Homes Under the Hammer presenter on breathing life into derelict buildings

Job title TV presenter. I presented BBC’s Homes Under the Hammer from its launch in 2003 to 2016, and I now front Channel 4’s A Place in the Sun.

How did you start your career in television? I went to drama school and into a TV career with children’s programming.

But I bought my first flat at the age of 18, which kickstarted my passion with property. Indeed, my very first date with the man who is now my husband was going to look at property.

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With my presenting career, I’ve been lucky to be able to concentrate on property shows – which is exactly what I love and know about.

Lucy Alexander, the presenter of the BBC’s Homes Under the HammerLucy Alexander, the presenter of the BBC’s Homes Under the Hammer
Lucy Alexander, the presenter of the BBC’s Homes Under the Hammer

On Homes under the Hammer, very often the homes we were filming would be derelictand hadn’t been touched for years. The film crew would open the door and pigeons would fly out, and it would be freezing and dirty.

I loved that I would see that, and then meet the people who had just bought it and hear their ideas, and then see the transformation journey at the end.

A Place in the Sun is completely different – less dust and dirt and more sunshine – but it is still all about meeting people and hearing their property stories. Many are at the end of their working lives and are looking for a special house abroad.

What types of property have you renovated yourself?I’ve bought and sold family homes and flats and worked on them all – not to the level of a full-time developer, but we did buy a house for ourselves at auction. It was a hidden gem with had problems which put people off, but we just thought it was even better that no-one else wanted it.

Now we have something else which we developed for our needs. My daughter is a wheelchair user so we needed a lift, wider doorways, level access, and sometimes the only way to find something that is going to work is to do it yourself.

Why are you campaigning to raise awareness of abandoned and derelict properties? It is so important to breathe life into these buildings.

There are a lot of empty properties out there – 1.55 million in the UK, 93,000 in Scotland. The combined value in Scotland is £18 billion if they were redeveloped, so they are a real untapped resource.

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There are so many people looking to get on the property ladder and on the other hand there are so many properties that have been abandoned,so it is about trying to marry up the two.

What would you advise people who are interested in such a project? Keep your eyes open, be nosey, walk around in an area that you fancy and take notes. Do your research – the survey we carried out shows that 56 per cent of Scots pass by one of these unused buildings every day. And most people will know of one in their local area.

First and foremost, you have to find who the owners are – speak to neighbours, estate agents and auctioneers.

If the owners are willing to sell, it is time to organise finances which might be the most important thing, knowing what the whole project will cost and if it is going to be worth your while. There also may be planning permission to think about.

I’m working on this campaign with Together, a specialist lender which you may need, because often high-street lenders don’t want to take on any home they think has an element of risk.​

What are the advantages of buying this way?

I love the quirky, unusual nature of some of these properties – bringing a lock-keeper’s cottage back to life, for example. And if you find a hidden gem that hasn’t been to auction, you can get a bargain.

What would be your dream abandoned property to buy? I want to buy a pub, my co-presenter on Homes Under the Hammer, Martin [Roberts], recently bought one in Wales. I think they make the most incredible homes, with large public spaces, prominent locations and with car parking – and there are so many going to ruin.

But for any project like this, you can get help redesigning it. For more specialist projects you might need very deep pockets, but the best will make spectacular homes.

Personal properties

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​Born and raised East Dulwich, London. I went to drama school in Tring and then on to the Barbican. I used to get the Tube in every day with Naomi Campbell.

Career My first job was on children’s TV programmes because of my singing, dancing and acting background. I then presented travel programmes, while developing property in my private life, before meeting the producer of Homes Under the Hammer.

Family My husband, Stewart Castledine, is an ex-footballer who played for Wimbledon, and my son Leo now plays for Chelsea. My daughter Kitty is an actress who has just joined the cast of EastEnders.

Where do you live? In Surrey, in a Georgian-style new-build. When the kids leave home, we will look for a new project.

Plans for retirement Making A Place in the Sun feels like going on holiday, so I don’t think I want to retire. And I’ll always have a little property project on the side.

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