Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Back On The Chain Gang - Wednesday

‘Anything happening?’ I ask the assembled office, as I come back from an abortive valuation where the owners seemed to think their house was in a different location, to its actual address.

‘World is going to hell in a handcart.’ Says fat finance man M gruffly. Looks like he’s had more commission clawbacks from mis-sold policies, this month.
‘Bomber the surveyor came for the keys to number fourteen.’ Says assistant manager T, with a grimace, before adding. ‘We might as well put the for sale board back up.’

I glance towards lose lettings lush B’s desk.
‘What?’ She challenges aggressively.
‘Anything happening?’ I repeat.
‘Well I’ve got ungrateful landlords, three tenants in arrears, a complaint about loud parties and suspected drug dealing and every other deadbeat that comes in wants to know if we’ll rent to people on housing benefits.’

I turn to F, the idiot savant trainee. He frowns distractedly.
‘What was the question again boss?’
Some days I shake my head more often than one of those solar-powered nodding dogs. I look at negotiator S, for some solace. Not for the first time. 

‘I’ve chased the exchange of contracts on the Halls’ sale.’ She says glumly. ‘But two of the lawyers aren't talking to each other except by letter, there’s a local search that might take another five weeks and the couple at the top of the chain have been told they’ve undersold by an agent who knocked their door. They are thinking about taking the house off the market and putting the price up.’

If anybody tells you selling homes is money for old rope, tell them to spend a month in my office. I’ve had more disappointments in the last twenty years than the Aston Villa supporters’ club. Every reason for sales falling through that could possibly exist, has crossed my desk or polluted my phone. And the next tosser who puts in an offer, assuring me his word is his bond, is probably going to get punched. Because as sure as the sun rises in the east, he’ll be pulling out of the sale before any money changes hands.

‘Why does the sales’ process have to be so long-winded?’ Asks trainee F, after I’ve been given a calming cup of tea and my rant has petered out like an old man’s piss-stream.
‘That’s actually a good question’ Says S, with a disarming smile. God, if she ever goes on maternity leave I might just take the stairs to the top of that ex-local authority block of flats. The lift obviously won’t be working, but at least I can be sure the door to the roof will be unlocked.

‘They need to speed the process up.’ Suggests M pompously. A bit rich considering the outstanding mortgage offers we are waiting on for at least two buyers we put in front of him. 
‘They tried that with Home Information Packs though.’ Counters S, referring to the late and not very lamented attempt by the clueless last Labour Government. Despite widespread industry warnings of the unsuitability, one of the numerous housing ministers, who changed more often that F’s underpants, decided to railroad through a clunky piece of legislation that failed miserably. The incoming Conservative Government junked the process and proved to be equally as inept.

‘The problem with property is the people.’ I say obliquely. I get some quizzical looks, but I’m used to that. I tell people the real value of their homes every day, and the majority want to be lied to.
‘What do you mean?’ Questions F, frowning again. His face is going to look like Rip Van Winkle’s by the time he’s thirty.

‘He means the business would be great if it wasn’t for the public.’ Says M, with a jowly shrug.
‘That doesn’t make sense.’ Replies F, face creasing even deeper.
‘It’s not meant to.’ I say flatly.
‘He’s just being ironic.’ Soothes S towards F; with that dazzling smile.

‘I hate f***ing people.’ Spits B.
‘Not what I’ve heard.’ Mutters T, dangerously.
‘What was that?’ Snaps B.
I caution for calm and plead for another cuppa.

So, nothing happening then.

Just the usual.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Show Some Backbone - Monday

‘Oooh, dear. What happened to you?’ Asks my chiropractor, with an unwelcome chuckle. A tsunami of sarcasm isn’t best directed at someone who will have you bent double in your underpants shortly, so I just grimace and remind him I wouldn’t have booked an emergency appointment at £45 a pop, without a whole lot of agony.

I hobble awkwardly in to the waiting area, where two other people are slumped in the leather armchairs. Clearly hypochondriacs. I shuffle straight to the upright chair and lower myself gingerly to the squab. I look like one of those losers who ship up at A and E of a weekend, with a foreign objet wedged up their nether regions. Only I didn’t fall on to the vacuum cleaner nozzle while doing the housework naked - at least not this time…

‘What happened?’ Asks the chiropractor wearily, once I’m in the treatment room and down to my underwear. Socks still on. There’s no way they are coming off until he straightens my spine. It took my wife several goes to put them on me and she’s usually telling me to take them off when I’m on the bed.

‘I just woke up like this.’ I tell him pathetically. If he asks if I jumped amorously off the wardrobe the previous evening, I’ll take my business elsewhere - at least when I’m able to walk without resembling Notre Dame’s most famous bellringer.

‘Try and bend forward to touch your toes.’ Suggests the man softly.
He might as well ask me to levitate and do a trick with stale loaves and fish leftovers.
‘My, that is tight.’ Says the bone-bender. No shit Sherlock. ‘You’ve got yourself in a bit of a pickle haven’t you?’ He continues, as I resist the urge to verbally flay him with derision.

‘Now just try and relax.’ Says the man as I lie face down and he tugs at the waistband of my underpants. If anything I tense even more, and that’s before he really shafts me with  a bill most high-class hookers would baulk at on a cost per minute, while bent over making animalistic sounds.

‘This is going to take several sessions.’ Suggests the chiro, as the treatment table rises with a soft swishing. Now why am I not surprised? I’ve known for years that alternative treatment practitioners in the private sector have a vested interest in stringing out your treatment for several return visits. They need repeat business. The polar opposite of my experience with NHS staff.

I still recall, with bitterness, the clueless NHS physiotherapists my GP sent me to see after several bouts of back trouble. Bored-looking middle aged women, with cheaply photocopied handouts I could have obtained on the internet, spent most of the sessions filling out my medical history on their laptops. They never once touched my lap, or asked me to take my top off.

After several pointless sessions they were just eager to sign me off their caseload, with less hands on than a children's rugby game. One did refer me to a pensioners’ pilates class. It’s a sign of how desperate I was to break the pain/spasm/pain cycle that I attended. Some memories you wish you could erase forever. My mother disorientated in the old people’s home, father in a hospital bed, mute and terrified post-stroke - and a cobwebby crotch in a gaudy-coloured leisure suit, three foot from my face. ‘You might want to move up the mat a little Mabel, you’re a bit near that gentleman’s head.’

‘How’s the housing market?’ Asks the chiropractor, as he instructs me to roll on to my side and to clutch my opposite shoulder. Does he really want to know? Or is it just distracting small talk to fool me into relaxing, before he tries to get several vertebrae to audibly explode, like popcorn in a microwave.

I sometimes wish I could keep my identity secret from the pain-givers, but this guy, my dentist and my bank manger all know what I do. I give him a property platitude.

‘Deep breath in.’ He instructs, as my buttocks clench. ‘ A little discomfort coming.’

As I’ve been predicting.


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Friday, November 18, 2016

Appetite For Destruction - Thursday

I enter the budget hotel car park just as my rival manager H sweeps in with his two bands higher, company car. The vertically-challenged throwback seems to stick to me like a turd on a heel. I’m sure he does it just for another opportunity to taunt me about his superior sales figures. He still can’t reach the bar to pick up his pint though….

‘How’s it going?’ Asks H, as we trudge toward the revolving door without enthusiasm. He isn’t actually interested. Like creepy dark-eyed carrion feeding off others misfortune - he just wants to crow.

I tell him how business is, with the usual poetic licence beloved of sales people the world over. He’s not listening. 
‘Four in the bag already this week,’ he trumpets as we shuffle through the spinning entrance. ‘And multiple offers on two others.’ I’m tempted to jump out of the glass-prison and give it a mighty shove, just to see him spinning inside, little legs pumping like a mini Usain Bolt until he falls and is flattened by the mechanism. But of course I don’t. Imagine the paperwork.

‘Who started this absurd breakfast meeting nonsense?’ Asks H angrily, as I nod at a new eastern european lady behind the reception desk and spot the mis-spelt welcome board detailing which soul-less meeting room we are in today.

‘I think it came over from America in the eighties.’ I tell him flatly.
‘Like Aids then.’ Responds H, nastily.
Political correctness and empathy seem to have passed H by, despite the awareness courses the lesbian in Human Resources likes to run.

We enter the appointed room and an unpleasant waft of congealed fat assaults my nostrils. With dismay, I see this time the breakfast offerings are actually in the same room. Three trestle tables are spread along one wall, covered in disposable paper cloths, and supporting those vast copper containers with lids on. A bunsen burner-type arrangement sits under each vessel, gently stewing the contents that have doubtless been wallowing in their own fat for at least forty minutes. My stomach rumbles audibly. I’m going to regret this.

‘Who’s the new totty?’ Asks H in a louder than necessary stage whisper. He’s indicating an earnest-looking young woman in a trouser suit. She’s almost pretty, in a bookish, boyish way.
‘A new financial consultant.’ I tell him softly. I’ve met the girl once and warmed to her about as much as the solidifying scrambled eggs.

‘She won’t last.’ Predicts H, sitting beside me. Shit on a shoe-style.
‘You can’t say that.’ I hiss. Seeing our bean-counter boss is looking at me challengingly - and that’s before he puts my office figures on the overhead.
‘Just saying.’ Counters H. ‘If she isn’t in tears before the end of the year, she’ll be pregnant.’
If she sits in your office too long, she will be. I think with a shiver.

H doesn’t employ women of child-bearing age except on reception, or in secretarial roles. He’s the sort of throwback that would suit the eighties, except a mullet and shoulder pads would probably tip him over.

I’ve argued long in to the night with H at countless hotel bars, over his misogynistic views, but he remains unmoved and undersized. 
‘Sooner or later they all skive off on maternity leave and end up impacting on the office sales’ figure.’ He argues. ‘Then you can’t employ a proper replacement and they want to keep the cocking company car for the school run.’
I’m hoping Darwin will get him in the end.

‘Bet she doesn’t eat meat either.’ Continues H, as he shadows me to the food station. ‘F•••ing vegans. You don’t get any in African villages, I’m telling you.’

Grudgingly, I have to concede H has a point. The fads and foibles we have to cater for in the workplace have reached epidemic proportions. I’m guessing if you haven’t eaten anything for days but a stale yam, and your mother has trudged five miles to a well, you won’t be demanding Perrier and a Linda McCartney ready meal. Give me the muddy water and something with a heartbeat to eat, bitch!

Just not the sweaty bacon. 


Friday, November 11, 2016

My Back Yard - Friday

I see the earnest-looking woman making a bee-line towards me, even as I navigate past the less pressurised lunchtime shoppers. I’ve already dodged the wino in the empty shop unit doorway, and swerved the Big Issue salesman, who in truth has almost given up pestering me with his entreaties. I’ve told him at least once that I already help the homeless. It didn’t go down well.

There was a time when my wife used to lovingly pack me sandwiches, so I could keep going through the working day - after all many people want to view homes in their own lunch hour. But she tired of making them, just as I tired of eating them and I now welcome the chance to stretch my legs and walk to the shop for a meal deal. Of course I have the dilemma of the healthy eating - taste-free range - or something with flavour and big numbers on those nutrition information panels. Fortunately my close eyesight is failing, in line with my resolve.

My resolve to dodge street surveys and charity-chuggers trying to sign me up on a direct debit to support abandoned donkeys in Greece, hasn’t faltered though.  I can sidestep faster than a rugby wingback, even with my battered back, so I’m already dummying left, before zig-zagging right past the bloke in the disabled scooter, as the woman with the leaflets comes closer.

‘Excuse me sir.’ She calls stridently, before showing surprising agility and sidestepping to block my path. ‘I know you don’t I?’

This isn’t great. Telling a past client I haven’t recognised to push off, isn’t going to foster repeat business and if they are a buyer, or tenant, I might still be jeopardising office revenue. Reluctantly I stop.

‘Aren’t we near neighbours?’ Presses the woman waving a black and white, home-printed leaflet, in my face.
We might be, my wife tends to know the names and occupations of people in our road, I prefer not to intermingle. You never know when you might be repossessing their house. Fist name terms don’t always go well, when the locksmith is drilling through the front door and the kids are sobbing on the lawn….

The woman confirms her address - next road down - and smiles triumphantly.
‘Then you are just the sort of person who will want to support this.’ She says, handing me her leaflet. I scan the piece of clumsily edited A4 and my heart sinks. It’s an objection to a big new development, planned for a green space not far from my home. The stern-faced woman is looking at me challengingly. She’s a NIMBY - not in my back yard - protestor. They are all late middle-aged and have the glassy-eyes zest of converts, without any of the naive charm.

‘This is a scandal.’ She continues, blocking my path completely. ‘ There’ll be no green fields left in this area if they get away with building this monstrosity.’ I know all about the proposed development - it’s my job - and I’m conflicted. People need homes to live in, my two sons will need sensibly priced homes themselves. But I also know if planning is granted, the landowner will become a multi-millionaire overnight, and the prices will be astronomical too. Paradoxically, the social housing element the planners will insist on, also conflicts me. There are some people you’d rather not live in the same school catchment area.

‘We’ve put all the links on our leaflet and a draft objection letter template,’ Continues the woman, forcibly handing me the leaflet. ‘And it has the email  addresses’s of the local councillors, so we can make our feelings known’ She’s presuming she knows my feelings. Big mistake. Better not let her know I sell houses for a living. I’m hoping she’s unaware, or surely she wouldn't have stopped me?

‘I trust we can count on your support.’ Says the woman forcibly, as I make to leave. ‘We can’t let these people ruin our lifestyle.’

I know the developer won’t use an agent to sell the homes. I know they won’t put in sufficient flood prevention and the schools are already overflowing. I also know the prices will be unaffordable to most.

It’s objectionable.


Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Tardy Tenure - Monday

At the unprepossessing entrance to our Palma Airbnb apartment I fiddle with the keys. As an estate agent of multiple decades’ standing, I pride myself on locating the right slab of sculptured alloy for easy access, with little difficulty. On the third attempt an elderly Spanish lady opens the communal door from the inside and looks at me suspiciously. 

With my wife muttering something inaudible behind, we commence an awkward Mexican stand-off - same language, just with less over-sized hats - until after my flurry of pigeon Spanish completely bemuses the poor old girl and I have to beckon her out with hand signals. She tuts as she passes and I wonder if she has me down for a Brexit voter who has opted to dismantle the European Union and no longer subsidise sunnier climes.

‘You asked her where the toilets were.’ Says my wife disparagingly, as we enter the dingy entrance hall.
‘Did I?’ I respond, uncertainly. I try my best to offer a little of the local language wherever I travel. It’s a courtesy easily applied with a little forward planning and I still bridle at ignorant Englishmen shouting in their native language, whilst  attempting to make themselves understood ordering a meal.

‘Servisios are the lavatories.’ Enlightens my wife, as I wonder if I may have ordered some still water and a beer from the confused old lady, too. My sons have mastered more than one language - and university degrees - and travel the world effortlessly, while I remain resolutely mono-lingual and stuck in a bigger rut than an open cast coal mine. Still, as a parent you wish for so much more for the next generation; it’s evolution at its purest.

‘Not very welcoming is it.’ Remarks my wife as we get to the end of the poorly-lit communal area.
She’s right. In a British block, this space would be full of notices, insurance certificates and dire warnings from the committee not to breach any of the myriad regulations. Could be why we are leaving the European union. Britain is the only country to take any notice of the rules.

‘I wonder if it’s really allowed, holidaymakers coming and going in the block like this?’ Ponders my wife, as the lift wheezes its way to the upper floor and I hope it doesn’t break down. I’ve seen the after effects of elderly people stuck in carriages for hours, and shitting in a shopping bag isn’t an option that appeals. 

My wife has a point. Leasehold in the UK is a second-class tenure and most arcane, wordy documents, setting out the rules and obligations in a block of flats forbid sub-letting, or temporary tenants such as we are. Vast swathes of London are held on diminishing term leases, where in theory the buyers are little more than renters in a shady shared-ownership scheme. The freeholder - some over-privileged landowner with a title, whose ancestors helped the winning monarch shaft scores of dis-enfranchised peasants - gets to charge a premium to extend the lease, or in worst case scenario, takes the property back at the end of the term. At least Dick Turpin had the courtesy to wear a mask.

‘They probably ignore the rules and just rent the flats out anyway.’ I speculate, as I pull open the patio doors and drink in the fabulous view. The sun is glistening on Palma bay, the magnificent Gothic cathedral stands sumptuously to one side and another mega-slab of cruise liner is inching its improbable way in to port.

‘Maybe they aren’t as strict as British leases.’ Suggests my wife, heading for the bathroom. Judging by the electrical sockets alongside the taps, nothing is as regulated. I’d imagine they loose several senoritas a year to hair dryer in tub accidents. Not to mention how many swarthy Spanish chaps are fried, using electric shavers on the bidet.

‘The whole system needs updating.’ I say, when my wife rejoins me and we make a dent in the first bottle of Rioja.
‘The plumbing?’ She asks, wrinkling her nose.
‘No, the property market.’ I tell her. But I’m running out of time to do it.

The second bottle will ease the pain.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

New vs Old - Tuesday

Still on our sunshine break in Palma, we head back to the Airbnb apartment. It was a leap in to the unknown, a bit like the first time I downloaded the Uber app and unwittingly brought a nice chap named Mohammed to our door, when I just wanted to see what the trip cost might be. He was very nice about it and didn't seem to swear much - not in English anyway…

As it turned out the apartment’s description and views were as published. They don’t seem to have a property mis-description act in Spain, or overzealous trading standards officers as far as I can ascertain. The new computerised business model, seems to work for both rental properties and taxis. I’m not so convinced it will work for on-line estate agents though - that’s still a very personal, hands-on experience.

‘Look the other way.’ Shouts my wife, grabbing my arm again like an angry lollipop lady at a school crossing.
‘I blame Napoleon.’ I mutter unconvincingly, as I turn my head and spot two lanes of fast moving Seats and Fiats. ‘If he hadn’t changed the side of the track horse and carts travelled we’d be able to drive on the proper side of the road in Europe and America.’
‘Ridiculous.’ Pronounces my wife, as she leads me across the road, straight towards the Teutonically clinical property premises, near our destination.

‘Are there any Engel and Volkers in Britain?’ Asks my wife, indicating the pristine white fascia of the German-owned estate agency operation.
‘Don’t think so,’ I mutter looking though the window enviously. ‘Some towns are still rebuilding after there blitz.’
‘That’s racist.’ Snaps my wife.
‘Try telling people in Plymouth.’ I respond.

I’ve unwittingly stopped outside the window again, gazing in at the desks devoid of detritus. Still no coffee mugs, no sales files, no half-eaten sandwiches. Just clear space, eye-bleedingly bright 4k retina display screens and one of those aluminium track pads I still can’t get to grips with. I nod self-consciously to the aryan man in the front desk. He blanks me completely and an absurd desire to sing a dubiously correct song from my schooldays, about two world wars and one world cup, overwhelms me.

‘The thing is folks don’t understand property is a people business.’ I opine to my wife, as we head towards our accommodation.
‘Hmm.’ She answers disinterestedly.
‘You see firms flinging money at unproven schemes like on-line agency, when they don’t realise you need local knowledge and experience, not a call centre in Rhyl staffed by schoolboys who flunked their GCSEs.’

‘We’re not going on a rant are we?’ She queries.
‘I thought the tapas tour might be more fun.’ I quip back.
She doesn’t laugh. Not so much now, anyway.

‘I’ve seen agents come and go, some of the kids now have never seen a property recession.’ I continue, warming to my theme as we halt outside another handbag shop.
‘Just a moment.’ Says my wife, dreamily.
‘You wait,’ I continue as she scans the overpriced cow-product. ‘A downturn will cull all these johnny-come-latelys and you won’t have anything left of the call-centre agents, other than purple faces….’
‘Is that supposed to be funny?’ She asks.
You’ll have to wait and see.

The truth is property downturns are as inevitable as corrupt politicians. Japan has been in a slump for several decades and America has seen mass foreclosure both sides of the millennium. A brutal Darwinian culling swept the high street in the two property collapses I’ve lived through and there’s not much doubt the same will happen again. Only, it will include spotty oiks on Welsh switchboards and ill-advised investors in unproven business models, next time.

‘What about Century 21?’ Quizzes my wife as we pass another property purveyor.
‘Never caught on in the UK.’ I tell her with some satisfaction.
‘But it is expensive to use an agent.’ She fires back. Should I mention those fees are paying for the super-sized jug of sangria we consumed at lunch time? Best not, the sofa bed doesn’t look too comfy.

‘Fundamentally, with all the variables moving entails, people like the certainty of no-sale, no fee.’ I conclude, as we arrive.



Thursday, October 20, 2016

Buenos Dias - Thursday

‘Where are you going?’ Asks my wife as I gravitate towards a shopfront across the street.
She knows, without needing to ask. Like a pitiful self-harming junkie, I can’t leave it alone even on holiday.

‘Just going to look in the window.’ I tell her, before glancing the wrong way and nearly stepping in front of a pre-pubescent boy on a Vespa. The dark-eyed lad shouts something incomprehensible, in Spanish - I’m guessing not a compliment - and swerves between two parked cars before disappearing.

Sheepishly, I cross with a bit more care towards the brightly lit window.
‘Really. Another one?’ Asks my wife, beside me now with that look of resigned acceptance I’ve seen before.
‘You’ve looked in enough shoe shops to bore Imelda Marcos.’ I tell her unchivalrously then decide not to mention the umpteen trinket outlets we’ve been in. How many scented candle and naff fridge magnet shops can one city support?

I’m gazing in the window now, scanning the quality of the photos, the prices in Euros and even the pointless Energy Performance ratings that nobody needs when you have temperatures that rarely dip into single figure celsius, and an infinity pool.

‘They are all the same.’ Opines my wife. It’s tempting to draw a comparison to handbag shops and perfumery outlets, but I can’t afford a divorce at my time of life. I’ve seen too many men kiss goodbye to a four bed detached and half their pension, to rock the boat. Middle aged blokes, dyeing their remaining hair, joining Tinder and living in a rented studio flat, isn’t a good look.

‘I don’t know why you do it.’ Continues my wife chidingly. ‘It’s not as if you like other estate agents.’
She has a point. I detest most other practitioners. They are either undercutting me on fee and service, or overvaluing to please gullible owners. It must happen in Palma too, just with better looking players and warmer weather. 

‘I’ll be along there.’ Says my wife, pointing to a row of shops with expensive-looking dresses in the windows. Seems like I’ll be paying for my obsession, one way or another.
I turn back to the window and look at the two smart-casually dressed agents, inside. The male is almost prettier than the female. They are both gazing listlessly at massive Apple iMac screens with the sort of resolution that makes you believe you are actually on the terrace, with a glass of sangria in hand.

The woman, or part-time supermodel if the property career doesn’t work out, catches my eye then looks away. She’s made a quick judgment. One I try not to make in my own office, as I’ve sold many homes over the course of my career, to scruffy-looking oiks who haven’t shaved for a couple of days and are dressed like a loser. In this case, she might be right. I’m a time-waster.

‘So what did you learn?’ Asks my wife when I’ve caught up and noticed, with relief, she isn’t carrying any glossily branded bags. We’re looking for somewhere to have a coffee.
‘They’re no different to us.’ I tell her half-heartedly. ‘Just better-looking, with superior lighting conditions for the photos.’

‘Do they have to be qualified to be an estate agent?’ She asks pointedly. She knows how to push my buttons after all these years. I studied after work for a year and sat four three hour papers. Yet nobody has asked about my exams - ever.

‘Well, the rest of the world does, pretty much.’ I tell her curtly. She nods, then points to what looks like a delicatessen ‘Over there might do cappuccino.’
I start to cross and nearly get wiped out by a trio of tourists on those ridiculous Segway machines.
‘You’re out of your element, aren’t you dear.’ States my wife rhetorically, tugging my arm and leading me across the street like an errant schoolboy.

‘I don’t believe it.’ I bellow, as we reach our destination. They sell coffee, and cake. They also have more Apple Mac machines and pretty women. And in the window, property pictures and prices.
‘This is different.’ Announces my wife, gleefully.
It will never catch on.

Will it?