Teisha Hawley couldn’t believe her luck.

The mother of three from South Jordan, Utah, had just won what she felt was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She and her husband, Jeff, had been selected to have several rooms in their home renovated in October 2019 by an Instagram-famous couple, Candis and Andy Meredith, for a new television show. The Merediths, a couple from Utah with a blended family of seven children, had made a name for themselves in the DIY space with a 2015 HGTV show called Old Home Love, a 2017 book of the same name, and their project to convert a 20,000-square-foot 1907 schoolhouse into their family home.

Candis told Hawley that the show, eventually called Home Work, would air on Magnolia Network, the soon-to-be-launched television network from Fixer Upper DIY superstars Chip and Joanna Gaines. According to Hawley, Candis told her that Joanna had personally looked at photos and said she liked the Hawleys’ house, which made Hawley feel like she was living “literally every person’s dream.”

For the Hawleys, the invocation of the Gaines name was everything. After Fixer Upper premiered on HGTV in 2013 and became the No. 1 unscripted series on all of cable television, the Gaineses have become the king and queen of home decor and renovation, with a line at Target and a series of stores and tourist attractions in their hometown of Waco, Texas. Earlier this month they officially launched their Magnolia Network as a joint venture with Discovery, with the aim of reclaiming “the best of what television can be.” Ahead of the launch, the network had premiered several shows from the network on Discovery Plus, including Home Work, which debuted with 13 episodes in July.

Their dream of a Magnolia-approved home renovation soon turned into a nightmare that left their kitchen, laundry room, and living room unusable, and the family down $35,000.

But to the Hawleys and three other homeowners who were selected in 2019 to be featured on Home Work, the network’s launch was a different kind of milestone in what has become a multiyear fight.

According to the Hawleys, their dream of a Magnolia-approved home renovation soon turned into a nightmare that left their kitchen, laundry room, and living room unusable, and the family down $35,000. Another homeowner, Aubry Bennion, has accused the Merediths of taking the $13,000 she paid them for a kitchen renovation and then leaving her project incomplete for months. When the renovation was completed, she claims the Merediths did a subpar job. Another pair of homeowners, Vienna and Rob Goates, said they paid the Merediths $50,000 for an addition to their home, but said the couple never completed any work. After this happened, the Goateses negotiated with the Merediths for a return of the money they paid, but have only been compensated for about a third of the deposit to date.

On Wednesday, the Merediths posted a series of rebuttals to the claims of the three homeowners on their joint Instagram account. The Merediths denied many of the allegations against them, calling the “one-sided narrative” a series of “half truths and outright lies.” They said that while they understand home renovations can be difficult, they claim they did everything in their power to make their clients happy.

“We have not heard from these clients in almost two years, and to have this come out publicly on the eve of the Magnolia network launch feels calculated and timed to hurt us the most. We have always been available for a resolution,” they said in part, adding, “We acknowledge that there were misunderstandings and hard conversations along the way, but just like with our many other happy clients, we did everything we could to resolve any issues that arose.”

In a phone call with BuzzFeed News, Candis said the couple are “very proud of the work that we’ve done.”

“We’ve never stolen anything and we’re not out to take anybody else’s livelihood away the same way ours has kind of been taken here,” she said. “And we’re very proud of the show.”

Multiple requests for comment to the Gaineses went unanswered.

The homeowners, some of whom connected via mutual acquaintances in Utah and began sharing notes, said they had fought to get the Merediths, Discovery, and Magnolia to answer their allegations, but had gotten nowhere. Finally, Bennion decided to go public in a social media Hail Mary. She posted her account of the renovation on her Instagram page on Jan. 5, and the other women soon followed as an act of solidarity.

Bennion’s account went viral, and Discovery and Magnolia Network quickly announced that they would be pulling Home Work from the streamer.

“Magnolia Network is aware that certain homeowners have expressed concerns about renovation projects undertaken by Candis and Andy Meredith,” Allison Page, the president of Magnolia Network, told BuzzFeed News in a statement. “Within the last several days, we have learned additional information about the scope of these issues, and we have decided to remove Home Work from the Magnolia Network line up pending a review of the claims that have been made.”

However, late Thursday night, Magnolia Network announced that Home Work will be returning to the network. “After speaking with homeowners as well as Candis and Andy Meredith regarding renovation projects for Home Work, and hearing a mix of both positive and negative experiences, we do not believe there was ill or malicious intent,” Page told BuzzFeed News in a statement. “Our commitment now is to provide appropriate resolutions for those whose experience with Home Work fell short of our network’s standards.” An attorney for the Hawleys and Bennion told BuzzFeed News they are “encouraged,” by Discovery’s apparent desire “to do the right thing and correct the situation,” while the Goatses told BuzzFeed News they “are relieved to see that Magnolia has stepped in and committed to take action.”

At the time of publication, a spokesperson for Discovery did not respond to further inquiries about the allegations made by the three homeowners. Discovery also did not respond to questions from BuzzFeed News about which production company was behind Home Work and who was responsible for its operations. An IMDb page for Home Work lists the Merediths and one other person as executive producers (this individual did not return a request for comment). Candis told BuzzFeed News the show was coproduced by her and her husband’s production company and one other company, but declined to name either. It’s also difficult to verify what the actual Home Work show looked like, as all episodes have been pulled from the streaming platform.

For Bennion, the Hawleys, and the Goateses, the online response to their story has been bittersweet. They are pleased to finally be heard, but they want to know why they had to go so public to have anyone involved pay attention. “For Magnolia’s reputation to be on the line and for them to be so seasoned in doing what they do at Discovery, why would they allow these amateurs to do this and never check on them?” Bennion told BuzzFeed News. (Discovery did not respond to a request for comment on this allegation.)

The Goateses, who appeared in a trailer for Home Work despite the fact that their project had not even started, said they want some accountability from Discovery and Magnolia.

“I don’t think that the Merediths would have gotten as far as they did without the credibility of the Gaineses and Magnolia and their brand,” Vienna Goates told BuzzFeed News.

Courtesy Aubry Bennion

A view of construction in Bennion’s house during the remodeling

For Bennion, the experience with the Merediths has been doubly disappointing because she had previously had such a good relationship with the Magnolia brand.

Bennion works in project management full time but runs a small business, Hello Maypole, which sells felt balls and garlands, on the side. She has sold her products at Magnolia vendor fairs and even wholesale at Magnolia stores, she said. She also had a friendly relationship with the Merediths through her business’s Instagram page.

So when she heard from a mutual friend that the Merediths were partnering with Magnolia, and then saw the couple put a casting call for a yet-to-be-announced show on their Instagram, where they have more than 100,000 followers, she was intrigued. After making and submitting a video for consideration, Bennion got the news she had been selected to have her kitchen renovated.

The Hawleys and the Goateses told BuzzFeed News they responded to the same casting call on social media. Hawley had followed the Merediths on Instagram for a while, and was thrilled to be chosen for the show. They said with Candis’s claim that Joanna Gaines had personally expressed interest in their home, they felt especially “solid” about signing up. (In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Candis denied ever telling the Hawleys that the Gaineses saw their house and said the Gaineses had nothing to do with the selection process.)

“Hearing Magnolia and then Chip and Jo’s name being dropped as much as it was, I felt like that really built a trust in everything,” Jeff Hawley told BuzzFeed News.

“I remember just thinking like, wow, this is a big deal,” Vienna Goates said. “It was hard for us to comprehend it at that point. But we just knew it was going to be great.”

“Living in the basement in Utah, when the weather is crappy and it’s snowy and dark, it takes a toll on you.”

The Hawleys agreed to renovate their kitchen, dining room, family room, and laundry room — essentially an entire floor — for the show. The Merediths told them the renovation would cost $45,000, which seemed low to the Hawleys, but they said they figured the Merediths knew best.

(Homeowners on television renovation shows pay for their own renovations most of the time, according to HGTV. The network states that the draw of being on their shows is primarily getting to work with their designers, not getting things for free.)

The couple filmed introductions at their home with a film crew and the Merediths, and the demolition started on Oct. 30, 2019. Hawley was a little concerned that the demolition had started before they had sent any money or signed a contract, but she said Candis told her things moved fast in television and they would figure it all out.

Besides, she thought, this was Magnolia.

“Magnolia’s here, they’re demoing without [us paying] any money,” Hawley said she thought. “Of course this is legit, you know?”

After contractors demolished their first floor, the Hawleys and their three children moved into the basement without a kitchen or laundry. They said that the Merediths told them it would take no longer than three or four weeks, so they figured they could make it work for a short period of time. In November they received a contract from the Merediths and a request for $35,000, the balance owed for the renovation (the remaining $10,000 would cover furniture costs).

According to the Hawleys, the Merediths told them they needed to wire the money as soon as possible. This was stressful because the couple had planned to pay for the renovation with a home equity loan, but now didn’t have time to arrange it.

“So this wasn’t something we were able to finance,” Teisha Hawley said, adding that they drew the balance directly from their savings account.

The Hawleys said after that, things stalled. At first, they chalked it up to the holidays. Then, more time passed.

“We would repeatedly be told contractors would be there a certain day to only then be told there were delays or someone had quit and that we needed to be patient,” Teisha Hawley wrote on Instagram. “Sadly our 3-4 week project was well into the 8-10 week range, we would have weeks go by without anyone coming or hearing a thing.” In the meantime, the family spent the holidays in their basement.

“Living in the basement in Utah, when the weather is crappy and it’s snowy and dark, it takes a toll on you,” Hawley said.

Across town, Bennion’s project for Home Work, which began the same month as the Hawleys, was also not proceeding as she had hoped. She had filmed the initial introduction with the Merediths for the show and said she had agreed to a $25,000 kitchen renovation that the Merediths said would take three weeks. Bennion wrote on Instagram that faced with the same timing issues and inability to get a home equity loan as the Hawleys, she had to borrow the funds from her parents.

After demolition started on her kitchen, Bennion said the work also faced delays. She said she tried to put her faith in her prior relationship with the Merediths and the belief that things progressed differently on television, but she began to grow concerned as the project got more delayed. The morning of Thanksgiving 2019, the Merediths requested Bennion wire the funds. She sent them half, $13,000, the following Monday morning.

Courtesy Aubry Bennion

A view of Bennion’s unfinished kitchen during the remodeling

In mid-November, with no movement on the project, Bennion began pressing Candis for answers. After Candis showed her a vision board for the design for her home, she said she began to relax.

“Seeing the design elements and the promise of a kitchen by Christmas was enough to keep the worries at bay and the momentum chugging, despite what was actually happening — or not — in my home,” she wrote on Instagram.

However, Bennion said on Instagram, things continued to stall. As January turned into February, Bennion said she began to have “absolutely zero faith that any of it was real.”

“I was certain I was being fed a line, the same line I had been for the three and a half months before with missing crews and poor work performed one or two days at a time, totaling less than two weeks of actual work days in my home,” she wrote.

The Hawleys had also reached a crisis point. In early January, they met with the Merediths to discuss their project. According to the Hawleys, the Merediths told them they had already spent their entire budget and would now require another $35,000 to $40,000 to complete the work. The Merediths requested another $10,000 immediately via wire transfer in order to continue working on the project. The Hawleys were stunned.

“Hopeless is the word that comes to mind when I think of that day,” Teisha Hawley wrote on Instagram. “I had applied for this show and had put our family in this situation.”

The couple decided they were done. In February, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, they told the Merediths they wanted to walk away. They said they had never signed their contract or any release allowing Magnolia Network to use their footage. They hired a contractor friend to get the rooms back into a “livable condition,” and have been slowly working on the project since. Two years later, the Hawleys said the experience with the Merediths has taken a toll.

“The lack of communication, the lack of respect for our budget and the lack of respect for realizing my family was living in a basement truly makes me sick,” Teisha Hawley wrote on Instagram.

Courtesy the Goates family

In response to the Hawleys’ claims, the Merediths said that the budget increases were due to requests from the Hawleys, saying the “scope changed mutually.” “There was a list of ‘must haves’ that kept growing, and it was clear we needed to sit down to discuss anything they were hoping to increase,” the Merediths wrote. They denied having any knowledge the Hawleys were unhappy until they received a demand letter from the couple’s attorney, but Candis declined to elaborate to BuzzFeed News what it said.

“We tried to reach out and offer any and all assistance, we were ignored. We had spent about $10,000 of our own money at this point. We offered solutions. We haven’t heard from them whatsoever in almost two years,” they wrote. The Hawleys, in a statement, told BuzzFeed News they had no ulterior motive for coming forward. “This isn’t just about project delays and a poor renovation experience. There are patterns of manipulation, dishonesty, and gross negligence here,” they said.

The Goates family also filmed an introduction for the show in October 2019, during which Candis told them their addition, which would add a much-needed second bathroom for their family of seven, would be featured in the grand finale episode of Home Work. The Goateses were thrilled by Candis’s appreciation for their beloved cottage.

“She said, ‘This is the biggest project’ and … ‘I’ve always wanted to do a house like yours,’” Vienna Goates told BuzzFeed News. The couple felt that their project was important to the Merediths and the network, and, when Candis told them a few months later that Joanna Gaines had personally expressed interest in their project, they even felt like the Gaineses were invested. (In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Candis denied ever saying this.)

These sentiments helped them look past a series of what they now call red flags with the project. Their renovation, the Goateses said, was beset with delays from the start. They had originally been told the project could possibly be wrapped by Christmas 2019, which came and went. It wasn’t until Jan. 29, 2020, Vienna Goates wrote on Instagram, that Candis finally told them “she’d met with all her contractors and was confident the project could go forward as planned.” The Goateses signed a contract and in February 2020 sent the Merediths a wire transfer for $50,000, half of the project’s total cost, as a deposit. They drew the funds from a home equity loan they had previously arranged.

“At this point, I was like, have we been robbed? Is this some sort of con?” 

According to the Goateses, still nothing happened. The couple said they frequently reached out for updates, but said Candis told them that COVID-19 was causing project delays. Finally, they heard a concrete update from Candis when, on April 29, 2020, she shared a trailer for Home Work with them. The Goateses said they were stunned to see themselves featured, as they had assumed they wouldn’t be making the cut because of the project delays.

“We felt this was an effort to placate our anxiety,” Rob Goates told BuzzFeed News. “Because at this point, I was like, have we been robbed? Is this some sort of con?” But seeing themselves in the preview made them feel more confident that their renovation would start soon.

“That solidified at that point Chip and Joanna know what we’re going through, and they’re excited about us because there we are on their channel,” Vienna Goates said.

The couple’s relief was short-lived. In May, Rob Goates was laid off from his job, and no work had begun. The couple began to question if they should pull out of the project for financial reasons, but they said Candis convinced them to stay the course.

“[Candis] was very kind and she said she’d spoken to production and they agreed they would make our HELOC [home equity line of credit] payments for us and help us financially so we could go forward with the project,” Vienna Goates wrote on Instagram. “Candis said that Joanna Gaines specifically had interest in our project, and that they all really wanted our renovation to continue to be on the show.”

But by September 2020, with the renovation still not underway and money tight, the Goateses decided to quit.

“You may think it was naive and foolish of us to let things go on even this long,” Vienna Goates wrote on Instagram. “You would be right. But a global pandemic makes a convenient excuse for many things, and honestly we were in absolute survival mode. Plus, we had faith in the reputation of Chip and Joanna and their beloved Magnolia brand and Candis’s repeated assurances that everything would work out.”

Since then, the Goateses said, they have been fighting to get back the deposit they sent the Merediths. They hired a lawyer and Candis agreed to a judgment that stated the couple could sue if she did not refund the money. According to the Goateses, so far they have been refunded about $14,000 by the Merediths. Rob Goates estimates they have spent upward of $60,000 total on the debacle, including lawyer’s fees. They aren’t sure they will ever get their full deposit back.

“There’s nothing quite like paying a bill on a huge balance that is literally for NOTHING,” Vienna Goates wrote on Instagram, referring to their home equity loan.

In their rebuttal, the Merediths claimed that after the Goateses asked for their deposit back, the unnamed contractor, whom they had paid the $50,000 to, told them he could not refund the money. So, they said, they agreed to refund the Goates family personally, confirming they had thus far paid them $14,000. “We care deeply about the Goates and we are taking this responsibility seriously,” they wrote.

In response to the Merediths’ public posting, the Goateses told BuzzFeed News, “We appreciate that they recognized the validity of our situation … however, there has been a lack of regular communication and transparency.

“We tried every avenue possible to resolve this privately, our story and our paper trail speaks to that, and speaking out publicly was an extremely unfortunate last resort,” they said.

Through word of mouth and mutual acquaintances, the Hawleys eventually connected with Bennion and began to share notes. Bennion’s renovation had also ended poorly, she told BuzzFeed News. In February, she had met with Candis, telling her she planned to quit the show and the project if it didn’t improve.

During the meeting, Bennion wrote on Instagram, Candis told her that her project was now also costing way more than expected: $40,000. According to Bennion, Candis also said she had already spent the money. In their rebuttal, the Merediths claim they paid $32,000 of their own funds toward completing the project.

“We’ve been using our own money and we can’t really afford to feed our kids,” Bennion said Candis told her. In response, Candis told BuzzFeed News that the remark was “taken out of context,” but fronting the costs of Bennion’s renovation did “put us into tricky situations with our family.”

Although she was furious, Bennion believed she had leverage. “From my perspective, she needed my project to be complete more than I needed her to complete it for me,” Bennion wrote on Instagram, adding she believed this because she knew that couples had dropped out of the show. “As such, she was willing to push the financial conversation down the road a bit more, even after I told her she was working at risk.”

The Merediths’ contractors eventually finished the kitchen and Bennion filmed a reveal for the show, but she said she never signed a contract or an appearance release for Magnolia. According to Bennion, the finished product has been rife with problems and shoddy work.

“I’ll never show the finished product on the internet because it cleans up nice and, with the right filter, is worthy of every wow and word of praise for everyone who doesn’t have to live in it or had to live through what it took to get there,” she wrote on Instagram.

The Merediths fiercely denied Bennion’s allegations on Instagram, saying, “[Bennion’s Instagram handle] has made false claims and is purposely trying to take anything she can from us.” They claimed the renovation of her kitchen was done well and posted several videos that they claimed showed Bennion happy with the end result.

“We are very proud of the work that went into this project,” they wrote. “We revealed this space on February 20, 2020 and fully acknowledge that before this point in time there were hard conversations and misunderstandings about this project and budget, but we were absolutely under the impression that we had resolved those issues together. If Aubry was unhappy at this point overall, we had no idea whatsoever.”

Candis told BuzzFeed News that the majority of Bennion’s complaints about the project’s delays were out of her control as the delays were because of the contractors and workers. She said she and Andy decided not to attempt to recoup the $32,000 they spent of their own money on Bennion’s project because they “didn’t want that kitchen to feel anything but positive for her overall.”

“I just wanted her to feel at peace. And if that meant that I had spent that money, that was OK,” she said. Bennion told BuzzFeed News that while she did feign excitement during parts of the project, “It is easy to be selective in memory. The truth is that there are many text messages, which I still have record of, that show I was very dissatisfied regularly throughout the project.”

Since the homeowners began to share notes in spring 2020, they said they have been working to figure out some sort of restitution. Both the Hawleys and Bennion said they consulted attorneys, who told them even if they had a judgment against the Merediths, it’s unlikely they would ever see a dime. In addition to consulting attorneys, they also in 2021 filed complaints against the couple with the Utah Department of Commerce’s Consumer Protection Division.

“We did everything in our power to contact everybody we could to make sure that this was taken care of and nothing was ever addressed or taken care of or anything,” Teisha Hawley said.

“At that point, we just hung our heads and cried because we were like, what more can we do?”

For a long time, the Goateses said they told themselves that Magnolia, Discovery, and the Gaineses couldn’t possibly know what had happened. If they knew, they thought, they would do something to fix it. In August 2021, they decided to attempt to contact the network and Magnolia, emailing a customer service line. They got a response from an attorney for Discovery, who told them in an email, reviewed by BuzzFeed News, that the network would encourage the couple to address their concerns directly with the Merediths.

“We do not believe it would be helpful for Discovery to try and mediate this matter, especially since counsel is already involved and you have already sought legal recourse,” the attorney wrote in part. The attorney added that the network understood that the Merediths would “like to resolve the outstanding balance that is owed.”

“At that point, we just hung our heads and cried because we were like, what more can we do?” Rob Goates told BuzzFeed News.

All the homeowners said they have been validated by the response on social media to their stories, although going so public has taken a toll. Since Bennion and the others’ accounts went viral, a Utah real estate agent, Aaron Oldham, posted an hourlong IGTV video describing what he said was his own poor experience working with the Merediths on a renovation in 2013. Commenters on Oldham’s video also began to do their own sleuthing on the couple, highlighting a 2020 lawsuit against them for appearing as celebrity endorsers for the real estate seminar company Zurixx.

While Bennion said she has appreciated the support, she was disappointed about how difficult it was to get Magnolia Network to respond to her claims. Since she had never interacted with anyone from the network directly, she said, she initially had no contact to seek restitution from.

Finally, through her contacts on the purchasing side of the Magnolia company, she said she was connected with Magnolia’s attorney and asked them if she could break an NDA she signed as part of her wholesale agreement to share her story. Bennion shared her experience with the Magnolia team, who, she said, blamed the issue on the show’s production company. The Hawleys said they also contacted Magnolia through their attorney, but said they were told the network said it was not its responsibility.

Bennion said she has found the experience hard to reconcile with the version of the Magnolia brand she had loved.

“Magnolia shouldn’t be surprised because we gave them a fair shake to do their part,” she said.

But when the show rolled around, they began to question how much they had been “taken advantage of.”

“As the show launched and we saw how happy and successful and fun it was and we were just left out in the cold, that was really violating,” Rob Goates said.

Hawley said she just wants someone to be accountable for what happened to her.

“What I have posted, it’s not to trash Magnolia,” Hawley told BuzzFeed News. “I just want them to be better. Their name, people across the entire country trust it. And so the fact that this has happened under their brand is just devastating to me.” ●