Homes Under the Hammer's Lucy Alexander shares her property secrets
PUBLISHED: 20:26 10 June 2013 | UPDATED: 10:11 14 May 2014
Our new property columnist, Lucy Alexander, is celebrating her tenth anniversary presenting Homes Under the Hammer, so she certainly knows her property onions. But that doesn't necessarily mean she always practises what she preaches, writes Deborah Collcutt
If your day job involves researching, viewing and talking about property on television you might imagine you’d get sick of the sight of houses. Not so Lucy Alexander who, along with her husband, Stewart Casteldine, is property obsessed.
In fact the couple are so addicted, they love nothing more than getting on their bikes on a summer’s evening and cycling around Thames Ditton, the pretty Thameside village where they live.
“People will think we’re really sad but we just adore cycling around looking at the houses. We know every property round here and could pretty much tell you exactly what it would sell for if it were on the market,” says Lucy.
And it is clearly a hobby that pays dividends. “We bought that recently,” says Lucy, pointing out a top-floor flat over the garden wall of her detached Arts and Crafts house. “We did some basic refurbishment work on it so it will sell well but it’s difficult to make massive gains in property nowadays.”
A lifetime’s obsession
Sitting in the smart kitchen of the house she shares with Stewart and their two children, Kitty and Leo, it is obvious that the presenter of BBC’s Homes Under the Hammer knows her property onions. She has just celebrated her tenth anniversary co-presenting the popular daytime show but her obsession began as a hobby.
“I bought my first flat in Clapham when I was 18. I sold it for a profit and I never looked back. It’s much harder to do that with the current economy but I still believe that if you research your area and buy wisely you can make good gains.”
Between Clapham and Thames Ditton – along with Stewart after they married in 2000 – Lucy has bought and sold 14 properties, all in Surrey, apart from a brief foray into Kent.
“I didn’t really get Kent,” laughs Stewart, 40, a former Premier League footballer for Wimbledon. “I am a Surrey boy born and bred and I couldn’t wait to move back.”
And move back they did, in spectacular fashion, to Thames Ditton. They were living round the corner in January 2007 when a BBC colleague told Lucy that their current house, which was split up into five flats in the 1960s, had failed to sell at auction.
“After 755 episodes of Homes Under the Hammer, my team know my passion for property so they knew to direct me to this one,” says Lucy, 42.
“The house didn’t reach its £1.2m reserve price and hadn’t sold when it was on the open market for £1.5m,” says Stewart, who is a director at James Grant Sports, a talent management agency. “We gambled that in the worst case scenario if we had to keep the flats, we could do those up and still make a profit. We just wouldn’t have ended up living here, which would have been a real shame.”
Practising what you preach
Lucy and Stewart had to buy the house sight-unseen.
“We couldn’t have a survey so we had no idea what state it was in,” says Lucy. “We didn’t even know if we’d be allowed to convert it back into one house.”
Surely she’d never recommend her viewers do that though?
“No, actually I wouldn’t,” says Lucy, “but then Stewart and I – obviously – had cycled past it several times, we knew the size of the garden, and therefore the potential to extend, and the history of the house so there weren’t too many sleepless nights.”
Stewart chortles at the suggestion that they breezed through the purchase without a care in the world. He was more heavily involved in the financial side of the deal, leaving Lucy to concentrate on the re-design, but it was an anxious time for both of them.
In the event, Elmbridge Borough Council gave permission for the house – which was built in 1992 and sits in a quiet road between Thames Ditton station and the High Street – to be restored to its full Arts and Crafts glory.
After no more than a peek through the letterbox at the interior, Lucy and Stewart put down a deposit and paid out £1m.
It was a scramble to raise the funds and Lucy and Stewart spent a further £500,000 – and more than a year – transforming the house into a six-bedroom, three-storey family home, with a kitchen and master bedroom suite extension.
They restored the original stained glass windows and the parquet flooring on the ground floor. The effect is a beautifully restored traditional house with a modern twist and all the benefits of contemporary living.
It has recently been valued at more than £3m so the gamble paid off but Lucy and Stewart are in no hurry to sell.
A time of change
A large part of this is because their daughter, Kitty, 10, fell victim to a little-known condition called Transverse Myelitis three years ago, which has left her paralysed. The neurological disorder caused Kitty’s immune system to attack her spinal cord, causing permanent damage.
With typical energy and flair, Lucy and Stewart set about making changes to the house so that Kitty could keep her pretty upstairs bedroom and remain as independent as possible.
A starring role in the 2012 Paralympic closing ceremony unleashed a driving ambition in Kitty to be on stage, so there are no immediate plans to up sticks again.
Meanwhile Leo, 7, is following in his father’s footsteps and currently playing for Wimbledon under nines football academy.
“I am sure we will move again,” says Lucy, “but we are happy here at the moment and we’ve really fallen in love with the house – and I never thought I’d hear myself say that about property.”
- Lucy Alexander writes a monthly Surrey Life property advice column.