Dispatches from England: A Guide to My Favorite British House Hunting TV Shows


This might anger a few of the loyal Anglotopia readers, who love their British “telly,” but I don’t watch much television here. It’s actually just a function of lifestyle–as a freelance writer who also stays home with my children, I often spend my evenings writing and working instead of watching shows.

But one type of television show that I find myself drawn to (or turning on even when my kids are around because they think it’s boring and pay no attention to it!) is house hunting shows. Perhaps it’s because I can relate to the people on the show, searching for a home in the UK, as my husband and I did a year ago. For the American readers, these are similar to watching the popular show House Hunters International. So I thought I’d share a few of my favorites of these shows.

Location, Location, Location: This is by far my favorite. I adore the hosts, Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsopp. They’re a property expert team that have great chemistry (I actually thought they were married at first!). They host several other shows, both together and individually, and are quite popular over here. I also love the way they talk to the guests who appear on the show, many of whom don’t have a realistic concept of what their money will buy in the location they want. The show could actually be called Compromise, Compromise, Compromise.

A Place in the Sun Home or Away: All the guests on this show are searching for a home far away from where they currently live. Sometimes it’s just as a vacation home, others are looking to move further away permanently. This show is fascinating because the guests have to make a fundamental (and often life-changing) decision: do they buy a home somewhere further away in the UK, or do they move abroad? For example, in the most recent episode I watched, a family was looking for homes in Pembrokeshire, Wales, and also in southwest France. They chose France. It’s also interesting to see what their money buys them in the UK vs. abroad.

Escape to the Country: I personally relate to this show the most, as my family found our own home “in the country” here. Most of the guests on this show are looking to move to a more rural part of the UK from their urban dwelling. They are looking at some of the same types of properties I saw when we were house hunting. In fact, one recent episode was filmed near my house. It’s always fun to see what types of features guests are looking for. Some are adamant about a large garden, or period features, or proximity to public transport to ease their commute. One added bonus feature of this show is the segment that they do on the local area. The host (which varies) experiences something unique to that town, like seeing how a local food specialty is made, taking a tour of a historic property or attraction, etc. I enjoy learning about the various areas of the UK where they film.

Grand Designs: I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this show. The premise is that the host (Kevin McCloud) follows the progress of people who undertake insanely ambitious housing projects. I’ve watched people convert everything from ruined castles to water towers to airplane hangars into immaculate and stunning homes. It’s amazing to watch. And yet so frustrating–some of these guests take decades to complete the projects, and put themselves in financial ruin to do it. The host can be a bit over my head, as well. Perhaps it’s just my lack of knowledge about design and architecture, but he’s a little snobby for my tastes. Either way, it’s the type of show that once I start watching, I’m hooked and have to see it until the end to know what happens. And yet sometimes I’m screaming at the television for the duration of the show!

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  1. avatarJulie Mccoy says

    A show that I got hooked on last time I was in the UK visiting family, was Homes under the Hammer. They buy rundown houses at auction and do them up, I love seeing the before and after. Wish they’d show this in the States.

    • avatarShirley Young says

      Have to agree there Julie. Even if I visit family for a little while I always see some show I wish I could get in North Carolina.

  2. avatarKathy says

    Every now and then I catch a show called Selling London. Gorgeous properties for the super rich. Lovely real estate porn.

  3. avatarJohn Evans says

    I’ve watched pretty much all of the Grand Designs programmes since the series started and I just love them. I think the “snobby” element is just part of an attempt to create some “drama” in each program – as if building or converting your own property wasn’t drama enough. The pattern always goes like this: Kevin McCloud introduces us to the enthusiastic couple (it’s nearly always a couple) and explains their plans. Everyone’s excited about the project and is raring to go. By halfway through the programme some sort of disaster has struck and Kevin’s expressing his doubts about the viability/esthetics of the project. And then by the end, all’s well and Kevin loves the result (though it’s nearly always well over budget).

    And I always think what a great result, but I’d never want to go through all that pain myself!

  4. avatarSusan Lyons says

    Wish there was some way of watching these shows-used to get up early on Saturdays just to catch them on BBC America. When they stopped showing all of the “house” shows I dropped my cable back to basic.

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