Where have all the doer-uppers gone?


I’m not talking about a short supply of places that have scope for development or to use the estate agents’ vernacular, properties “in need of cosmetic improvement”. I’m talking about the people that want to buy this stuff. The adventurous, creative and entrepreneurial owner/occupier seems to have become an endangered species. When I ponder the habits of the buying public it appears that this kind of group behaviour comes in waves and right now the waters are calm.

For me the first phase happened in 1998 when, as a fresh-faced 19-year-old, I was selling property on Lavender Hill. This was a time when nine in every ten of my buyers wanted something unmodernised or at least scruffy, in the hope that they could make a fast quid or two. Everyone, it seemed, was a property developer. Slap down a bit of seagrass or maybe laminate flooring, splosh a bit of magnolia on the walls and Robert’s your mother’s brother; a property worth 20% more than it was last week. Unsurprisingly, this period was short-lived as the herd mentality of the amateur developers made that market super-competitive. The remaining buyers, who were out there picking up these slop-and-tosh refurbs, became all too suspicious, often with good cause, of the poor-quality offerings of the make-a-quick-buck merchants.

The next phase, lasting through the Noughties and much of the last decade, was really the domain of the owner/occupier; however, unlike their predecessors, they all harboured ambitions to be interior designers and were happy to spend oodles of cash to showcase their homes. It was less about making a profit and more about showing off one’s immaculate taste to one’s immaculate guests. If I had a penny for each time a buyer specifically said that they didn’t want to purchase a property at an over-inflated price in order to pay for somebody else’s taste, I would be a very wealthy chap and I certainly wouldn’t be sitting here right now. I would be giving Jeff Bezos a run for his money down at the super-yacht shop. This breed would be happy to overspend in the pursuit of perfection.

Now we have moved into another cycle of change where the larger proportion of buyers seem to want a different kind of thing – turnkey perfection. Arrive on completion day with your bags, hang up your beautiful clothes in the beautifully crafted fitted wardrobes, pour a G&T and chillax in your new crib.

Why have the part-time developers and part-time interior designers become a rare breed? The reasons for this are complicated as the health and diversity of the buying population must rely on a number of factors, but here is my guess: firstly, we have to look at build costs. Without question the whole Brexit thing has brought about a shortage of European labour which seems to have had a knock-on effect on wages at home, whilst material costs have soared driven by the pandemic. Secondly, there is lending. The thinking seems to be money has never been cheaper so why bother with the hassle? Just increase the mortgage and steam in and buy something where somebody else has already had the headache and expense of a building project. The third factor may be something to do with instant gratification/satisfaction. Busy young people don’t want to wait six months or longer to enjoy a sparkling home with indoor/outdoor living space, open-plan kitchens and luxurious en-suite bathrooms. It’s possible this last aspect is a generational thing. I am from a generation that was brought up on ‘Changing Rooms’ and ‘Handy Andy’. I would fall asleep in my mid-twenties dreaming of Sarah Beeny. Still do if I am honest…Should it be any surprise then that the Instagram generation wants things instantly?

The shift towards the turnkey property can be likened to buying a tailor-made jacket (where you can choose you own lining) versus an off-the-peg Paul Smith. If you’re not that fussed about the lining and there is such quality out there in the ready-to-wear market, why wait? But there is a catch; you have to be prepared to pay for it, as the quality recently refurbished kit is going for top dollar. And while waiting, there are some amazing properties to be had that aren’t being given a second glance. Some are not overtly obvious as a doer-upper, but nonetheless offer the opportunity to make real cash. Here is an example. My favourite buy at the moment is this superb house on Broomwood Road with a 60-foot garden. Yes, 60 foot BETWEEN THE COMMONS! It’s almost unheard of. The previous owners have already gone through the hell of digging a basement and the rooms upstairs are all in the right place, but the kitchen doesn’t have doors opening across the back of the ground floor, it simply has a more old-fashioned pair of doors in the side return. This is an absolute no-no for many buyers. So, I am just waiting for the sensible person that realises that a few pounds spent here will pay out dividends in terms of the resale value. Whack on a ground floor extension with a nice bit of Crittall and there are literally hundreds of thousands to be made. That’s without taking into consideration the saving on stamp duty for buying in at a lower level. Somebody will buy this house and they will profit from it, but it will take real persuasion on our part and that is what we are here for.

At some point, the wheel will turn again and there will be a different set of buying habits in vogue. In the meantime, I will continue to see my mate Jimmy the Tailor for my jackets and take my home improvement tips from Sarah Beeny.

Joel Baseley
To find Jimmy the Tailor (not far from here) visit dress2kill.com