real estate development as a game show is a cruel concept

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As the cost of living crisis sets in, a new Channel 4 show arrives with the promise that it can make us rich. “It can be a very, very exciting and lucrative career that can give you lifelong financial freedom and security,” says one of the resident experts on Flipping Fast by George Clarkebut with a caveat: “you have to work hard to win”.

This career is all about flipping houses – buying them cheap, redoing them, and reselling them. The show features six teams, each given £100,000 and tasked with making the biggest profit possible within a year.

There are obviously financial pitfalls to this venture. But neither the presenter, George Clarke, nor the pundits, Stuart and Scarlette Douglas, make that clear at first. Instead, it falls to two contestants, Pamela and Gordon, to illustrate just how difficult things can be.

Gordon is a truck driver and Pamela is a part-time caregiver. He’s 55, she’s 59. They’ve never owned a property and left her too late to get a mortgage. They are desperate to win the show – winners receive £100,000 cash – and go into it with no game plan. As other candidates look in areas they know well, Pamela bids online for a house she’s never seen in a town (Stockton-on-Tees) she’s never heard of talk. Their successful offer of £52,000 is only £3,000 less than the average price for a fully refurbished property in the same area, and it requires a ton of work.

Watching this couple flounder, while the presenters fall silent, is almost cruel. No, it’s not their money, but the project clearly has a physical and mental impact. They abandoned their home and moved into a trailer to do this. And the playing field isn’t a level playing field, as they’re up against Harriet, a shrewd young woman whose main advantage – which she fails to mention to the others at first – is that her fiancé’s family are builders, and will carry out all the renovations it needs immediately and at a reduced price.

I guess it’s an instructive show, if you want to get into real estate. But so does Homes Under the Hammer. I’ll keep checking back as the series progresses, in the hope that Pamela and Gordon’s luck improves. It is television, after all, where the underdogs sometimes win out. Hopefully they’ve learned the lesson of property number one. Despite all their hard work and reaching a sale price of over £70,000, they made a profit of just £1,280.

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