Property whizz Phil Spencer has led countless couples to part with millions of pounds in pursuit of their dream properties, but, he reveals to Al Gordon, when it comes to homes, now is the time to ensure that we have the bare basics right .
He has striven to accommodate the nation’s house hunters, both at home and abroad, in an endless succession of cosy cottages, palatial pads, and the always-tricky-to-offload two up/two downs.
But in 2012, the admirable Phil Spencer is turning his attention to those whose only housing want is a simple roof over their heads. The Location, Location, Location host has been investigating the ever-increasing problem of homelessness in the UK, and is hoping the impact from his recent Empty Homes Giveaway series will serve to shed more light on an issue often swept under the carpet in this country.
His commitment to this is genuine. “It was a fascinating series to put together,” he begins. “It involved us looking at the number of empty homes and rough sleepers across the UK. I hired a number of individuals on an apprenticeship scheme, all of whom had slept rough, and showed them how to take on board the skills required to renovate and decorate properties. Homelessness is an issue really close to my heart and I’ve wanted to do a TV programme for years that makes a positive impact.”
The show was inspired by the Channel 4 star’s early career as an estate agent, during which time the stark reality of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in the housing market really struck home.
Going back eight years or so, Phil was making what he describes as “a decent living” helping people at the top end of the property ladder find homes. “But after a while I made a conscious decision to filter some of that money down to people without roofs over their heads,” he tells me. “Homelessness was an issue that has always really affected me; it just didn’t seem right not to help people, so I agreed to donate a percentage of every fee I took for finding those properties to the charity Broadway.” London-based, Broadway helps around 4,000 homeless people every year.
Since then, Phil has always undertaken fund-raising, and has also acted as an ambassador for the charity, to raise the profile of the homeless. “And now,” he goes on, “with the country falling further into this economic downturn, a show like this I hope will have a positive, necessary impact.”
Fans of the charismatic house broker and his award-winning double act series Location, Location, Location featuring plenty of affectionate banter with Kirstie Allsopp need not fear, though. Despite his increasing workload – which includes a new daytime series Phil Spencer: Secret Agent, in which he tries to help sell hard-to-shift homes in different parts of the country – Phil will always have time for his leading lady. “I couldn’t stay away from Kirstie for too long, even though we’re both busy with our own individual projects,” he says. “Ultimately, we have a lot of fun together and as long as they keep ordering more of Location, I think we’ll both stay on board.”
The hugely successful property show first aired in 2000, right at the peak of the housing boom. With the recession, though, surely it’s been a rather more laboured process trying to find homes for people incredibly reluctant to part with their cash?
“Kirstie and I love what we do and there’s not really any stress involved for us when finding properties,” Phil asserts. “At the end of the day, we are there to make suggestions, and to offer options and advice, and it’s down to the couple to decide whether or not they purchase the property. There can be frustrations for us if we think we’ve found the right house for someone and they don’t take up that option, but we’re very mindful it’s their money, their life, and that their decision is final.”
The on-screen pairing that led to one of Channel 4’s most popular draws came about entirely by accident. “I trained as a surveyor,” Phil explains, “and set up a business called Garrington Home Finders in 1996. At the time there were probably only about four companies offering that home-finding service in the UK, one of which was run by Kirstie Allsopp…”
One day Phil took a call from a TV company researching the thrills and spills of home buying and all the various processes included. “They didn’t know anything much about it themselves, so they asked me for 30 minutes of my time to talk over what they could potentially cover… Somehow, I ended up presenting it! And ten years on, I’m still chasing around the county after bargains. It’s been great fun and a real whirlwind of an experience.“
So amidst the numerous TV shows and personal appearances, will the father of two reach a point where he’ll slow down?
“I’m having a great time now, getting offered the opportunities to work on some really exciting projects. The housing market might have slowed down, but I don’t think I want to just yet…”