Anyone who has ever had a lackluster experience with a high street agent may need to suppress a pang of resentment at the difference £20 million makes.
In Channel 4’s new property show, which starts tonight, a gang of wannabe agents must navigate a world of fastidiously staged open houses and price tags that put the commission well into six figures.
This is real estate the LA way, which Paul ‘PK’ Kemsley is dead set on importing to Blighty after 13 years in California. “The UK property industry is asleep,” he says in the opening gambit.
The forthright Kemsley is setting up a super prime property division at London’s RIB agency, of which he is a 50 per cent stakeholder, and wants a trainee to take under his wing.
“We’re a traditional firm,” pleads Antony Antoniou, RIB’s managing director. “Not anymore you’re not,’ is PK’s reply.
He is quick to acknowledge that his billion dollar property empire is no more – Rock, a venture with Spurs’ billionaire owner Joe Lewis, went into administration in 2009 amidst the financial crisis.
Obvious parallels with The Apprentice are only bolstered by the fact that Kemsley was one of Sir Alan’s advisers on the show from 2005 to 2008, leaving when Rock failed and he felt his authority had weakened.
But these eight rookies are not vying for an inflation-battered investment from Sugar, nor an emphatic “I’m in” from Deborah Meaden – they simply want to sell the UK’s priciest properties. “I’m 28 now but I’m 30 next year and I want to be on the Forbes 30 under 30 list,” says Mairead, an executive assistant.
Forget flogging trainers at a market only to be told your team has inexplicably made a loss of £200 quid – it quickly becomes clear that success in London’s prime property market is measured in diplomacy, an instinct for cultivating “ambience” and the ability to get a score of high net worth individuals to turn up at a day’s notice.
In this first task Kemsley’s “rough diamonds” must put on an LA-style open house, which he says are “basically parties in super luxe properties”.
A whistle-stop tour of a Bayswater penthouse and an apartment on John Nash’s Park Crescent throw up some theme ideas – will it be the Hawaiian luau or the Kimono dress-up party? – but, perhaps mercifully, these are not the homes to be open house’d. That would be Kenwood House, a 10-bedroom mansion in the Hertfordshire village of Radlett with three swimming pools, 26 acres and a helipad. The commission alone would be £400,000.
“Of course, I know a two grand budget to sell a £20 million house is a joke,” reveals Kemsley in a voiceover. He wants to see who can hustle and blag their way into better canapés or grander props.
With 10 minutes to go, the champagne is warm and the contestants may have failed to swot up on where the local schools sit in the league tables. “Why am I not hopeful?” says PK.
It is revealed in a preview for the next episode that the second task will involve hosting a house tour of Boy George’s Gothic Hampstead mansion, with the musician himself on hand to do the judging.
Part-property show, part-exercise in slow-burning dread, Selling Super Houses is remarkably adept at building tension for an event that effectively amounts to “rich people go to house viewing”.
The focus is not so much the homes themselves (Rightmove would reveal most of what’s on show here) but a look at the inner workings of an agency at this dizzying end of the market.
The good news for interested parties is that Kenwood House is still up for sale – but sadly you’ve missed the open house.
The first episode of Selling Super Houses airs on Channel 4 at 9pm on 29 August.