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Sarah Beeny: The big interview

sarahmainFrom rejuvenating whole villages to doing up old relics, property expert, Sarah Beeny, has done it all. Find out what she really thinks about the future of the housing market and discover what she’s up to next…

Sarah Beeny always has a project on the go. Whether it’s renovating Rise Hall, her 97-room stately home in Yorkshire, (the subject of Channel 4’s Beeny’s Restoration Nightmare), running two websites, juggling a number of TV presenting duties plus the demands of being a mum to four small boys, she is one busy lady. But she still took time out from her manic schedule to let us ask those burning property questions – from how to attract buyers, to the pros and cons of buy-to-let mortgages as well as how to discover any up-and-coming areas…  

Property portfolio
Q. New house building is at an all-time low. Just 134,000 were built in 2010 – the lowest number since 1949. Why do you think this is?
A. This country does not have an enabling planning system. The primary purpose seems to be to generate a lot of form filling. Planning, and in particular, new builds need to evolve – an enormous number of houses are being built in one place when it would be better to build 10 here and 10 there so communities do not become desolate. Generally, people don’t want to live on new estates, so I think it would be better to extend current villages.

House building is lower than it was – however, we can’t reflect on the time when it was mental and property prices were so high because that pace couldn’t be sustained. Inevitably it went into freefall. People want affordable houses that they can live in and unfortunately there aren’t that many of those around. A lot of people aspire to living in a two- to three-bedroom Victorian terrace, in an area that has good transport links, great jobs and selection of good schools, but they are few and far between, and building 1,200 new executive homes in a field won’t solve it.

Q. Average house prices stand at £204,981 which is still out of reach for a lot of people. What do you think can be done about this?
A. It is best to wait until salaries rise to balance things out. But there could be another answer. What about granny, living miles away, who you may see twice a year? Could it be time to start thinking about other family members living with you? There are a lot of lonely old people out there who may be able to help you, for instance, with childcare. Pooling resources and sharing houses with lots of empty rooms can be a solution. We can’t become so ‘advanced’ that family is forgotten about. All of us are just on the treadmill to make ends meet, when we could be missing out on grandparents’ wisdom and support. There must be a balance somewhere.

Q. The rental market is now going through the roof, partly because people can’t afford to raise big deposits to buy property. Do you think it’s a good idea to rent instead of buy?
A. On Tepilo ( – Sarah’s property website) we have a rental section and we simply can’t keep up with the demand at the moment. It’s happening all over the country – it is really busy and that’s how the property market works. If houses aren’t selling then you tend to have a more buoyant rental market. The advantage of renting is that you don’t have to worry about repairs and spending weekends in B&Q. There are plenty of people who bought flats, paying interest-only mortgages and any extra money they have is spent on fixing windows or buying carpets. If you are renting and something goes wrong, you phone the landlord and go out until it is fixed! The big problem with private rental is the lack of security, so you never know when you will have to move. And the money you are paying out every month is going towards someone’s mortgage, not your own.

Q. It is still tough to get a mortgage. What can you do to make yourself a watertight candidate and get the best deals?
A. I wanted to open a current account recently and was asked so many questions, including what I wanted to spend my money on. In reality, banks are covering themselves and being extra careful. It is very difficult right now and I think it will have to change. When things go wrong, banks create more forms and think that will sort things out!
The banking crisis was not created by the average person, but they are being punished. It’s like throwing out the baby with the bath water. Small businesses have not created this problem either, but again they are suffering. I think all we can do is grit our teeth and wait until banks relax a bit about lending again.

Q. Is it worth getting a buy-to-let mortgage and purchasing a property to rent out? Do you think it will make you money?
A. Previously you had to prove you could cover the mortgage with the rent by two and half times your salary, as well as put down 30% of the price. But is that such a bad thing? You need to check that the figures stack up – if they don’t, then walk away from the project. At the moment it’s difficult to buy somewhere that will make a good return on your money. It is an extra asset and you don’t want to cripple yourself financially. In some case, the rent only covers the interest and people are hoping property prices will boom again. I think this is unlikely it will happen anytime soon, so it’s vital that your figures add up. It can then work out as a buy-to-let investment.

Q. What are the three things you must do to make your home attractive to buyers?
A. Clean it! Windows, bathrooms and kitchens particularly, and make sure the rooms are clutter free.If you are showing people around, make them feel welcome and don’t follow them. Be British and have some reserve. You can’t sell someone a house, but you can definitely unsell it. Also make sure you have decent photos of your property – it’s not expensive to get a photographer to take them. It’s really worth it.

Q. Is buying or selling at auction a good idea?
A. Yes, but be realistic. If someone is trying get rid of a property quickly, it could be because there is a big problem. You can spend a lot of money on researching a house and then it comes to nothing at the auction. It is a risk if you are inexperienced because you can get unstuck. If you know your stuff you are more likely to get a bargain, but you might be buying someone’s problem property. It is a gamble.

Q. How do you spot an up-and-coming area?
A. If there is a road with nice, well-kept houses, check out a nearby one because it may not have such attractive properties, but it will still be in a good area and in time it will flourish. Also keep an eye out for areas where new transport links have opened, such as a new train or bus stop on a busy route. Be a detective and you could find a hot spot before prices go through the roof.

Q. Can you still make a living from property development?
A. Plenty of people are still doing it, but it’s not easy and it is a lot of hard work. But even now you can make money – it may not be as much as it was before, but sales are going through and profits are being made.


Renovation round-up
Q. What are your must-do tips when taking on a project?  
A. The first thing you have to do is double both the amount of money you think it will cost and the time you think it will take. Wishful thinking will not make it cheaper or quicker, so you have to be realistic from the start. Bear in mind the sort of property it will be in five years’ time, not as it is now. Start on the big things – make sure the roof, plumbing and wiring are sorted out before you think about the colours you are going to paint the inside. Don’t be undone by the outside of your property. Try to get one room of your house looking really nice so you can enjoy it rather than living in chaos. That way you’ll be able to see the end in sight.
Q. What common problems keep cropping up when renovating a property?
A. In my experience, it is unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved with the available money and time. Also not making up your mind so the contractor does the wrong thing. Often this is because you haven’t been clear about what you want and assume people can read your mind. Then when it’s not what you visualised, expecting the contractor to change it at their expense, which is not going to happen! You need to produce drawings and plans, so there is concrete proof of what you want.

Q. What was the biggest lesson you learned when it came to the Rise Hall project?
A. I discovered you can do amazing things with paint – you do not have to spend a lot because you can play around with it and think outside the box when it comes to colour. It can make a massive difference to how a room looks.

Q. Which improvements still add value to a property?
A. Adding square footage without a doubt increases the value. The roof, wiring and plumbing being in good shape also makes a difference, as does having a nice clean bathroom and kitchen. Lofts and basements can also add value if the balance of the house is right. But you don’t want too much of one thing, such as loads of living space area and small, pokey bedrooms, for example.

Q. How do you improve your home’s kerb appeal?
A. Keep it clean – particularly the windows – and make sure the door and windows are right for the house. Plants at the front and expensive door furniture, such as letterboxes and numbers, can all make a difference. It is important if you are selling and also to the other people living in your street as well.

Gorgeous interiors
Q. If someone had £10,000 to spend on renovating their home, which rooms should they invest their money in?
A. The kitchen or bathroom because they are more of a hassle to change. When you move into a new home you don’t want the upheaval, but you shouldn’t just do it to sell. You don’t have to spend a fortune – there are £50,000 kitchens out there of course, but the priority should be getting a good one that suits your home and lifestyle.

Q. What interior design trends have grabbed your attention?
A. I don’t particularly go for trends that are just for now – I like longevity. A lot of people don’t want to decorate every year. I’m not saying it has to be old-fashioned, but consider more classic designs that you will still like in a few years. Wallpaper is coming back, but pick your pattern carefully. There are some amazing ones out there – Cole & Son has a really great selection – but go for a classic design that you won’t get sick of.

Q. What is the key trend for bathrooms at the moment?
A. Really good lighting is vital and I would recommend having a bit of fun with your choice. It doesn’t have to be white – go a bit mad with colour because it’s one room where you can take a risk. I have dark grey walls in my bathroom and parquet flooring, which looks beautiful.

Q. What look should you consider in the kitchen?
A. I would be tempted to go for a classical design, but mix it up with contemporary furniture. Keep the look simple – you don’t want it replaced often, as ripping out a kitchen is not ideal. Go for a Shaker style or choose good-quality doors on your units. These can be updated by painting them a different colour or putting on different handles. Spend a bit more because it will last you a lifetime then.


All about Sarah
Q. What’s been going on with your property website Tepilo over the last six months?
A. I’m really pleased – we are constantly selling and buying properties on the site and we have had some amazing feedback. Our next big thing is the directory, which we decided to set up because we have thousands of enquiries. We thought that rather than try and answer them directly, we could set up a directory so they could find reputable companies and tradesmen.

Q. What about your dating website,
A. It’s going really well – we have just launched in Ireland and we’ve been involved in several campaigns including Movember, which raises funds for testicular cancer. Big plans are underway for the site, but I can’t say what they are at the moment.

Q. How did you find filming the series of Village SOS?
A. It was amazing and I learnt such a lot about community projects. I take my hat off to these people because it is very difficult trying to get everyone to cooperate. Small businesses that local people care about is a positive thing. The one I admire a lot is the watermill in Wales, which the locals managed to restore to working order, creating an artisan café which made its own bread. I found that amazing.

Q. What other TV projects are in the pipeline?
A. Beeny’s Restoration Nightmare is on at the moment, as well as other possibilities – I want to think carefully before deciding what to do next! I’d really like to do a chat show because everyone has an interesting story to tell. There are lots of potential projects.

Q. How do you find juggling four kids and a busy career?
A. It is hard – I have a lot of plates spinning and I need to offload some things – one of the businesses or Rise Hall – because I’m struggling a bit and keep people waiting. Things get delayed because the children are my first priority.

Q. What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. Enjoy your little ones because they grow up so quickly and let other things go because children are only the age they are once.

Q. What advice would you give someone wanting to follow in your property-selling footsteps?
A. Only consider doing it if you love property, not just because you want to make loads of money. If you enjoy the whole process then you will be successful.

This article was first published in at home with Sarah Beeny in December 2011. [Read the digital edition here]

 Photos: John Carey

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