When the housing market is more Repossession, Repossession, Repossession than anything else, do we need grinagogs like Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer mooning all over our TV screens, chasing after ridiculously-priced properties for hoorays and sloanes? Channel Four think so and have brought the hideous Relocation, Relocation back to our screens last night. Well, it might not be such a bad time. The housing market is heading down the tubes. House prices fell almost 16 per cent during the course of 2008, and the government has stepped in and bought 379 "surplus" houses from Bovis Homes for £18 million. A bit of help for buyers and sellers would be especially welcome. But none was forthcoming.
Watching this week's Relocation, Relocation, you could be forgiven for thinking the housing market isn't in crisis. As per usual, it featured an overprivileged couple with hundreds of thousands to spend - not a common situation during the "boom" times, let alone today. "Dom" and "Steph" had lived in three properties in the past five years around the Bristol area and were scouting around for a £500 grand(!) home. Alas, they weren't able to bring home the bacon and decided upon an alternative strategy. Their half a million budget was split in two - a cool £350K was allocated to finding a family home and the rest for a holiday let on the Cornish coast. Steph's specification for Kirstie was four beds, off road parking, a massive garden and for it to be in a 'nice' area. The first house didn't suit this spec. It had period features but lacked a "smooth finish" (what do you expect?) The area was "grim", and you could "hear cars". That's one down. The next was more to her taste - a five year old three-story town house with four beds, which came in at £335,000. On the basis of a few smudges on the laminate flooring Steph thought it needed a "lot of work". The final property had Dom's coveted period features but was a massive £38K over budget. Steph also pronounced the need for it to be redecorated, a new kitchen and a first floor extension, all of which would cost a further £40,000. After some umming and aahhing, they went for the "compromise" new build at a knock-down price of £310,000.
And then came the bombshell. Behind the backs of our chinless hosts they pulled out and plumped for a comparatively pokey bungalow. After the grief they'd suffered, it's a wonder Kirstie and Phil didn't kill them in the face. But that was an end to the ordeal. Our fantastic four hit Cornwall in search of the holiday rental. The plan was to buy a house they could rent out and use themselves. I could have told them that wasn't the wisest of moves - meeting personal requirements and the needs of the rental market aren't necessarily compatible. And so it was in the first house they were shown. It clearly didn't meet Steph's exacting standards, despite being decently furnished. The promise such a holiday rental could command a £1,000/week rent(!) peak season didn't phase her. But at least they were savvy enough to realise we're in the early phase of a severe economic downturn and might have problems seeing that sort of money in the immediate future. Instead they did the wise thing and hung on to their money, which they'll no doubt do until a repossessed bargain comes along.
Privilege and smarm oozes from every Relocation, Relocation pore. It's horribly irritating. But more than that, it, its Location, Location, Location sibling, Property Ladder, House Doctor, Homes Under the Hammer and even the otherwise interesting Grand Designs all rode the property bubble and spread the housing love around. If Thatcher aimed to create a nation of home owners, these programmes went a step further than her wildest dreams and encouraged a land of multiple home owners. How many bought into their propaganda, had a go at the property developing lark and are now staring ruin in the face? I'm sure few socialists will be losing sleep over these people. But the likes of Kirstie and Phil helped this layer along, but will Relocation Relocation reflect on their plight? Not on your nelly. Just as working class folk with tight incomes and modest budgets never figured on Kirstie and Phil's radar, the losers of the property crash, will be shunned. On their planet, there are lifestyles to buy and people with cash to burn. But for the rest of us, well, there's always the off button.