Phil Spencer

Reaching a landmark 10 years on our screens, alongside co-star Kirstie Allsop, Phil Spencer is feeling nostalgic and eminently grateful, as he chats with Fiona Shield

To celebrate 10 years of Location, Location, Location last November (2010), viewers enjoyed a bumper pack of programmes from you and Kirstie, including A Decade in Property. Does it feel like you’ve been on screen for 10 years or has it flown by?
Making that show was very odd actually, because it took us on a very cathartic trip down memory lane – thinking back to all that’s changed and happened in our lives and the housing market since the first show. The market has been a real merry-go-round and people’s attitudes to housing have changed a lot. Looking back, it feels like there will never be another decade like the last, and to be honest, I hope there isn’t. What we’ve just experienced in property will only happen every half a century. It has been a really interesting period to see evolve and we’ve always felt very lucky to be the first property show. Lucky to be in it at the beginning and lucky to still be there now.

The overriding theme of the night seemed to be how much you and Kirstie enjoy your jobs, is there anything you would change about the last 10 years on screen together?
Maybe a few of the house-hunters! But not that many, most of them are great. I still get a huge sense of satisfaction when it goes right. There can be frustrating times, but if you want the highs then you have to accept the lows. People say that I’m a calming influence on the team – sometimes there can be 12 people in the production crew, all running around and stressed, but it never really affects me. I like to spend time with the house-hunters so that I can get to know them and help them relax. The better I get on with them, the better job I can do.

Do you think house-hunters can still sometimes misunderstand a home-finders role and the financial benefits?
Home-finding is still a small industry. At the high end of the market most people take advice, but in the mainstream market it’s not done very often. I believe it will be in the future though. Buying a home is one of the most significant purchases you will ever make and you take advice on other major purchases in your life, so why not when you’re buying a home? When you’re selling you take advice from an estate agent and you pay them to add more value than they are costing. It’s the same for a buying agent, I believe they can, and they must, add value to the process. So aside from the advice and knowledge of their market, they should be able to save you more than they charge. In which case, at all budgets, people will stand up and take notice. I believe it will happen.

Do you think that one day there will be as many buyers agents as selling agents?
That would be the ideal, but we’re now in danger of a market where people won’t specialise, but they’ll do both. All selling agents now offer buying and selling services and I don’t agree with it, there are too many conflicts. Whilst I absolutely see that home-finding is on the increase, I’d like to see it more by specialists than by selling agents having a go at it. I also think the industry needs regulation as quickly as possible. It’s such a crucial purchase; the house that you choose and the price that you pay can affect your whole financial future. All financial advisors have to go through tests, including selling agents, so it absolutely makes sense.

Why do you think people are so suspicious of estate agents?
The key reason for this is because they don’t appreciate the role that estate agents play, and if they did then a lot of angst would be removed. It’s a fact that the vast majority of complaints about the services of estate agents are made by buyers and that’s because they misunderstand the role that they play – the agent is not there to provide a service to the buyers, they are a selling agent.

You did a homemade Christmas show with Kirstie last year; did you enjoy learning the practical skills?
I did, more than I thought I would! I was up for it because it’s a fun concept but I’m not into crafts and making things, that’s not really me. However, as I’ve got older I have really enjoyed learning new things. Since the economic crash people are thinking more about reusing, remaking and getting a lot of satisfaction out of doing it. For years we were all so materialistic and consumptive, so the shift away from the throwaway culture needed to happen. While Kirstie and I were filming our new travel series last year, it dawned on me what the repercussions of throwing away really are. When someone says: ‘I’m going to throw it away,’ where actually is away? It doesn’t disappear, it goes somewhere, and that’s a real problem that we have right across the world. During filming we saw unbelievable amounts of litter in far-flung places – mostly plastic bags, and it really made us think about where our rubbish goes. Just because it’s out of your life, doesn’t mean it isn’t in somebody else’s.

Are you interested in environmentally-friendly issues in this country too?
I certainly am. I’m very conscious that as a country we’ve got a lot of work to do. We have the worst environmental record in Europe and although people are now more aware of how much damage cars can do, they forget that houses can be worse. We recently had a check done on our house to see where we were losing heat and we’ve had all our windows and doors resealed as a result. I would definitely consider solar panels as well, and I think the ‘feed in tariff’ scheme is superb. Saying that though, we also have many wonderful historic buildings in this country that were built a long time ago and aren’t necessarily environmentally-friendly, so the question is how should they be dealt with? Should we be putting double-glazing in a 400-year-old house? It’s a complicated area and there will be a lot of debate about it.

 

Relocation: Phil Down Under returned to our screens in January, how was filming?
I enjoyed filming this second series more actually, it was more intense and I wanted to do a better job. I think the first series came out quite well, but I came back thinking that personally I could have done better. It wasn’t a particularly happy time for me because my business was going belly up, so I was filming in the day and trying to deal with that at night. No-one seemed to notice when they saw the show, but I could see it in my face, so I was glad to be able to do another one, this time with a clear head How would you recommend a family approaching the idea of moving abroad?
It’s important to know the trade offs – to understand what you are gaining and losing – so that you can balance them up, and then decide if it’s the right thing to do. And you also need to really understand the place that you are moving to, which comes through a lot of research and preparation, and ideally visits. Strangely not everyone does that; two of the couples that I helped on Relocation: Phil Down Under decided to move to Australia overnight. One had watched something about the country on television, added up their points for a visa, worked out they had enough and decided to go, just like that. They’d never even been. In my opinion that’s a bit crazy. But at the same time it is very brave, very exciting and I take my hat off to people that do it. I definitely wouldn’t advise that approach though because of the uprooting involved, particularly if you have children.

Are there any other countries that you hold close to your heart?
We always holiday in Ibiza. It gets a bad rap but it’s actually a very beautiful island. We stay in the middle of the countryside – ideally up a mountain somewhere – and it’s incredibly peaceful, yet there are nice restaurants and coffee shops 10 minutes away. That’s somewhere that I’m always very happy to be.

You and Kirstie have a new show; Vacations, Vacations, Vacations, what format will it take?
We’ve made eight half hour programmes – four of them are types of holiday such as city breaks and adventure holidays, and four are destinations like Morocco and Italy – and in each programme we’ve looked at high-end and low-end opportunities. Whilst there is a format, it’s not scripted and it’s scarcely directed. The cameras are on when we get up, they come into my room when I’m packing my bag and brushing my teeth and they film us all day, doing whatever we’re doing. Certainly at the beginning I was thinking ‘am I in some dodgy reality TV, follow me programme?’ But it is the best way to give people a true idea of our experiences. It’s an opportunity for people to see Kirstie and I being ourselves and investigating some really interesting activities and great value places. My favourite programme would have to be the adventure trip, that’s very me.

How is your production company ‘Raise the Roof’ progressing?
We’re nearly a year old now and it’s going very well. There are loads of ideas kicking around which is really fun. Kirstie and I have just made a pilot episode and we’re working on a property-related iPhone app as well, plus there are two other pilots being made at the moment that we’re not in, and for me that’s when it gets most exciting. I see Raise the Roof as my future in business, as a freelance TV presenter life can be uncertain – luckily I know what I’m doing for the next few years – but this is something for me to get stuck into later on in life when everyone’s bored of watching me on the telly!

Kirstie has spoken of her dream to do Strictly Come Dancing if it wasn’t for her Channel 4 contract, are there any reality programmes you would consider?
I can’t say too much, but last week at Raise the Roof we made a pilot for a countryside show and I was desperate to be in it. It’s basically a competition to find Britain’s greatest countryman. I told the team that if they didn’t involve me then I would have to compete – with my farming background it’s right up my street.

Your next book is due out in May, what made you aim it at first-time buyers?
They are having a very tough time at the moment trying to raise the money that they now need to get on the property ladder, so they need all the help they can get. They should never be forgotten about because without them the rest of the market starts to stagnate.

 

Buyers remain nervous because of the uncertain future of interest rates and unemployment, what advice would you give them at this current time?
The same that I’ve given throughout the last 10 years – your property decisions need to be as long term as you can possibly make them. Buy something that you can add to, a place that can be flexible with your needs as they evolve over time. Moving house is very expensive, I’m not sure of the figures but even on average it would be at least £20,000 by the time you’ve paid your agents, solicitors, stamp duty, surveyor and tax. That’s a serious amount of money, especially when you think about how much you have to earn to pay that in cash. So the least times that you can move, the better. I’ve described it in the past as a game like snakes and ladders – the person that wins gets to the top of the pile with the least throws of the dice.

Do you think the supply and demand situation that we are now seeing could lead to problems in the future?
I do. We have a worrying problem in this country that is steadily getting worse – we don’t have enough empty houses in the right location. During the boom period we built lots of properties to meet targets, but not what we needed and not where we really needed them. So now we’ve got a housing shortage, which is becoming ever more serious because of the expansion of the population. People are living longer, leaving home earlier and marrying later, so our demand for housing is increasing, but the supply of new homes isn’t. That’s why I’m confident that the long-term look for the property market is a very healthy one. If you can get on the ladder and stay on it, and you can ride out this difficult time, then property is a great place to have your money. Obviously it’s very important what you own and where you own it, but generally it can only go up in value.

The coalition government is very much advocating the importance of community and getting to know your neighbourhood, do you think this philosophy has been lost in recent times?
I think it was lost through the consumptive, boom period when everyone was elbowing each other out of the way to get to the top of the pile, and I’m very pleased to see it coming back. It’s a really great political policy because communities are vital; they are the lifeblood of everything. We’re very lucky in my area because we’ve got a great community. I know everybody on the street – by half 10 this morning I had already spoken to four of my neighbours – and we even have a rope ladder and a trapdoor on either side of our garden for them to come and go! It makes such a difference if everyone is pushing in the same direction, enjoying their neighbourhood and looking after it.

 

 

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