Q. Why do we watch property TV shows? A. We're obsessed

The insatiable appetite for shows about buying and selling property, such as Channel 4's 'Location Location Location' shows no sign of abating. Belinda Archer explores a phenomenon
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The Independent Online

Trying to sell your home? Have you painted all your walls cream and eradicated all smell of dog? Or perhaps you're looking to buy? Have you drawn up a realistic shortlist of possible locations and throughly researched the local amenities? You would, of course, know all this if you were one of the many millions of viewers who tune into the innumerable TV shows about property that beam into our homes on a nightly basis.

Trying to sell your home? Have you painted all your walls cream and eradicated all smell of dog? Or perhaps you're looking to buy? Have you drawn up a realistic shortlist of possible locations and throughly researched the local amenities? You would, of course, know all this if you were one of the many millions of viewers who tune into the innumerable TV shows about property that beam into our homes on a nightly basis.

There's Location Location Location, the series which helps you find your perfect home for the best possible price. Then there's Selling Houses, full of breezy top tips for viewers on how to flog their houses for as much as possible. There's also Property Ladder, offering up hints on, er, how to climb the property ladder, plus the latest batch of relocation life-change programmes (from Relocation Relocation to Escape to the Country, No Going Back, A Place in the Sun, Living the Dream and Get A New Life), which tap into people's dreams of downsizing to the country, buying a second home or selling up altogether and taking off for foreign shores.

When all the latest talk about property is verging on gloomy, the nation's appetite for TV programmes covering everything from doing up a house to finding one in the first place is going from strength to strength. But why? What's the fascination? Nick Powell, managing director of Ricochet Films, which makes No Going Back and Selling Houses, says: "These shows tap into the aspirational lifestyle of how people want their homes to be. They also feed into our obsession as a nation of property speculators. They wouldn't work in, say, France, where there isn't the same culture. Property here very much reflects what you are as a person." Daisy Goodwin, editorial director of Talkback, makers of Property Ladder, House Doctor and Escape to the Country, adds: "Property is most people's only way of getting rich or richer. Most of us own a property and most will make money out of it. We all think we have a property developer in us."

The shows, which largely run on BBC2 and Channel 4, are phenomenally popular, regularly attracting audiences of well over 4 million. Indeed, Relocation Relocation recently peaked at a huge 5.3 million viewers, making it second only to Jamie's Kitchen and Big Brother in Channel 4's chart of most-watched programmes. Friends, by comparison, now garners audiences of less than three million.

Basically these shows exploit a quintessentially British fascination: we are simply obsessed with property. We can't help lingering in front of estate agents' windows, we are insanely curious about other people's houses and if we don't own a home we'd love to. If we do, we'd love a better one, or another one, or one that has had a makeover.

The subject, of course, makes fantastic television. There is something unspeakably delicious about nosing into people's homes, scoffing at their bad taste or admiring their clever touches, as well as learning top tips from the experts. There is comedy, even drama. Zad Rogers, creative director of Ideal World Productions, which makes Location Location Location and its sister spin-off, Relocation Relocation, explains: "These shows make great TV because they hinge on a moment of real jeopardy - whether people will sell their homes or not."

Part of the key to the success are the presenters and the real people who appear on them. The presenters are mostly off-screen experts offering genuine, professionally pukka advice, rather than seasoned TV folk. Andrew Winter, star of Selling Houses, is a real estate agent. He was plucked from obscurity following an exhaustive mail-out to every estate agent in the country. After being selected, he had half a day's media training before he was shoved in front of the cameras. In effect, he went from being an estate agent on a Friday to a TV presenter the following Tuesday.

Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsopp, who front Location Location Location and are arguably the Jamie and Delia of property-TV programming, were also professional property finders. "I was initially called in by the production company to help with research," says Spencer. "They phoned me the following day saying they'd spoken to tons of presenters who knew nothing about property and tons of estate agents who only knew about selling. They asked if I would be interested. I laughed."

Seven series later, Spencer, who first met Allsopp when they screen-tested together, says he is now constantly recognised in the street. "It's been a very surreal experience. I had had no ambitions to be on TV. I'm not sure if I still don't - I'm a property person. But it's been good fun and of course great for my business, Garrington Home Finders."

And as for finding punters willing to appear, well, we seem to be queueing up. For the 10-part series of Selling Houses, Ricochet relatively effortlessly tracked down more than 1,000 people who were seriously willing to have their houses made over and put real money into it. The guinea pigs are found via trails that run at the end of the programmes themselves, or through ads in newspapers and on TV, as well as the production companies' own extensive legwork. "It's a mutual thing," observes Powell. "People think we can really help - but the applicants also obviously love the idea of being on telly. They really enjoy the whole process."

The success rate of the shows is, perhaps not surprisingly, very impressive. Every property that has ever appeared in Selling Houses, for instance, has been sold, either via the programme or by an estate agent afterwards. House Doctor has also minimised the "staggering" number of mistakes people make when it comes to selling their homes, claims Daisy Goodwin.

"Ann Maurice [the presenter] is a big fan of beige. People know now that beige, not bright pink, really is the way to go when you want to sell your house. It's not about fresh coffee, but about making beds and doing the washing up," she says.

But will our interest ever wane? There was a time when we hungrily watched every cookery programme on offer and religiously tuned into gardening shows in droves. Viewers are, are we not, a brutally fickle bunch. "Property shows are tapping into the lifestyle aspirations that food TV did five years ago," says Powell. "Those programmes are still relatively popular but people in this country ultimately don't cook. They just warm up food, whereas they do buy property."

And even if all the dark mutterings about the property boom being over prove true, the shows' place on our screens seems secure. What happens to the market upon which they feed seems to be almost irrelevant. Powell says: "If there is a housing crisis you could argue that the shows will be even more important, especially because so many people put so much money into property as opposed to pension plans or savings schemes. The fascination won't go away." Rogers concludes: "We might get fewer of them, but there are so many factors that make these programmes watchable. They will still be great TV, even if the bubble bursts."

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