Thursday, February 11, 2016

Learning Curves - Thursday

‘Want to hear the latest rumour?’ Asks assistant manager T as I enter the office.

Not if it involves vapid celebrities, profiled in some journalistic-ability-free magazine airheads read at the hairdressers, I don’t. If I wanted to see overblown tits on a Caribbean beach, I’d rather it was me on holiday, taking a selfie. 

‘Is it relevant to the business?’ I ask T flatly.
‘Of course.’ He fires back, with a hint of irritation. Well he did waste ten minutes, earlier today, discussing some C-list celebrity and her latest flesh-revealing turn on some ghastly fly-on-the-wall television programme. I’m all for diversity in scheduling but I do sometimes yearn for a simpler time, when everyone sat down to watch the Generation Game, even if I could never remember what tat was on the conveyer belt.

‘A new agent is supposed to be opening in town.’ Says T, with a half-concealed sneer.
‘Where abouts?’ Queries big mortgage man M, as he saunters across the office, floorboards creaking.

T reveals the location, a tertiary position at best, one where numerous retail mis-adventures have foundered on poorly written business plans, plus the mistaken believe that just because your friends buy overpriced pushchairs and you love babies, a shop selling kids’ clothing will survive.

‘They’d need a change of use from A1 to A2 planning status.’ I tell T. He looks at me blankly, designer frames catching the light. I’ve urged him to sit some Estate Agency exams, to learn about the legal, financial and construction process but he hasn’t seen the point up to now. And to be truthful, who can blame him when nobody feels it necessary? After all, whoever the new agent in town is won’t need qualifications either.

‘It’s a terrible position. ‘ I tell the team, having informed them a planning notice, for change of use, will have to be posted outside the empty unit in question. Nobody has spotted if there’s one up already, so I guess it will be up to be to swing by and check on my next outside appointment. They’ll miss me when I’m gone. Probably….

‘I’ve heard it might be some sort of hybrid set-up.’ Continues T earnestly. ‘Part on-line estate agent, part traditional.’
‘Fat chance.’ I snap back, just as M waddles back from the kitchen. No, of course he hasn’t made anyone else a drink, he’s a financial consultant. A morbidly obese one.

‘Why so?’ Questions negotiators S earnestly.
‘Because you can’t practice estate agency like a call centre.’ I tell her frostily. She should know my views on this by now. I studied and struggled with my industry exams and even now, after several decades, I come across problems and situations my knowledge is tested by. 

Property is a complicated business, and if you retain me as your agent you are buying my skill-set, both negotiating and professional. The problem is, you only realise the quality of agent you have after the buying event. Once you’ve instructed them to sell your home.

‘You don’t think on-line agents will ever catch on then?’ Asks trainee F, mouth slightly ajar.
He could work for one, I think uncharitably, that way nobody need see his face. But on reflection, F with all his faults, is already way better than any bucket shop outfit whose naive investors think selling homes only entails placing an on-line listing on the Internet. That’s the easy bit, the problems start after that.

‘On-line agents and cheap fee outfits have been the next big thing for the past fifteen years.’ I tell my team decisively. ‘And here we are, still conducting viewings, holding keys, re-negotiating sales after surveys and cajoling lazy lawyers.’

‘Problem is the public don’t see that.’ Counters T, accurately. ‘They think it’s money for old rope, one upload onto the portal and we get thousand of pounds.’
‘That’s why we need to stress the points of difference, ‘ I urge. ‘Let people know they get what they pay for and that they only pay when we get them a result.’
The conversation dries up.

Not sure anyone is listening.


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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Love Me Do - Wednesday

‘I think you are going to like this one.’ I enthuse, as I pause by the front door of a penthouse flat I was delighted to be instructed to sell, only two weeks ago.

The husband looks at me with a half-concealed sneer. He clearly doesn’t like estate agents. He’s not alone. But then I half-sneered when I saw him pull up in his high-end German car, reeking of privilege and self-satisfaction. I’m just hoping I hid my contempt slightly better than he has.

‘Is this still available?’ Asks the man as his wife visually winces at his abruptness. ‘Only we’ve been mucked about by you lot enough, already.’

Now I’m really starting to dislike him. I try not to stereotype but it’s a weakness in all of us and the property industry doesn’t exactly get good press. I’m hoping to change minds - but not his. I still remember who pays the bill.

‘Yes, it’s available.’ I answer, as I open the door and hit the light switch for the hall. It’s the worst part of the flat and I need to make it seem bright and airy. ‘Although,’ I add. ‘I expect it to sell quickly.’
‘You would say that wouldn’t you?’ Snipes the man as he steps inside with his wife. I don’t mind, I won’t be selling to him. But then you rarely sell too the male - unless it’s a a gay couple.

I really took a liking to the owners of this top floor home -  a penthouse is always a bit of a stretch as a term, but when you are marketing it helps. They trusted and valued my opinion, left the keys with me as they are often out of town and didn’t quibble madly on the commission. In fact the wife said quite graciously, when given my suggested asking price: ‘Get us within £25,000 of that and we’ll be delighted.’ I love a challenge.

Bedrooms visited, I can already feel good vibes from the wife of the viewing pair. He’s more reserved, trying to remain aloof and disinterested for when the negotiations start, but she’s starting to visibly salivate. And I know they are in a good position, I’ve checked their status and they can proceed immediately, cash in the bank. I decide to try a trial close.

‘What would you do with the master bedroom?’ I ask her, seemingly innocently.
‘Oh nothing, I love the colour scheme as it is.’ She gushes back. Gotcha. Now it’s just down to how much, I think, the old excitement flooding back. It’s easy to forget how much of a buzz you can get from selling homes, with the day-to-day grind from suspect surveyors, lazy lawyers and barely competent banks. But it’s the best feeling ever - well almost….

I’ve left the two prime rooms until last. It’s a technique I prefer, build the interest then give them the reveal. A stunning recently re-fitted top-end kitchen and a panoramic view from the living room, with a full width glass-balustraded balcony. All facing the right way to catch the sunshine. 

‘Oh my God. I love it.’ Cries the woman. I’m guessing she doesn’t get much more excited than this and judging by her sour-faced husband I can understand why. Still, he won’t be making the decision - just writing the cheque.

I’ve done my homework and I have the local knowledge and experience that no just-opened outfit, or some remote on-line call centre with more naive investors than homes to sell, can offer. The flat has a share in the freehold of the block, the management is in house and service charges are sensible. It’s the best you’ll get while leasehold - the second class tenure - still holds sway.

‘What will they take off the price?’ Presses the man when I know I have them. £25,000, but you’re not getting it,bucko.

‘You’ve got us the full price?’ Exclaims the owner when I report in. ‘We’d have taken less.’
‘That’s what you are paying me for.’ I reply, a little smugly. We’re not all the same.

‘We’ll tell all our friends.’ The husband says, as he hangs up, audibly smiling.

Yes. Don’t keep it a secret.


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Friday, January 22, 2016

New Kid In Town - Friday

‘Do you want to go to lunch with a lawyer?’ Asks negotiator S, as I emerge from my office after a lengthy call with the bean counter boss. After the conversation I’ve just had, I’d rather not swap inanities with anyone. I’m yearning for a darkened room and some soothing music - none of your whale calls though. I draw the line at hippies, vegans and those ghastly solar roof panels….

‘Who is he?’ I ask presumptively.
S looks at me admonishingly and I sense I’ve said something politically incorrect again. Lately I seem prone to doing that without trying. I realise the error even as she corrects me.

‘It’s a she actually.’ Says S haughtily  .
‘Of course. My bad.’ I reply, trying to be on point and just sounding like a desperate Dad keen to keep up with the kids. My dancing at weddings comes to mind. But not in a good way.

‘What made you presume it would be a man?’ Presses S, as I groan inwardly again and hope it wasn’t audible this time. I still haven’t lived down the last mangers’ meeting and my involuntary, rather loud moan which spontaneously emanated when the sales figures went up on the screen and H, my vertically challenged rival manger, was on top again.

‘Because all the women solicitors are off on maternity leave.’ Suggests assistant manager T, unhelpfully.
‘It’s their right.’ Snaps lose lettings lush B, from her little rental enclave.
‘Yeh and we have to take up all the slack when the mums disappear off.’ Replies T feistily.
‘You are such a caveman.’ Sneers B.
‘Thank you very much.’ Replies T with a grin.

‘Who is she?’ I ask S, trying to get the conversation back on track. ‘And more to the point what does she want?’ It won’t be a physical attraction, I’m hardly the male equivalent of a MILF - a DILF, possibly….?

‘She’s at that new firm of lawyers that has just opened up.’ Says S. ‘I’m guessing they want some solicitor free clients we might recommend them for.’
‘She’ll have to scratch your back first.’ Teases T. ‘And I’m guessing a cheap sandwich in the local won’t reach the itch.’

‘You see,’ challenges B looking daggers at T. ‘That’s typical of males in the workplace. They reduce everything to a sexual level and can’t take women in business seriously.’
It’s a bit rich from B. She totters around in heels inappropriate for a fixtures and fitting inspection and wears skirts so short I sometimes imagine….well, they’re too short anyway. Take it from me.

‘We could do with some switched on conveyancing’ lawyers locally,’ says S. ‘Someone who answers the phone and doesn’t hide behind delayed local searches and lenders’ conditions to excuse their tardiness.’
‘Yes, a user friendly lady lawyer would be pleasant.’ Adds T, not entirely helpfully.

The truth is, we tend to recommend lawyers to naive first time buyers- if you can find one nowadays - and to out of town buyers, looking for someone local and reliable to handle their legal paperwork. The kickback used to be a free lunch and a game of golf if you could play the ghastly game. The real payback, was in probate sales passed to you from old established firms with an ageing client base. A new bunch in town won’t have many customers dying yet. She’d better be easy on the eye.

‘So how long have you been in the business?’ Asks the legal lady when I’m sat opposite her, nursing a lime and soda and a semi. She’s insanely hot and to be honest if she does have any elderly clients she’d certainly send them off feeling happy.

I tell her reluctantly. It makes me feel old but does remind me the only interest she’ll ever have in me, will be the size of my database.

‘We’re looking to set up a few special relationships in town.’ Continues the woman, as I wonder if my eyes ever looked that clear.

‘How did it go?’ Asks T when I return to the office. ‘Did she offer you anything tasty?

Well she stiffed me - for the bill. 

But I quite enjoyed it.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Tinderbox - Thursday

‘Here comes the postman with the hots for you.’ Teases assistant manager T, as he peers up a rain-swept high street.
B our loose lettings lush, looks up hopefully, but of course T is referring to S, my nubile negotiator and pretty much the best thing in our window.

‘He’s just friendly.’ Counters S with a hint of a rising blush.
‘He’d like to be.’ Chuckles T, as he tracks the mailman’s progress.
‘Thought he’d be more your bag.’ Contributes fat mortgage man M, nodding towards B. I’m not sure if he meant the weak pun, financial services staff have a charisma removal as soon as they sit their exams.
‘She prefers them younger.’ Says T, to a scowl from B, a look not enhanced when he adds: ‘That way she can help them with their homework.’

That’s the problem when it goes quiet in the office. Idle hands, latent keyboards and silent phones leads to unnecessary frivolity. It’s why I always have a planned leaflet drop up my sleeve. You can’t have people enjoying themselves at work…

‘What happened to the postman’s bike?’ Asks trainee F innocently and momentarily I glance across at B. Fortunately she’s filing her nails again. I’ve told her, but if she wants to inhale powdered cuticle, that will probably surface in some study as a pre-cancerous trigger at some stage, that’s her look out.

‘Health and safety.’ Replies T with a shake of his head. ‘Some dyke in the post office human resources department probably didn’t like anyone getting their leg over.’
‘That’s sexist.’ Snaps S. ‘And a lazy generalisation of personnel people.’
She’s feisty this morning. Definitely some cobbled together claims of buyers waiting handouts, for nearby letterboxes, later.

‘What do you think?’ Asks S, looking at me earnestly.
Does she mean about the lesbians in HR, or the postman’s missing bicycle? It’s tough being in management these days. I have to keep abreast of quicksand-shifting legislation and I don’t do touchy-feely. At least not without a reprimand and another re-education course…

‘I think you shouldn’t make sweeping generalisations about people’s sexuality.’ I say rather pompously.
‘Or their mode of transport.’ Adds M with a rumbustious chortle.
‘God knows what it was like in this industry when you two started.’ Says S with a shake of her head.
I look at M and he gazes back at me.
‘You really don’t want to know.’ I eventually tell her, just as the postman arrives.

‘Morning love.’ Says the man breezily, ignoring B and making a beeline towards S’s desk.
She nods a little frostily. Not sure love is an acceptable greeting any longer, in a world where you have to be careful not to discriminate against peoples’ pet porcupines, in case they get - ahem - prickly.

‘Not much in your dangly bag today.’ Says T pointedly, as I fleetingly wonder if maybe the postie has spent time with B, after all.
‘Bit quiet at the depot.’ Replies the man, invading S’s personal space for longer than I’d like.
‘Did you need a signature or something?’ I demand.
‘No, just shooting the breeze,’ Replies the letter-lugger, with a yellowy-toothed smile.

‘That was a bit abrupt.’ Chides S after the postman has gone, looking rather crestfallen. God, you can’t win.
‘Those guys’ days are numbered anyway.’ Says M, with a hint of a belch. ‘It’ll be all email, and instant messaging before long.’
‘Or parcels in the DX.’ Adds T, referring to the private document exchange service beloved of solicitors and estate agents.

‘Change doesn’t come as fast as you think.’ I tell my team, glancing at the stack of A4 leaflets waiting to be hand delivered later.
‘That’s true,’ agrees T. ‘Or everybody would use those ridiculous on-line agents.’ 
The communal laugh-in rumbles around the office for longer than it should. But then if people think selling a home is just placing an digital listing, they will probably get the agent they deserve.

My phone pings with incoming messages. If it’s offspring they’ll want something costly, wife ditto, but it’s the bean counter boss bothering me with new technology.

I swipe left.


Monday, January 04, 2016

Forecast Folly - Monday

‘So, predictions for the property market in the year to come?’ I ask, after delivering my morning meeting. There’s a group look of bemusement from my slightly overweight and overwrought team. They were probably expecting a quiet start to the new year, with just a bit of disinterested grazing on the remaining chocolates in the tin the board man gave us, but now I’ve challenged them.

And why not challenge them? I’m going to be challenged by the cranked-up office targets the bean counter boss has lumbered me with. He’s made assumptions on what prices and activity will do during the next twelve months. They might as well stick their fingers in the air too.

‘Rental market will be busy again.’ Volunteers B, our loose lettings lush. She’s filing her nails again, something I’m thinking of sending the way of eating at your desk and smoking in the office, if she continues to inflict powdered cuticle flakes in my direction.

‘You think?’ Challenges assistant manager T.
‘Yes, of course. Owner occupiers are going the way of the dinosaur with prices the way they are.’ Crows B. ‘You’ll all be under me soon.’ It’s not a pleasant image.
‘Rubbish,’ says T. ‘ It’s still cheaper to buy in the long run and renting is just dead money.’
‘That’s a cliche.’ Spits B.
Yes, but cliches are usually founded in truth.

‘What do you predict?’ I ask negotiator S.
She tilts her head alluringly.
‘Well,’ she begins. ‘If supply stays as restricted as it has been and with demand not slackening, prices will only go one way.’
‘Yes.’ Agrees fat mortgage man M, with an unpleasant grin. ‘And if you shovel those naive first time buyers my way, I can source cheap money and some tasty insurance products.’ God I yearn for simpler times, when we just acted for the vendor of a property and didn’t have conflicted loyalties.

‘What do you think will happen if interest rates climb several points?’ I ask, remembering the time when my mortgage payments were levied at 15% and I was one missed payment away from having an unpleasant man in a cheap business suit repossess my house. In retrospect, I stubbornly kept paying a crippling amount only to avoid the humiliation of a rival putting their For Sale board up at my, just vacated, home.

‘Interest rates can go up?’ Asks trainee F to muted laughter. I think he’s joking but you can never tell with him, plus he’s only ever known an environment where rates are low single figures and pensioners constantly complain about poor returns on savings.

‘You’ve seen a few property crashes.’ Says S.
‘Not that many.’ I counter sharply.
‘Yes but you know what I mean,’ persists S. ‘Do you think it will happen again?’

I’ve been expecting it for some time. I just don’t want to voice it too loudly. Historically all the markers suggest a big price correction is overdue, but maybe a once in a generation change is taking place. Maybe the old figures and multiples don’t apply in a world of cheap money, not enough new homes being built and a burgeoning population. Maybe.

‘It could.’ I venture to a sniff of distain from M. ‘But with out targets for the coming year we’d better hope it’s not in the next twelve months, or nobody will getting a bonus.’
‘It won’t.’States M firmly. ‘Too many vested interests in finance and Government. There’s more chance of on-line estate agents catching on.’

Everyone laughs. Now apart from the great solar roof panel con, I can’t think of a more over-hyped, under used development in the property market for years, than on-line estate agents. An oxymoron if ever there was one. It’s a local knowledge and expertise business , always will be. Good luck to any investors in an industry I still don’t fully understand after half a working lifetime, if they think they can make it work from a glorified call centre. 

‘How’s the week looking so far?’ Asks the bean counter when he rings late in the day.
‘Promising.’ I tell him, fingers crossed.



Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas Everybody - Wednesday

‘I can’t hear myself think.’ Shouts a colleague I haven’t exactly pegged for a an intellectual mind. He staggers on, slopping a pint of gassy lager as he zig-zags towards the free bar. I’m back at the corporate Christmas party and the music is too loud, my dinner suit too snug. It gets tighter each year. I get less tight. The thought of how my head will be thumping in the morning outweighing the lure of limitless alcohol - another reminder I’ve been doing this too long.

‘F**k, there’s some amazing totty in here.’ Shouts assistant manager T, who has appeared at my side as if on castors. His pupils are widely dilated behind the designer glasses. I’m not sure it’s just beer doing that.

‘If you can’t get screwed tonight,’ Continues T with an unpleasant leer. ‘You haven’t got a pulse.’ He pauses and waves at all the young women in bright party frocks, then adds: ‘Or a penis.’ Before wobbling away.

I’m in the seventh circle of hell, only with a smarter dress code. Like most people, I don’t like mixing with estate agents if I can avoid it. This pulsing mass, dancing to what might be drum and bass, but could also be the digital equivalent of a needle stuck in a groove, are making me yearn for a quiet night at home with a lime and soda and some catch-up television. And to think I once tried to climb inside the PA rig at a Stranglers gig.

‘I’m going to shag something tonight.’ Slurs another voice, breaking in to my ear-buzzing melancholy. I look up to see M, my fat finance man has appeared, glass in hand. His stomach is battling to break out of a straining cummerbund and he’s waving towards the table where the Human Resources - or is it People Division now? - ladies are sitting.

I read a survey recently, stating those in accounts and personnel where the most likely to have sex at the office Christmas party. Odd, because our lot spend the other fifty-one weeks of the year trying to shaft us anyway. You’d think they’d want a rest.

I’m tempted to point out the objects of M’s ill-directed ardour are rumoured to be lesbians, but before I can, he slurs. ‘They might be dikes but that chubby one looks like she could be turned.’
I should be reporting him for this, but as he’s heading that way I think I’ll save myself an email and more grief.

‘Here goes nothing.’ Chortles M, as he departs towards a probable disciplinary and a shed load more paperwork. ‘I reckon I can get her back on the straight and narrow.’ Judging by his progress and the likely outcome, nothing is going to be straight and the only thing narrow, as his lardy arse departs, is his mind.

‘You not drinking?’ Enquires a disembodied voice, and for a moment I think I’m hallucinating, or maybe the strobe light has set off some sort of previously unreported fitting session. But I eventually realise H, my vertically-challenged rival manager, is looking up at me. Gin and tonic in each hand.

‘Pacing myself.’ I tell him.
‘Eh?’ he bellows , on tip-toes.
‘Never mind.’ I reply, only to find he’s disappeared towards the dance floor, where I spot S, my negotiator, looking achingly beautiful in a red frock. If he touches her, I might commit some sort of dwarf related homicide that would actually, briefly, make me happy…

Now, as the music jolts from unknown noise to the cheesy Christmas favourites, I feel pressure in my bladder. If I break the seal I’ll be pissing all night, but I can’t resist the pressing need. En-route to the gents’ toilet I pass the bean counter boss, sat at his table with a gaggle of his odious followers. I haven’t seen such uncontrolled fawning since Bambi took to the ice.

‘Condom machine is empty.’ Shouts some young buck I don’t recognise, as I’m greeted by the heady stench of urine and David Beckham after shave, in the toilets.

I’m too old for this shit.


Festive felicitations to everyone, thanks for reading and may your chosen deity be with you.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Complaint Box - Thursday

‘We’ve got a complaint.’ Announces assistant manger T before I’ve even closed the office door. I often wonder what the assistant bit is supposed to signify, if he isn’t going to help me.

‘Is it justified?’ I ask, shrugging off my jacket and resisting the urge to head for the sanctuary of my office and shut the door. To be honest the blinds don’t completely meet and they’ve never let me forget that time they spotted I’d nodded off over a slimline sandwich and a cup-of-soup.

‘Are they usually?’ Fires back T with a shrug.
He has a point. People are a lot quicker to complain than they used to be and most of the time, if we’ve done our job properly, it’s a frustration with the buying and selling process rather that a wilful attempt to mislead - or worse.

‘It’s the unsuccessful bidders on Orchard Road.’ Says T wearily. ‘They think they should have got it rather than the other buyers.’
‘They should have offered more then.’ Says negotiator S, joining the conversation. She has been dealing with the successful purchasers and whilst we strive not to show bias or favour, invariably one buyer will be in a better position that another, whether if be financial position, strength of any associated sale and chain they are involved in, or a combination thereof. 

‘They think we’ve discriminated against them.’ Says T flatly.
‘Not in a racial way?’ I say urgently. It’s illegal to favour one buyer over another on race, sexual orientation, disability and….well there must be others…. It’s a shame you don’t have to be qualified to become an estate agent.

‘Nah.’ Replies T dismissively. ‘Unless you count being an obnoxious Yorkshireman as a racial thing.’
It could be. I really don’t need to fall foul of any new legislation I’ve yet to interpret. The sort of well-intentioned, ill thought out law making that brought us the unloved, now defunct, Property Mis-Description Act. A ludicrously lengthy and clunky piece of lawmaking you only knew you’d fallen foul of once the Trading Standards’ pen pusher and the local magistrate, had prosecuted you.

I’m all for tightening up the property industry. I’d gladly see the back of some of the rogue agents who flout rules, cut corners and slash their commission rates below us. But everything has a cost and the powers that be still refuse to enact a minimum entry standard or licensing, for those that sell or let your home.

‘I assume you’ve explained to them it wasn’t our decision as to which buyer to go with, it was the vendors.’ I say to T semi-rhetorically.
‘They just won’t listen.’ Answers T. ‘Wanted to buy it on the cheap, then grizzle when they’ve missed it and now have a dog in the manger attitude by trying to scupper the sale we’ve agreed.’

People - and legislators - still forget we are employed by the sellers to get the best possible price for their property. They pay the bill. Of course, that basic tenet has been undermined over they years by conflicts of interest, particularly if you are arranging the buyers’ finance, or getting a kickback from their conveyancer for an introduction. It’s a murky business.

‘Have they offered any more money?’ I ask T, a migraine building.
‘Not yet.’ Says T with a groan. He knows we must present all offers in writing to the vendors and it can get very messy if a further bidding war develops. Inevitably someone is going to be unhappy.

‘I don’t think they will.’ Says S. ‘They can’t afford it, so it would just be a spoiler bid.’ Part of an agent’s duty of care is to present all offers to our clients, but also to vet the potential purchaser, not just financially but also for money laundering risks and legal status to reside in this country - since the government abdicated responsibility for those tasks…

The next step, if I can’t resolve the complaint amicably, will be the property Ombudsman. The compulsory dispute resolution scheme all selling agents belong to. In reality, most of the problem is down to supply and demand.

Which might, on reflection, be why there’s more than one Ombudsman to choose from….


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