This year marks Mike Holmes' tenth year on HGTV, and he's come a long way from the reluctant TV personality he once was.
With several TV shows, a charity and four books, Mike Holmes has become a legitimate brand. But despite all this, he's just a normal guy who wants to help people. HGTV is honouring the "man in the overalls" with a one-hour special entitled "Behind The Overalls," a tribute to the man who helping bring home renovations into the spotlight.
Holmes spoke with HuffPost Canada TV about his beginnings on HGTV, what's essential when searching for a contractor and what it's like to be one of the most "trusted" people in the world.
How did you get started with HGTV and why did you pitch your TV show?
It was a total accident, because I still believe I'm the guy who shouldn't be on TV. How it happened was I met someone at the network, and I said, "Man, I’ve got a show idea for you," and I blabbed on for 30 minutes that I didn't like the shows on the channel, that [he was] doing it all wrong … and when he jumped up and said, "I want a pilot right away!" I laughed my frickin' ass off, I've gotta be honest with you.
I told him no, but he came back to me months later and he kept saying "You gotta do this, you gotta do this" and I kept saying, "No, I’m just a contractor, I’m doing three jobs at a time, I’m busy." And he said, "I notice you like to teach one family at a time, and I said "That’s exactly what I’m talking about." And he says, "How would you like to teach everyone at once?" and I said, "You S.O.B." And I said, "OK, I’m the boss, nobody tells me what to do, I own the show or I’m not doing it." And little did I know what the hell I was walking into: owning the show means that I'm the producer. So I walked into a different world overnight and I said I’d do it for two years, and the next thing you know, it's 10 years later… it’s been a blink. It’s been a blur.
Why do you think it's important for people to be aware of how renos work and how to pick a contractor?
I've been doing this since I was a kid, and I try to pass on the information I believe they need to know. I have three rules to find the right person, and it's really simple. One: slow down. Two: educate yourself. Three: check out your contractor. Don't think you’re going to do this overnight, and don't think it’s going to be easy because this is a job. When it comes to educating yourself – number two – there's a lot of things you think you need to understand. Don’t just think you’re going to educate yourself so you can do the job yourself, because you can't do the job yourself; that’s why you’re hiring someone. But at least understand the lingo, understand the products, understand where you should be going with it: that's going to take some time.
And three, check out your contractor. What is the frickin' thing about guys coming in and giving you three names, going, "Go ahead, call them." That is the number one response; I can’t believe that. I've done thousands, I’ll give you hundreds, but I want to see at least 20. And how to find the right guy is really simple: a great person – male or female in this field – are the ones who are natural teachers and they don’t know it. In other words, they want to explain things to you: what they've learned, what products they use and why. They want you to be part of it. That's a really good sign of someone you’re talking to. It's not about the money; it’s about their passion. That’s just as simple as that. And I think that can work in any field -- they could be a cook, working at the post office. I think it works anywhere. Someone that loves what they do and they're passionate about it.
I was reading an article about a couple who bought a house that was a former grow-op and they told the home inspector and he just kind of shrugged. I thought it was unreal that he didn't care!
Yeah, that’s just the world that we've become, and it makes sense when you find out through dealing with all the people out there that know, we tend to have a grow-op on every single block in the whole country. That’s just simple statistics on how many there are. As a contractor, you need to know how to fix this, how to address it. As a homeowner buying a house, you need to know how to look for it. As a home inspector, you need to know all about it so that you can give the right advice. You’re in trouble if you bought a house that was a grow-op and nobody found out until after you bought it.
You’ve been on the Reader's Digest and Forbes lists of trusted people. How do you feel about being so trusted?
That's kind of weird for me, to be honest with you. I'm just me, I'm just who I am and the thing that I believe in. So I don't want to say it's a negative – I think it's a positive – but when I got the call, "Hey, you’re number three on Forbes list!," I’m like, "Number three in what?" and when they explained it to me I said, "What am I doing on that list?" Because I just thought they're all actors, what am I doing on that list? But I got it afterwards, I got the point that it was the people who picked the most trusted people they thought of. And I guess in a way it's very humbling to afterwards think about it.
You’ve been on a few U.S. shows, but would you ever try to be as well-known in the U.S. as you are in Canada?
Right now, the show has done so well in the United States … it's no different than Australia, and even Ireland for that matter, but it's everywhere. For the States, everything that I believe in and what I'm doing, I want to take it everywhere. I want to build homes and communities around the world. I want to help teach the next generation how to build better, and that's really part of everything that I'm doing when it comes to the stuff that I believe in. Holmes Homes. Holmes Approved. Holmes Communities. What a strange last name I have!
Do you think you would have been as successful if you didn't have such a punny name?
Well, it would have been different if my name had been Mike George, or let's say Mike Hanes. You can't say Hanes on Homes; it doesn't make sense. It's just a coincidence that it ended up being a wonderful -- we'll call it a relationship.
Fewer people are entering the trades and it’s getting to be a huge problem. Why do you think this is?
Well, that's really simple. Over the past 25, 30 years, we've seen a lot of parents in the trades tell their kids not to get in the trades. "Go get into computers, be a lawyer, be a doctor." I understand it because they're telling the kids, "My back’s sore, you have trouble collecting money, and it’s not the greatest job." But the truth is, it is the greatest job! On the other side of the fence here, to be 1.5 million short by 2016 and 2.6 million short by 2021, this is a huge economic disaster for this country. Think of it as the government needing taxpayers. That’s a large number of people that are going to be short and they’re not making money. Also, who's going to fix everything we built? Who's going to fix all the bridges and build all the new streets and build all the new houses when we're going to be that short? So if we think now we've got a problem with our industry, just wait. If we don't do something about it, it’s going to quadruple.
You have a bunch of TV shows, you have a magazine, and all this other stuff. Do you ever feel like this cuts into being a contractor?
It's funny, because I could have done something simple in life and been a tiler, because I love tiling. But I love building, I love plumbing, I love doing electrical. But I couldn't have just been a tiler. And maybe my life would have been more simple, but I learned it's not who I am. So I'm my own worst enemy. I love who I am. So it's kind of a tennis game. I do what I do; I never thought I was a workaholic, but I suppose I am. My kids would tell you I am, everyone would tell you I am, but I still don't think I am. I do things because I believe in it, and just because I love to do it all, I end up doing way too much of it all. Are there sacrifices? Absolutely, yes. Do I have a personal life? Not much. Do I try? Yeah I do. Could it be better? Well, sure, but everyone's life could be better. So I look at it this way: do what I have to do, make it right the first time, and then turn around and enjoy it later on in life. And I'm hoping that’s some time in the next five years.
Can you tell me a little bit about your charity work?
SOS is my charity of choice, because I believe in the SOS Children’s Villages around the world. I did my homework; it's the number one charity or foundation that you can give money to and almost every single dollar goes to the kids. That’s why I do that. When it comes to The Holmes Foundation, I started that years ago because it just made sense to me I should help with the trades. That's why I’m a spokesperson for Skills Canada and the world spokesperson for WorldSkills, because I believe in it, there's something we need to do to fix this. There's a wrong that we need to make right. I guess it's just what I'm supposed to do. I don’t look at it like, "Should I be doing this?" It just makes sense that I should.
I was reading that you appeared on a Canadian reality show called "Star Portraits." If you could pick any reality show, which one would you appear on and why?
[Laughs] That's a good question. I'm never stumped. I remember one that was called "Name That Tune." I loved that show at the time. It's not on anymore … I know a lot of the old music and I would have loved to have been on that show, because I can name that tune in three notes.