Monday, July 25, 2016

Running And Scared - Monday


‘That’s not good.’ I announce to the office, as I study my Estates Gazette, the publication aimed at property professionals more than common estate agents.  I still read it though, as the company pay the subscription, set up and forgotten after a long-gone chartered surveyor, was once based here.

Nobody says anything, so I cough conspicuously.
‘What is it then?’ Asks assistant manager T languidly. I’m guessing I’ve interrupted his social media monitoring rather than a diligent attempt to progress one of his long-standing sales.
‘Surveyor getting sued for a dodgy valuation.’ I tell the assembled office. B our loose lettings lush, looks up briefly then starts filing her nails again. It’s marginally better than running them down a blackboard, but only just.

‘Is that bad?’ Asks trainee F. ‘I thought you hated all surveyors.’
‘Not hate.’ I counter.
‘Dislike then.’ Offers T.
‘Distrust?’ Contributes negotiator S with one of her beguiling smiles.
‘They are sale wreckers.’ Spits obese finance fiddler M, as he waddles past.

It’s more complex than that. Surveyors have a tough time of it too. When I first entered the industry, pre-internet and coloured photos on sales particulars, a surveyor was a much respected professional. Most partnerships required you to be qualified to enter the firm, and legions of minor public school under-performers would become  Chartered Surveyors as they were too dim for medicine or law. Before long they were taking extend lunch hours, learning golf and doing surveys nobody took any notice off.

Those who qualified too late to enjoy the instant millionaire sell-offs of small partnerships to banks, building societies and insurance companies, began to work for their money. When valuations were wrong in a rising market nobody cared or noticed, but when values fell, lenders cut up rough to find the tertiary development they’d lent millions on to a dodgy developer, was worth less than half the loan, once the borrower hand gone bust. That’s when the lawyers, who use to bully the surveyors at school, really started to bugger them…

‘Are they sale wreckers?’ Asks F, still doggedly trying to learn despite the fact I’ve covered this ground before. There must be retarded goldfish with better retention skills than him.
‘They just cover their arses most of the time.’ I answer. ‘If they knock the agreed sale price by 10% some of them seem to think it will stop them getting sued retrospectively if the market goes belly-up.’
‘Like I said, sale wreckers.’ Concludes M smugly.

‘Give us the gist.’ Says T, waving at the periodical in front of me.
I relay the familiar tale. Big loan from unheard of city lender on an ambitious build project where the developer has pinned his business plan on ever rising values, not built-in value. As often the case, the figures don’t add up, builder wants more money and someone looks again at the original valuation and finds the cupboard is bare. End result, lawyers laughing, surveyor crapping himself in court. 

‘So they’ll be even more scared of their shadows when they value any of our sales.’ Predicts T with a sneer.
‘And we’ll have buyers unable to complete, or trying to re-negotiate the price.’ Adds S, with a frown.
‘And big PI problems.’ I add.
I see F frowning at me again. Granted I hate it when people use unknown industry acronyms, but I have told him before.

‘I’m not referring to Magnum, when I say PI.’ I tell F wearily.
The whole office looks at me blankly. M has disappeared so sadly nobody else is likely to remember Tom Selleck’s finest hour - or moustache.
‘You don’t mean the ice cream do you?’ Ventures F hesitantly.
God I feel old some days.

Professional Indemnity Insurance (PI) explained to an increasingly disinterested audience, I look to move on. Then I see Bomber, our own local sales destroyer, striding across the road towards the office door.

‘Tell me that dickhead isn’t valuing one of our deals.’ I plead, as everyone else spots the harbinger of doom.
‘Oops, I forgot to tell you.’ Admits F, face reddening.


You don’t need to be a detective to guess what happens next.

-------

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Hot In The City - Tuesday


‘Thank God you are here.’ Cries trainee F as I stumble into the office, sweat pouring down my back. It’s one of a handful of days in Britain where the jet stream has finally lodged somewhere north of Aberdeen and sunshine has appeared.

I’ve just walked through the park where a motley collection of students, winos and civil servants on flexi-time, are lounging around consuming, drugs, cheap cider and ice creams. It hasn’t improved my mood, after an abortive valuation with a couple who seemed to think their ex-local authority semi, bought at a massive discount, could now be sold for north of £500,000. I didn’t see any solid gold bathroom fittings…

‘What is it?’ I demand of F, thinking some disaster has befallen one or more of our sales in the protracted pipeline. He spreads his hands wide, as if I’m the idiot with a squandered education and the IQ of something asexual, raised in a test tube.

As ever, I look to S my pretty negotiator for guidance, just as an unpleasant trickle of sweat runs straight down my spine and in to my underpants. God I hate wearing a suit and tie at the best of times, but when the sun finally peeps from behind the blanket of grey, it is even more unpleasant.

S looks towards the ceiling and I follow her gaze towards the hulking air conditioning cassette, where I now see a steady flow of fluid, dripping into a waste paper basket on the floor.
‘Oh for f***ks sake.’ I bellow and instantly look at the swear box on top of the filing cabinets. Another massive fail to go alongside the useless ceiling unit that sits unused for 360 days of the year, then pisses bacteria-riddled water into the office on the one day you actually need cooling.

‘Hadn’t you noticed how unbearably hot it is in here?’ Asks F indignantly.
You know what? I hadn’t actually, what with sitting on a stained couch in a superheated smoke-filled lounge, trying to persuade a pair of greedy bastards that their shabby home in a pretty shitty area wasn’t in fact Buckingham Palace in disguise.

‘Has anyone called the engineers?’ Asks obese mortgage man M, waddling across the office, shirt sleeves rolled up, unpleasant dark stains under his armpits. Fashion tip: Don’t wear a dark blue shirt when the sun comes out - and don’t haul round several scores worth of unnecessary lardy poundage either.

‘Fat chance of seeing them before the first frost.’ Predicts assistant manager T.
‘Well we can’t work in these conditions.’ Contributes loose lettings lush B, unhelpfully.
‘Just leave the office door open?’ I suggest, more in hope that expectation.
‘Christ no,’ snaps T. ‘You don’t want every nutter under the sun coming inside.’

I’m tempted to point out that no office had air conditioning when I started out in estate agency. But I was mocked relentlessly when I told them we used to have to send off 35mm films for next day processing, before we could produce property particulars. They already think I’m a dinosaur, no need to hasten my extinction.

‘Is there not some rule about maximum office temperature, before you can go home?’ Asks B, rather too enthusiastically.
‘I think it’s only a minimum temperature, not a maximum one.’ Says M, mopping his brow, with an unpleasantly discoloured linen handkerchief.
‘What about that Shops and Factories Act poster in the mens’ dumper?’ Suggests T.
Yeh, I need to relocate that before the next visit from the Human Resources nazis.

‘Any luck? Asks S, gently after I’ve spend twenty fractious minutes on hold, before speaking to a moron with English as a second language, at our mandated air conditioning maintenance company. The bean counter boss sacked the local family firm we’d used for years and gave the contract to some centralised bunch of shitesters, who quoted rock bottom price for subterranean service.

‘It seems they are very busy this time of year.’ I say sarcastically.
‘Bloody thing sits there idle all year and when you actually need it to do something useful it’s a monumental waste of time.’ Spits T.


I don’t think he’s talking about F, but it’s a sticky moment.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Et Tu Brute - Tuesday


‘How are we expected to know what the property market is doing with all these conflicting reports?’ Asks trainee F, in bewilderment.

He has a point. One survey will claim values are rising while the next comes out with predictions of eminent meltdown for over-inflated prices, already at record multiples of cost against wages.

‘This one says the average young person in our town will have to put money away for about ten years just to get a deposit.’ Continues F, glumly. I’ve seen his credit card statement, he doesn’t need to worry about historically low interest rates for savers. F’s only hope is for his mad mother to croak, in between husbands, and leave him the family home. Parking skateboards at the top of stairs, or praying you parents don’t last too long in a nursing home at £50,000 a year, isn’t really a sustainable housing policy.

‘It’s always the lenders saying the market is continually rising.’ Says F, warming to his theme, as I start to plan a leaflet drop just to get him out of the office.
‘Vested interests, dear boy.’ Says fat mortgage man M, tapping his sweaty nose as he sways across the office, thighs chafing unpleasantly

F looks my way, that frown of confusion creasing his face, but assistant manager T jumps in before I can.
‘He doesn’t mean those singlets all your dads used to wear underneath their shirts.’ T says, with a chortle. ‘It’s city money men feathering their nests.’
I’m not sure this helps F.

‘Just take them all with a pinch of salt.’ I tell F. ‘Most lenders’ surveys are three months out of date before they even get published. Plus they are often only lending to a narrow market sector, so the figures get skewed.’
F nods uncertainly. If he asks if that is anything to do with a Turkish take-away and meat on a stick, I might have to finally hit him.

‘People manipulate figures all the time.’ Says T, knowingly. ‘It’s like all this fuss about when is an new listing, a new listing, on Right Move?’ T is referring to one of the major property portals, where some less than scrupulous agents, knowing a new property to the market is always at its most desirable shortly after being listed, slyly re-register old homes that have been sticking for ages. Curiously familiar properties appear, with often just a cursory change of text and a new photo, without the owners’ underwear on a radiator.

‘It’s only fair consumers aren’t mis-led.’ Announces negotiator S primly. She’s right, if a little too politically correct. Mind you with tits like that most people will agree with her, whatever she says…

‘Was a time when people had to be responsible for their own actions.’ Replies M pompously. He’s still smarting from all those commission clawbacks, on his mis-sold insurance policies.
‘Whatever happened to Caveat Emptor?’ Demands M, warming to his theme.
I can’t help glancing at F, again. If he asks if the Latin phrase, is a mens’ fragrance from the duty free shop, I’ll march him to the job centre myself.

‘It means buyer beware.’ S tells F, softly. She’s too nice to be an estate agent.
‘So the public don’t have to do due diligence and keep an audit trail?’ Asks F, with surprising clarity of thought.
‘Nope, we wipe their arses and do immigrations and the revenue’s dirty work for them too, then get sued or prosecuted when the shit hits the fan.’ It’s a messy mixed metaphor, but M has a pongy point.

‘So I don’t believe any of these surveys?’ Persists F, looking at me for guidance.
‘It’s simple, ‘ interjects M. ‘If you are talking to a buyer, show them a survey where values are going up and get them to offer before they are priced out of the market. If it’s a seller not playing ball, quote one of the gloomier forecasts and get them to take a lower price.’

‘We don’t operate like that.’ I tell M, bristling.
‘More fool you then.’ Says M dismissively.


Quite possibly.

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Monday, July 04, 2016

Tea And Comfort - Monday


‘You alright?’ I ask trainee F, as he walks across the office looking morose. It’s a specific enquiry, generally he’s not alright. After all, if your mother has paid for an expensive private education she has some expectation her son shouldn’t end up struggling in a much-denigrated job, that requires zero qualifications but a whole lot of common sense. Sadly several years of being abused by sixth formers behind the bike sheds, and harangued by sadistic teachers in the classroom, gave him neither.

‘Not really.’ Answers F, with that puppy dog look. As Human Resources take a dim view of stuffing superfluous staff in a bag and taking them to the canal, I decide to mentor instead.

‘Cough.’ I tell him and his eyes fill with fear again, he starts to clear his throat and I immediately regret not being half-way to the litter-strewn waterway.
‘I mean, tell me what’s the matter.’ I instruct the dullard, hastily. For a moment I think he’s going to cry. I hate it when staff do that. They need to man up, it’s a tough business. I do my silent sobbing - after a bad week - when everyone has left the office, so as not to take my disappointment home.

‘Why do people hate us so much?’ F eventually asks softly.
‘Have you got a pen and paper?’ I ask sarcastically, only to see him start towards the stationery cupboard. God, if I come round again I’m going to pay more attention at school. I stop F from embarrassing himself further and sit him down in my office with a cup of tea and the remaining biscuits I’ve hidden from M, our gluttonous mortgage man.

F has been verbally abused by a vendor after bringing them the bad news that their buyer is looking to reduce the agreed price on their home sale, following a critical survey. The buyer in turn has shouted at hapless F when he told them, as instructed, that they could go and whistle for a £10,000 price chop on the back of an out of town surveyor, with little local knowledge, scaring them in to thinking a few thermal movement cracks and a bullish sale price meant they should renege on their agreement.

This is all standard fare for the UK housing market, although conveyancing rules in Scotland leave less leeway for backing out of agreed transactions. But even north of the border, the system is as flawed as cubic zirconium at a cheap jewellers. Delays and misunderstanding contribute to sales falling through, exacerbated by dilatory lawyers, incompetent local authorities, centralised lenders with little understanding of process and in this case, surveyors petrified of their own shadow and scared of being sued under their professional indemnity insurance.

‘It can be sorted.’ I tell F gently and I ask him to get hold of the buyers’ survey report, if he can. The surveyor won’t like it but as the buyers paid for it, tough luck. Patient, non-confrontational negotiation, and an understanding of the transaction means I’m confident I can keep F’s sale together. He just needs to watch and maybe, learn.

‘How did you manage that?’ Asks F in wonderment, after an afternoon of fractious phone calls, compromise and counter-compromise ends in re-negotiated sale letters being issued to both buyer and seller and their respective legal representatives. A local builder is going to reassure the buyers about the non-structural cracking and I’ve managed to get our vendors a reduction on their purchase from a seller keen not to lose their sale and start all over again, putting their move abroad back several months, at least. You won’t get that from an on-line agent, come call-centre.

‘They still don’t like us though, do they?’ Quizzes F.
‘Of course not.’ I tell him. ‘It’s a confrontational and emotive business moving house. Everybody needs a whipping boy.’
F looks at me, alarmed.
‘Not like at your school.’ I reassure him. ‘Metaphorically.’
He nods blankly, so I wave my tannin-stained mug at him. ‘Cup of tea, please?’
‘Sure boss.’ Answers F, face lighting up.


I like to spread a little happiness occasionally.

-------

Have a great Independence Day American readers.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Old Rope - Tuesday


‘F**k me.’ Exclaims assistant manger T in an expletive that echoes round the, fortunately, empty office.
I nod towards the swear box and he spreads his arms in annoyance.
‘It’s the rules.’ I tell him pompously.
‘Since when did anyone play by the rules?’ Demands T.
‘He’s right,’ says negotiator S. ‘That bunch of shitesters who opened three months ago are still touting all our sole agencies, and their lying letters never have a fee disclaimer.’

She has a point, two very prominent ones as it happens, but the fact that there is no entry requirement to start an estate agency, and no minimum standard of education or compulsory qualification to start practising as a property purveyor, is something I’ve failed to change in more that two decades. 

‘You lot don’t have any rules, do you?’ Questions fat finance man M, with a jowly chuckle. ‘At least we are licensed and regulated.’
‘Only because you mis-sold so many crap insurance policies.’ Says T with an angry growl.
‘You all took the commission.’ Bats back M, with uncomfortable accuracy.
Once you are on to solid foods, nobody is completely innocent…

‘What is it you’ve seen?’ I ask T, returning to his original exclamation. I don’t need any more divisions in the office, and an argument about the merits of having an in-house mortgage and insurance advisor - and the escalating targets that come with them - isn’t going to improve our clunky camaraderie. With our masters wanting us to serve both seller and buyer, we already have more conflicts of interests than a crooked politician.

T points at the meagre pages of the local free paper he has spread before him, old school style, on his desk. Time was the shrunken publication ran to five times more print than the current emaciated model. The publisher used to regularly stuff us on incremental advertising rates with their near monopoly, but since the on-line advertising portals became king I no longer take the sales representative’s calls. Someone else has a hold of my balls, now.

‘See here,’ continues T jabbing an inky finger at the copy. ‘They’ve finally released prices on those retirement flats they’ve been building on the old school house site.’
‘How much?’ Asks S.
‘Have a guess.’ Suggests T.
This won’t end happily, I think as S calls out her first number and T laughs scornfully in her face.

The site in question sold to a well-known retirement home developer some eighteen months ago. A pretty detached Edwardian family home sat on the generous plot, within zimmer frame shuffling distance of the shops and doctor’s surgery. It was never going to house a family again. After a lengthy planning battle, several architect’s revisions and a rumoured large brown envelope for a planning officer, permission was granted for a big box to house twenty reduced floorspace flats for the wealthy but not healthy.

‘Higher.’ Goads T, as S raises her suggested starting price for the one bed ground floor, looking on to the road, base price unit.
‘You’re having a laugh.’ Says S with disgust. ‘They’re ripping off vulnerable people.’
‘They’ve made their money.’ Counters trainee F, eyes blazing. ‘How are people my age ever going to afford our own place? Let them get mugged.’

He doesn’t mean literally - at least I hope not. But I do question the wisdom of elderly folk who try to downsize to something more manageable in their dotage. They often end up paying way over the odds for a tiny unit with the illusion of safety provided by a cheap video entry phone and emergency pull-cords routed to a remote call centre. They don’t even have a 24hr, on-site manager, as they used to when the concept started. By the time the ambulance arrives, rigour-mortis has often set in.

‘More.’ Cries T gleefully as S raises her suggested price with obvious incredulity.
The figure is already laughable. My advice would to be wait until a few owners have died, then buy second hand. Beneficiaries are always keen for the cash.

‘That’s taking the piss.’ Says S when she finally reaches the unlikely number.


That’s the property market.

--------

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Speculate Accumulate - Thursday


‘Here comes the tosser you can’t abide.’ Warns assistant manager T, glancing out the office window.
‘You’re going to need to narrow it down a bit.’ Chips in loose lettings lush B, with a chuckle.
‘Funny.’ I tell her, with a scowl, but she is probably closer to the truth than I’d like. Several decades of dealing with people’s property problems and my milk of human kindness is more curdled than bottles on a dead pensioner’s doorstep.

‘Who is it?’ I hiss at T. I can’t walk to the window without being exposed - and people still won’t let me forget that time I absent-mindedly adjusted my trousers while changing bulbs on the illuminated display.

‘That slimeball of a speculator.’ Answers T.
‘Yuck, I hate him.’ Says negotiator S with a shiver. She’s a pretty good judge of character - most of the time.
‘Well he won’t be wanting to talk to me.’ Predicts B. ‘He’s lets all his grotty homes in multiple occupation himself, too much of a cheapskate to use a proper agent.’
Everyone looks at B in unison.
‘What?’ She demands, but it’s too late, the office door is opening and a chancer oilier than a leak at an olive factory, slides in.

I dislike speculators with a passion. They prey on distressed sellers and corruptible estate agents. Hoping to buy a property below the market value then sell it on with minimal cosmetic improvement, at a huge mark-up. They are not adverse to offering the infamous “brown envelope” to crooked agents - cash in hand for favourable access to a property to the exclusion of other competitors. It’s illegal and one of the few principles I’ve refused to compromise over the years. I act for the vendor, they pay my fee and I never forget it.

‘Alright guys.’ Calls the thirty-something man, dressed in expensive designer jeans and a t-shirt that probably cost more than my suit. I can now see his personalised number plate Range Rover, bumped up on the kerb across the road. There’s never a traffic warden around when you need one - get caught up on a difficult telephone call when you’ve rushed in to collect a set of keys though, and they appear like flies round a turd.

‘You got anything for me?’ Continues the Armani-clad vulture. ‘Repossessions, deceased estates anyone desperate to sell?’
I pride myself on getting the best possible price for any owner that entrusts their home to me, so by definition, flogging their property to a speculator wanting an immediate mark-up isn’t fulfilling my part of the contract.

‘Nothing.’ I tell the man bluntly. ‘Not with an earn in it.’
‘Oh come on.’ he wheedles. ‘You lot never find me anything.’
There’s a reason for that, I think spikily. I may have compromised on some of my youthful principles - the endowment selling scandal wasn’t my finest hour - but I have never knowingly undersold a client’s home.

‘Nothing that would suit you at the moment.’ I tell him, my body language about as unfriendly as it can be, but this guy has a hide like a rhinoceros. Don’t say it, I think as I see the words forming. If I wanted to be insulted I’d just video the sales charts at the monthly manager’s meeting and play it back endlessly…

‘I’ll make it worth your while.’ He spouts, with a salacious grin. He said it.
‘Give you any re-sales,’ he adds, then looking across at B. ‘Or the chance to find me some tenants.’
B smiles back in a sickly fashion. ‘No scumbag social security spongers though,’ continues the man as I see S’s hackles, and breasts rising. ‘They are nothing but trouble.’

‘Well done.’ Praises S as I watch the speculator jog across the road and drive away, as seconds later that hated traffic warden wanders round the corner. Typical.
‘You told him where to get off.’ Continues S with a smile that could melt glaciers faster than global warming.
‘He’ll be back.’ Predicts T. ‘People like that are impervious. He’ll do anything for a quick profit.’


True. But my pride is intact - until the next sales meeting anyway.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Band Aid - Tuesday


A scream echoes round the office and nearly gives me a heart attack. At my age and with celebrities sharing the same birth decade dropping like flies, I can’t afford too many sudden shocks. As it turns out, F the idiot trainee, is the one risking electrocution.

‘What have you done now?’ I demand, as I enter the main office and see F hopping around his desk like some epileptic frog. 
The question is rendered as redundant as he should be, when I see a pool of hot coffee spread across his desk, seeping into his keyboard, as the free mug from a lending institution I really dislike, sits on its side almost empty.

‘He’s spilt his drink.’ Says negotiator S, as she moves to F’s work station and starts to dab at the puddle with some tissues.
‘Careful you don’t short-out the circuitry.’ Cautions assistant manger T, making no attempt to help. My circuitry is close to meltdown, I think uncharitably, and I can’t just be mopped down then switched off and on again.

‘How did you manage that?’ I demand, as F stops jerking around and patting at his sodden shirt sleeve. He won’t know.
‘I don’t know.’ He confirms, clutching at the dampened material, before saying pitiably. ‘I think I may have some sort of burns.’
‘Well it won’t be first degree.’ Suggests loose lettings’ lush B. She knows F flunked an expensive private education and is also well aware you don’t need any qualifications to become an estate agent.

‘You’ll be alright.’ Soothes S as she finishes clearing up the spilt beverage and begins to lift the dripping keyboard.
‘Careful.’ I tell her. ‘It might give you a shock.’
‘It’s low voltage. Shouldn’t be dangerous.’ Opines T still sitting in his chair, some distance away from any potential electrical arc.

‘I’ll get the first aid box.’ Says S, dropping the stained tissues into F’s waste paper bin and heading for the kitchen.
‘Slim chance of anything useful in there.’ Says obese mortgage man M. ‘Health and safety Nazis took everything out of the box, last visit.’

M is right. The paracetamol and Ibuprofen I left in the red plastic container were confiscated. The cream for minor cuts and abrasions removed, in case of allergic reactions and the scissors taken - presumably to stop me from stabbing someone from head office with a job title as meaningless as Esperanto.

‘Yep, he’s right.’ Confirms S, as she lifts the lid of the first aid box and pulls out a couple of faded bandages and square of linen that might double as a sling for a petite pantomime performer, should Snow White be playing at the local theatre.

‘About as useful as a chocolate tea pot.’ Confirms M, with a hearty chuckle.
‘That could cause even more nasty burns.’ Says T, with a smirk.
‘Good one.’ Says T.
If they high-five each other, I might really need to call casualty.
‘They’ve even removed the safety pins.’ Says S, with a shake of her pretty head, as she empties the useless contents on to the desk.
‘But surely….’ Begins F, still waving his arm around piteously.
‘Don’t even go there.’ Says T.
‘No point.’ Adds M, smugly.
Put your hand in the air and you’ll be needing a first responder, I think, scowling at the blubbery buffoon.

‘You’ll be wanting this.’ Suggests B, as she tosses an embossed A4 sized stationery item at me, while S tenderly inspects F’s arm, now his soggy sleeve is rolled up. Fleetingly, I wonder if I can produce a spillage she could attend to. Best not.

I Frown at B. She’s given me the company accident book. A journal where all incidents, no matter how trivial, must be recorded - for personal protection and insurance purposes. Translation: to cover the companies corporate arse cheeks, should someone wish to sue, retrospectively.

‘If I fill anything out there’ll be a load of pointless paperwork.’ I grumble.
‘Your shout.’ Says M, ducking responsibility with surprisingly agility, for one so bulky.
‘I think I’ll live.’ Says F, stoically.
I’ll be the judge of that.

I take a chance. 

If the ambulance chasers turn up, I’ll feign illness.

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