during which they’ve become the face of HGTV: “the cable equivalent of box-office movie stars,” as HGTV president Kathleen Finch puts it; “reality television’s crack cocaine,” as we’ve once said ourselves at The Daily Beast. And not, either, during the massive renovation of the palatial Las Vegas home they share together, the process of which is branded “their biggest remodel yet” in a HGTV special, Property Brothers At Home, that will air Wednesday night.
(Their plug for that: “People are always asking what we would do if we could design our own place,” Drew says. “Now you can see it.” And how’d these Canadians end up in Vegas? “I always wanted to be a pole dancer, and this was a good opportunity,” Jonathan jokes.)
Family members surviving a renovation without a fight? As should be abundantly clear at this point, whether it’s building a new home in Sin City or building a reality TV empire, there is one, unshakable secret to the Scott Brothers’ success: they really do just get along.
Not that getting along is always easy.
“Drew is the most competitive man alive,” Jonathan says. “It doesn’t matter if we’re just getting in the car, he has to be first. But at the end of the day if you go on social media, I have way more followers than he does.”
Drew, naturally, wasn’t going to let that one go too easily. “I think from Property Brothers, most women out there love the guy who gets his hands dirty,” he says. “That why Jonathan has the larger following.” (The formula of most of their programs has Drew doing the house hunting and Jonathan doing the design and construction.) Then he throws the ribbing right back. “But I’m the bane of his existence, in that he loses every competition,” he says, zeroing in on the HGTV battle of the brothers reality series that just finished its second season this summer. “I won both Brother vs. Brother Seasons 1 and 2.”
Then, as he dutifully, yet earnestly, always does, Drew comes back to a positive place: the message. “Even as kids we were never competitive in the sense of knocking each other down, it was more about helping push each other up.” Thankfully, before things get too maudlin, Jonathan chimes: “Though if it’s a board game or something, I don’t mind cheating to win. If it will piss him off.” A hearty laugh ensues.
That the two have a healthy working relationship—and implausibly healthy one, really, for those of us who have brothers—is perhaps owed to the fact that they’ve been in business together for three decades.
They were just 7-years-old when they started their first business, JAM Enterprises, selling hangers wrapped in nylon—“like you’d see in your grandma’s closet,” Drew says—door to door. “We just grew and grew and then we actually met a woman who had a chain of American paraphernalia stores in Japan and she started buying them by the thousands,” Jonathan adds.
When they were students at the University of Calgary they began reading real estate books. Using their new investment knowledge (the complexities of which were explained to me and promptly went way over my head, illuminating just how tricky real estate can be—and how clever these brothers are at it), they bought a $250,000 house for just $250 down. After a rehab, they flipped it for a $50,000 profit. They were 18.
With dollar signs in their eyes, Jonathan got a degree in construction and design, Drew became a licensed real estate, and a business—and career inextricably tied together—was born.
There have been times over the years, prior to their recent TV ventures that have them happily attached at the hip, that the brothers did separate. Around 2005, Drew flew west to pursue a career in acting while Jonathan ran the business in Calgary. (In fact, both brothers have acting IMDb credits: Drew on Smallville and Jonathan on The X-Files.) But ultimately, it was TV that united the brothers again. Drew had been sent out for some hosting gigs. Production companies he was working with discovered that he had a twin brother in the renovation industry. The rest is history.
It’s, of course, not just their buying, selling, and design expertise that makes their shows so popular. These are guys who know what they’re doing, who have perfected the balance of open-book candor and measured likability that it is the hallmark of celebrity success in today’s social-media driven world.
They purport to be open books and genuinely seem to enjoy being asked personal questions that, for once, stray from their personal tastes in decorating. When asked what’s the most annoying question about being twins they are always asked, Jonathan dons a mischievous grin. “When you have sex does he feel it…?” he laughs. Drew shakes his head in mock dismay.
And when I start to mention that the first thing to surface when their names are Googled are articles about whether or not they are single (Drew is not; Jonathan is), Jonathan interrupts, “I thought you were going to say, ‘Are the Property Brothers gay?’” he says. “That’s the number one thing that comes up.”
They both laugh, swear they aren’t, and surmise that the speculation because they have an eye for design, are well-groomed and well dressed (Drew has over 200 suits in his closet), and the world trades in stereotypes.
“It’s a compliment,” Drew says, with a self-deprecating chuckle that becomes a refrain in our conversation. “People say all the best looking guys are gay.” Not that things haven’t gone too far. “There were people who posted the other day that, ‘The Property Brothers are a little too close,’” Jonathan says. Drew frowns: “Gross.”
But as open as they are, they are also businessmen who know their brand and are their best, most diligent marketers.
Few questions, no matter how fun and silly, go by without circling back to their accomplishments or future projects. Don’t bother asking what kind of toll their busy schedules takes on their lives. (Drew is only home two weeks a year, for Christmas.) They thrive on packed schedules, they say, and take pleasure in working around the clock.
Jonathan may be less enthusiastic on that latter point, taking the opportunity to mock a recent trip to Paris he took with Drew and his girlfriend, on which Drew took a business call with their publicist...from the top of the Eiffel Tower. “There was great reception,” Drew jokes, adding that perhaps he and his girlfriend, a fellow workaholic, enable each other. “Foreplay for them is getting their emails in check,” Jonathan says.
And while they are refreshingly candid and thoughtful and just generally fun, they don’t want to ruin a good thing. Ask about these Las Vegas-dwelling, super rich, super successful boys—one of whom is, again, famously single—about their vices, and their answers are dutifully chaste and People-magazine approved.
“Haunted houses,” says Jonathan. “I’m a health nut,” Drew swears. Such bad boys.
The liveliest the brothers get throughout the afternoon is when they start talking about what it was like when Property Brothers was first starting out. It was an unlikely success story. HGTV passed originally. HGTV Canada passed, too. And their respective physical appearances, which have become objects of fascination for their legions of fans, were tragic.
“They did Jonathan’s hair up like a lion mane,” Drew remembers, cringing. “And they did my hair up like Robert Pattinson. I looked terrible.”
But the show caught on. They became the faces of HGTV. The hair tamed itself; their look became more flattering.
And through it all, they never, ever fought. Perhaps in a nonfiction TV climate rife without housewives flipping tables, frat boys brawling after too many tequila shots, and members of an alleged dynasty of ducks trading in inflammatory assertions, it’s a change of pace that is as satisfying as a successful renovation.
“People have seen design shows before, with beautiful befores and afters,” says Jonathan. “So it’s the relationship. You can through two random hosts together to do a show and you’re not going to have the same relationship as with someone who sat on your head for nine months when you were in the womb.”