Sarah Beeny: A woman of substance
Busier than ever, property guru Sarah Beeny is managing her two websites, filming TV shows, renovating her listed property and above all, raising her four young boys. Surprisingly, she claims she can’t multi-task…
Sarah Beeny claims she can’t do two things at once and has to momentarily pause our interview to sort out a problem. The football kit she forgot to send in with her son to school in the morning is frantically retrieved from the laundry basket ready to be dropped at school. Crisis averted and now she’s back, immediately focused again.
For a woman who successfully combines being a mother to four boys – now aged six, five, two and one – with being a TV presenter, business woman and property developer, it seems Sarah’s more adept at doing two things at once than she realises.
For starters, she’s filming for two upcoming shows: Village SOS – a brand-new programme and Sarah’s first venture for the BBC – and the second series of Help! My House is Falling Down for Channel 4. In a matter of weeks, she will also begin filming a follow-up to Beeny’s Restoration Nightmare, which aired on Channel 4 last November. It followed Sarah and her husband, Graham’s, story of how they restored their 97-roomed home, Rise Hall, in Hull.
‘I recognised that other people might not find the story of restoring Rise Hall as interesting as I did, but the show rated fantastically. Since then, we’ve had thousands of enquiries about weddings but we’re not completely ready for them yet. I had wanted the programme to be more about the building work but there just wasn’t space – we only had three hours. The exciting thing is that we’ve got six hours for the next series, which is due to be screened in November.’
Before that, we’ll see the second series of Help!, as well as a special one-off programme, Help! My House is Infested. ‘It deals with all sorts of really disgusting things that infest your house,’ says Sarah.
She is more than happy to share her extensive knowledge of all things property, too – and, there’s no denying it, Sarah knows her stuff. Her property website, www.tepilo.com, recently won another award (it’s totted up four now) at the Property Press Awards in March.
‘We were runners-up and I feel incredibly proud because we were up against some really big long-established sites. We’re in year two, so to have made the ground we’ve made is quite amazing.
‘What’s exciting this year is that we’re launching a directory of services on Tepilo – everything to do with buying, selling, renting ormaintaining your house. We want it to be a simple, one-stop shop.’
Q We’re fully into spring now, which is traditionally seen as the time of year when the housing market picks up. Do you think the same will happen this year? Some experts are saying that this year’s late Easter will mean the housing market picks up even more slowly than usual.
A ‘I think that’s absolute nonsense. People’s plans don’t change just because Easter’s late. People get married, they have babies,they retire, they split up, they move in together. People make the market move, not a magical date. Although, I have to say, we’re seeing a really big surge in properties selling at the moment on Tepilo and I
think it’s partly because, for a while, people have been thinking, I won’t do anything because of this recession. But eventually they say, “I’m just not going to sit around waiting for the Government to do something or not to do something, or for the economy to do something or not to do something. I’m just going to get on with my life.” People’s lives continue and it’s people’s lives that make the market turn around.’
Q In your last issue of at home, you said that you felt the housing market wouldn’t properly recover for 20 years, and would just continue ‘bumping around where it is’ for the next 10 years or so. Do you still stand by this prediction?
A ‘Yes, I think if we want to see it where it was, at the top, it will take that long, but I’m not sure that it was a very good placeto be. I think it’s unsustainable and unrealistic. It just sits around waiting to go boom one day – and that’s exactly what it did.
‘At the moment, we’re seeing a lot of confidence in Tepilo and houses are selling but I think it’ll stay pretty much where we are for a while – which is just ticking along, but that’s fine. Some people may think that we’re in a terrible slump right now but I think this is pretty OK. People will always want to sell their houses for more money and they’ll be cross because they can’t. But in the grand scheme of things I don’t think we do all want soaring house prices. People think they want it but, actually, they don’t, because you just end up with a much, much bigger mortgage. The perception that you’ve got this massive lump of money because the market’s gone up, is only relevant if you can liquidate it and go and do something with it – which most people can’t do because you’ve got to live somewhere.’
Q Do you think the trend is that people are still ‘improving’ rather than moving?
A ‘I know this is written about everywhere, and there’s a slightly odd media opinion that all anyone wants to do is darn socks! The media seems to think that everyone is simply darning socks, eating baked beans and Bird’s custard. It’s also a bit of a media myth that no one cares how much their house is worth and, instead, they’re all living happily at home growing vegetables! This is absolute nonsense, though – everyone cares how much their house is worth. If I said to you, “Your house is worth £2”, you’d be gutted. If people don’t want to move, they won’t, and they wouldn’t have moved before, either.
‘I think some people are improving and moving but it’s great that there is less pressure on people to move. People aren’t now living their lives thinking: OK, we’re going to do this house up, then we’re going to sell it and by this time next year we’re going to do another one. People quite liked the fact that they felt they were making money because the market was moving. I don’t actually think a lot of people were making money – it was a perception. They conned themselves with the figures. If you added all the other money up, plus the costs of moving, they probably weren’t actually making money at all.’
Q Do you feel that getting mortgages will start to get easier again – if so, when might this happen?
A ‘It is loosening up, but I don’t think it will be that different from how it is now, for quite a long time. One’s given the impression that you can’t get a mortgage out there. You can, but you just can’t get a 110% mortgage and the rates are not very low. Banks should be looking after their assets because it’s not their assets, it’s our money. We’ve seen this before – if they randomly dole it out to people who can’t pay it back, it doesn’t make anyone happy in the long run. Nobody wants to be repossessed – it’s not a pleasant experience, so encouraging people to borrow money they can’t pay back is not a good thing.
‘Debt should be taken more seriously – it’s considered very lightly in our country at the moment. Saving money and not getting into debt is a better ethos for people to live than “Quick, quick, give them some money, they haven’t got any, give them some more.” Someone I was talking to recently said, “There’s no point saving money because you don’t get any interest.” I thought, You don’t save money for the interest; you save money because you might need some one day.
‘What’s really interesting is that if we did a lot of the things our grandparents used to do, we’d save a lot of money. Shutting the door when you leave the room to keep the heat in, having a fire instead of heating the whole house, wearing a jumper and a vest and having a hot water bottle instead of heating the bedroom all save money. I see so many people who wear a T-shirt in December in their houses because the heating is pumping out into every room – that’s why, firstly, there are environmental problems and, secondly, people can’t afford their heating bills. Our grandparents would have saved their money before they spent it, and they would have insulated themselves, rather than the whole house.’
Q Would you recommend people spend money on making their home more eco-friendly?
A ‘Definitely, because it will save on your heating bills and that’s a good thing. The important thing about insulation is you need to make sure it’s really heavy and that it’s fitted properly.
‘Draught proofing is also really important – everyone knows where the draughts are, so just do it! If you deal with your draughts on your windows and doors, you’ll save money. Also, really think about draught proofing internal doors, for example, when you’re in any room, keep the door closed.
‘The more thermostats you have, the more you can control the heat and the less rooms are unnecessarily heated.
‘Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels make sense, but the only problem is that they’re a really big outlay in the first place. If you have money, it makes sense. Some can be expensive – about £20,000 for a panel. It’s a big investment to make initially, but the Government makes the energy companies pay you for all the energy that you create from it, so it’s quite a good return on your investment.’
Q In the current climate, would you recommend property developing as a wise career?
A ‘Yes, definitely. The only time it was a very dangerous thing to take on was when everyone was doing it and prices were zooming up. At some point it had to go pop because you can’t have house prices rising 20% a year indefinitely. It was just not going to last – we’d have ended up with studio flats at £7 million. I met people who had debt upon debt and I thought, That is just a deck of cards – you only need interest rates to go up, or housing prices to go down, and you’re in deep trouble.
‘When I look back and think about all the people who were in that situation – well, they must be completely stuffed. The problem was not so much people who bought at the top level but people who were sucking their money out of properties at the top. But now I think it’s a good time to get into property
Q It’s said moving house is the third most stressful event, after death and divorce. In your opinion, which is more stressful, the buying, selling or actual physical moving process? What tips can you offer to make it as stress-free as possible?
A ‘They’re all stressful because they’re generally all interlinked. Personally, I think moving is fun and the selling part is most stressful. Psychologically when you go through the selling process, you’ve already gone a step ahead – when you decide to sell your house, you’ve moved on in your head and the paperwork catches up, hopefully. But if the house doesn’t sell, it can scupper your plans.
‘Whatever you do, until the contract has been signed, don’t count your chickens. I’ve seen people do it – they get an offer, they pack everything up and it’s all in tea chests in the sitting room and the whole thing falls through. Never assume an offer is a sale, until it’s actually exchanged. Always be negative – assume it’s going to fall through until the contract is actually signed.’
Q Through your work on Grade II listed Rise Hall, you’ve become an expert on restoring listed buildings. What advice would you give others planning to do the same?
A ‘Rise Hall is a difficult one because the house is a really big problem. We had a conservation officer that we dealt with for years and he was really helpful and encouraging of what we were trying to do. I think it would have been trickier if we’d wanted to do something that wasn’t just straightforward restoration.
‘Owning a listed building is fine but it is more complicated because there are rules and systems in place. If you have integrity in what you’re doing and you’re just trying to restore a building it should be straightforward. If you want to do something that is more than just restoring a building, you may be in for a battle because basically it comes down to a matter of opinion. There is no science to conservation. It’s just somebody’s thoughts and that’s the slightly mad thing about it. It’s all a bit arbitrary and incredibly subjective.
‘The difficulty that English Heritage has is that the directors at the top are quite clear and progressive – their view is, don’t intentionally say no to things just because you can, always try to keep the building to the original use that is was built for. Try and work with people and if they want to change the building to make it work better then go with that – but that doesn’t necessarily filter down to the man on the ground.’
Q What have you found most interesting about work on your newest programme,Village SOS?
A ‘There’s clearly stuff that needs to happen to villages to try and stop them dying out and I’m a great fan of saying that if the Lottery is going to give funding to someone it needs to stack up – it needs to be sustainable. I’ve learnt that communities are complicated things to make work. Trying to do things by committee is tricky – I understand the benefits of doing things that way, but it can be very frustrating. I’ve been inspired by the amount that people are prepared to commit and the amount of time they’re prepared to put in.’
Q Which three things would you say really add value to a home?
A ‘Cleaning your home, adding square footage and not having chaos everywhere. When it comes to adding extra space, you can go up, down or out. The cheapest is to go out, the next is to go up, and the most expensive is to go down, which you’d normally only do if you can’t go up or out. And a chaos-free home adds value because it’ll feel like a home that someone could live in, whereas when there’s stuff everywhere, it’s hard to imagine how anyone can live there. A house doesn’t look as if it functions well when it’s full of chaos.’
Q When it comes to interiors, what do you think homeowners really need to get right?
A ‘Firstly, if you’ve got space, don’t underestimate how lovely it is to have a separate pantry room – however small it is – that’s got your washing machine in and is a place where you can put all your stuff. A “stuff” room means the rest of the house stays relatively respectable! Secondly, utilise all space – so if there’s wasted places around, think about adding a cupboard so that everything can go into that cupboard and therefore you can live in less mess.’
Q When time is limited like yours is, as both a mother and business woman, which one room in the house would you say it’s vital to keep in good shape?
A ‘Well, I used to think it was the kitchen but now I’d say the playroom. But actually, no, the one room that’s really important to me is our bedroom. I’m obsessed with our bed – it’s so lovely. I think it’s important to invest in a good bed, comfy bedding and plenty of pillows – invest money in making sure your bed is a joy to be in. I bought some new sheets cheaply online and they’ve gone bobbly – I can’t have bobbly sheets, I find them offensive and annoying!
‘When I bathe all the children, it’s a time that we all spend together – just the six of us, with my husband as well – and it’s a quiet, magical time. We all have a bath, and everyone’s clean – there’s nothing nicer than clean children – and they’ve all got clean pyjamas on and they get into a clean bed. The rest of the day they’re always dirty with snot and gravy down their front, and mud and smelly nappies and it’s all just a bit stinky and disgusting, but at that time of day everything’s clean and then it’s story time.
‘Lying in bed, reading a story together – that’s a sacred time when they’re at their nicest. I’m hoping they don’t grow out of bedtime stories. When they’re older I shall make them pay for all sorts of things they’ve done to me – I’ll climb into their beds when they’ve got girlfriends! Can you imagine – they’d be saying, “Mum, you are so embarrassing!”’
The above feature was published in at home with Sarah Beeny in May 2011. Click here for more Sarah Beeny.
Photographs: John Carey