Review: Property Ladder

I love Property Ladder. I’m not desperately interested in property development. My strategy for property development, which amused my wife no end when I spelled it out to her, would be a simple three-step approach:

  1. Buy a house
  2. Hire a bloke to knock it down
  3. Hire another bloke to build a new one

Simple, really, yet probably not destined to make much money for me should I ever decide to implement it.

But I love Property Ladder all the same.

For one thing, Sarah Beeny’s great. She’s a professional developer who makes loads of money at her job. She’s competent and knows what she’s doing, which is more than can be said for some TV presenters. I love competent people who know what they’re doing. I love Sarah Beeny.

More importantly, ‘The Beeny’ is able to keep a straight face under extreme duress. This is vital for a presenter of Property Ladder.

You see, those of you who haven’t watched it, the formula for the show is simple. Various amateur property developers who would like some money for old rope, please, decide they’ll buy up a house on the cheap, do a bit of interior and exterior development and then sell it at a colossal mark-up, with their unique design vision somehow lifting the price of the house far beyond the ceiling price for their areas,

The cameras follow them while they redevelop their first property and lo-and-behold, it turns out this property development lark is a damn sight harder than they first thought. There’s dealing with the builders, the building regulations, the neighbours, the cash flow and schedule slippage; then there’s getting the parts, choosing a decor that suits your market, doing this all within your budget and then, at the end of it, actually selling the house and turning a profit that makes it all worth your while, while simultaneously looking for your next property.

Already it sounds complicated and difficult – hence my three-step strategy.

The thing is, this happens every single episode. Now, there’s only one property developer show on TV and that’s Property Ladder. I’m a lazy kind of guy and if I were planning on doing something, the most research I’d probably do is a bit of Googling and watching a TV show on the subject. Yet these prospective developers must be so lazy, so unwilling to do even the slightest bit of research that they’ve never even watched a single episode of Property Ladder. My efforts must be the equivalent of embarking on an Iron Man triathlon for them.

Every single week, The Beeny gives more or less the same advice: research your market, make sure you stick to your realistically drawn-out budget, don’t invest too much of yourself in the property, and if you’re not sure what you’re doing or can’t do the job yourself, get someone in who can, assuming you know how to manage them properly. Yet every single week, she comes across people who make the same mistakes as everyone else who’s ever been on her show. It’s astonishing. What’s even more astonishing is that a couple of series ago, the show went from covering one property development a week to two a week! Yes, there are even more idiots than there used to be, even though the housing boom that Property Ladder was launched during is more or less over.

You can see her trying to suppress the urge to call them all idiots. She wants to laugh. You can tell. Yet she keeps herself in check, asking vaguely leading questions, nodding or shaking her head at opportune moments to indicate the correct answer that any sane person should give. “Are you sure you want to move the bathroom downstairs, knock this wall down and put in a Jacuzzi? (shakes head vigorously)… Oh, you do? And what’s your budget?… You’ve set aside £1,000? For everything? Are you sure you wouldn’t like to put aside a bit more than that? (nods head even more vigorously)… Oh, then you wouldn’t be able to fit the alabaster gnome in the middle of the staircase. I see… I have to say I think you’re a bit crazy. Maybe if you scaled down your plans a bit… Okay, you don’t want to…”

And thus each episode proceeds. Beeny hears the plan. Beeny offers them a much better plan that will save them money and heartache and offer them a far greater profit. They ignore her. Five weeks later, she comes back, it’s all gone horribly wrong. She offers more advice to save them. They ignore her and spend a further £500 on that alabaster gnome, only for it to be crushed by the falling roof and for the council planners to tell them they can’t rip up that grade 1 listed Roman mosaic to build the Jacuzzi after all. When they’re 15 weeks over schedule, £30,000 over budget and their partner’s about to leave them, they think to themselves, “Maybe we should have listened to The Beeny,” and waddayouknow, everything starts to get back on track.

Which is why I love it: it has a clear moral – if you put some work in and get competent at something, it makes things so much easier.

Last night’s episode was a case in point. We had a guy who bought a flat in auction for two grand or something, hoping to sell it for £325,000 after he’d done a little bit of redevelopment work; and we had a couple who’d just left university with £50,000 of debt between them who somehow managed to take out a £50,000 mortgage on a house (how???) – they hoped to clear most of their debt by doing £10,000 of work (which they’ll pay for using their 10 credit cards) and selling it for £100,000, which is £30k more than the most expensive house on the street sold for.

Developer guy is in trouble, even before the Beeny turns up. Because he didn’t read the sales documents because there were so many of them, he was unaware that he’s got to fork out £75,000 he hasn’t got to help pay for the redevelopment work the entire block of flats is undergoing. But it’s all right. His mum’s agreed to remortgage her house to pay for it all. This kind of thing always happens in Property Ladder, and I still have no idea how they always manage to bale themselves out when confronted with unexpected costs the size of some countries’ GDPs. Jammy gits.

Developing couple are in trouble once they start taking up the carpets – the floorboards smell of cat pee. The whole house smells of cat pee. They clean the floorboards. They bleach the floorboards six times and still the smell remains. Their solutions? Solution one: “Maybe we could just varnish the floorboards and lock the smell in?” Solution two: “Maybe we could just wave an air freshener around whenever anyone comes to view the house?” Beeny, straight-faced as always, points out that these ideas are not very advisable courses of action and suggests maybe they could try some of those nice products you can buy designed to neutralise the smell of cat pee. You see their eyes light up in wonder at the concept. “There is such a thing? You have blessed us this day, Beeny. May gold and riches descend upon you and your family.”

And so it goes on, from cluelessness to gradual awakening, as with every show. Developer guy, despite knowing he’s bought a listed Art Deco flat, decides he might just want to knock in a wall or two, rip a mantelpiece out here and there and get rid of the original fittings. One short visit from the council later – and a recommendation from the Beeny that maybe people looking to spend money on an an Art Deco flat might be interested in keeping the original look as much as possible – and developer guy is restoring the flat to its original glory and definitely not infringing any planning regulations any more, honest.

He later confesses he doesn’t actually know what “listed” means. You’ll get a further hint at his cluelessness later.

The developing couple, meanwhile, have learnt that you can’t relocate rooms for a grand and builders who are less restrained than Sarah Beeny will laugh in your face if you ask them to try. Intent on saving as much money as possible, they decide to replaster every room themselves. Beeny’s advice: “You can get a man in, it’ll take a day, cost you £300 and he’ll do the entire room for you. Then you’ll be able to start painting it straight away. Plus there’s nothing worse than bad plastering.” Their decision: they try to replaster the entire house.

Five weeks later, it’s still not done, they haven’t started painting and the finish is a little lacking, shall we say? Reflecting on the process at the end, they decide, “Next time, we’ll probably get someone in to do the plastering.” Really? You don’t say.

Incredibly though, both developers make it to the end. After nearly killing themselves in the process and scaling back their entire plans in line with The Beeny’s recommendations, the developing couple manage to go only 10% over budget and get a £70k valuation; and developing guy manages to turn in something that actually looks Art Deco in places. This is something of a miracle: “I couldn’t get anything 1930s. The nearest was 1950s and you told me to stay away from Victorian, right? That’s Victorian, isn’t it, 1950s, 1960s?” Straight-faced as always, Beeny suggests the Victorian era might be closer to the 1850s and 60s. But what’s a hundred years here and there? However, bitterly disappointed only to get a £300k valuation for his flat, he decides to rent it out until the market picks up.

Property Ladder is great car-crash TV. It almost always has a happy ending of sorts, despite all the disasters the developers face. You learn a little, even if it’s a skill you’re never going to use. You watch others learn a valuable life lesson. The formula never changes much – nor would we want it to. And Sarah Beeny is a genuine deadpan comedy star whom we must treasure.

But seriously guys: listen to Sarah Beeny before you even think about doing any property development. You know it makes sense.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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