TheCustard chats to property expert and Secret Agent Phil Spencer

Thursday sees the next episode of the new prime time series from property guru Phil Spencer.  Phil Spencer: Secret Agent sees Phil comes to the rescue of homeowners desperate to sell their homes. It’s an idea that was first introduced as part of Channel 4 daytime but following a huge success there and with repeats on More4 Channel 4 has moved (if you can pardon the awful pun) this new series to prime time. I recently spoke to Phil about the series and why he thinks we’re all so fascinated by property programmes on TV.

Are you happy the series has been moved to a night time slot?
Yes! I was delighted! It did really well in the daytime slot, doubling the usual audience for that time and then the repeats on More4 did really well for them so we’ve got five to do for prime time. It brings a bit of extra pressure but it also brings extra exposure to the series and to what I’m doing and it also means we get a bit of extra time and extra money to make the show. 

This series requires you to be brutally honest with people. Do you find that difficult?
Yes. Of course it’s awkward because I do surprise them, they don’t know I’m going to be there and I need to be straight with them  I’m very sensitive to the fact that I have only just met them and I’m standing in their house explaining why the house that they’ve lived in and loved isn’t selling. I try and tackle it politely but at the same time very honestly. People seem to take it from me but I’m not being rude; I’m being objective. I’m not being offensive or personal about the way the choose to live their lives.

Do you ever think surely this is common sense why this is still sat on the market?
Yes I do. I’ve looked around a vast number of houses in my career so it is common sense to me but I think when it’s your own house it is often difficult to see the wood for the trees. People are looking at their house as a stage set and I come along and try to help them set that stage. Often in this series the people I’m meeting are desperate and they’ve been trying to sell their home for a long period of time and of course it’s often difficult to keep up the enthusiasm and the momentum to keep everything neat and tidy for a viewing when you might have had fifty viewings! A lot of what I do is pointing out the obvious.   

Yes and you can do that without being rude
Yes. I’m on their side. I’m there to help them get the most for their most valuable asset. The house is most likely the most valuable thing they own so you want to get the best for it. I was with a couple from Kent  who you’ll see in a few weeks time and I explained them you’ve got two choices: do nothing to the house and take twenty grand off the price, or spend a week or two dressing it up for sale and make twenty grand. I put to them would you go to work for two weeks of twenty grand? Of course you would! 

How do you feel being tough without your TV wife by your side?
(Laughs) well my TV wife is sometimes less delicate and polite than I am.  She calls it like it is!

Phil with TV wife Kirstie Allsopp.

In 2011 you celebrated ten years of Location, Location, Location. Did you think ten years ago you would still be filming property programmes? 
No! Ten years ago I thought we were still on screen in a month it would be fantastic! It’s been a very fun time. It was a very surreal start. It certainly wasn’t something either Kirstie (Allsopp) or I ever imagined we’d be doing. 

You didn’t start out as a TV presenter did you?
No. I never had any dreams or aspirations of becoming a TV presenter. I trained as a surveyor, I ran a home-finding business and I got call to consult on the format on Location, Location. Somebody thought that what I did at that consultation was worth doing a screen test.  They called me back and one thing led to another. 

Does the process of finding people homes still excite you?
Yes. I think it’s a fascinating process. I’ve been doing it for fifteen years now and I still get a huge sense of satisfaction and fulfillment out of helping people buy or sell. 

What do you think makes these shows so appealing to the viewer?
I like the format of Location, Location and Secret Agent. There are ups and downs and there are serious decisions that need to be made.  There’s money at stake and there’s usually discussion, indecision and stress and that’s always quite interesting for me to be involved in at such close quarters and equally for people to watch.

Were you ever concerned that the “Credit Crunch” could spell the end of property series on TV?
There was a time back in 2009 where we were concerned and wondered whether people would still watch property shows. In 2005, 2006, 2007 watching property on TV made people feel good, happy and wealthy but suddenly in 2009 it made them feel nervous. We thought will people want to watch these shows with all hell breaking loose with the market? As it turned out our viewing figures in 2009 increased. We put it down to the fact that people were cautious, worried and very concerned about making the wrong decision so I think they were watching the show for advice and guidance. 

What do you tend to get asked the most?
If I’m filming on my own the most frequent question is where’s Kirstie? If Kirstie’s filming on her own it’s where’s Phil? We often get asked where Kirstie buys her shoes from. Doing what we do is slightly like being a doctor. Ii is such an important decision and it isn’t something people do very often so people always have questions about the process. There’s an abundance of questions really and I’m always happy to try and help. I enjoy helping people with this big part of their lives.

How long do you think you could continue making these shows? Could I be talking to you in five years time and asking you about the property market?
I hope so Luke I really do. I always say if people carry on watching it then we’ll carry on making it. We enjoy working together and we enjoy our separate shows as well and I still genuinely get a kick out of helping people make that big decision. When we first started doing the revisits I never used to like doing those. For the first few years Kirstie did all the revisits because I enjoyed going out, finding the house, doing the deal and that’s that. When Kirstie went on maternity leave Channel 4 asked me to do some revisits and I rather begrudgingly said OK. I realised that going back into people’s lives, two or three years after we’ve found them house and being welcomed back with open arms was lovely.  They say they would have never found this house, never had done that deal and it’s all worked out! That is an incredibly satisfying and fulfilling thing.  It is a nice conclusion to the story. They bought but are they happy? 

What do you love on TV?
I loved Spooks so you can imagine my delight that my new series was called Secret Agent!

You can catch Secret Agent Thursdays at 8pm on Channel 4


Follow Phil on Twitter

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