Who needs a doctor in the house?

You've put your house on the market and it won't sell. So you call in an expert to tell you how to smarten the place up. And then you take her advice, right? Erm, well, not if it means getting rid of the Fifties cocktail bar, says Jason Nissé
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The Independent Online

It was the wallpaper. Up until now we thought that our fashionable, understated Neisha Crosland wallpaper, quietly exuding class from under the dado rail in our hallway, might just be a plus point for our house. That's until we let Ann Maurice into our home.

Maurice, in case you haven't come across her, is the tough talking, Californian former estate agent whose expertise is preparing homes for sale. She stars in five's House Doctors which is now in its sixth series. And to see just the sort of treatment she gives, we let her into our charming, four bedroom north London home, which were are trying to sell in a rather sticky market.

I have to say I had my fears. In past programmes Maurice has shown a strong aversion to mess and smells, and anything that creates them, particularly pets. We don't have any pets, but we do have a major creator of both mess and smell, in the shape of a 22-month-old toddler. I half expected Maurice to ban him from the home.

It wasn't quite as bad as that. But pitch an American estate agent against my wife, a designer with a very strong idea of what she considers good design, and blood, sweat and tears were bound to flow.

The visit started badly. Dressed immaculately in a tight fitting skirt suit and power heels, Maurice marched sniffily through the front garden which was showing the after effects of July's heatwave. "This could do with some thinning out," she said, pointing to the plants my wife had lovingly nurtured. "The garden's overgrown, The walkway's not swept." Our red front door got the thumbs up but our welcome mat wasn't welcoming enough, the light fitting above the door was "shabby" and you couldn't really see the number above the door.

"I bet you didn't know it was so bad and I haven't even got in the front door," she said.

Now we expected her to be wowed. The black and white tiled hallway of our 1920s house is our pride and joy. It was a big selling point when we bought the house. We have bought period furniture, a mirrored hat rack, a coat stand, a round table to set it off. And its been redecorated in a style agonised over by my designer wife.

But Maurice didn't like it. She accused us of cluttering up our hat stand. She pulled out scarves. "It's not winter, these should be put away." She said our plants were mismatched, our Clare Leighton "The Farmers' Year" lithographs were gloomy, and the hall lacked a focus.

Worst of all she hated the wallpaper. "I thought it was left over from a previous owner," she said. My wife bristled. "It's Neisha Crosland," she said, hoping the design credentials would appeal to Maurice's artistic leanings. No good. Paint over it, she said. "Do you know how much it cost?" I asked. Maurice didn't care.

The kitchen was given a similar roasting. It's spacious, with Smeg appliances and vibrant green walls, but Maurice wasn't impressed. "Don't you love the colour in here," my wife asked, hopefully. She admits she can be a style fascist, but faced with Maurice's Panzer attack she was as steadfast as the Italian army. "Somebody's not going to like it," said the House Doctor. "If you have neutral colours nobody's going to object to that." My wife conceded a pale green. I just nodded.

Elsewhere in the kitchen there was clutter to be removed and the pictures were too high. Maurice is big on sight lines. And the Siemens kettle, beloved of style magazines, was not to her liking.

Into the living room and I knew trouble was brewing. Maurice didn't like the radical pale olive walls. I agreed. I've never liked them. And then blow me down with a feather, my wife also fell into line. "I've never been sure this worked," she admitted. "You've never told me that," I blurted. "I told someone," she said. It was like family therapy.

Fired by her success, Maurice launched into our bookshelves, which stretch over most of one wall of our living room. "You don't have to have every book you own on display," she said. "We don't," we said. "Half the books are upstairs." Get rid of the paperbacks, we were told. Accessorise them with a few ornaments.

The John Piper lithograph had to go from above the fireplace. Too busy. So should all the family pictures. "People will evaluate the house by the people who live in it," she said. Obviously we were not a saleable family.

In the dining room, it was my turn to take a beating. My bar, a stunning piece of 1950s kitch with a leopardskin front, and a beer fridge on top, was about to be Mauriced. "I hate it," she said. I was out of keeping with our 1920s, family house. It was better suited to a bachelor pad.

After the pasting downstairs, upstairs got off lightly. She liked our bedroom, cooed over the nursery and merely suggested that we change the duvet cover in the spare room. The study, though, was a different matter. We should pack everything away in boxes and store it otherwise people would think we didn't have enough room.

In the end, Maurice's advice boiled down to two themes. There were common-sense things, such as getting rid of clutter or making the rooms look comfortable and spacious. These are just a case of her making you do things you know you really should have done ages ago. And then there are her pet mantras. No strong colour, no personal details, don't be controversial.

We could have got out the magnolia paint. We would have got rid of the Neisha Crosland. We could have put the bar away. But we won't. We have to live in the house before we sell it.

Thanks for the advice, Ann. But were not blanding our home for anyone.

Jason Nisse is business editor of 'The Independent on Sunday'. His house is on sale for £650,000; e-mail: j.nisse@independent.co.uk. House Doctor is on Five at 8pm on Thursdays