As Location, Location, Location returns with new insights on the property boom, its incorrigible duo make themselves at home – Kirstie: Phil couldn’t live with me in a million years. Phil: No comment
As two of television’s most famous house hunters, Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer are asked one question more than any other. ‘People always want to know what is going to happen to the market,’ says Kirstie.
‘I used to say that, aside from unforeseen world events, this is what I think . . . but then what do you know, the unforeseen world event happened.’
Anyone who has not been living in a distant galaxy knows what unfolded next: soaring property prices in rural locations and the return of gazumping, as desperate urbanites sought a lockdown escape to greener pastures. Naturally, 50-year-old Kirstie has a lot to say about it, as those who have ever taken a glance at her Twitter feed will know.
‘A lot of my friends were talking about moving to the countryside and I gave the same advice — you think your friend who’s sitting in her house in the country is having a nicer time on Instagram and that your small children want to dig in a big garden. But when they’re 12 and 14 and nothing matters except their mates and football, and you are just driving them round every single night, you may think differently.
Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsopp (pictured) are returning to screens for the 36th series of Channel 4’s Location, Location, Location
‘When Phil moved to the country, his wife genuinely got a repetitive strain injury from driving the children around.’
Can this be true?
‘She actually did,’ says Phil.
It’s a perfect snapshot of the sharp insight doled out to frazzled house hunters in the 21 years since Location, Location, Location burst on to Channel 4, turbo-charging the nation’s already insatiable appetite for property and making stars of its presenters.
The show has returned for what Kirstie jokes is the ‘gazillionth’ series (in reality, the 36th) and I got a sneak preview at Kirstie’s West London home, which she shares with her property developer partner Ben Andersen, their sons Bay, 14 ,Oscar, 12, and on occasion Hal, 17, and Orion, 19, Ben’s sons from a previous relationship.
The house is a magnificent affair, converted from three flats with a portico that used to grace the House of Commons and vast wooden doors that once adorned the boardroom of Dunlop, featuring engravings of its products. ‘I just love that,’ says Kirstie.
Since she and Phil first hit our screens, house prices have gone through the roof, a fact occasionally attributed to them, to their great irritation.
‘Sometimes people have made out that we single-handedly fuelled the property boom and I always say categorically not,’ says Kirstie. ‘There may be other shows which focus on the money side of things, but our show has always focused on the home. Where should you live? What do you need in a home?’
With prices skyrocketing during the pandemic, Phil admits that finding properties for the series, which began filming last July, was a nightmare. ‘It was a really tough market,’ he says. ‘The heat and demand was huge everywhere we went. It was frantic at £150,000 and frantic at £1.5 million. It was just across the board.’
Phil admits that finding properties for the series was a nightmare, as prices were skyrocketing during the pandemic. Pictured: The pair in the early days
Kirstie adds: ‘The team were finding properties and they were selling before we even got in them.’
She admits to spending lockdown turning every room inside out and upside down. ‘I think the children were terrified I was actually going to peg them on the washing line at one point.’
She adds that she was ‘haunted’ by the ghosts of Location couples past. ‘I thought of the people who rejected the second bedroom because they wanted to be near the pubs and restaurants, or the ones who had gone totally open-plan against our advice,’ she says.
The new obsession with open-plan living is just one of the challenges Kirstie and Phil have had to weather over the years.
‘We’ve seen the market ebb and flow and we’ve seen tastes change,’ says Phil, who lives in the Hampshire countryside after moving from South-West London with his Australian wife Fiona and their sons Jake, 17, and Ben, 15, five years ago.
So out go dining rooms and in come larders, out goes colour and in comes grey — the latter a source of unending exasperation for Kirstie. ‘Everywhere we go it really is 50 shades of grey,’ she says.
Kirstie admits that she thinks grey properties should be illegal because it’s environmentally unfriendly. Pictured: Phil and Kirstie
‘I think it should be made illegal — it’s environmentally unfriendly. All these dark rooms, you have to switch the lights on more.’ The fashion for shutters is another irritant. ‘Curtains are warm, they are washable, they have longevity, but people just don’t seem to want them,’ she says. Phil is bemused by the proliferation of en suite bathrooms in new-builds. ‘Suddenly, you’ve got five loos to clean and actually a little cupboard of an office would be far more usable. Kids don’t need an en suite,’ he says.
Both have been particularly struck by how the profile of the average buyer has changed.
‘By the time I was 21 I was in my first flat. I walked to work with a sandwich and on pay day it was a lipstick, a pizza and a movie. Now it’s satellite TV, gym membership, café lunches and foreign holidays,’ says Kirstie. ‘Yes, it is a struggle, and we have young people come on the show who have really saved and sacrificed, but I also do think there is an element of some people not being willing to make sacrifices.’ And don’t even get her started on wedding budgets.
‘It literally brings me out in hives, the number of people applying to be on the show who are spending £50,000 or £60,000 on their wedding when they are trying to buy a house. I want to ask them what on earth they are thinking.’
Kirstie said she was upset when a Twitter user called her a controversialist because she’s just saying what comes into her mind. Pictured: Phil and Kirstie
This is vintage Kirstie. As the show’s fans know, she is not afraid to say what she thinks. A Twitter devotee, she often lands herself in hot water for her views, whether it’s suggesting women should think about having children earlier or — and she admits this brouhaha was unexpected — that washing machines have no place in a kitchen. Yet she insists it is never her intention to stir up trouble.
‘Someone once called me a controversialist and I was so upset because I have never once thought, “Oh, this will cause trouble”,’ she says. ‘I’ll just say what comes into my mind.’
Phil is often left wincing on the sidelines. ‘Kirstie knows that if you’re going to pop your head above the parapet, you have to handle what comes back, but the fallout is not nice to watch,’ he says.
Kirstie takes most of it on the chin, in fairness, but she remains bruised by one spat at the start of the first lockdown, when an anonymous tweeter accused her of spreading Covid by travelling to her second home in Devon when Ben had the virus.
She furiously calls this ‘a falsehood’, saying the family were neither in London nor Devon when Ben tested positive, so chose to go to the more remote property.
‘I don’t talk about it really, but that made me very angry because it was a lie and totally unjustified,’ she says.
Phil and Kirstie (pictured) were both property searchers when they were screen-tested by Channel 4 and put together to present the then fledgling show
‘Well don’t start talking about it now,’ chides Phil gently. It’s a perfect illustration of why their partnership is a success — Phil the calm and measured yin to Kirstie’s more fiery, passionate yang.
In fact, their chemistry happened completely by accident.
Both were property searchers when they were screen-tested by Channel 4 and put together to present the then fledgling show.
They hit it off straight away, and 360 or so house hunters later they remain firm friends who rarely exchange a cross word. ‘We like each other; that helps,’ says Phil.
Naturally, as any long-standing platonic partnership can testify, there has been endless speculation about whether their relationship has ever crossed the line into romance.
‘It always amazes me, really. Ben and Phil are completely different. Fi and I are very different. Phil couldn’t live with me in a million years,’ says Kirstie.
‘No comment,’ comes the diplomatic reply from Phil.
Location, Location, Location is on Wednesdays at 8pm on Channel 4.