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Phil's playing house

PUBLISHED: 09:06 13 September 2014 | UPDATED: 09:06 13 September 2014

Phil Spencer © Matt Prince

Phil Spencer © Matt Prince

MATT PRINCE

TV property expert and chYps children's hospice patron Phil Spencer on calming nerves over potential housing market movements, and why no matter where he goes, he'll always come back to Kent

You won’t hear many people discussing in affectionate terms the UK housing market. Its boom and bust has frazzled our nerves over the past couple of decades, but consider this… had we not been thrown around on a rollercoaster-like ride through mortgages, negative equity, partition walls and postcode politics, the chances are we’d have no idea who Phil Spencer was.

As it is, the affable 44-year-old developer and presenter is a regular on a screens, a guardian of garden wall greatness and saviour of everything semi-detached. And this week, he’s on a switch mission, working with nationwide consumer brand Compare The Market in encouraging people to take the leap and switch insurance providers before the cold months draw in. After all, if there’s anything to compensate for the wicked winter chill that lays ahead, it’s the warming knowledge that we’re spending less on the insurance that keeps our households running should anything go wrong.

“I’m always behind campaigns and ideas that enable people to save money, no matter what area that’s in – from first-time buyers looking to get on the ladder to those looking to downsize after the kids have left home.

“At the end of the day, anything that helps to strengthen neighbourhood relationships and community spirit must be good.”

That community spirit is certainly in fine fettle here in the Garden of England. Phil was born in Littlebourne, and although he spends time at his London abode in Wandsworth, he can’t help but return to “home comforts” when the opportunity arises.

“Kent has always meant so much to me. I was born there, all my family are there and it’s still very much home. I know my way around and have lot of friends in Kent, so the attraction of going back is always great.”

It’s perhaps somewhat at odds then to discover that for someone whose life is so entrenched in the housing market, his upbringing was far removed from smart estates that he now parades around with Location, Location, Location co-host Kirstie Allsopp. “Well yes, I was brought up on a farm and was fortunate enough to have a tiny cottage on next to it. It’s all a complete tonic to my life in London. But growing up there was very private, very open, very green. It’s so different and I adore it for that.”

Of course, whether in south-west London or the slightly more roomy surrounds of Kent, there seems a constant drive towards creating additional space. The loft conversion trend shows little sign of abating, but increasingly now people are exploring their cellars or simply digging down through the foundations as a method of creating new rooms. Although it’s one of the more expensive ways of adding additional space, Spencer believes the results can be immense.

“I have done it myself,” he says. “In London and in Kent we have so much wonderful architecture above ground and it’s both a shame and difficult – in terms of permission – to alter too much. As a result, the simple way is to go down.

“Anyone having a cellar conversion will need to have it done by a specialist, as most likely you’ll be altering the structural support of your elderly property, and you don’t want to muck about unless you’ve got all the right engineering calculations. But I’ve done it in my own house because I looked at the square footage costs of digging down in relation to the square footage costs of the value of houses on my street and it made commercial sense to do it. It also meant I didn’t have to move, so it’s a great way of upsizing… albeit downstairs.”

For someone who uses Kent as a holiday county, what’s the presenter and developer’s advice for those looking to branch out and explore the potential of a holiday property?

“It has to be somewhere that is simple to get to. There’s no point having a holiday property that takes a day to reach, as you’ll probably only go there once a week. So the easier it is to get to the more you’ll use it, and that’s surely the point. A view would be important to me and things to do, regardless of the weather, although the sunshine is always kind to Kent, isn’t it?!”

THE GREAT BRITISH SWITCH

Take part in the Great British Switch on 12th-14th September at comparethemarket.com/greatbritishswitch and vote for a local charity to be awarded £50,000.

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