Island couple and old houses star in TV show
On a whim, Ashley and Michael Cordray bought an abandoned house in Galveston. This was before they were married, before they had tested each other’s home renovation skills and before they knew what they were getting into. And way before getting involved in a national TV show.
That was six years ago, and now the Cordrays are TV stars, with their own show and a long list of successful island renovations under their belts. It all sounds very exciting, but the Cordrays say they have put in the long hours and hard work — both on houses and with production companies — to make this dream come true.
Their hour-long show, “Big Texas Fix,” premiered on DIY Network April 6 and can be seen weekly at 8 p.m. Saturdays. The Cordrays are filmed as they enter dilapidated or condemned houses and then make plans to renovate. The audience watches as they transform sorry properties into desirable homes, which quickly sell.
The latest transformation was a teardown on Avenue N at 31st Street, dubbed the “Mystery House.” This property had more problems than can be listed, but the Cordrays liked the “bones” and the neighborhood, so they took a chance.
“We love old houses, but this one you needed a real vision,” said Ashley, who grew up in the Spring, Texas area before attending college at Texas A&M University at Galveston.
They raised the house and rearranged its floor plan, installing all new plumbing and electricity. From this skeleton of a building, the couple was able to carve out a four-bedroom, two-bath house. Downstairs is all new with modern conveniences, with a nod to the 1895 history of the house. The ceiling for the first floor is the antiquated joists and beams that supported the original ground-level structure. The exposed wood is dense and old, giving the restored building the character of age.
Michael Cordray, who also went to Texas A&M University at Galveston, is an island native. Growing up in Galveston, Cordray planned to leave as soon as he finished college. He went to Houston after graduation, lived in Midtown and worked for a barge company, where he met Ashley. He followed his father in real estate, dabbling in sales and renovations when he purchased a duplex near the seawall and 33rd Street in Galveston. He lived upstairs, restored the downstairs and rented it out.
“This was an inspiration for me,” he said.
Two months after they started dating, Ashley decided she wanted to buy — with Michael — an old house in Galveston and restore it. They purchased a disaster of a property, stayed in it one night and then moved in with Michael’s family for the next year as they renovated it on weekends and nights. It took 18 months, but they were hooked, they said.
They bought another property, fixed it up and sold it, and then another and another. One at a time. Eventually, Michael gave up his full-time, secure job and started renovating full time. He got his real estate license so he could write a contract immediately if he saw a good property to buy, he said. And the couple formed their company, Save 1900, which is on 25th Street. A TV show wasn’t in the picture for them yet.
They decided one evening to get married, called a local judge to perform the ceremony and then celebrated at a local Waffle House before boarding the first flight to anywhere (Acapulco) for their honeymoon. They were content with their lives and hobby of flipping houses, they said.
But about this time, the HGTV network put out a call looking for a company that restores houses in an island community where houses sell for less than $500,000. Production companies that had received the network call started contacting Michael, asking him how many houses he was flipping. 10? 20?
“I told them I was doing one at a time and that ended the conversation with each caller,” he said.
They were looking for companies that were turning many properties at once. But one company, Maverick TV USA, decided Galveston and the Cordrays would make for a good show, so they traveled to the island, filmed a “sizzle,” which is a five-minute mini-show to entice the HGTV network, which then funded the pilot show and gave them a contract. They were a hit with the network folks. Their fresh approach, their youthfulness and personalities, as well as the quality work they were doing, all led to a contract with the network and the promise of their own television series. They started filming on Ashley’s birthday in February 2018.
For the next year, as the couple plowed away in piles of Sheetrock, rotten wood, decrepit fixtures and undesirable mounds of unwanted and useless debris, the cameras kept rolling, following them around as they created new living spaces while sticking to a strict timeline and a stricter budget. They put together a team of local professionals: electricians, plumbers, painters and carpenters to help them. They continued to be the hands-on contractors and designers, and credit island businesses and friends with jumping in and assisting at every turn.
Certainly, every house flipper wants to buy low and sell high, but that’s becoming less and less possible in Galveston, Michael said. He and Ashley are entering untapped and unglamorous neighborhoods and revitalizing one or two houses at a time, which serves as a catalyst on some streets.
“It costs the same to renovate a house whether you buy in an expensive neighborhood or a less expensive,” Ashley said. “It’s still Galveston and the costs are the same. So, we buy low and invest in the house and the neighborhood.”
The television show promises to showcase Galveston, highlighting such places as The Strand in the island’s historic downtown or Seawall Boulevard.
“It will be huge for Galveston because viewers will see a little bit of the island on each episode,” Ashley said. “And even if every house flipper in the country comes to Galveston after they see the show, there will still be more than enough houses here for us to do. We don’t want to sanitize the city. We want to keep it quirky and keep it real. We just want to help with those abandoned, unsafe and unwanted properties and give them a new life.”