It’s been a restful day of recuperation today. A little bit of work, a little bit of sleep, and rather too much daytime television. The scheduling of television during a typical weekday is fascinating, apparently working on the assumption that viewers fall into one of two main camps : those needing to be warned of the perils of insurance or benefits fraud (as victims or perpetrators is left ambiguous); and those seeking to make money from buying cheap (houses, antiques, or salvaged items from the municipal dump) and selling on at a profit. I don’t know whether it’s the fact that I spend too much time in spaces occupied by students, but I must admit to having something of a soft spot for Homes Under the Hammer.
Each programme is like the unfolding of a creative writing exercise where each participant is given the same opening line and is then free to take the story in their own direction. “You are at an auction and you’ve just made the winning bid on a run-down property in a commuter belt just south of [insert major city] – what happens next?” Today’s instalments included a family who bought a three bedroom house for £90,000 that they spent £40,000 renovating to an incredibly high standard, and which was valued at the end of the works at £165,000. The twist in the tail was the question posed by the presenter to the husband and wife : “So are tempted to sell and move on?” The awkward pause hinted at some serious tension between the two on this very question – she was keen; he most definitely was not. His initial statement that they were going to sit tight for now, being countered by her assertion that they wanted to buy some land and design their own new home from scratch in the next two to three years. He smiled but not in his eyes!
The next property was a terraced house somewhere near Nottingham (I think – I must admit, terraced houses on Homes Under the Hammer all end us looking pretty much identical). This was bought by Tony, the owner of a local restaurant, who was purchasing his tenth property. Tony admitted to having paid slightly over the odds for the house, which was in a pretty poor state even by HUtH standards. Tony was clear what his aims were : get it tidied up for as little as possible and onto the rental market. “Clean, bright and neutral” was his brief to his builder. Tony’s role was strictly financial – not for him sleeping on a mattress in the back room while stripping paper and replacing electrics. Two months to do the work and then start getting the rent in. Damp? Not a problem – it’s just a small leak from the bathroom. £10k all in and the job’s a good ‘un. Well – not quite. That damp was coming up not down, and required a new damp proof course to be installed – something that wasn’t finally decided until the place had been completely redecorated. Budget blown – £22k in total spent and even then the finished produce was described as clean but basic. Rental income of £375 a month was right on the money for Tony though. He was delighted and was off to buy his next property.
Finally, a two bedroom maisonette in Balham, South London that was on at a guide price of £130,000. It was this cheap because, and I mean this literally, the place was being held up by gaffer tape. In fact, gaffer tape was all that was stopping the glass from the bedroom window from falling onto the pavement below! The guy who bought this one also paid a little over the odds for it, but he was a seasoned buyer and seller on, and he knew his market. The transformation was spectacular and the £180,000 purchase price was supplemented by a further £50,000 investment in top-quality internal finished, new windows, new doors and landscaping to the garden. The work was all done in 6 months and the property was valued at £300,000 by two agents at the end of the programme.
Three properties, three outcomes, three satisfied buyers (slightly disappointingly – there’s something strangely satisfying about seeing the ones that go pear-shaped occasionally!) and three new homes salvaged from the stock of abandoned or decrepit housing that is so common across the country.
I guess it’s a triumph for the free market that operates in the property sector, and it’s good that homes like this can be brought back into practical use; but it still seems odd to me that with money to be made like this, there isn’t a more structured, government-led approach to the whole thing. With so many people desperate for housing, it would seem to be a no-brainer.