Property: Can Carol Vorderman really help you sell your home?
As the TV schedules fill up with property programming, Ginetta Vedrickis looks at the makeover phenomenon
Saturday 30 January 1999
Changing Rooms famously uses staple guns, MDF and Handy Andy to transform suburban domesticity into, if Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen has a say, something more closely resembling a bordello. Its ITV rival, Better Homes, features Carol Vordermann overseeing sledgehammers and wrecking balls with the emphasis on serious structural change as two families compete to see who can add most value to their properties.
Cynics might assume the bordello look hinders sales but some estate agents are keen to try unconventional ways of achieving commissions. Paul Curtis of Roy Brooks' Dulwich branch appeared in C5's House Doctor, in which "real estate stylist" Ann Maurice advises vendors how to improve their properties' appearance.
Paul Curtis nominated two properties on his books which had not sold and viewers saw prospective buyers give opinions before and after Ann's makeover. Did the programme attract buyers? "We didn't sell either of them," says Paul who still credits the improvements of one "appalling" house: "Basically it was heaped with underwear and what the cameras couldn't capture was the smell."
After Ann Maurice fearlessly advised the vendor to remove the clutter, including the surfeit of undergarments, the property looked (and must have smelt) fresher - so why didn't Paul sell it? "We had an instant buyer but the vendor got greedy and sold through another agent for pounds 10,000 more."
In contrast, Paul's other property was a beautiful roof-terrace flat which proved surprisingly difficult to sell: "It's a lovely flat but the programme couldn't change the fact that it's on a main road," says Paul who firmly believes that House Doctor, unlike programmes featuring structural changes, reminds vendors of the obvious advantages of ensuring that their assets always look their best: "It's not necessary to renovate but it's common sense to tidy up and it pays."
Daisy Goodwin, House Doctor's editor, agrees - and takes credit for turning around the infamous "house with underpants": "No one in their right mind would have bought that house but we sold it." She believes that most properties "given the Ann treatment" sell quicker and for more: "You've got to look at your house as others see it, which is hard if you've lived there for some time. But you wouldn't turn up for an interview wearing old jeans and trainers and it's the same when selling."
Comparing buying to interviewing, Daisy says that prospective buyers decide within 10 seconds and she calls Ann Maurice's advice brutal but effective: "On TV it's essential not to pull punches." How did recipients respond to brutal criticism? "Some of them were dumbstruck until they saw their homes re-done and then they were convinced."
Daisy believes that Ann's background as an American real-estate agent gives her the edge over her British counterparts: "Agents there have a professional attitude and must pass exams. Most are mature women with a real sense of what people want. Here you get spotty 24-year-olds who just have to be able to drive VW Golfs. They are too worried about losing their commissions but I think sellers would prefer agents who say, `Do this and you can make thirty grand more'."
Daisy admits to a serious distaste for other peoples' belongings and her own three purchases have all been of empty properties. When selling she makes strenuous efforts to erase any trace of human life: "We put fresh flowers out and clear everything away so it's like a hotel. Trouble is, it looks so good that we don't want to move." She previously worked on Homefront, another makeover programme, but admits that she wouldn't undergo one herself: "Not in a million years. You don't have much control and the stress of TV crews and builders in your home is a nightmare. You can get pushed into doing things you don't want to do." She views House Doctor differently: "All these houses weren't selling and we helped them do it."
Someone who agreed to a TV makeover is Terrie Towell who, with husband Brian, allowed the BBC Changing Rooms team to transform their bedroom while they, with stylist Linda Barker, remade their neighbour's son's room. Though it was originally the neighbour's idea to apply, Terrie enjoyed the experience but says it was easy to be "talked into things". While she calls her pre-makeover bedroom "disgusting" she liked the end results: "It was hard work but I loved everything they did."
On 10 February the nation (well a few million viewers) will be privy to the inside of Terrie's lavender bedroom and, yes, she does cry on screen but puts this down to exhaustion rather than elation. All will be revealed then but the prospect of being recognised in the street is not a worry: "I don't mind if they buy me a drink." She believes her TV makeover will not affect future sales in real terms but will definitely improve saleability: "I don't think it will add pounds on but it could be a good selling point."
Paul Curtis agrees that properties which have appeared on TV hold added attraction for buyers and, by drawing attention to an area, help push up local prices. This week's tabloid headline "Changing Rooms wrecked my marriage" told the story of Stewart Bush, whose relationship foundered following his wife's reaction to the "futuristic silver revamp", forcing him to sell his Sidcup house.
Mr Bush won't be interested but if you're not the shy retiring type Daisy Goodwin is seeking vendors with hard-to-sell properties for House Doctor's spring series. Not everyone need apply: "We rejected one which had been on the market for six years. If you're next to the M4 there are some houses that will never sell."
House Doctor: 0171-436 6064;
Roy Brooks: 0181-299 3021;
Changing Rooms: Wed 8pm BBC1;
Better Homes: Mon 8.30pm ITV
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