Find It, Fix It, Flog It presenter Simon O' Brien is hosting a brand new C4 property series, The Great House Giveaway, where strangers must work together in pairs to renovate properties. Here he tells us all about it....
Presenter and property developer, Simon O’Brien, is best known for co- hosting Channel 4’s hit daytime show Find It, Fix It, Flog It, but this week he’s on our screens with an exciting new property series The Great House Giveaway in which pairs of people work together to do up a property and try and make a profit.
“Basically we put two strangers together who don’t own their own home but who want to get on the property ladder”, explains Simon. “We take them to a real-live property auction and whichever house they successfully bid for is the one they’ve got to renovate. They’ve got six months and a budget to do it up before putting it back on the market. Any profit they make they keep!”
But things don’t always go to plan. “If property developing was easy then everyone would be doing it”, says Simon who first shot to fame playing Damon Grant in Liverpool soap Brookside.
First to be paired up are Vikki, a private investigator and Emily, an electrician, who meet for the first time at a house auction in West Yorkshire. What’s On TV caught up with Simon, 55, to hear more about the fixes and fall-outs, what first inspired him to get into property developing and how he still gets recognised from his soap days….
What’s On TV talks to Simon O’Brien, presenter of The Great House Giveaway
What’s On TV: What do you like best about the format?
Simon O’Brien: “The two things that really stuck out for me is the fact that it’s a real live auction, so we have no control over what they’re going to end up getting and the condition it’s in, it really is pot-luck. The other thing I like is the fact it’s all about the personalities. There is nothing more stressful than doing up a property, add in the fact you’re working with a complete stranger with a different skill set and different tastes and ideas and it could either go very well or very badly!”
Does that mean we’re going to see some clashes?
“Oh yes. We’ll see everything from people who have made lifelong friends, like Vikki and Emily in the first episode, they just got on like a house on fire, and others where I had to mediate via text between parties who would not even be in the same room together. If spinning a house in six months was an easy way to make money, then everyone would be doing it. It’s a very pressured kind of environment, let’s just say it brings out the best and the worst in people and there were definitely some big clashes along the way.”
Were there any specific incidents of people having very different ideas over décor or fixtures and fittings?
“Yes there was one house in Manchester where one half of the partnership was determined to keep and refurbish this old roll top bath and the other person was absolutely vehement it should go. This argument went backwards and forwards and they literally fell out over this rolltop bath. When the house was sold, the feedback was, the buyer loved the rolltop bath. So someone had to eat humble pie in that episode!”
Did you find yourself wanting to give them advice and if so do people take it or ignore it?
“The usual you know (laughing) most of the time people listen to your advice because they know I’ve got years of experience in this kind of stuff, a lot of them were quite wide-eyed, however there was one place down in South Wales and I said, ‘Look, whatever you do, do not extend this property because you can’t afford to’. I came back three months later and there I was standing on the new footings for the massive extension.”
What attracted you into the property developing business initially?
“I have a penchant for derelict houses. I always have had, it’s in my blood. When I was growing up in Liverpool in the 80s, me mum and dad only had limited means. They had four kids and this notion that we were all definitely going to have our own bedrooms. The only way to do that on their income was to buy these big Victorian piles that were completely run down and slowly do them up. Some were in such a state there’d be a sign on the door saying ‘Do not enter!’ Just when the house got to a point when you began to think, ‘Oh this is really quite nice’ we’d move out into an even more derelict place.”
So you’re not afraid of tackling a complete shambles then?
“No. I remember growing up thinking ‘I will never do this! I’m going to buy a new build when the time comes’ but within two years of me starting Brookside, I was standing in a cellar of a house I’d bought looking at the sky. It’s a kind of an addiction, I’m always looking for the next project, some are big, some are small but the more rundown they are, the more I tend to like them. I love seeing that big transformation.”
What is the most common mistake that people make in property development?
“Overspend is the most common mistake. You’ve got to be in control of your budget right from day one and if you’re not it will bite you further down the line. With a couple of the houses in the series they literally just ran out of money, they ended up as shells, they couldn’t even put in the bathroom or kitchen.”
Oh no! That’s a bit sad.
“This is why it’s such a good show. The series is not glossy tv, it’s warts and all. There are some astounding successes and some astounding failures and everything in between.”
What else have you got coming up in the pipeline. Is there another series of Find It, Fix It, Flog It in production?
“I’m sitting here in true Zoom garb, I’ve got a nice shirt on for the camera and I’ve got my filthy work jeans on that you can’t see. Straight after this interview I’m off to the workshop for Find It, Fix It, Flog It. We’d just started filming the new series when lockdown happened. Everything’s got to be finished by Christmas so we’re squeezing what should have taken seven months to make, into four.”
The show has been such a big success hasn’t it?
“Yes, I think we’re on about episode 125 now. Henry (Cole), my co-presenter, was checking the other day and even the repeats are still the top-rated show on daytime Channel 4, so it really has gone from strength to strength. I think part of that is we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we always have a bit of fun with it.”
What do you like most about working with Henry?
“I love the fact he’s daft as a brush. He’s also the poshest person I’ve ever met in my life. His great-great uncle was William Gladstone, (British Prime Minister from 1868-1894). He said to me one day, ‘Hey Si, you and I have got a lot in common!’ and I said, ‘How’s that Henry?’ He said, ‘Well my family are originally from Liverpool’ I said, ‘Mate, the only thing you and I have got in common is I walk down streets named after your family!’ We got on from the minute we first met, he’s very self-effacing and I don’t care what he says to me, I think that’s why it works.”
Do people still recognise you from your soap days and want to chat to you about your time on Brookside?
“Yes they do funnily enough. People of a certain age go ‘Yeah, yeah, I remember this and that’, they want to talk to you about Brookside and you can see the younger people going, ‘I’ve no idea who this person is or what they’re talking about!’”
How do you look back on those soap days?
“Very fondly. Brookside was the springboard into everything else for me and the strange world of media that I fell into. Unbelievably in two years time it will be 40 years since Brookside first started which just makes me feel very old indeed!”
The Great House Giveaway begins Monday 5 October at 4pm on C4