Wednesday 21 February 2018

It's time to buy, says Phil Spencer

Declan Cashin

It's afternoon tea rush hour on a busy Friday afternoon in Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel, and an elderly lady interrupts Phil Spencer as he stirs his cup. "Sorry to bother you," she says shyly. "But I just wanted to say your show is fabulous."

Spencer seems embarrassed and politely chats with the starstruck fan for a few moments.

"That happens quite a bit," he admits slightly red-faced.

As the co-host (with Kirsty Allsopp) of the house-hunter shows Location, Location, Location, and its latest incarnation Relocation Relocation, 40-year-old Spencer has become synonymous with the 'property porn' TV movement of the last decade, which in itself reflected (and, some would argue, contributed to) the real-life property boom both here and in the UK.

The genial, softly-spoken Spencer is in Dublin to discuss his new book, the exactly-what-it-says-on-the-tin-entitled Adding Value to Your Home, which offers practical tips and ideas for how to spruce up your property to make it more enjoyable to live in, and to add some euros and cents to its overall worth.

Considering he's a man held up as a 'property guru', Spencer has naturally been drawn to the story of Ireland's tumultuous market experiences over the past two years.

"It's easy to say now, but everyone must have known that that kind of market growth -- something like 30 pc year on year -- was unsustainable," he says.

"Of course it's left a lot of people in a difficult situation, but it will come round again.

"Time is a great healer. All markets are cyclical. If you look across history, property has always been a good thing to invest in.

Of course, that doesn't make it any easier for people who are in negative equity right now, but it will correct itself when the time is right.

"There are so many things that influence the property market: banks, governments, employment levels, and interest rates, to name just a few."

So what would Spencer recommend to people looking to buy or sell in Ireland right now?

"It's a good time to buy, but you have to be able to raise the money, and that's the difficult thing," he replies.

"People might not want to sell, but life goes on: people get married, people have kids, people die, people get divorced, people move to other parts of the country because of work: all these things require a change of home. The general advice is to sit tight if you can.

"My attitude has always been that investing in property is a long-term bet.

"It's not a quick in-and-out, and for a few years there it was a quick in-and-out.

"Over the last decade it's been sufficient to own a house and get on the ladder; it goes up in value; there's your slice of equity, and that enables you to move on. That's not going to happen anymore.

"One of the reasons for writing this book now is to help those people who are going to be staying in their homes longer to find ways of both making those houses evolve with their natural requirements, and also hopefully to add value to it."

One of Spencer's aims, both with his book and his TV work, is to remind people that a home is supposed to be enjoyed, and not just something to buy for the sake of it.

"A lot of people have made more money owning property than going to work, so it's understandable how that psyche has come into play," he says.

"But now people are increasingly thinking, 'This is the place where I'm living, and raising my family, and entertaining friends', and are in fact looking to put passion and emotion back into their property."

Speaking of, after 15 years of helping other people to find a home, Spencer says he has yet to lose the drive for the job.

"I was finding homes for people long before I was on telly, and I will be for long after people remember I was even on TV," he says, smiling.

"I find it an immensely satisfying role, working at close quarters with someone on such an intensely personal and important decision."

Having just signed a new three-year deal with Channel 4, and forming his own production company with his good pal (and occasional sparring partner) Allsopp, Spencer plans to be hunting houses for quite some time yet.

He does, however, ever-so-politely protest at the suggestion that TV shows like his are in some way to 'blame' for today's market difficulties.

"Our show was never about making money," he insists. "We never talked about buying it cheap, selling big, and making loads of money. We've never encouraged people to spend more money than they should.

"Our advice even through the boom was to buy for the long term, and to buy something to adapt, something you can add to. Kirsty and I have also both done the same personally.

"Property shows helped to inform people and educate people about things they could do or should do to their own homes.

"I think it was a positive thing."

He pauses, before adding with a smile: "I wish I were powerful enough to change an entire market."

Adding Value to Your Home by Phil Spencer is out now published by Vermillion.

Irish Independent

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