Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Distance Learning - Wednesday

‘Well that was a laugh a minute.’ Grumbles loose lettings lush B when she returns from training,  which didn’t involve alcohol and casual sex.
‘No good?’ I ask, not really interested as the bean counter boss has grumbled about my board rate again. He forgets my patch has scores of apartment blocks that forbid agents’ for sale boards, in their leases.

‘Well,’ says B shrugging off her coat and thumping into her seat with the sort of sigh I imagine is interchangeable for most of her activities. ‘Not content with being an unpaid tax collector checking for money laundering, immigration officer scanning passports, or a sodding carbon monoxide monitor to stop dozy tenants not waking up at all, I’m now supposed to look for bloody Legionnaires’ disease.’

‘Legionnaires, isn’t that the food poisoning with the name of a pudding?’ Asks trainee F to groans all round.
‘That’s salmonella love,’ says negotiator S kindly. ‘And I think you mean semolina.’
I’m just glad we didn’t have another soul-sapping conversational cul-de-sac while I explained to F, Legionnaires’ disease wasn’t something you picked up from French mercenaries with funny hats.

‘It’s not exactly your responsibility.’ Counters obese mortgage man M. ‘It’s the landlord who cops the prison sentence.’ 
‘I have to alert them and arrange for an inspection, like those pissing pointless Energy Performance Certificates.’ Snaps back B.
‘Huh. You should see how many compliance hoops I have to jump through.’ Huffs M.
They’d need to be pretty wide hoops, I think, and it’s only because you stitched so many people up with dodgy endowments and Payment Protection Policies.

‘So if you don’t eat it, how do you get it?’ Continues F doggedly.
‘You inhale it, in spores… probably.’ I answer hesitantly. I haven’t been on the course but I know the office air-conditioning units that only work in the winter, and as soon as some hot weather arrives piss stale water through the ceiling tiles, can harbour the disease.

‘It thrives in stagnant water.’ Says B, glancing at her handout. I’m on the edge of my knowledge without her crib sheet and unlike those irritating students who keep Googling answers under the table at my local pub quiz, I’m trying to use an increasingly unreliable memory.

‘Tell us all you learned.’ I urge. Knowledge is power and I don’t want B knowing more than me, particularly as I’ll be responsible for her files when she’s either away on holiday or lying in a stranger’s bed trying to remember his name.Which would also be on holiday, on reflection.

‘I think we’ll have to get that dull div who does the Energy Performance Certificates to do a safety check for all new landlords.’
‘Is he qualified do do that?’ I ask frowning.
‘He’s going on a course.’ Replies B.
‘Going, or doing some tick-box for idiots’ e-learning programme, while sitting on the toilet?’ I retort.
‘One of those.’

An hour later I’ve discovered Legionnaires’ disease loves temperatures between 20 and 45 degrees centigrade, can lurk in old pipe runs, will breed merrily in un-lagged loft tanks and enjoys hard water where limescale is present. Prevention is better than cure, so it will mean risk assessments, more record keeping and ensuring elderly rental applicants with damaged immune systems, don’t try the bath out before the references are done and the lease signed….

‘It just never stops.’ Groans B as she re-reads the latest lump of clunky legislation the industry must try and implement. And like most new rules you only really know how the regulations will operate after the unlucky pioneer defendants have been prosecuted.

‘You’d think estate and letting agents would need to be licensed and qualified.’ I say. resurrecting an old hobby-horse, to low groans of recognition.
‘Is that ever going to happen?’ Asks F, alarm in his voice. Rumour has it he took his driving test four times and judging by the way he parks he must have blown the examiner on the last outing.

‘If they haven’t implemented it since the 1979 Estate Agents Act, I wouldn’t hold your breath.’ I tell F.

Unless you’re under a grubby shower head.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

First Defence - Thursday

‘Can you squeeze in another valuation before lunch.’ Says negotiator S even before I’ve closed the office door.
‘Really?’ I reply, glancing at the wall clock and looking longingly towards the kitchen where there was just under half a packet of Malted Milk biscuits when I left.
‘She has to see you today.’ Continues S as I see tubby mortgage man M emerging, with a mug of something steaming and a fist full of curiously moorish baked product.

Now it’s a long time since any woman really had to see me at such short notice. But as M has finished all the Malted Milk, and has just as clearly only made himself a drink, it seems I’d be better off pitching for some business than pitching in head first against the morbidly obese finance-fiddler. I’ll sort him later.

‘Give me the details.’ I say to S curtly.
She reals off the  basic information. Address, property type, number of bedrooms, name and contact methods.
‘And reason for wishing to move?’ I say, wanting the most important piece of the puzzle.
‘They’ve outgrown their existing house.’
‘Partner?’ I probe. Hoping to know if I can get both parties together, then find out which one is the decision maker.
‘He’s at his office.’ S shrugs a semi-apology,. ‘I know, but she’s said it was the only time she was available and she’s off work today.’

I nod, look at the clock again, then accede. You can’t afford to turn down chances for business in any market place and valuations are the sharp end of property sales, no mater how many internet start-ups, or badly briefed journalists, tell you different. Without the homes to offer, an estate agent is dead in the water.

‘I don’t suppose she told you why it had to be today?’ I ask S, as I cross-check my brief case for sole agency forms, digital camera, calculator and laser-measure.
She hesitates.
‘What?’ I demand. I could do body language as a degree course after all this time.
‘You’re not going to like it.’ Ventures S timidly.
‘She’s off work sick, isn’t she?’ I state rhetorically.
S nods. Terrific.

I’ve picked up most minor airborne ailments known to man since I began valuing people’s homes. It’s why my desk drawer looks like a Heathrow airside, mini-version of Boots the chemist. I even had one of their loyalty cards for a while and come to think of it there’s a UK to USA plug adaptor in there too.

‘Just don’t get too close to her.’ Says S with a chuckle.
I get colds and throat infections much more regularly than offers of casual sex. Although there was that one time when the divorcee wanted to negotiate a fee reduction - I didn’t really fancy him though…

‘I won’t, don’t worry.’ I tell her, going back to my office and taking two big snorts from the exorbitantly priced - but clinically proven - First Defence bottle. Immediately my eyes water and I start sneezing. God knows if it really helps, you immediately get most of the symptoms of a streaming cold so it’s hard to tell.

‘Don’t stay too long.’ Suggests trainee F unhelpfully. 
‘And perhaps refuse to shake her hand too?’ I counter sarcastically.
‘That’s a good call.’ Answers F.
I sometimes yearn for the days when you could sack someone without months of negotiations with Human Resources.

If I want the business and sense it’s there to be had, I’ll stay the night and clamber in to bed with  both of them if I have to. Anything to stop another agent getting their For Sale board up. It’s dog eat dog out there and a snottily proffered hand, a germ-ridden cup of coffee, or even a dribbly threesome won’t deflect me from signing up a sole agency.

The chances are it won’t be an easy sale. Experience tells me I’m just being called out at the owners’ convenience. Moving home isn’t a snap decision, at least not a successful move. I’m probably just going to be used at a time when someone is at home with a box of tissues and a DVD.

Might as well have another tosser join them.


Friday, March 06, 2015

Sale Agreed - Friday

‘Sold to that man!’ Exclaims trainee F with a flourish, thumping the phone down and turning to the office with a grin like a scary clown.

‘Exchanged contracts already has it?’ Says assistant manager T with raised eyebrows.
’Didn’t know there was an auction on today.’ Contributes negotiator S, with an alluring grin.
‘Have they signed an irrevocable pre-contract agreement, with a ten percent non-returnable deposit subject only to a second viewing?’ I add flatly.

‘Errr, No.’ Says F looking crestfallen, scanning the room. ‘No to all of those.’
‘Then it’s not sold then is it?’ Says T, shaking his head.
‘It’s a sale agreed, though.’ Adds S softly, with a kind smile towards F. ‘So that’s a good start.’
‘That’s about all it is.’ Snipes T, before I can.

‘Well done.’ I tell F, the voice of experience nagging at me to be less enthusiastic.
One in three sales fall through. There’s a long way to go, but you have to keep pouring into the top of the sales funnel.

‘They were a nightmare couple.’ Continues S, still smiling at F. That’s probably enough, I think, as she adds.
‘You did well to get them to pay a price our vendors accepted.’
F hesitates and an alarm bell starts ringing shrilly in my head - at least I hope it’s just in my head. The tinnitus has been getting increasingly obtrusive and sometimes I wonder if the noises I hear in my head are actually real….

‘They did pay what we agreed they’d have to?’ I ask, shaking my head like a breaststroker - the type with swimmers’ ear, not the creepy version Human Resources keep running courses about.
‘Yes.’ Answers F hesitantly. ‘Only they insisted we put a sold board up straight away.’
‘Or what?’ Growls T. Once again, just before I can. I wonder if he’s after my chair? He can have it if he wants. Like me, it’s old and cranky with a bad back.

‘Or they won’t go ahead.’ Replies F apologetically.
‘It’s not  up to you though is it?’ I say to F curtly.
‘I know, I told them we’d have to ask our clients.’ Replies F. ‘But they say they’d already agreed it with them. Said they have a gentleman’s agreement.’
A simultaneous groan rings round the office.
‘What?’ Asks F naively.
‘How long have you got?’ Says T.

One thing I’ve learnt over nearly three decades of deals and disappointments, is a gentleman’s agreement is about as reliable as a colander for a condom. People renege on their promises without the slightest thought to the consequences. The reasons one in three sales falter are as broad as Kim
Kardashian’s backside. Human frailties; with changes of mind, marital circumstance, schooling and employment are almost limitless. Then the professional pitfalls contribute, with bad surveys, lazy lawyers, intransigent lenders, short leases, disputed rights of way, the list is endless. Multiply those potential deal-breakers by the number of people in a  property chain and you can see why I don’t want the sold board up before the buyers at least start spending some money.

‘They want the board up. Tell them we want the survey done first.’ Suggests T. It’s a line I’ve used, but he’s first again. I like to think I’ve taught him something.
‘I’m not sure they’d like that.’ Says F weakly.
‘Who the hell do you think you’re working for?’ I add quickly, before T trumps me again.
‘I’m not doing the buyers’ finance am I?’ Asks fat mortgage man M as he sways past.
‘No.’ Answers F.
‘Then you’re acting for the vendors.’ Concludes M. Succinctly summing up the conflict of interest arranging funds for buyers has caused in the industry, ever since the banks and insurance companies started buying estate agencies.

‘How can it hurt?’ Persists F.
Because it puts off other potential buyers. Punters who at least can be readied as a back up, if the “my word is my bond” buyers do what 33% of people who utter that dreaded phrase eventually do. I tell F and he agrees  to speak to the vendors for instruction.

Sold - subject to contract - board up already.
I’m not exactly counting chickens.


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Monday, February 23, 2015

Kissing Frogs - Monday

‘You’re not going to be happy.’ Suggests negotiator S as I re-enter the office, smiling at me apologetically. The choices are endless if I’m expected to guess events likely to lower my mood, where the property business is concerned.

A sale could have fallen through, a chain of buyers outside my control may have collapsed, a surveyor might have rubbished a house we have agreed a sale on, a vendor might have changed their mind and decided not to move despite a deal being agreed on their home - oh you get the picture…

‘Narrow it down then.’ I say resignedly, as I shrug off my coat and walk on auto-pilot to see what horrors are lurking in the message book.
‘We’re double booked on viewings later.’ Says S, shooting a quick glance towards F the hapless trainee. She tries to cover it, but I know straight away who the culprit is. I just don’t know the crime yet.

Now there shouldn’t be an issue with viewings being arranged, they are the seed-corn of every sale. Even if the appointment comes to nothing it ensure the homeowners know we are actively promoting their home, not just posting a listing on a property portal and sticking a poorly-framed photo in the office window. So why the problem?

S answers even before I’ve fired up a spare computer screen.
‘It’s The Richardson’s,’ she announces with a shrug. ‘They want to look at the new instruction off The Avenue. I’m sorry, only you are available to do it.’
I shoot a glance towards F, then towards the office swear box. Both cost me dearly, on a weekly basis.

‘I didn’t know who they were.’ Gabbles F, cheeks turning crimson.
The Richardson’s?’ I say, looking at S and pointedly ignoring F.
S answers in the affirmative.
‘The monumental time wasters?’ I continue, acid reflux rising.
‘Yes. sorry.’
‘The tossers who have been looking for five years?’
‘Who never put their own house on the market even though I’ve valued it four times.’
‘That’s them.’
‘Who have viewed over one hundred properties and not been happy with a single one?’
‘The very same.’ says S, turning back to her keyboard.

Now the number-crunchers - my bean-counter boss being a fully paid up figure-fiddler, included - would have you believe that no viewing is a wasted one, that every no takes you closer to a yes. That, if you hit your targets for viewings and valuations and pour enough in to the top of the sales funnel, the required results will trickle out the bottom. They’ve clearly never met Mr and Mrs Richardson.

Some people will find fault with every home they see and in the unlikely event you ever show them something they might want to buy, I can guarantee they’d want too much money for their own precious house and somebody else in a more favourable position, with more realistic expectations, would beat them to the contract.

These are the sort of irritating pedants you’ll see on one of the endless property porn television programmes that pad out the viewing schedules. The type who want to escape to the country but want to be near the shops.Who want to downsize but expect to take all their bulky furniture with them. Who want to trade up to a dearer area, but don’t expect to pay any more money.

Most folk have a list of negotiable requirements for their next home. These mind-f***ers have a screed of non-flexible, demands. Even the prissy Escape to The Country Presenter with the beard, or the chubby ex-choirboy who wishes his voice had never broken, will be driven to distraction. I suspect once the cameras stop rolling the presenters’ opinions of these freeloaders are far from cherubic.  And yet…

‘You going still, then?’ Says assistant manger T as he pulls on his coat, at the appointed viewing time. He managed to grab the simultaneous appointment. I have an elephantine memory, retribution will be served frozen.

‘You never know.’I tell him frostily.
‘That’s the spirit.’ Cajoles S, with a winning smile. ‘They might love it.’

They didn’t.


Friday, February 13, 2015

The Only Way Is Up - Friday

Back in the budget hotel car park with a lowering sense of deja vu. This time there is some sort of barrier to negotiate and draconian threats of clamping cowboys if I don’t report to reception and obtain the appropriate get out of jail card.

I note a couple of new company cars, for those producing better sales figures than my office and the mood darkens. Then, as if to compound the misery, H my vertically-challenged rival manager, sweeps in with a shiny new German motor. The urge to key it with British Leyland lives, rises briefly, until I realise that the car park is monitored by CCTV. 

I’ve imagined many ways of resigning - with varying degrees of style - but being caught red-handed scratching graffiti on a BMW’s door, championing a defunct manufacturer that built crap cars isn’t my exit of choice. But man, it’s tempting.

‘You have ticket no?’ Asks the slightly stern looking girl on reception, as I make it through the revolving doors without being spat out into the car park again. There's a deep Freudian message in there somewhere but I’m too tired and simple to find it.

‘I’m with this lot.’ I say to the receptionist, indicating the crooked Welcome board where once again they've misplaced a couple of possessive apostrophes on two of the delegations. Not that I’m in a position to complain, I still get them wrong - and still receive reprimands from grammar pedants when I do - but at least someone is reading my output. Far better than being ignored.

‘So Estate Agents, no?’ Queries the girl. The staff seem to have shifted subtly over the past twelve months. I’m sensing a move further east, to newly admitted European nations. One thing is for sure not many indigenous locals seem to work here. The probably don’t get many UKIP delegations staying.

I acknowledge my guilt in ending up in a profession roundly despised by even third world cleaning staff and the girl, with roots badly in need of more peroxide, hands me an exit ticket. If only the career one was so easily taken.

‘I like to buy in this country.’ Says the girl with a crooked smile. I just stop myself from looking pointedly at my watch. No need to be rude before she is.
‘Only,’ continues Tatiana - happy to help according to her name badge - ‘The prices are as high as the mountains, no?’

When she puts it so charmingly it would seem churlish to point out appending NO as a suffix to every sentence tends to negate the earlier statement. So I agree with her and take the proffered, date stamped, escape ticket. Then despite my smile, her mood darkens.

‘And it’s all you peoples fault, no?’ She barks like a concentration camp commandant. Terrific, I think, as I head for the elevator my denial clearly not believed. I should check the back of my jacket to see if I’m sporting some sort of motif to make me more recognisable when the book and negotiator burning starts.

So, not only do buyers and sellers not understand how the market works, I can now add vast swathes of former Russian satellite states’ immigrants, along with “property expert” television presenters and politicians. Perhaps I should learn how to work in Housekeeping instead of housing, at least the shit tends to remain in the pan - or the bed.

The lift doors swish shut behind me and I steel myself for another piss-poor Powerpoint presentation from my bean counter boss. I read somewhere that Microsoft were stopping those tacky Clip Art inserts. The bean counter will be distraught not to have that ghastly graph with the briefcase wielding drone trudging uphill endlessly. Sales is a Sisyphean task, at least I think it is. Look it up, because it’s all Greek to me…

Then I notice the lift carriage is carrying adverts for local business outlets. The cut price clowns with cheap fees and cheap suits are staring me in the face. I spend my life persuading owners that a slashed percentage charge by an estate agent could end up costing them money, but some just won’t listen.

Just hope the lift didn’t have hidden cameras.


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Monday, February 02, 2015

Charity Begins - Monday

Hurrying across the park I spot the aggressive begging group. I need a quick detour, even though I haven’t go time for the “cup of tea” they expect me to believe they’ll be buying with any cash extorted from passers by.

I’ve done the charity bike rides and the sponsored walks - even estate agents need some good publicity - but I’m starting to tire of the excessive demands for my hard-earned  income. It won’t be long before one of these be-whiskered drunks - probably the one that popular opinion has it is a woman - starts to quiz me for my bank details and expects me to sign a direct debit form.

‘Oi can see you city boy.’ Yells one of the group, gesticulating lewdly in my direction. I’m rather pleased with the boy moniker. It’s one only appended nowadays by pensioners and the chronically myopic, but the universally accepted tosser motion I can do without.

‘Yeh. How about helping the homeless you capitalist bastard!’ Screams a high-pitched voice. That’ll be the woman then, unless the cold nights sleeping in our office doorway have affected the collective testosterone. 

I continue my circuitous route around the group, offering another universally recognised sign. A wide-armed, hand wobbling gesture to convey a shortage of money. It’s not that convincing, but probably wiser then the single digit riposte I nearly deployed. The nights are dark and I still need to get to the car park every evening.

‘We knows where you work.’ Hollers a third drunk throatily. And I know where you sleep, I think sourly. I’ve swept enough human detritus into the gutter over they years - and I’m not just talking  metaphorically.

‘You alright?’ Asks negotiator S with a look of concern, as I scurry through the door.
‘Yes, just being hassled by the unlicensed bandits.’ I tell her briskly.
‘The new lettings agency?’ 
No. That’s a whole other story. I enlighten her.

‘Oh it’s not their fault.’ Says S.
 It probably is.
‘They’ve just had a few bad breaks.’ She continues, as I shrug off my coat. Try having three sales fall-through on a Friday morning, I think uncharitably. Then daytime drinking is understandable.
‘They are all scumbags.’ Insists fat mortgage man M, waddling towards his office. ‘I’m damned if I’m feeding them.’ I know, but open goals are never as satisfying.

‘Look, if I thought they’d spend it on food or even the dogs they all seem to have, I’d give them some money.’ I tell S, her look of disapproval unsettling me. M’s disdainful dismissal of the rough sleepers even made me bridle. It’s not easy fluctuating between left of centre, right of centre and completely off centre.

‘You shouldn’t help them out it just makes things worse.’ States B from her lettings desk. ‘Anyway,’ continues B. ‘You may have repossessed some of their homes, so you’ve probably done enough already.’
I don’t actually repossess them. It’s the lender with the power of the courts and a pretty scary bailiff behind them, but I’m there along with the locksmith.
‘They should get a job.’ Suggests assistant manager T, joining the conversation. ‘And maybe try living off commission if they really want something to drown their sorrows over.’ S looks at me with a frown. 

What? It’s not as if I decided to flog off all the social housing at a discount, make the planning process so labyrinthian it takes years and not build enough homes for a burgeoning population.
And I haven’t personally been responsible for impregnating females and fathering the best part of the 750,000 births per year, statisticians say the UK has. In fact, the beggar offering the wanker gesture was closer to the truth.

‘Well I won’t be renting anything to those types.’ States B firmly.
‘They need somewhere to live.’ Says S passionately.
‘Other than our office doorway.’ I add, wishing immediately I hadn’t.
S scowls at me and I shrug and walk towards the message book, change jangling in my suit pocket in a copper, zinc and nickel chiming admonishment. 

‘Can you help me with a pound for my bus fare home?’ Asks a scruffy girl as I cross the park later.

Well, what would you have done…?


Friday, January 23, 2015

Wrong Move - Friday

‘Who was in the gents’ last?’ I ask, as I stagger back into some fresh air. It’s a rhetorical question. I already know it was M the clinically obese mortgage man. God alone knows why some people wait until they get to work to carry out their morning ablutions. I’m used to getting dumped on in this business, but I’d rather it wasn’t by colleagues.

‘I think you probably know.’ Replies negotiator S with a rueful smile. She nods towards M’s office where he is hunched over his laptop staring intently. I’d like to think he’s researching the best rates for first time buyers - or even air freshener sites - but it’s probably something more grubby.

‘Oh my daze.’ Exclaims trainee F, bringing me back to the present as he holsters the phone, claps a hand to his forehead before heading to where I’ve just emerged from. Good luck with that boy, you’ll need an aqualung.

‘What’s he confused about?’ I ask S, thinking the choices are endless.
‘Confused?’ Says S, head cocked to one side alluringly.
‘Yes, he was in a daze.’ I reply, starting to get tetchy even before I begin looking at group stats and the office league table.

S suppresses a giggle. ‘No, he said Oh my days.’ She tells me with a shake of her head.
‘What does that even mean?’ I snap back, wondering just when I became such a grumpy old man?
‘It means he’s had some surprising news, or a bit of a shock.’ Enlightens S.
The clown will certainly have a shock when he enters the toilets, and M has undoubtedly been enlightened…

‘Why can’t he speak in recognisable English?’ I grizzle. ‘It’s not as if his mother didn’t waste enough money on private schooling, now he has to effect some sort of hooded-street-thug patois.’
Now S is looking at me quizzically and I belatedly realise.
‘No, I don’t mean block paving in a garden - that’s a patio for crying out loud.’
I can feel my life ebbing away.

Non-standard slang and street talk explained as patois, I move on. I don’t have time to make up for all the deficiencies of Britain’s education system - and I thought I was betrayed when Margaret Thatcher stole the milk allowance.

‘Mrs Franklin on line three.’ Announces S later. I throw my hands to the sky.
‘The flat on London Road.’ Coaches S gently.
After enough people to fill a phone book, I can remember the properties but not the surnames.

‘We really need to get some viewings.’ I announce after five minutes with my ears being bent and a further two flannelling the woman on why we’d have some viewers for her home shortly. Even as I peck at the keyboard to pull up the history of Mrs Franklin’s flat, I suspect something has gone wrong.

‘iPad!’ Exclaims F with a familiar hand to forehead gesture.
‘I’m not interested in your birthday wish list.’ I snap irritably. It’s an expensive two bedroom flat, not an overpriced tablet I’m discussing. But something about F’s demeanour alerts me to a problem, one that becomes apparent as the property record rises onto the screen in front of me. We haven’t mailed out any details of Mrs Franklin's flat. Not one.

Now it’s true internet property portals are the main channel for enquiries and also for advertising homes for sale. And it’s equally true estate agents dislike the cost of the vast search engines. For years I was overcharged by the local papers, now it’s on-line robbery rather than ink and paper pilfering. And the irony is, a group of estate agents set up and nurtured one of the most well known sites. It’s a bit like greedy relatives with power of attorney emptying their ageing relatives bank accounts before the care home costs rack up.

‘Who was supposed to action the mail out?’ I ask angrily, grimacing towards F.
‘iPad.’ Repeats F eyes downturned.
I look to S for help.
‘He said. My Bad.’ She tells me.

Apparently it means I’ve screwed up

I’m also told opticians now do hearing tests….


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