Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Couples Reunited - Wednesday

‘Got another matrimonial valuation for you.’ Says negotiator S with a rueful shrug.
It’s that time of year again. Along with short-lived diets and gym memberships, couples decide it’s about time they ditched their partner along with the pies.

‘Are they serious?’ I ask flatly. Quite often these things settle down after the enforced togetherness of extended Christmas and New year breaks. Couples go back to routines of work and childcare and decide to muddle on, as the annoying habits of their other half are mitigated by time apart.

‘Well they weren’t talking to each other when they came in.’ Says S with a grimace. ‘They communicated through me.
‘Terrific.’ I mumble. ‘Children?’
‘Two.’ Answers S.
It just gets better.

No matter how many times separating couples tell themselves it will be beneficial for the children, that they’ll have quality time alternate weekends, that it’s for the offsprings’ welfare. It isn’t. Trust me I know. It’s the selfishness of adults, pure and simple. The kids would walk through fire and broken glass to avoid a broken home. Saturday sessions in the cinema and a not very happy meal at McDonalds are no replacement for the security of your own room and your own parents.

‘Are you sure they don’t want a formal valuation for court purposes?’ I probe. Often the estate agent is just a stooge giving a free valuation that will be waved in court as the couple argue over who gets what and who has to pay what. If that’s the case they’ll have to pay for a surveyor to carry out a formal appraisal, in writing, one that can be used by the lawyers. If they have no intention of selling I have no intention of wasting my time.

‘I did press them. Individually, obviously as they weren’t communicating directly.’ Says S. ‘But they are adamant they’ll be selling and splitting the proceeds.’
Maybe not once I’ve given them a reality check, I think ruefully, and almost certainly not once the lawyers get involved. Matrimonial solicitors at law LLP- misery and prolonged conflict our speciality…

‘Tell him I’m not changing my mind.’ Instructs the stony-faced woman when I’m sat in their cramped two bed flat, later. So now I know who’s been playing away. Men can be so stupid. The bloke looks suitably shame-faced and a bit beaten. Just wait until he hears what it will cost him, it would have been cheaper and less painful to to pay a Dominatrix by the hour.

‘How soon can you have it on the market?’ Presses the woman as I catch sight of a frightened face peering around the lounge door. A little boy with fear and confusion in his eyes looks at me like a startled rabbit and I’m sent tumbling back forty years.

‘Tell her we don’t know how much it will fetch yet.’ Says the man, via me. He has a point. They paid over the odds for this dark flat, the lease isn’t all it could be, the management company are a bunch of shitesters and there’s a rumoured hole in the sinking fund - and one in the flat roof.

‘We’re selling no matter what. Tell him that.’ Instructs the woman. I’m pretty sure he heard. Suddenly as I prepare myself to give them the bad news, I see another smaller figure in the door frame. A cherubic little girl is clutching her brother’s hand and a small Princess whatever-her-name-is doll, from Disney’s Frozen. It’s frostier here.

For f**ks sake just talk to each other and work it out, I want to scream. It’s a whole lot lonelier and chillier out on your own, particularly as you’ll need to find about twenty grand to pay off the mortgage company’s shortfall. This is a waste of time. They should have called a counsellor. I hit them with the price.

The small boy laughs and his sister puts a hand to her mouth.
‘Umm, mummy said a bad word.’ Says the boy gleefully.

‘We’re not giving it away.’ Sing the pair in unison.

I like to think I’m doing my bit for society.


Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Nearly New - Tuesday

The company car has been running on the drive for a good ten minutes. It’s probably de-frosted by now and the bag of nails rattling sound indicates nobody has stolen it, so I guess it’s time to go.

‘Good luck.’ Mutters my wife with a chilly peck on the cheek.
‘For today? In general? Or for the year?’ I fire back icily.
She raises her eyes to the ceiling. ‘Whatever you want it to be.’ She eventually offers, with a slight shrug. I’m in fourth gear and just about able to see out through the misty screen, by the time I realise I’ve been a complete arse again. But then as an estate agent you do have certain stereotypes to live down to….

Sales people hate the new week, month, quarter and most of all year. It’s when the targets are at their most distant and your progress towards them zero. As another year begins I can’t help that overwhelming wave of melancholy.  It’s so much more than just post-Christmas regret at the excess of sweets and mince pies, and the forthcoming dispiriting trip to Marks and Spencer to queue at the returns counter, after all the mis-judged purchases were either inappropriate or the wrong size.

One year I came in to the office, already depressed by the fact the week was short and my sales on nought, to find two deals had fallen through over the Bank Holiday. So I began the mountainous climb, on minus two. Think I comfort ate all the remaining Bounty bars in the office tub.

On the grid-locked dual carriageway, I once again see the same blank faces, slightly chubbier around the jowls maybe, but empty in every other way. The only people exceeding their sales targets this week will be the impossibly trim and cheery waifs flogging gym membership at the health clubs and fitness centres. Come March they won’t be so unstintingly upbeat.

My mobile rings insistently and I realise I haven’t connected the wretched Bluetooth headset I can’t abide. As the traffic has stopped again, I risk a quick glance at the screen and see trainee F’s number flashing. If he’s calling in sick because he’s drunk too many pints of Jagermeister, or whatever vile un-naturally coloured alcohol he sinks, I’ll finally bite the bullet and start the torturous dismissal procedure.

‘Yes?’ I demand, having swiped to answer.
‘Happy New year boss.’ Says the imbecile, with an discernible croak to his voice. Unless it’s terminal, I’m not going to be happy.

‘Don’t tell me you are calling in sick.’ I say bluntly. There’s a long pause and some sort of hand over mouth muttering. It sounds like his flaky on-off girlfriend is in the room. I don’t even want to imagine if she’s on, or off. 

‘Well?’ I demand, as the traffic starts to move and I get a disapproving look from a woman in a four-by-four. At least I’m not killing polar bears lady, I want to scream - until I remember my lengthy de-icing period while my car chugged fumes into the atmosphere and I chugged  Cornflakes with too much sugar.

‘Err, no.’ Answers F unconvincingly. ‘I just wanted to be the first to wish you a Happy New Year.’
‘You didn’t - and you’re not the first.’ I reply uncharitably.
‘…and to say I might be a bit late,’ continues F. ‘It’s not my fault though.’ He volunteers, in the now time-honoured default position of anyone under thirty. ‘The car is iced up.’

My cold blast of sarcasm vented, I punch the call to a close and we’re off again. Stop-starting all the way in to town where I find the car parking charges have gone up again. This clueless council won’t be happy until the whole town consists only of coffee shops, charity units and whichever estate agents make if through the inevitable freeze.

‘Spare some change for a cuppa?’ Pleads one of the park bench winos, as I slip-slide towards the office. Any money extorted won’t be for tea and as I’m doing Dry January you can too, I think as I step gingerly on. Not sure what he and his pisshead mates will do when everyone is using contactless payment, probably get a card reader and a decent 4G signal.

The office window looks as I left it, except one of the timers for the lights seems to have failed again and at least one bulb in the working side is out. I could leave it until February and I doubt anyone else in my office would notice. Instead I make a mental note to order some new halogen units before they stop making them, those things eat power.

The office feels cold and unwelcoming as I hurry inside.

And so it begins.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Goodwill To All Men - Thursday

‘The numpties up the road have a tawdry Christmas window display again.’ Says assistant manager T with a grimace, as he walks back in to the office.
‘I thought it looked sweet.’ Replies negotiator S. Sometimes - and it’s just as well with those breasts - she reminds me how much younger and naive she is, than me.

‘He won’t like it.’ Posits B from her lettings’ desk, scowling in my direction. She still hasn’t forgiven me for suggesting she might want to be a bit more polite to the stream of no-hopers wanting to rent a home on housing benefits. What goes around comes around and some day - like J K Rowling - at least one of them might make it big and buy that overpriced mansion in the wrong part of town, we’ve been quietly offering for the last three years

‘I just think a bit of restraint is a good thing.’ I say wearily.
‘Like in Fifty Shades of Grey?’ Asks trainee F, with an unpleasant chuckle. God knows what he’s bought his on-off girlfriend but I hope the hardware store issue gift receipts….

‘He’s a miserable old sod.’ Says bloated mortgage man M, joining in my festive character assassination rather too gleefully. ‘He never wants to even put up a tree.’
‘People already dislike us,’ I tell him. ‘A cheap nativity scene made with children’s farmyard animals and some lights from Lidl isn’t going to persuade the public to show us any goodwill.’

The chorus of “Bah Humbug” couldn’t have been any more co-ordianted if that annoying choirmaster on the television had conducted it. Three staff members in unison decrying my miserly spirit. Perhaps I have been here too long - I’m still not sanctioning a Christmas jumper day, though.

‘Morning everyone, happy Christmas!’ Chirrups the board man, as he enters wearing - predictably - some gaudy knitwear, flashing like an epileptic lighthouse.
‘He doesn’t do Christmas.’ Says S, with a petulant pout - quite an endearing one.
‘He won’t want these then.’ Says the board man, waving a tub of Quality Street totally inappropriate for the majority of homes on my register.

‘Is that the best he can do?’ I ask sourly, after the board man has left having spotted the traffic warden heading towards his double-parked van. ‘These are lovely,’ counters M, as he stuffs another chocolate into his fat face. The board man hasn’t even started his motor and M has managed to leave a trail of three sweet wrappers across the filing cabinet top. It’s not his fault though - it’s genetic….

‘It’s the thought that counts.’ Answers S, shaking her head at me.
‘And I’m thinking we pay him several thousand quid a year to put for sale and lettings boards up, and all he can get is a £4.99 tub of tat with about as much originality as filling station flowers.’ I reply.
‘I wish someone would buy me flowers.’ Says B wistfully. If you knew them long enough to learn their name they might, I think sarcastically, assuming they could get the time off school…

‘But I love this time of year.’ Counters S, as I slip into rant mode about false bonhomie and overspending on jacked-up credit cards. Not sure when I turned into a Grinch-like curmudgeon - probably about the last time Jim Carrey made a decent movie. Then the bean counter boss rings.

‘Are we going to get any more contracts exchanged before Christmas?’ He wheedles. Don’t know what he means by we, the figure-fiddler is usually about as inclusive as a 1950’s golf club. The chances of getting any solicitors on the phone this side of the new year are slim to zero, at least one local firm is closing for over a week. I really should have paid more attention at school.

‘You are going to be short otherwise.’ Continues the frustrated accountant - he failed the charisma test. In the absence of a cheap box of supermarket sweets, I offer platitudes. He turns sour.

‘Any chance of the Harrison’s chain exchanging before shut down?’ I ask S, phone still rocking in its cradle.
‘More chance of an immaculate conception.’ She answers playfully.

Merry Christmas.


Have a great holiday season and thank-you for reading.

See you in the New Year.


Friday, December 16, 2016

Dancing With Wolves - Friday

The monsoon-like rain is lashing against the office window again, as I think of that outstanding planning application for a green field new-build site, just downhill from the river. Just hope once the money has changed hands that they don’t call the development The Meadows, or Waterside Gardens, because sure as night follows day the roads are going to flood and the thought of Kevin Costner resurrecting his sunken film career by jet-skiing through a forest of soggy For Sale boards, isn’t appealing. Waterworld II - just when you thought it was safe to throw up some cheap timber-framed homes, with no effective drainage system….

‘This weather is just the pits.’ Says trainee F, gazing at the downpour. I had penciled in a leaflet drop for the limp-brained buffoon, but even I have some conscience intact. Some.

‘Was it always like this?’ Asks negotiator S, looking at me with that disarming smile.
‘What’s that meant to mean?’ I demand. ‘I didn’t crew for Noah’s Ark you know.’
S goes slightly red. ‘I just meant you’ve been around for a lot longer….’
‘Careful.’ I caution. The leaflets are still on the printer and some people would pay good money to have a top-heavy woman in a wet t-shirt, run up their drive.

‘She means you are as old as the hills and might have seen a few floods and the odd ice age.’ Says lettings lush B, with a chuckle. She’s no spring chicken. Just because she shags blokes half her age, with names nobody can spell - including the owners - doesn’t make her the fountain of youth.

‘She has a point.’ Contributes fat finance fiddler M unhelpfully. ‘You have been in the business about double the time anybody else in town has. They’ll probably stick a blue plaque on the office when you finally move out.’ The others all laugh and I glance at the stack of A4 leaflets once more. It would be churlish - but tempting. Instead the phone rings.

‘Who’d like a viewing on the grumpy bloke’s flat in half an hour?’ Asks S once she’s fielded the call. The office falls silent, just the soft hum of the computer hub for company. Assistant manager T cracks first.
‘In this weather they must be serious.’ He looks at S and she blushes again. ‘Or complete time-wasters.’ He adds suspiciously.

That’s the problem with this business; you try and qualify people, ascertain their means and motivation but it’s an art not a science. Every agent has tales of afternoons spend with complete messers who have no intention of buying anything. They’ve been aroused by watching daytime televised property porn and fancy a ride in a base model Vauxhall with someone accommodating and well-dressed, who doesn’t charge by the hour. Conversely we’ve all dismissed someone as a fantasist, who promptly went along the road and bought a home you were also selling, from the opposition.

‘I think they are wasters.’ Says S, hesitantly. ‘Although….’
‘Although what?’ Demands T. He won’t want to get those designer-framed glasses steamed up, and the prissy over-priced raincoat he brings in each day has more absorbency than a sponge. Style over substance - pretty much sums-up T.

‘Why is everybody looking at me all of a sudden.’ Says F colouring up, though not as attractively as S.
‘Because everyone shafts the trainee.’ Says B with a smirk. Please, she can’t be doing him too? Not that I would accommodate her in a month of Sundays, but it’s bit hurtful not to be even asked.

B has a point, although a somewhat Dickensian one. When I started in the industry - in a drought as it happens, but a sales one rather than a water shortage - it was the hapless youngest, least experienced staff members, who did all the crap jobs nobody else would. Licking envelopes, franking mail, photocopying particulars and foot slogging to viewings in homes no other staff member would enter without rubber gloves and wellington boots.

I try to be a more modern manager. Try to be inclusive and even-handed.

‘Not that again ’ Says T looking at me dismissively.

Head or tails?

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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.