Friday, October 31, 2014

Dark Weekdays - Wednesday

‘They looked quite young to be at your desk.’ I say to negotiator S as a fresh-faced couple leave the office clutching several sets of sales particulars.
She looks at me and smiles. ‘What instead of being across at the lettings desk?’ And she nods towards B’s vacant station. B has been missing for several hours, ostensibly to do a landlord’s check out, but with her it might just as easily be a liquid lunch - then doing a landlord.

‘They have the Bank of Mum and Dad on their side.’ Says S ruefully.
The phenomenon of parents helping children with their first home deposit is not new, but with rising prices it’s become much more common. If your parents have never been able to option a right to buy on their council house, have failed marriages and the accompanying financial hit behind them, or are just plain skint, it’s not quite so easy to place a tentative foot on the property ladder.

‘Did you get a FS lead?’ Says a muffled voice from behind me. I realise M the portly purveyor of dubious financial services has snuck up behind us, while eating something crumbly.
‘They were all fixed.’ mutters S unconvincingly. 
I should press her on the oversight, after all there are office targets as well as personal ones. But in truth I’ve never liked the conflict of interests flogging products to buyers produces, when you are acting for the homeowners. Probably why my career in corporate agency hit a ceiling so low I’m stooping prematurely.

‘You could have got me in there for an alternative quote.’ Grumbles M shedding flaky pastry on the office carpet again. He’s right. The consultants are trained to do a bit of disturbance selling and to knock competitors out of the equation with promises of “exclusive rates” only available to them. Traditionally, it involves smoke and mirrors and insurance products designed not to pay out, or to wriggle more than a snake in a bag, once you try to make a claim. I still remember the endowment policy and payment protection plan fiascos.

‘They were adamant.’ Counters S with a rather fetching pout. I almost believe her.
‘I’m not happy.’ Mutters M waddling away. Try some more comfort eating then, fat boy, I think sourly before turning back to S and asking.
‘Did you book any viewings for them?’
'Three on the trot this afternoon.’ Says S with a triumphant smile.
I could almost kiss her - almost.

‘Not sure my Mum will ever sub me for a deposit.’ Says trainee F who has been stuffing envelopes at a snails pace throughout the conversation. That’s because she’s on her fourth partner and wasted tens of thousands on a private education for you, I think. I still reckon she could get a refund. If they can claw back thousands in compensation for mis-sold insurance products, surely a law firm could stop chasing ambulances for a while and try suing the school for turning out a well-spoken dullard, after six years of tuition?

‘Of course it must of been easier back in your day.’ Says F, adding patronisation to crinkling sales particulars in envelopes unnecessarily, on his list of misdemeanours.
‘It didn’t seem like it when my mortgage went up three points to 15% in the course of an afternoon.’ I snap back, referring to the chaotic day when Britain was thrown out of The European Exchange Rate mechanism and my complete sales pipeline collapsed overnight. It was named Black Wednesday and I’ve had a few of those in my career, not to mention Thursdays, Fridays…

‘Fifteen percent?’ Echoes F incredulously. ‘You are having a laugh.’
I wasn’t chortling at the time.
‘Were they really ever that high?’ Asks S gently. I forget how young my team are compared to me - except when we go out for the increasingly rare, sales award evening. Then I feel like their dad and dance like it too.

‘They were.’ I confirm, before adding. ‘I don’t think it’s ever easy to buy when you first start out.’
‘I’m going to wait for prices to crash.’ States F moodily.

Be careful what you wish for.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Banking On It - Thursday

‘Now that’s what I’m talking about.’ I exclaim, brandishing two meaty completion cheques head high. Solicitors are slow to change - slow at everything now I come to think of it - but there’s something reassuringly solid in receiving a fat, touch it, feel it, sniff it commission cheque when a deal has finally ended happily.

‘Err, what are you doing?’ Asks negotiator S warily. I look at her, then realise I have actually, unwittingly, held the largest of the cheques to my nose.
‘The smell of money.’ Chuckles assistant manager T. ‘Gives old-time estate agents a hard on.’

I scowl at T and his head goes down. He’s been on the same HR courses as me and knows when a comment is inappropriate in the work place. Fortunately, I’m tucked well into the desk, so my excitement at receiving the funds is concealed by the aptly named modesty panel.

‘I do all my banking on-line.’ Says trainee F, with that vapid look I just didn’t notice when i interviewed him. I was too impressed by the fact he was one of the few who had bothered to wear a suit and who could actually speak audibly. I blame his mother, both for the tailoring and the wasted money on a private education. You can try to polish a turd, but it’s still crap at the end of the day.

‘I want the pleasure of taking the cash to the bank.’ I tell F.
‘It’s not cash though is it?’ Interjects B from her lettings enclave. ‘I get plenty of low-lifes bouncing cheques on me.’ She also had a Czech bouncing on top of her last year, if rumours about that tenant from Prague were true - but that’s another story.

‘It’s as good as.’ I tell her, my enjoyment slowly being sucked from me, in a way I wouldn’t normally let B do.
‘I don’t think I’ve ever written a cheque.’ Ponders F dreamily.
‘They’ll be consigned to history before long.’ Says T dismissively. ‘Everyone will bank on-line.’
‘No, this is tangible.’ I argue, waving the cheques once more.
‘Analogue man in a digital world.’ Retorts T pithily. It’s not an original line, but he deploys it well.

‘Don’t know why they can’t open a few more counters.’ Says the woman behind me in the long queue at the bank, later.
She’s talking to me, despite my body language screaming, leave me alone everyone. I glance at the array of tellers’ positions, most with their irritating little pull-down blinds deployed. I nod in agreement.
‘All too busy flogging policies nobody wants or needs, or out repossessing some poor businessman’s home.’ Sneers the woman, with the sort of venom that can only collect from being bitten personally.

I nod again, in what I judge to be a tacit agreement without the need for further discourse. It’s pleasing to note that bankers are below estate agents and jostling with politicians on the public hate list - it won’t last. To be on the safe side I clutch my company paying in book closer, I don’t want her to see who I work for, she might have had a pleasant moving experience but the odds are against it.

‘Sorry for the wait.’ Says the banker from behind her glass protection, when the cretin ahead of me - who seemed to be paying in the clattery contents of several stolen charity tins - has gone.
She doesn’t look sorry, she certainly doesn’t sound sorry, but that might be because I can’t hear her properly - despite the sound loop sticker that maintains her insincere corporate mutterings are allegedly audible to the deaf and the desperate.

I watch as the woman robotically stamps the counterfoils and processes the cheques. Eye contact lady, I think angrily, at least try to engage. But the armour-plated glass acts as a personality barrier as well as a physical one. Perhaps branch banking is as doomed as my staff maintain, I think dejectedly, as I trudge to the door only to walk in to the hobbling banker coming in. Damn he’ll want to talk reciprocal business.
‘How are things?’ He asks briskly.



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Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday On My Mind - Friday

‘For crying out loud does she think I was born yesterday?’ I snarl at the phone, as the handset rocks in its cradle again.
‘Problem boss?’ Asks trainee F perceptively.
‘F***ing solicitors.’ I tell him, with a resigned look towards the office swear box. F looks at me studiously.
‘Not literally.’ I say, realising F has taken a statement at face value again. Although we do have to kiss lawyers’ arses quite regularly, I’ve never gone the whole way.

The legal fraternity and estate agency have a love hate relationship, we have to pretend we love them - they hate us. The two professions grudgingly recognise an unwelcome mutual dependency but agents generally think lawyers are too tardy and not pro-active enough when it comes to conveyancing. Whereas lawyers see our commission invoices and in common with the rest of the public, think we charge too much.

‘They don’t like being rung on a Friday.’ Says negotiator S soothingly. She’s right, and as she does the majority of the office sales progressing, has a fairly good relationship with most of the legal practices in town. It’s the out of town outfits, who will probably never deal with you again, that tend to duck your phone calls chasing progress reports, or try to fob you off with some neutral comment like, “it’s all going well.”

‘Partner is in court?’ Asks S, eyebrows arched attractively.
‘With a client?’ Contributes assistant manager T with a grin.
‘Only works part time?’ Offers F, joining in the guessing game as to why I’ve nearly broken another phone.
‘Put the request in writing?’ Says fat mortgage man M waddling across the office unpleasantly.
I crack an unlikely smile. ‘Something like that.’ I concede. ‘Just, I knew the secretary was lying.’

Now, when I entertain a solicitor - an increasingly rare event since my bean counter boss started forensically scrutinising every expense claim - the legal-luncher is often at pains to point out they don’t like being bothered on a Friday. It’s the day most sales tend to complete (the moving day) and often - a few weeks before - when contracts are finally exchanged.

I accept that plea from the more pro-active practitioners. The firms who ring you back, willingly give progress reports to you, and by proxy their client. The type of organisation that move 
as swiftly as the antiquated English and Welsh conveyancing process allows - the Scottish are a whole different ball game. But as often as not, ducking my phone call is a result of not having touched the file in days, sometimes weeks, and the reluctant recipient hiding behind a “delayed local search” or protracted “mortgage offer”smokescreen

‘I think we should always deal with the solicitors we know.’ Says S emphatically. ‘They get our recommendations and give us reciprocal business.’ Once again she’s right, but the big corporate estate agency chains want group agreements with soulless outfits that run call centres and centralised conveyancing pens. In my experience the service is poor and the fee kickback goes to a central fund rather than the local office. But then my boss thinks I’m a luddite, or he would if he knew what one was…

‘Bean counter’s secretary on line three.’ Says S late afternoon. ‘He wants to know why our weekly stats are not in yet.’
Because I’m still chasing two much-needed exchanges and the sodding solicitors won’t return my calls, I think angrily.
‘Can you say I’m with someone?’ I asks S limply, realising even as I say it I’m parroting the fob-off I’ve been given several times today by my legal friends.
‘Don’t think she’ll believe me.’ Says S hesitantly. 
Of course not, but it’s hard to prove as long as S has punched the hold button securely and not just put her hand over the mouthpiece as that idiot F keeps doing.
‘Say I’ll call her back.’ I offer. The irony not lost on me.

‘We had a blinder of a week.’ Crows the ringleader of our opposition, as the two groups jostle at the bar. It’s a Friday night ritual - come good week or bad.
‘Smashed it.’ I reply loudly.

Cracked the phone handset actually, but it’s a brief exchange…


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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Hungry For News - Tuesday

‘Anyone seen my paper?’ I ask testily, back from a valuation appointment with a couple who’d been completely misled on value by one of the less scrupulous agents in town. It still irks when people respond to their baser instincts - greed in this case, fuelled by a semi-plausible spiv in a suit - and overprice their homes. But then never underestimate the power of price flattery when owners want to sell their homes.

‘No.’ Answers assistant manager T. Before adding. ‘Just off to get some lunch.’ He exits the office, as I think, when I was his age and aspiring to become a branch manager, I grabbed a sandwich at my desk rather than prancing round the men’s clothes shops for nearly an hour. So T hasn’t pinched my paper. Not this time.

I read the message book and grind my teeth when I see “Bomber” our local demolition surveyor will be carrying out a full survey on a pretty terraced cottage I agreed a sale on, three weeks ago. The house has stood for over a hundred years, but by the time he’s finished dismantling it in a twenty page report, the buyers will imagine it has less structural stability than a tottering tower of Jenga bricks. Might as well put the For Sale board back up now.

‘Did you see Bomber is doing 12 Coronation Terrace?’ Asks negotiator S with a wan smile.
‘I’m surprised he comes out during daylight hours.’ I growl.
‘Because people are out to hurt him?’ Asks S naively.
‘No.’ I snap. ‘ Because he’s afraid of his own shadow. I don’t think that bastard has ever valued up a sale in his whole career.’
‘Why does he do it?’ Says S.
‘Because you can’t get sued if nobody ever buys the home you valued.’ I tell her angrily. It’s not exactly true, but I’m not in the mood to show equanimity - particularly as some sod has taken my newspaper again.

My wife would say I’ve changed over the years I’ve been selling homes. I’ve certainly changed my newspaper pick. I started out with a  low-brow tabloid I’d rather not name, then as the years took their toll and the grey hairs flourished, I went from a down-market medium to a right of centre, mildly racist - in retrospect - paper, through to my current choice. Something a bit more nuanced and balanced, or at least I think so at the moment. I just hope I don’t get to the retirement flat and Daily Telegraph stage while I’m still compos mentis.

B our loose lettings lush sashays into the office. If her skirts get any shorter you’ll be able to see what she had for lunch.
‘You seen my paper?’ I ask frostily, as she sits behind her desk and starts to apply fresh lip gloss.
Nobody bar me still buys a daily paper, like a growing number they prefer to read the news on-line for free, but someone has to pay for the content. In this case me, which is why I’d like to find the paper where I left it - on my desk.

‘Why what’s in it?’ Asks B nonchalantly, starting to file her nails now, despite my frequent requests not to saw her cuticles in public.
‘I don’t know what’s in it.’ I bark. ‘All I’ve done so far is pay for the bloody thing.’
‘Swear box.’ Says S coyly.
‘Oh for f**ks sake.’

Then the penny drops. F, my cerebrally-challenged trainee isn’t around, but the last thing he read was probably his school timetable. M, our man-mountain of a financial advisor isn’t in his office. I look uneasily towards the gents’ toilet. S follows my gaze, as B files back and forth like a hyperactive violin player.

‘I think he’s in there again.’ Suggests S gently.
‘How long?’ I ask flatly.
‘Don’t think I’ve seen him for twenty minutes, come to think of it.’ She replies with an apologetic shrug.
Terrific. I like to grab a sandwich while reading my paper, but the thought the newsprint has been absorbing the earthy aroma of an overweight finance fiddler while he empties his bowels, isn’t pleasant.

I’ve lost my appetite. 


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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Drip Feed - Wednesday

‘How many more of these flyers do you want?’ Asks trainee F, as he leans over the chugging colour printer. It seems to be working for once. If the engineer spends any more time in the office he’ll want his own coffee mug.

‘How many homes in the catchment area we’re going to mail drop?’ I respond. Answering a question with another question is an annoying management trait but the query is out before I realise it.

F stares at me with that vacant possession look he’s perfected, as an unpleasant grinding noise fills the air. It takes a moment before I realise it’s the printer, not F’s overworked grey matter, producing the distressing sound. He pushes the stop button and lifts the lid to expose a mangled piece of A4 with a familiar storyline about, homes wanted in your road, sale just arranged, disappointed buyers offering sexual favours to estate agents for first chance of a viewing….

‘F•••ed again.’ Says loose lettings lush B from her cluttered desk. It could be a statement about her activities last night, but I’m hoping she’d referring to the over-priced heap of electronic tat the bean counter boss made all the offices instal. No doubt it saved him a few pence on leasing costs and produced an attractive bottom line, I think, as appropriately enough negotiator S sways across the office distractingly.

Attention jerked back towards the troublesome machine I continue my internal dialogue. The number crunchers love to fiddle with suppliers to justify their existence, but at the coal face it means multiple jams, and call outs so regular that we all have the engineer’s mobile phone on speed dial. Still, here’s hoping the bean counter gets some more sponsors’ corporate tickets to those major sporting events.

‘So how many do you think we need?’ I say to F, once he’s tugged out several mangled sheets of paper and re-set the printer, with a little help from S.
F looks at S despairingly, as she tries to mime something to him. His frown lines deepen as I begin to lose my cool.

‘Electoral roll!’ I bark aggressively, immediately regretting the phlegm-flecked verbal assault.
F looks at the floor and for a moment I thinks he’s about to perform some sort of gymnastic head-over-heels carpet tumble. Fortunately S steps to the filing cabinet, bends over athletically and brings out the list of names and addressees for our office area.
‘In here,’ she says soothingly, handing the thick printout to the thicko. ‘You’ll find the information in here.’

‘Not sure this is that great.’ Says assistant manager T, as he reads one of the less mangled leaflets, with the fact meets fiction claims and a photograph of a house we sold recently in the area.
‘And why’s that?’ I ask him frostily. I changed it three times before giving F the go ahead to copy scores of them. I also remembered to add the warning paragraph about potential vendors checking terms and conditions before instructing us, if they have another agent already retained. Got to keep the Property Ombudsman happy.

‘I’d think we should have the price we sold number seven for.’ Replies T.
‘New owners get a bit pissy about that.’ I tell T, knowing of several complaints over the years.
‘It’s a matter of record.’ AnswersT. ‘Anyone can check with the Land Registry.’
T is right, but the data takes a while to come through and some buyers are a bit cagey about letting the world know their business - and the transaction is called ‘Private Treaty’.

‘I think this is the best way for now.’ I tell T. I might be wrong, the goalposts have been moved on me so many times, I feel like a forgetful council groundsman. But as we now have several hundred copies of the leaflet I’m happy to take a flyer…

‘It’s starting to chuck it down.’ Announces T, as I come back in to the main office post-piss. F and T are standing by a pile of the aforementioned leaflets. S is manning the phones, B is filing her nails.

Not sure where it goes on the profit & loss account, but I take a rain check.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Grinning And Baring - Thursday

I’m outside the dentist’s surgery before 8.00am. So early in fact, that I don’t need to pay parking charges for the first ten minutes. That ticket I received when that filling took longer than expected still grates a few years down the line. The irritation lasted longer than the filling, as it happens.

Driver gouging rate for parking on the streets - both I and the office pay rates for - paid, parking ticket displayed on the dashboard, I walk to the surgery door then nearly smash my face against the glass. The door is locked.

‘Oh for f**ks sake.’ I exclaim, louder than I meant to.
A passing woman on a bicycle looks back at me with disdain and a pretty young student type, ignores me and carries on talking to an unseen friend on a hidden mobile phone. She must have one of those concealed microphone and ear piece combos - or she’s another nutter. Tough call.

I rattle the door again, anger swelling as I pull the appointment slip from my wallet and double check I have the right time, day, month and year. You have to book a long way in advance if you want an NHS dentist, and woe betide you if you miss an appointment. You’ll be moved on faster than a single mother on the council waiting list.

A scruffy man in jeans and a grubby t-shirt joins me. I feel out of place in suit and tie and momentarily wonder if he’s about to mug me. If he hits me in the face, as the door just tried to, I’ll be in the right place for reconstructive surgery. Although that will probably be non-essential cosmetic treatment and only available privately. Same dentist, just better mood music at four times the price.

‘They not open yet?’ Asks the man gruffly, stating the sodding obvious.
A cascade of sarcasm aches, like a dying tooth, to flow the man’s way, but sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut.
‘Eight o’clock.’ I tell him sagely, pointing at the opening hours which escaped my notice earlier.
‘It is eight o’clock.’ Counters the man, tapping at a cheap digital watch like a hen at a seed bowl.
Great, bad enough I’m about to be probed by a surgical steel implement and told I don’t floss often enough, now some chav with no dress sense wants a pre-breakfast argument. 

‘All bloody foreigners you know.’ Continues the man. pointing past the opening hours to a set of plaques showing the dentists currently practicing. I don’t recognise the woman I had a year ago, but they all seem to have an excess of Z’s andY’s in their names and to have qualified somewhere in eastern Europe.

‘Taking our jobs this lot.’ Adds the man with a yellowy snarl. The choices for a pithy retort are endless. I don’t like casual racism, particularly when it is so spectacularly misplaced. Fortunately the door mechanism rattles as a key is inserted from the inside and we both gain entry.

The receptionist looks bored already and scans my name in to the computer.
‘That’ll be £18.50 before you go in.’ She says challengingly. What’s this? I’ve always paid after the treatment. I’m tempted to argue, but I find it’s best not to upset an organisation that can inflict pain so readily

‘Any new medicines taking?’ Asks the dentist in halting English. She’s not the same woman I had last time - on maternity leave it transpires. God, that must have been a dark night. I answer in the negative and the prodding and tutting begins.

‘Grind together.’ instructs the dentist. Causing  momentary confusion until I realise it’s an instruction, not a request.
‘You have stressful job, no?’ Enquires the woman from behind her surgical mask. Yes, actually. I deal with idiots, liars and time-wasters most days, I want to say. But I just nod. I read somewhere dentists have one of the highest levels of depression and suicide. No sign of estate agents - yet.

‘Have you ever considered wearing a mouth guard?’ Asks the dentist, as I feel more expense coming.

In the end, I just take the hit and keep smiling.


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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Astride The Fence - Wednesday

The early appointment was a waste of time, so I’m not in the best of moods as I hurry across the park, back to the office.

I’m guessing when the Victorians designated this green space they probably hoped it would become a haven for busy workers and perhaps somewhere to stroll hand in hand with a loved one on a summer’s evening. Instead, despite the local authority’s best efforts in the horticultural department, it’s frequented by the sort of homeless and hopeless people even I can’t help.

I spot the litter-strewn area from a distance, but I need to walk past. The gaggle of drunks are already garrulous with cheap super-strength cider, despite the clock not having reached mid-morning coffee time. I can feel a Daily Mail moment coming even before I have to circumnavigate the discarded bottles and food wrappers tossed into the nearby flowerbed. Dumped with total distain for the minimum wage gardeners who hoe out used condoms and spent needles in between the hardy weeds.

‘Spare some change for a cuppa mate?’ Demands one of the red-faced winos. It’s more an order than a request. His motley crew all turn toward me, eyes glazed, lips curled. One of them, I’m pretty certain was in the office a few months back, asking B our loose lettings lady if we rented to people on benefits. No wonder she drinks so heavily. Not so sure about the casual sex, but then maybe she gets better offers than I do….

‘Come on pal.’ Calls a second unshaven man, teeth like a yellowed piano keyboard. ‘Help out some people worse off than you.’ I could stop and have a chat, reason with the group that I give, in private, to the charities of my choice - the sort of line I used to give to the chuggers in day-glow jacket who try to get people to sign a direct debit order, when all they want is a sandwich and fifteen minutes away from jangling phones. I could.

‘Aw he’s not going to help you out.’ Spits a third piss-head. ‘Tosser in a suit, no chance.’ He’s right - on all three counts. I’ve been up well before the sun and I’m unlikely to start drinking inappropriately before six pm on a Friday. Why should I subsidise this bunch of anti-social low-lifes any more than I already do through my taxes? And yet…

‘Sorry lads. can’t stop. No change.’ I mutter hurriedly.
‘No change there then.’ Mocks a throaty female voice. I almost spin to double-check, but it’s true. One of the raggedy group belongs - or did at one stage - to the fairer sex. I shudder to think what the sleeping arrangement are on that park bench, particularly as they lock the public toilets now after dusk. Fact is you couldn’t see anything in there anyway. The ultra violet lighting that was supposed to make it difficult for you to shoot up, but just made it hard to hit those pineapple chunk fresheners they put in the urinals.

As I exit the park, a motorised council cart arrives with two downtrodden staff members inside. In the back are an assortment of gardening implements. I just hope they have sturdy puncture-proof gloves. Like some of those repossessions that have squatters in them, they’ll need to be careful what they pick up.

‘Dodge the aggressive beggars in the park did you?’ Asks assistant manager T, when I get to the office.
‘Bloody dirtbags.’ Voices B from her lettings enclave. ‘Why should we work fifty hours a week and be expected to give them more money?’
‘You don’t know what has happened to them.’ States negotiator S indignantly. 
‘Bunch of losers.’ Counters B. ‘Try working in lettings and you’ll soon stop sympathising with scum like that. You should see the state the flat in the High street was left in, after the eviction.’

‘I just hope you never need to ask for help from social services.’ Says S. Eyes blazing. She’s magnificent when roused, at least I like to imagine so…

‘What do you think, boss?’ Asks trainee F with an unexpected curve ball.

There are two sides to every story. 

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