The star of “Flip or Flop” talked Tuesday at Inman Connect Miami about how professional hardships, cancer diagnoses and personal hardships paved his road to success.

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Tarek El Moussa is famous as the home-flipping star of HGTV’s smash hit Flip or Flop something that would be the high point of any real estate agent’s career. But during Inman Connect Miami on Tuesday, he offered a glimpse into a series of low points in his life, each one worse than the last, that ultimately pushed him to succeed.

Those low points began at the dawn of El Moussa’s career when he “made flyers, I got business cards, I held open houses,” he told the Connect crowd. But “I wasn’t making money, I wasn’t learning, I was spinning my wheels, and I was broke.”


And so he pivoted and put $1,000 on his credit card to pay for one-on-one coaching. And it worked.

“I kept sucking,” El Moussa said, “and then I started getting better.”

Soon, El Moussa was making enough money to buy a high-end house and expensive car. But before long, the Great Recession arrived and his business collapsed. El Moussa suddenly went from living the high life to driving his dad’s old truck and living in a cramped apartment.

Soon, however, El Moussa realized he had to pivot, so he focused on short sales. It worked, and the money started flowing again. Later, after a visit to a real estate conference where he met a high-earning agent who had a local TV show, El Moussa started pitching Hollywood production companies on the idea of doing a show of his own. Rejection after rejection arrived until finally his idea was picked up and became a surprise hit.

That show, Flip or Flop, ran for 10 seasons. But early in the run, El Moussa learned he had two different types of cancer. HGTV wanted to cancel the show in light of El Moussa’s health problems, but he insisted on proceeding.

“I was so sick, so puffy, I was throwing up,” he recalled, telling the Connect audience that during the show’s second season the physical toll of his cancer was visible on screen.

Tarek El Moussa at Inman Connect Tuesday. Credit: AJ Canaria

El Moussa eventually beat the cancer, but that personal high point was soon followed by what he described as the lowest low of all.

“I was sitting on a cooler in handcuffs,” he recalled, though he didn’t provide further details. Either way, though, his marriage had fallen apart and he wasn’t acting as a great “friend, father, son or human.”

“Eventually my life imploded in front of the world in May 2016,” he said.

But once again, El Moussa persevered, this time checking himself into a 24-hour care facility, then later marrying again. From 2017 to the present, he said, “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

El Moussa’s talk was part personal memoir, but he also was trying to make a point to the crowd of industry pros: “If you’re in a position where you feel stuck, or you don’t know what to do next, you have to take action.” It’s a lesson that took many ups and downs for him to learn, but which El Moussa argued is a key to success.

“The magic is in the doing, not the thinking, not the reading, not the watching,” he said, adding later that, “you have to be out there. You have to be out in the world.”

Email Jim Dalrymple II

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