Speaking to a very stylish, capable and house-proud friend over the Christmas holidays, she said to me somewhat despairingly: "I hate my house. It's a mess, but where the hell do I start?" It's actually not that much of a mess, but it's not the way she wants it and I know how she feels. Whether it's overflowing and lidless storage boxes throughout, dog-scratched front doors or inherited pianos that just don't fit, most of us could do better.
We started by making a list (who doesn't love the optimism of a list?) of the things that bother her most about her house. It was an intimidatingly long list - the intention being that she'll address the issues one at a time: full-time job, two kids, a part-time degree course and life in general notwithstanding of course. But what if you need to wave a magic wand over your house a little bit quicker than that – say, to sell or rent it out, or just because you know you'll never get round to doing it all by yourself? Enter, House Doctor®.
You may remember the original House Doctor®, Ann Maurice (pictured), and her TV show in which she pulled no punches and got the transformative selling job done. Ann has since created a nationwide House Doctor® network, for clients who need help staging their homes for sale, have just moved in and don't know where to start, are updating or simply drowning in clutter and in need of guidance. We made an appointment with House Doctor®'s Lucy Inskip to find out more:
Lucy, who are your clients and what kind of help are they looking for from you?
We help a huge range of clients – from people with smaller homes struggling to accommodate growing families who want help organising the space they have, to renovating manor houses. It's basically anyone who has a property and needs help making the best of it. About half of our work is staging properties for sale – the work that people may remember from the House Doctor® series.
What are the most common issues you face with the houses you're called in to overhaul?
There tend to be three types of property: the overstuffed house; the underdressed house and the poorly maintained house. The overstuffed houses tend either to be family homes where everyone is just too busy and having a clear out is never a priority, or homes where the owners have lived there a long time and there's been no regular throwing out process. Creating space is key when it comes to selling houses.
The underdressed house has the basics – a big tv, a sofa, the odd bookcase, but it lacks the layers it needs from things like rugs, throws, art on the walls – accessories really.
The third type of house we see is where an owner needs to overhaul kitchens and bathrooms as they're looking tired.
Do you always need to spend significant amounts of money to turn a house around?
Decluttering and dressing a house needn't cost much at all. Often, the decluttering part the owners can do themselves, but a lot of clients find that it helps to have someone there every day guiding them – getting them started and keeping them going. A lot of the time, the things people need to dress their homes are already there, underneath all the clutter, it's just a question of finding them.
If we are asked to shop for accessories to dress a home, our team always knows where to buy the best inexpensive pieces and it's really all about the way it's all put together, so it needn't cost much at all. With kitchens, bathrooms and potentially more expensive work we're there to make the best of what you've got – with all the different types of work that we do, the watchword is making the most of what's already there.
What's the quickest that one of your properties has sold post-staging?
When the market was more buoyant, say three years ago, 95% of our houses would sell within four weeks, but today we are, to an extent, at the mercy of the downturn in the market. Having said that, a few months ago we worked on a house in Ascot, preparing it for an open house and two potential buyers were found straight away and the property was sold within a week.
People are realising that, in this tough market, before you try to sell it really does help to get an external perspective.
Click here to find out more about the House Doctor® network and to check out some motivational before and after shots and check back next week for the first in a series of House Doctor® tips on how to improve your home.