Boy, does it ever feel like the wrong time to be watching property shows – unless perhaps they have been retooled to show us how to insulate them to cope with the energy crisis, or turn a downstairs loo into a vermin-proof larder to guard against food shortages, or install a lead-lined bunker ready for the apocalyptic combination of the above and more. But no. That old warhorse Location, Location, Location is back; Sarah Beeny is about to return with Little House, Big Plans; and, in between them, is George Clarke’s Flipping Fast (Channel 4).
This new show, has, at least, captured something of the zeitgeist by adding a competitive element – and a faint whiff of desperation that thickens as the series progresses – to the standard property show. Six teams get £100,000 each to buy, revamp and resell as many places as they can for as much profit as they can in the space of a year. At the end of that time, the team that’s made the most profit gets to keep the £100,000 – as blandly personable host George Clarke puts it. I suspect the winner actually gets an additional £100,000. If the losing teams have to pay theirs back, it would bankrupt most of them and make for a very dark ending to the series. Still, it’s 2022 – it would be in keeping. I advise all competitors to check the small print.
As ever with this kind of show, a simple setup provides a complex, addictive journey down the highways of misplaced optimism, the byways of human folly, the occasional slalom into the brick wall of actual stupidity, and the even more occasional emergence into the sunny uplands of a working intelligence.
Our companions on the highways, byways and slaloms of the opening episode – all that is available for review – are Gordon and Pamela, a husband and wife from Norfolk. This couple listen attentively to the advice that sibling property developer team Scarlette and Stuart Douglas offer all the teams, and cheerily proceed to do the exact opposite. It is glorious.
“Research the area you’re planning to buy in!” cry Scarlette and Stuart, because of basic common sense. “All right!” cry Gordon and Pamela. “Not!” They opt for a house in Stockton-on-Tees, a place they have never seen or heard of. Property prices in the area, we are told, have fallen 11% in the last year.
“Have a good look round the property before you buy it!” cry Scarlette and Stuart, because of sanity.
“Absolutely!” say Gordon and Pamela. “We will not!” They buy a house online, without so much as a survey. “It looks different to the pictures!” Pamela says when they arrive at their newly purchased wreck, as happily as if she is happening upon an overstuffed box of chocolates. “Got our work cut out for us!” Gordon says, apparently happening across the same box. “There’s a shower in the kitchen!” Pamela says, in – inexplicably – a tone that suggests she has just spied a top-notch peppermint cream.
“This should not come as news to you, the purchaser of the house!” cries every viewer watching. “This should never come as news to you, the purchaser of any house!”
“Do not go over budget at any stage!” cry Scarlette and Stuart. “£100,000 is not, when it comes to buying and flipping properties, an awful lot of money. Have a care, do.”
“We,” say Gordon and Pamela, as they move the shower out of the kitchen, “won’t!” They have broken their budget buying the house, for £3,000 less than a fully renovated equivalent nearby would have cost. The unexpected expense of rewiring the place takes half their total planned renovation budget of £6,000. Then there’s the water that starts leaking everywhere (“Better turn the electrics off, Gordon!” laughs Pamela) when they try to manage everything themselves. That’s probably got to be sorted.
“I think our gamble’s paid off,” says Gordon. “Let’s buy another place for £31,000 in celebration!”
“Really interesting strategy, that,” says Clarke.
Meanwhile, Harriet, a 28-year-old sports journalist, gets busy buying a one-bedroom flat, dragooning her highly skilled relatives into doing it up with her, and selling it for £19,000 profit.
The other four are yet to get off the blocks. The smart money is of course on Harriet, but our hearts are with Gordon and Pamela. Where would we and property-shows-with-an-element-of-competition be without them and their fellow slalomers’ irrepressible optimism. The world would be a duller place, for sure. If, we must admit, probably safer and more watertight.