One of the main joys of Location, Location, Location lies in helping people achieve their dreams. When that happens, presenters Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer are happy people…
Sometimes you get what you wish for and Phil Spencer is one of the lucky ones. Along with co-presenter, Kirstie Allsopp, Phil spends much of his time on top show, Location, Location, Location, battling to find people their perfect homes within a tight budget.
However, given the popularity of the programme, it was a surprise that in this age of the instant millionaire – thanks to the National Lottery – neither of them had knowingly worked with a lucky Lotto punter on a massive budget. And they thought it would present a challenge for them.
‘I spoke to Camelot about it,’ says Phil. ‘Simply because I felt we could help. You can’t go from a fairly ordinary lifestyle to a super-rich existence just by buying a mansion and a massive swimming pool.
Of course it’s a dream but you have to be careful how you live that dream. There are social aspects to consider. How will it fit with friends and relatives? How do you adapt to a new neighbourhood? Happiness isn’t just about the bricks and mortar – it’s about the spirit of the house.’
Camelot were willing to assist and it was just a case of finding a winner. It finally happened when Kirstie and Phil were asked to find a property for a young Yorkshire couple who had scooped a big win.
Roger Griffiths and his wife Lara, both 35, won £1.8 million by playing Lotto online in October 2005. Having set an initial budget of £650,000, they were quickly encouraged to smash this figure for their dream home just a couple of miles down the road from where they lived.
Their decision to stay local follows a trend for lottery winners – 91% move no further than 20 miles from their previous home after their win.
The most extreme example of this trend might be Paul and Thea Bristow from Torquay, who bought the house next door so they could renovate and extend their original property, turning it into their luxury, dream home.
‘Normally when people are buying a property, it’s because they need to move to a bigger place, relocate for work or perhaps even downsize,’ explains Phil. ‘But if someone wins a large sum of money on the lottery, it’s a completely different situation. There aren’t the same time pressures or financial constraints and the buyer has the luxury of being able to really push the boat out and find their dream home, since money is no object.’
For one-third of winners, their new dream house – typically a property with five or more bedrooms in the countryside, close to their existing home – is a favourite post-win purchase.
One in seven major lottery winners buys a property abroad, with over half of them choosing to invest in Spain or the popular Canary Islands.
But Phil warns that this can be a minefield if you do not know the rules and regulations. ‘As with any investment, it’s important to understand the market you’re investing in, so consider this carefully before looking to purchase abroad,’ he suggests. More generally, his advice to lottery winners looking to invest in property is to take their time and to very carefully consider their requirements.
He also urges winners to consider employing an experienced buying agent who can represent them in their search and any negotiations, and advise on tax implications. Estate agents, he points out, are working for the seller. Finally, he warns lottery winners to avoid the temptation to throw caution to the wind and to remember how much space they really need.
At the other end of the scale, Kirstie and Phil are sometimes asked to find an awful lot of house for not a lot of money – like the example of the couple who wanted a more rural property with a garage that was big enough to take their three beloved cars. The only problem was their budget – £250,000!
But perhaps the most fascinating show of them all was early on – when the series was still finding its feet. This was an episode you didn’t see! ‘We had this one couple and we went through their wish list with them,’ says Kirstie.
‘Properties were selected and we duly guided them around the short list. It was fine – except there was nothing that suited them. Both Phil and I suggested that they were better off staying in the house that they already owned. At that stage in the history of the show it was considered a bit of a ‘no story’ and so the programme was never screened. But as far as we were concerned, we’d given then the right advice.
‘We help people with properties, we explain how to buy them, what to look for and that is our brief. To be honest, the entertainment factor does not stop us from acting in a professional capacity. I can see why that show was dropped but I can’t help thinking now that it would have been good to run with it.
‘We get over a thousand applications a week from people wanting to be on the show,’ reveals Phil. ‘It is a fantastic response. Prospective candidates must, however, be eloquent, committed to move, able and committed to pull it off, be prepared to listen to our advice and keen to do so.’
In the last series, Phil and Kirstie were involved in eight searches which led to seven property deals – and they helped six families move homes. ‘The seventh deal didn’t complete,’ says Phil. ‘And the eighth client didn’t find anything suitable.’
Phil says that both he and Kirstie were upfront with Channel 4 from the very start, insisting that they would not give bad advice purely to produce good television.
‘This is a business for us,’ he says. ‘We are passionate about it. Channel 4 did get cross with us because frequently our advice seemed
like unexciting TV.’
There’s also a sense of devilment as Phil admits: ‘A lot of people come on the show not expecting us to sort out their property and if we crack on to that early on, we like to show them an amazing property that isn’t what they were after, just to confuse them. But sometimes it’s our job to take people around the houses (literally), to help them figure out what they really want.’
When a couple decides to ‘sleep on it’, Phil and Kirstie are left in suspense. ‘We do have bets between us, but Kirstie normally wins because people follow their hearts,’ says Phil.
For both of them, the show is about helping people find what they want – if it makes good TV, and the public seem to think it does, all well and good – but that is not what drives them on.
‘It does get emotional and we have had loads of tears, both happy and sad,’ says Phil.
‘There were six programmes in one series with tears in every show, and we’ve just filmed an episode with tears of joy followed by another with tears of great frustration. It is a real process, which is why it’s fun to be involved with – and hopefully fun to watch. I’ve always thought it’s a privilege to be involved in those journeys.’
But doesn’t Phil want to tear out what little hair he has left when his words go in one ear and out the other? ‘It does get frustrating when people generally aren’t taking our advice and we’re giving it in the best possible way. But it is their money, and not mine. ‘If they don’t listen to my advice, then so be it. It’s not something I lose sleep over. The clients are the ones who need the home.’
Going the extra mile
With runaway housing prices, there is a lot at stake.
‘It is fun but I am very aware that we’re dealing with a lot of pound notes and I’m never flippant with other people’s money,’ says Phil. He recalls a deal he did for a couple who wanted a little bungalow in Bath. ‘That’s right’, he smiles, ‘a bungalow in Bath. There’s not many of them around,’ he says. ‘We came across an ideal place but the bungalow in question wasn’t even up for sale. We found out that the owner had inherited it – it had been in his family for years. In fact, he’d actually been born and raised in the bungalow. However, he knew the day would eventually come when he would have to sell and we were fortunate enough to do the deal.’ For Phil, the best part was the follow-up visit a year later to see how the family were getting on.
‘They were still beside themselves with happiness, so it was very satisfying. We’d managed to overcome the odds simply by asking about the property in the first place,’ he beams.
And for Kirstie, she sums things up by saying: ‘I like property,’ she says. ‘But it is not property that is the be all and end all. It’s the amazing relationships. It’s finding out what makes different people tick. It is about the dreams and passions and desires. So many other key issues like education, pensions and financial security come into the equation. It’s all about the home that you own, or don’t own, or can’t ever own.’
Phil agrees. He gets huge pleasure takingpeople to a great house and seeing their eyes light up.
‘It’s very satisfying to help a couple find their dream home – and in some instances, to have a hand in changing their lives.’