An interview with television property guru – Sarah Beeny.
Sarah Beeny has graced television screens across the UK and beyond for almost a decade on the buying, selling and flipping houses, and even taking on a restoration project that would have even the most experienced property experts running for the hills – a grade II* listed building.
Perhaps most well-known for property related television shows in the UK – how did it all start? Were you already involved in the property industry or did the world of television steer your career path into it?
We had a building company for about 10 years before the TV came along. I hadn’t even thought about the world of TV. Having said that, had I known about it I think I’d have really loved to work in the production of TV shows when I was much younger, as it’s a really interesting sector. Although, I wouldn’t have missed out the building either so perhaps I’m glad I didn’t get the choice!
The earlier TV shows were largely focussed toward the public and dealt with the common aspects of buying, selling and renovating property in the UK – are there or has there been any plans to replicate the formats with property abroad?
The production company that made Property Ladder did sell it into America with another presenter, but for one reason or another it didn’t really take off. I would love to do something abroad but now I have 4 children at home who need me I am much more ‘home based’ than I would have been in the past.
As the property markets have changed over the years, do you find yourself avoiding projects now that you would have taken on a few years ago?
In this industry, changes in the market are an unavoidable thing and something that I have come to anticipate. I don’t think you can get anywhere in life if you’re restricted by your own cautiousness so my ethic is to dive in, give it all you’ve got and have faith that it will end in success because after all most markets are cyclical and if you have done your figures right you should be safe.
The UK property market has changed substantially in recent years. The mortgage markets have expanded to make buying easier, buy to let has become a significant sector of the market in its own right and several government schemes to help first time buyers – all of which have created a very intense industry to be in with respect to prices, supply and demand – do you believe this a positive situation and should continue?
Yes, help-to-buy schemes are increasing property prices, but they are also necessary if we want to try and open the market up to new, young buyers. The danger is without them, the market may become stale and we need newcomers in at the bottom to keep things moving. It’s a love-hate situation.
Property prices in London are still rising at a phenomenal rate with no obvious end in sight – do you think this should continue if the market can sustain it or should an effort be made to stabilise the market to prevent it becoming an “investment only” city?
London property prices are undoubtedly increasing at a rapid rate, and buying in London is becoming a prospect that is more and more out of reach for many people. In the ideal world, the market needs to stabilise and in many areas it is. Foreign investment is considerably lower than it was and whilst prices may not be coming down, the really top priced homes are just not selling. I do believe the market will find its own level, but I would like to see a mixture of tighter regulations on buy to let mortgages ensuring figures stack up – investment into transport to enable people to live in the more affordable homes and get to work quickly, affordably and comfortably, and slacker paperwork trails than are currently required by local authorities for changes to normal homes.
With your valued experience, what would you say are the most important things to look for and put in place when thinking of purchasing or selling a property?
Good question. When buying a property, my best two pieces of advice are;
- To picture yourself there in 5, 10, 15 years. For example, if you see yourself starting a family in the coming years then make sure you’re not purchasing a home that you’ll need to move out of in 2 years when you’re expecting a child.
- To carry out in-depth survey of the property you’re looking to buy to ensure that your investment is sound, and there won’t be any nasty surprises once you’ve moved in. This also gives you chance to negotiate on price should there be issues with the property that need resolving.
In terms of selling a property, the two points that I think are most important to remember are;
- Conducting property viewings yourself is a really great touch, and can help secure a sale much quicker than an agent-conducted viewing can. After all, who knows your home better than you? However, when conducting viewings, remember to ensure that sure you’re warm and courteous, but whilst keeping things on a professional level. Buyers might see over-friendliness as a sign of desperation on the part of the seller.
- Before you or your photographer takes the photos for your property listing and before viewings take place, it’s important to make sure your house is spotless. Windows should be sparkling and letting in as much light as possible, and rooms need to be clean and tidy. Dirt and mess is really unpleasant even when it’s your own mess, so it’s particularly horrid for someone else. If it looks like you don’t love your home, how is anyone else going to fall in love with it
The Rise Hall Project
Listed buildings and stately homes are often regarded as “a money pit” due to the costs involved often outweighing the eventual value of the finished project and the veritable nightmare of red-tape involved with respect to paperwork. What prompted you to purchase and start the Rise Hall project (A grade 2* listed building) back in 2001 and what was the initial goal at the time?
It was in some ways a moment of madness – I think Graham and I thought if we didn’t buy a building at risk such as Rise Hall in our 20’s, we might grow up and be sensible and never do it! Having said that, it actually has turned out to be the most amazingly rewarding experience, as not only is it now fully renovated but it also employs dozens of people in one of the highest areas of unemployment in the country. We recently won a wedding award for the best countryside venue which is testament to the whole project being a 110% success against the odds.
Looking back at the Rise Hall project now, would you do it all again if the right property came along?
I’m not sure I’d have the energy to do it all over again, but never say never…
Tepilo – Another Property Related Business
Tepilo is an online property portal to help people sell their property whilst reducing fees by cutting out some of the “middle-men” services. What was the initial inspiration behind it?
The idea came from my frustration of the combination of how much ‘traditional’ agents were charging for services and with some agents who simply didn’t deliver me the service that I either wanted or expected.
I think people had begun to shudder when they heard the words ‘Estate Agent’. I felt an urge to change the face of estate agency and make the process fair, affordable and as stress-free as possible, whilst also keeping a strong sense of support.
Do you foresee the possibility of property transactions eventually becoming entirely digital and managed online or is the process still too segmented for that to be possible without significant changes to the industry?
I’ve always been supportive of traditional selling methods, but the way people approach searching for a new property now means that predominantly online services are the go-to portals, and the option of some of the industry being entirely digital is most definitely a possibility. Tepilo is a combination of experienced, informed agents and an online service, so it really is a great blend of all the most necessary and effective elements for selling a home in this day and age.
Another Venture – Sarah Beeny Home
Sarah Beeny Home is an online store dedicated to furniture handles and knobs in partnership with Häfele, how did the business come about? (I.E. was it a convenient collaboration offer from them or was the idea more one of those moments of inspiration of “I know, lets sell handles and knobs”!)
It came from my frustration at the quality of much of the offerings online, and in many ways too much choice. Sarah Beeny Home is born from wanting someone to edit the vast array of what’s available out there into a bite sized chunks. It’s great to be able to choose products that I know are great quality at reasonable prices.
A Non-Property Business – My Single Friend
You also own another company in an entirely different sector; a dating website called My Single Friend, what made you start the website initially and how did you come up with the concept of having friends describe a profile?
It came from enjoying fixing up friends – which I have to admit I still do. Through the years, the My Single Friend website has morphed from one that’s focused on people signing up their single friends, to now 10 years later being a platform for single people to meet, in which their friends can get involved by describing, setting people up with them and generally meddling as much or as little as they fancy. It’s fundamentally a dating site for people like you and me.
Being a full time mum, running so many different companies and projects, plus juggling your media career must keep you incredibly busy, what are the ups and downs of your work with so much going on and how do you cope?
I don’t really cope – it’s all about not quite drowning – and lots of fire fighting!! I am lucky to work with some great people who make everything happen – it’s really not all me, I’m just part of a team.
On business in general – given the variety of sectors you have experience with, what would be the most important thing you have learned that applies to running and developing a successful business?
You need to love the business and be really interested in it. You also need to find the right people to work with and ensure they are happy working how you choose to. I for one am very time shy so any meeting that can be avoided by a quick email or phone call or efficiency in terms of time and decision making will always get my vote, and the people I work with tend to have a pretty similar set of priorities.
Aside all of your projects, what else do you have coming up for the Sarah Beeny brand we can look forward to?
I have so many plans, but I think I’d love to be the voice in a children’s film one day, and write a children’s book – oh and start a petting farm.
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