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Lucy Alexander – On top form!

Lucy Alexander

Lucy Alexander is already a household name having co-presented Homes Under the Hammer for BBC1 every morning for 13 years. However, things are about to change as Lucy has left the BBC and is soon to be on our screens presenting Best of Both Worlds with Lucy Alexander for Channel 4. A massive fan of property, Lucy and her family have just moved into their new home – which they built themselves – and she talks to Lynda Clark about her buying experiences, her TV career and offers her expert knowledge of buying for the first time

Lucy is one of the most enthusiastic, bubbly people you are ever likely to meet. Her life hasn’t always been easy, but she is so positive and up-beat about everything. She is married to Stewart Castledine, a former premier league footballer, and has two children who they are very proud of; Leo, 11, and Kitty, 14, who, after a very rare illness, is now in a wheelchair, but, as Lucy says, “Nothing stops her, or gets in her way and she leads a very normal life and loves drama and acting. It has changed all our lives, but nothing is stopping us from being a happy family.”

When Lucy was around 18 years old, she made a couple of TV commercials and when she was paid, her father, very sensibly, said that he would take the cheques, so that she didn’t spend it all on clothes and going out! Her parents were always interested in property and they advised her to put the money into buying a home. Even though she was very young, she decided to buy a two bedroom apartment in Clapham, south London, for £49,000 and her father acted as guarantor. She said, “At that point in my life I didn’t see it as an investment, but I just loved the idea of being independent. I had various friends come and stay which helped out with the mortgage and I ended up living there for eight years. I eventually sold it for about £150,000 which was a good profit.”

She then met her future husband, Stewart, who was also interested in property, and he sold his house and they bought a place together in Teddington, which they renovated and eventually sold. “It was really the start of the property bug for us both.” They have bought and sold many properties and do a great deal of the work needed on the houses themselves, while getting builders to do the bigger projects. Lucy certainly doesn’t hang around if she sees a property she likes. At one point she lived about 30 seconds up the road from a house she went on to buy, so she knew the place and location very well. “I knew it was in a terrible state but had masses of potential. I got to hear about it as it had been to auction and not sold. I did peer into all the windows, though, and it confirmed how awful it really was! It had been converted into five flats, which was also complicated; when we eventually bought it, we wanted to turn it back into one house, which involved planning issues and jumping through lots of hoops. We also had to wait until all the tenants left, before we could start work on it. It was a big risk, but definitely worth it as it became a wonderful family home.”

However, Lucy and Stewart then found an even bigger project in the form of a wonderful plot that had a 1930s house on it. She said, “We decided to sell the manor house and move just one more time. The plot was just around the corner from where we lived and so we knew the locality very well. We decided to knock the original house down and we only kept four of the walls – we completely changed the look and feel of the new house that we built. It is gorgeous; a Georgian-style, double-fronted house with a slate roof, sash windows and a huge front door. We painted it in a soft grey colour, with white windows, and it’s very pretty. It was a mega-project and, of course, it took much longer than expected and cost so much more than we budgeted for, but it’s the perfect home for the family and we all love it here. Because Kitty is in a wheelchair, we wanted to make it practical for her, too, and we asked her to help out with the design, so everywhere in the house is accessible to her. She has a lovely wheel-in shower room and wardrobe in her bedroom, plus a huge patio door so she can get outside. We have a beautiful garden and have made a lot of it hard ground, so she can wheel herself around and enjoy being with her friends, for things like barbecues when the weather is good. We also have a gorgeous Cavapoo dog – called Teddy as he looks just like a teddy bear – and we all adore him.”

Lucy’s career has always gone from strength to strength. “I absolutely adored Homes under the Hammer but, after 13 years, I felt like I should dip my toe in the water and see what else was out there. I was approached by Carpetright to become their ambassador for all their brand new stores and new marketing campaign. I knew that if I took it on, then I wouldn’t be able to work for the BBC anymore but it was the push I needed, so I agreed. Within a very short space of time, she was also approached by Channel 4 and offered a number of different shows. Two have not been announced yet, but in the spring, she will be presenting Best of Both Worlds with Lucy Alexander. “It’s a great show in which, basically, I find a property for couples where one wants to live in the town and the other in the countryside. I have to think outside the box and try to find a home which combines both the joys of town and country. We look at three homes and, so far, everyone featured has been ‘blown away’. They always tell me that they would never have thought of looking at the places I show them and many of them have ended up buying one of the homes. It’s very hard work and I have to drive all over the country and do lots of research beforehand, then, if they want to make an offer, it is up to me to seal the deal – if the offer is accepted, it’s job done!”

Lucy is also involved in another couple of prime-time shows which have yet to be announced, so she is very busy, but she loves her new life with Channel 4. “Property is my passion and Stewart and I are currently building four townhouses in Maidstone. We bought the plot at auction as an investment and Stewart is project manager, and they should be completed later this year. I have thoroughly enjoyed building our gorgeous new home and we only moved in two weeks before Christmas, which was quite stressful. I’ve had to make some big decisions, but if you don’t do anything a bit out of the ordinary in life, you will always regret it. Go for gold and, even if it’s a rocky ride, it will be a stepping stone to lead on to bigger and better things. I loved the manor house we lived in, but the house we have now is on a different level and I see this as our forever home. We have all put in a lot of work, but it’s been really worth it.”

Lucy has some very good advice for first time buyers and says, “If your mum and dad, or even a group of friends, can pool their money together, it is the best thing you can do and it will help to get you on the first rung of the ladder. Buy if you can and then the home is yours. There are a big percentage of parents who are helping out their children, in one way or another, and the bank of mum and dad is becoming more and more popular. I think location is very important, but there are some amazing places which may not be quite where you had thought of that are really on the up. You will get more for your money and, even if it’s not trendy, or doesn’t have a cafe culture, these will come. My advice is to buy the worst house on the best street as, from my experience, a good location means that property prices hold their own. Also, consider transport links and schools, which are both very important. Look at up-and-coming areas – places like Ebbsfleet and Bexleyheath, for example, which are having money pumped into them – but you sometimes have to be patient and sit and wait. It is vital to secure funds and sensible to make sure you have a mortgage offer in place before you start. If you haven’t got a mortgage offer, then it is pretty pointless to start house-hunting as you could end up very disappointed. View as many properties as you can and make friends with the estate agent and regularly call them, so you don’t miss out on anything new coming to the market. You should also add value to your home once you have bought it – even if it’s a newbuild, you can change the door, or knock through the garage and create a carport – it will then have your own personality stamped on it and will certainly add value and space. Lucy is very keen on buying at auction and said, “If you buy at auction, it will mostly be a wreck, but you could make a lot of money. It is hard for first timers who are not cash rich, but if you can take the plunge and are young and have lots of energy, then an auction property is the way to go.”

Although Lucy currently has a very busy schedule, she happily manages to juggle home and work, so that everyone is very happy. “I just love what I do and we couldn’t be happier in our beautiful new house. Life is full of fun and our house is always filled with laughter, so I really have the best of all worlds.”

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