A Gentle Hint: Homes Under the Hammer

Home, hammer.. bish bosh

It’s one of the peculiarities of modern life that one of the most subversive programmes on television is one of the least known.   Here we are, with a housing shortage, looming unemployment and a perilous North-South divide, and a programme every weekday morning on BBC1 makes it all look so silly.

‘Homes Under The Hammer’ is a clever title for a programme which features homes being auctioned, done up and then revalued, but it doesn’t quite capture the reparative joy of the show.  Every day, three properties are transformed from appropriately priced shit-holes into elegant homes worth thousands of pounds more.  The programme maker will have been advised by audience research to feature modest properties, and they don’t muck about – many of these places are awful.  We rarely meet the heroes, the people who do the actual fixing up, but it’s like miracle work – especially as they spare us the details.  We do get to meet the refreshingly normal owners, and besuited estate agents who are kept to a tight leash and forced to say the dead phrase ‘per calendar month’ after each rental value estimate.

Given the limitations of heavy formatting, the programme makers are left to express their creativity through cleverly chosen music – you need to be quick with Shazam before the voice-over buggers it all up.

But the money shot, as with Antiques Roadshow, is when we find out how much the property has increased in value.  One set of terrible flats half a mile from where I live were bought for around £600,000, and after £400,000 of improvements, were valued at £1.7 million.   A massive profit.  That’s at the top end.  A more typical maisonette might be valued at £120,000, after being bought for £70,o00, and improved with £20,000 of work.

The presenters, Martin Roberts and Lucy Alexander are likeable and wear their knowledge lightly, the programme is always uplifting – like a reverse Jeremy Kyle.  The easy profits to be made – even during a recession – are a little overwhelming. Either properties at auction are routinely undervalued, or the programme is cherry-picking the bargains, OR, property is a doddle for anyone with spare funds and a can-do spirit.  You’d expect such a programme to do wonders for revitalising the property business.

But what does it do for the audience?  Property programmes were somewhat overdone ten years ago – and at ITV we often found audiences instinctively against property formats.  Many loved ‘property porn’, that is the peculiar pleasure we get from looking into other homes, but felt that they’d see it all.  Kate Fox, in ‘Watching the English’, suggested that because English people are quite shy about welcoming others into our homes, it has turned us into nosy people who love to snoop around those of other people.  But these are mostly empty shells.

It would be easy to be resentful of those with the money making easy profits.  But it doesn’t feel like that.  Also, the grim reality of studio flat in London going for the price of large homes elsewhere would be more distressing if the programme allowed us to worry about it.  But it doesn’t.

And maybe that’s a problem.   Viewers are encouraged to watch Homes Under The Hammer as entirely dispassionate observers of a modern morality play about the three PRs – property, improvement and profit.  But ideally it would be getting up and sorting out its garden.  Or looking for ways to help others.  So, makers of Homes Under The Hammer, since most of your viewers are living in properties closer to the ‘before’ picture than the ‘after’, how about inspiring viewers to raise their game a little too?  Or how about examples of pro bono work to improve the properties of people who aren’t moving?   Or at the very least, can we have some examples of slum landlords losing out?  These crappy properties may be getting some help – but what about the ones that aren’t?