Homes Under The Hammer is the adult equivalent of Teletubbies: every episode is exactly the same, there is only the vaguest semblance of peril, and every episode has a weird house in it.
I bloody love Homes Under The Hammer. It’s the kind of low-engagement programming that suits any time and any mood. I like nosing around people’s houses. I like the idea I could be a filthy capitalist if I could just stop ranting about Star Trek and do some plastering. The identikit nature of every episode is ideally suited to its 10am weekday timeslot, being watched exclusively by the unemployed, the ill and everyone’s dad. As a freelance writer with both a cold and a dad I absolutely understand that feeling of having a head filled with mush, unable to cope with anything strenuous like Pawn Stars or Storage Wars, and Homes Under The Hammer is the television equivalent of a nice cup of tea and a sit down.
Our guides for this mid-morning light entertainment are Martin Roberts, a former property expert who once spent £12,000 on hair and always pronounces ‘terraced’ as ‘terrorist’; former kids TV presenter Lucy Alexander; and Dion Dublin. Former footballer Dion Dublin is now inexplicably one of the presenters, although personally I think Robert Huth would have been far better. You know, ‘cause Homes Under The Hammer can be abbreviated to HUTH and Robert Huth’s name is… shut up, it works, dammit.
After the opening (which is stock footage filmed at a stately home back in 2004), we get into the show proper. The first section is a nose around the derelict property while the presenter criticises absolutely everything. Martin Roberts is getting progressively posher and more insane with each passing series, and has an unusual aversion for internal walls. Lucy Alexander likes old-fashioned things which are almost always removed by the developer. Dion Dublin gives his own unique commentary such as “it has a front door in the front” or “the kitchen is where you could do your cooking”. But we don’t really care, the first section is all about our own personal curiosity.
Your average person is uncontrollably nosy and will happily peer in through people’s windows to see what sort of stuff they’ve got. Homes Under The Hammer enables this sort of behaviour without the need to hide among the bins by allowing us to vicariously criticise old people’s houses. “Ooh, they’ve got artex ceilings, the bastards!” “What were they thinking with those tiles? They were probably Nazis.” “Woodchip? I bet they eat black forest gateau too, the unbelievable shits.” This is whole the point of the first section – we don’t actually care about what happens, we just like a bit of snooping, even if the houses are all the same. They are almost always the semi-derelict home of some recently deceased pensioner, with decor from the 1970s and a few inexplicable stains on the ceiling.
The next biggest problem is usually the bathroom. A downstairs bathroom is definitely a no no, unless it’s a bungalow, and even then it’s frowned upon. Bonus points for if the bathroom suite is in the shell style or avocado, and jackpot if the toilet is separate. Nobody wants to poo on a green toilet in a cupboard, apparently. Other potential problems include walls painted in a colour that’s not magnolia, polystyrene ceiling tiles, and “I will kill again” written on the walls in blood (although mostly that’s just the red colour).
For the purposes of the show we go to the auction, although in reality the property has already been bought and the new owner is hiding in the hideous bathroom. The auction time is possibly the most peril that occurs every episode – a tense room filled with millionaires and builders, set to tense stock music. You always root for the one you like the look of, who normally turns out to be Neil, the builder from Newcastle. Other winners include Michael and Susan of Kent, the impossibly posh people who already own several villages, Sanjeev and his sons from Birmingham who have a property development business, and Gavin of no fixed abode, who doesn’t really know what he’s doing.
An interview follows where there’s lots of forced laughing (unless the winner is a business owner, in which case they don’t betray any emotion) and the plans for the property are delivered to camera. Sometimes there’s a twist and there are no plans at all, but this only happens once every few episodes. It’s too early for that sort of shenanigans. Michael and Susan normally have a budget of half a million pounds and will get the men in to do the work. Sanjeev and sons have a budget of £15,432 exactly and will do most of the work themselves. Neil explains his plans in detail, which means conversations about joists and load bearing walls. Gavin thinks he can do the lot for £30, even if the entire house needs rotating or there’s no roof. There’s also a single, ‘interesting’ fact about the buyer, such as they once saw Tom Jones buying petrol, or that they’re pregnant and not just fat.
Depending on the competence of the new owner, Lucy or Martin (or Dion) will give short piece to camera summarising what was said not five seconds ago, either saying that they’ve done their homework, or that the budget is ambitious (there are no other options). We need this sort of hand-holding, because most people watching this have consumed their weight in Special Brew/Lemsip Max. But, we need a hook to keep people from turning over to ITV, so we are informed we’ll find out “later in the programme”. Suspense! Fortunately, long-time viewers know exactly how long to wait. The order is always first property before, second property before, first property after, third property before, second property after, third property after. Cue the music.
Part of the charm is that, thanks to the blanket music licensing agreement, Homes Under The Hammer uses any piece of music it wants, even if it’s only vaguely related to anything that has been said. If the property has any wrought iron balconies or gates then expect Iron Man to play. Any high rise property will be accompanied by M People’s Moving On Up. A new boiler being fitted might be accompanied by Hot Stuff. A damp problem calls for The Tide Is High. A beech-effect CD rack needs Chris Rea’s On The Beach.
In the after segment, Martin or Lucy (or Dion) will recap everything that already happened, right down to rerunning the interview with the new owner. If it’s Martin he’ll reiterate his desire that the downstairs have no rooms at all, if it’s Lucy she’ll suggest again that they move the bathroom slightly to the left, and if it’s Dion he’ll ask what ‘semi-detached’ means. Then we find out what has happened in the intervening period. This period is utterly random, and can be anything from five minutes after the first interview, to ten years later. The same estate agent (or in special cases, the auctioneer) returns to look bored around again to the tune of Express Yourself. Why it’s always this particular song is beyond me.
The estate agents always use the same euphemisms. “Good standard” means ‘cheap’, ‘good location’ means ‘there’s a road somewhere nearby’ and ‘good size’ means ‘a bit small’. They also insist on giving a rental and resale evaluation, even if we already know what the owner is going to do or even if they’ve already sold it.
In any case, there are three potential outcomes:
1) If Michael and Susan bought it, nothing has been done because of some legal issues, such as the garage actually being owned by a group of bats. Time filling ensues where the before and after shots are identical, and then the property is valued by estate agents as being now worth £1000 more than before, for no apparent reason. Fortunately they’ve bought several more properties which are now being lived in by their son Timothy and his life partner Pedro.
2) The entire property is beige and has made a pre-tax profit of £7000. The estate agents give a valuation and then Sanjeev says he’s sold it for ten grand more than the estate agents thought, or Neil did all the work himself and is pleased with the new joists.
3) Gavin has somehow renovated the whole house for a fiver with the help of his mates down the pub, and has made a profit of £150,000.
Fun fact: I went to school with someone on Homes Under The Hammer. He was one of the estate agents who does the valuations. He thought the property was worth £750 per calendar month, which is exactly the sort of thing he used to say during double history.
So, every episode is the same. We see some door handles, a stain and Martin Roberts going mental over a partition wall every day, but the sameness is kind of the point. Homes Under The Hammer is now on 24 hours a day on various satellite channels, making it the go to staple of mindless entertainment. It’s the kind of programming that is designed to tell the same story over and over again, providing a comforting constant whether you’re watching episode 5 or episode 1005. It’s warm. It’s familiar. And most importantly, it’s always there for you.