If anyone knows the tricks of the trade when it comes to buying and selling houses, it’s Channel 4’s Lucy Alexander. The property presenter was just 16 when she bought her first London flat and has climbed the ladder in leaps and bounds ever since, buying and selling more than 20 homes along the way.
She and her husband, ex-Premiership footballer Stewart Castledine, recently consolidated most of their property portfolio to build their dream Georgian-style home in leafy Surrey, where they live with their children Kitty, 15, and Leo, 12.
Following 13 years on BBC1’s Homes Under The Hammer, Lucy – pictured below – is now showing viewers how to achieve luxury interiors for less in her new show, Bang On Budget (Sundays at 5.35pm on Channel 4).
Here, she shares her secrets to getting the best deal, whether you’re buying or selling…
Top tips: Lucy Alexander
LUCY’S TOP FIVE TIPS FOR BUYING A PROPERTY
1. SORT OUT YOUR FINANCES
It’s important you have your mortgage in place – that way you can move quickly to secure the best deal. Sellers and agents want to know you’re a serious buyer, so show them your credentials if necessary. I’ve been known to show estate agents my bank statement in order to get them to take me seriously.
2. TRY BEFORE YOU BUY
The more houses you see, the more you figure out what you need and want. I can’t look at enough – I find it really exciting – but if you’re unsure, take someone knowledgeable with you.
If you’re the sort of person who mentally moves into a house before you walk through the door, you’ll need to be strong-minded, otherwise it’ll exhaust you. Have two or three properties in the running – if you don’t have all your eggs in one basket, you’re less likely to pay over the odds.
3. BEFRIEND THE ESTATE AGENT… AND MUMS AT THE SCHOOL GATE
It’s always worth building a relationship with estate agents. Pop in, phone them, pop in again. Don’t be a pest but be ‘extra’ – work your charms, get to know them.
Once properties go online, you’re just a number in a long line of buyers, but if you befriend the agent you stand more of a chance of seeing the house before the glossy photos have been done.
If there’s a house you’ve got your eye on, chat to mums at school gate, people in the pub. There are so many deals to be done before it even gets to the estate agent.
4. MEET THE SELLER… AND THE NEIGHBOURS!
Agents are always reluctant for buyers and sellers to meet, but you find out much more about the house if the sellers show you around. Quite simply, they know more but they’re also more likely to give away the bad stuff.
Play the caring card at all times – I don’t mean that insincerely, but it’s worth showing some emotion. Everyone wants to sell their lovely home to someone they like and who loves it as much as they do. Be careful, though – don’t rush to tell them you’ll rip out the avocado bathroom suite!
Knock on neighbours’ doors and ask what it’s like living there. It’s important to me that I’m not living next to a house with a dog that barks all day, or noisy kids.
5. USE YOUR SMARTPHONE
I like to take my own quick snaps of different rooms – I think they give a more honest impression than estate agents and their fish-eye lenses. I also write things down in my notes so I can remind myself later. The compass on your smartphone is great for checking which direction the garden is facing – the agent will always tell you it’s south-westerly even if that’s a brazen lie.
LUCY’S TOP FIVE TIPS FOR SELLING
1. DON’T OVER-PERSONALISE
Whenever I’m selling a house, I get a big box with wheels and chuck in all my personal stuff. No one wants to see your disposable razors and haemorrhoid cream on display in the bathroom. Get rid of coats on banisters, shoes strewn around the hallway, ‘inappropriate’ posters in your teenager’s bedroom – hide all of that stuff away. Then I put the box in the car and drive off. If your buyers are anything like me, they’ll be savvy and will be looking under beds and in cupboards. You don’t want all the clutter to fall out when they open the hall cupboard.
2. DRESS TO IMPRESS
If I’m selling, I’ll steal my friends’ style to make sure the house looks its best. One of my friends has two really nice olive trees that look great by the front door. Another has a big mirror and a lovely old lamp. I borrow them for a week, dress my home, then arrange block viewings and buy them dinner as a thank you.
If that’s not an option, try shops such as T K Maxx and Homesense for great bargains that will make your home look amazing. Dress your house for the estate agent’s pictures as well – and be around for that photoshoot, because a lot of photographers won’t worry about making sure it looks good. Be fussy – check that your bed linen doesn’t look as if you’ve just rolled out of it.
3. DO YOUR RESEARCH
Go and look at three other houses in the same area at a similar price so you are really aware of what you’re up against. If an agent tells you that you can get a million pounds for your house, it’s tempting to be swayed by that, but if you know what others are selling for, you can be more realistic. Make your agents work for their money – they know they’re facing a lot of competition these days. Give them a sliding-scale commission depending on the price they get for you. They won’t like it but it’s worth a punt.
4. TIME IT RIGHT
I don’t think anyone really knows what’s happening to the property market with the uncertainty over Brexit. I’d say that if you get a good deal that financially stacks up for you, there’s no reason not to buy and sell now. Life is too short not to move house and get on with living – it’s only property developers that play the waiting game. But be sensible about when you put your house up for sale. Spring is the best time to sell. It’s a time of new beginnings when the daffodils come out and the sun reappears. People tend to work around school term times, so September is also a very good time. Avoid Christmas and the summer holidays because everyone is away.
5. SELL AT AN AUCTION FOR A QUICK SALE
If you’re in a hurry to sell because you want to be chain-free, selling at auction is a great solution. I sold my grandmother’s house at auction and I got a good deal quickly. Job done. A conventional house purchase can take months: everyone puts their life on hold, then buyers can mess you around at the last minute and the whole thing falls through. At auction, you get that instant gratification, and the buyer has 28 days from when the gavel falls to complete the sale. For me it’s a brilliant way to buy and sell.
- Lucy Alexander was talking to Eve McGowan.