Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Complaint's Box - Monday

I’ve not even shut the office door and it starts.

‘The bloke from number ten rang while you were out, thinks we’ve sold his house too quickly.’ Says assistant manager T, with a slump of his shoulders.

I’m guessing it’s not the Prime Minister. Two reasons: firstly the PM doesn’t own their place of residence, technically they’re just a pimped-up council house tenant. Secondly, no government in recent memory has had the hint of a joined-up housing approach, so property and any type of policy are not exactly bedfellows - unless it’s a cardboard box in a shop doorway.

‘He’s an idiot.’ Pronounces negotiator S as trainee F walks in from the kitchen. F hesitates and looks a little hurt.
‘She’s talking about the vendor of number ten.’ Enlightens T. ‘They think we’ve sold their house too quickly, too cheaply and will doubtless want a cut to the commission.’
‘Or withdraw from the sale and put the price up.’ Adds S.

It’s not a new dilemma. There’s a sweet-spot for selling a property new to the market. Just enough viewings to convince the owner we’ve done our job exposing the home to the market, a few who turn their nose up at the decor, location and price, then a buyer who tries a chip on the asking price, which we negotiate up to an acceptable figure. Job done.

But of course it’s not. As any agent, or seasoned house mover will tell you, the hard work often starts after terms are agreed. The delays, the quibbling, the inept surveyors, solicitors, lenders and a fragile connection of fickle buyers and sellers all roped together in a transaction chain that can founder at any given moment in the next eight weeks - or more. That’s when we earn out money. No sale no fee.

‘What did you manage to agree with him?’ I ask T apprehensively. He’s the assistant manger, well versed in these type of problems, plus I’ve coached him more productively and diligently than the procession of charlatans in trouser suits, with tick-box computer programmes and digital post-it note sessions, they’ve had in the training department recently.

‘Told him you’d ring him back when you got in.’ Says T, without a hint of shame.
Perhaps, I’m not as good as I think? Maybe a powder-blue flared set of strides - with room for a big arse - and a matching colour, bias-cut jacket, with just a hint of retro eighties-style shoulder pads…..

‘What?’ Asks T as I scowl at him. Surely he could have dealt with the problem when it was fresh? Convince the owner the job isn’t even half done, that we now need to nurse the transaction to a successful conclusion. Maybe, list the number of people who’d had details of his home, the comparable sales of other homes like his, in the area. The fact that we’d obtained a price he said he’d be happy with only a week ago. The even more pertinent fact that he is now in a position to secure the home he’s hoping to move to.

If you want something doing, do it yourself. It’s a phrase I lived with for years, until my mental and physical health started to take a hit, trying to do everything in the office single-handedly. Not trusting colleagues to do the job to my standards. As the body ages and the spirit weakens I’ve learned to relinquish control. T doesn’t seem to have noticed.

‘Just thought you’d prefer to explain.’ Says T petulantly, after I’ve suggested he could have dealt with the thorny problem. Not any more, I think sourly, as I steel myself for the difficult conversation. Repetition might work for classical musicians, but I just cramp up now.

No doubt the owner will cite the thousands of pounds of commission he now owes us, without a thought as to how much more work needs to be done before he finally opens that door with his new set of keys, and decides where first to shag his partner - I’d advise against the stairs until the carpets are down….

Never the less, someone is going to get f***ed.


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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Human Touch - Tuesday

‘Oh give me strength.’ Says negotiator S, as she replaces the phone receiver and puts head in hands.
It’s a familiar pose. When you deal with people and property, stress and disappointment is a permanent companion. It’s a wonder everyone’s cranium isn’t constantly cupped.

‘Vendor or buyer?’ I enquire, knowing either party is equally likely to disrupt a sale and just a likely to pull the plug on a deal with impunity - bar the lawyer’s bill.

‘Down the Hall’s chain.’ Replies S, referring to one of our owners whose sale has been moving at a geriatric mollusc’s pace. ‘Some numpties are using an on-line agent.’ Continues S, with a shake of her head.
‘Bit of a misnomer.’ Interjects assistant manager T. S raises a quizzical eyebrow and, distractingly, one breast.
‘Well,’ clarifies T. ‘A call centre with an automated switchboard and a cheap for sale board, isn’t a real agent, is it?’ He states semi-rhetorically.

He’s right. People have been predicting the death of the traditional, high street estate agent for the last twenty years. Ever since some spotty oik, with an algorithm and no sex life, thought writing a programme in his bedroom, would replace real people, with real knowledge and a wealth of experience. 

I’m not one to blow my own trumpet - not least because I’ve heard it’s anatomically impossible - but I’ve lost count of the number of sales, I’ve saved over the years. Where the easy part is agreeing the transaction and the hard bit is progressing the deal to successful completion.

‘Some idiot thinks they are saving money by using a cheap outfit,’ continues S angrily. ‘And they are trying to do all the sales progressing themselves.’
‘Not good.’ Says T, unnecessarily.
‘And now they have pissed off everyone in the chain, the solicitors refuse to talk to them and the first time buyer at the bottom is threatening to pull out if they can’t complete before their planned wedding date.’

‘Even I know it’s a false economy.’ Says trainee F, as he opens a packet of own brand, basics biscuits, from the local supermarket. I haven't got time to point out the irony. They can train dogs to fly planes now, but flogging dead horses won’t keep me stable…

‘Someone needs to talk to them and explain you get what you pay for.’ Suggest T, walking over and helping himself to one of F’s biscuits. More irony than what’s left of the British steel industry, in my office.
‘I know,’ agrees S. ‘And remind them you only pay a proper agent a fee, when they get the deal done.’

‘Work your way down the chain and speak to as many people as you can.’ I counsel.
S looks at me with a hint of distain, before saying.
‘I know, I’m doing that.’ She’s good, I sometimes forget how good with the other distractions.
‘The point is, I shouldn’t have to.’ Continues S. ‘If the industry wasn’t full of shysters and charlatans who can set up and start trading without so much as an IQ test.’

No sale no fee, is a double-edged sword for the estate agent. It encourages reluctant sellers to come to the market with no cost - other than the widely ignored Energy Performance Certificate - yet it means owners can change their minds with no real financial penalty. We, on the other hand, can work for months on a sale only to have several thousand pounds worth of commission disappear with a phone call. It does mean we work damned hard to keep sales together though.

‘How you getting on?’ I ask S, when I return from an abortive viewing. If I had ten pounds for every time I’ve stood on a doorstep, like a poor man’s prostitute, waiting for punters who end up screwing me over, I’d be….well…. I’d be better off than I am now. And not feeling so soiled.

‘I’ve managed to track down the fiancee at the bottom of the chain.’ Answers S. If this career fails, she’d make a great private investigator.
‘And we’ve got a bit of leeway, she’s happy if we can exchange before the wedding and we leave completion until they return from the honeymoon.’

Try negotiating that with an answerphone.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Alphabet Soup - Wednesday

‘More f***ing regulations to discourage my landlords.’ Exclaims loose lettings lush B vehemently. 
‘What this time?’ Asks assistant manager T, wth barely disguised boredom.
You should know, I think spikily, but I pause just in case…

‘They are ruling tenants can insist property is brought to a higher energy rating if it’s an F or G band.’ Answers B moodily.
‘What’s that again?’ Enquires trainee F, as I shake my head in disbelief. I’ve explained the European regulation - that insists all homes have an Energy Performance Certificate issued, telling prospective buyers or tenants how energy efficient their new home is likely to be - more than once.

‘It’s a load of bollocks. No one cares.’ Says T.
‘Exactly.’ Agrees B. ‘As if they haven’t tried to discourage landlords enough by levying extra stamp duty levy when they buy multiple homes.’
‘It’s meant to stop first time buyers becoming locked out of the market.’ Says negotiator S sharply.

I don’t need an ideological argument in the office again, particularly as my loyalties are torn and I swing more wildly than a weather vane in a hurricane. The latest piece of Government meddling in the property market is probably meant to help, but invariably the law of unintended consequences comes, with ill-thought through legislation.

‘What about my landlords?’ Argues B. ‘Half of them are only in the buy-to-let market because some leftie chancellor stole their pension pot, then pissed off to work as a consultant in the city.’
’Not that one.’ I correct her.
‘You know what I mean.’ Counters B, with a snarl. I do actually.

‘When was the last time anyone actually gave a toss about a home’s energy rating?’ Asks T, in my direction. Well of course they don’t. People buy homes with their heart, not their head - fortunately. It means an experienced campaigner can push physiological buttons no drone in an on-line call-centre outfit, ever could.

‘That lady last weekend was interested in energy efficiency.’ Says S, a little weakly.
‘She was a weirdo and a complete time-waster.’ Counters T.
‘Tree-huggers can’t afford homes anyway, so I don’t see why you are bothering.’ Contributes fat mortgage man M, not exactly helpfully.
‘You’re a big arse.’ Responds S.
Not grammatically correct, but as is often the case, I’m with her.

‘The point,’ continues T. ‘Is it’s just a load more paperwork that nobody needs. If you fall in love with a thatched cob cottage you don’t give a flying fig if it has a G energy rating. You just want beams and an Inglenook.’

‘But the certificate will tell you how inefficient the insulation is.’ Says S, a little unconvincingly.
‘They don’t give a shit.’ Snaps T. ‘They just whack the wood burner up and incinerate a few more trees.’

‘What do you think?’ Asks S, in my direction. Terrific. Now I’m going to upset someone, whatever I say. Fortunately I spot a timely intervention, coming across the road towards the office.
‘You should ask this man.’ I say pointing towards the dull-as-ditchwater Energy Performance Certificate issuer, coming our way.
‘Oh not that twat.’ Says T dismissively. ‘I’ve had more interesting conversations with my mother’s goldfish.’

T has a point. The man could bore for England. But then that’s what you get when head office, and the bean counter boss in particular, eschew good local practitioners for corporate agreements with the lowest cost provider willing to give a secret profit kickback, on their fee. Strictly speaking it’s illegal under the Estate Agents’ Act 1979 - unless declared to the client - but then the bean counter isn’t an estate agent. And anyone can be one. No study or qualifications required. I still wonder why I bothered….

‘I’ll email my report to you within twenty-four hours.’ Says the EPC man flatly, as he leaves the office with a set of keys for an empty home we have just listed. He needs to keep to the rigid service standards agreed corporately. But the truth is, nobody cares.

I’d tell the boss, but he likes to remain insulated from the truth.


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Thursday, May 05, 2016

Oddball Out - Thursday

‘The creeper came in while you were out.’ Says negotiator S, as I return to the office. I seem to miss all the fun while on appointments, but I’d hate to be shackled to the desk nine hours a day like some call centre drone - or on-line estate agent, as they want to be called.

‘Which oddball are you referring to?’ I ask S, dumping my briefcase and scanning the message book for problems.
‘He has a point.’ Says assistant manager T. ‘There are plenty to choose from.’ And as he speaks trainee F returns from the gents’ toilets with that vacant possession look on his face again. ‘See what I mean.’ Continues T, with a nod towards the idiot savant.

‘What?’ Questions F, head on one side.
‘They think you’re a creeper.’ Says lettings’ lush B, unhelpfully.
‘I didn’t say that.’ Announces S, hurriedly. ‘I meant that weirdo from the flats off the high street.’
‘The creepy one?’ Questions F, to groans of despair.

Every agent gets them. The freaks and weirdos with a fascination for bricks and mortar, fuelled by endless daytime television programmes for property porn addicts with no real job to go to. The regulars soon become known to even the newest recruit, as they come in with disturbing frequency, proclaiming to be looking to buy, sell or rent. The only certainty, is they never actually do. It doesn’t stop them coming in though.

‘What did he want this time?’ I ask S.
‘One of us tied to his bed wearing his late mother’s dress, probably.’ Says T unpleasantly.
‘Don’t say that.’ Cries S. ‘He gives me nightmares as it is.’
‘I’m just saying.’ Defends T petulantly. ‘I bet there’s nothing good going on behind his door of an evening.’

We get to see some curious things, having access to the public’s homes with just a key and an inquisitive nature. It’s why I’m loathe to let F do too many viewings after the missing underwear controversy. I’m fairly sure it wasn’t him and the woman just misplaced some of her laundry, but you can’t be too careful.

‘Do you remember that repossession with a drawer full of girly mags for amputee fetishists?’ Asks T, with a smirk.
‘Oh, for goodness sake.’ Snaps S. ‘You made that up.’
Please don’t say it, I think. Looking at T firmly, but fat mortgage man M, beats him to it.
‘Don’t worry, he can’t prove it. Hasn’t got a leg to stand on…..’

Reprimand for inappropriate behaviour in the office issued and a quick check on the Human Resources handbook to ensure I don’t need to fill out some sort of incident report, and we’re back to the creeper.

‘He said you can value his flat again if you want to.’ Continues S, with a grimace. I’ve visited at least three times over the years and there’s no way he’ll move without the help of an undertaker. The stale-smelling home has curtains perpetually drawn and his late mother’s clothes hanging in the wardrobe.

‘I don’t want to.’ I announce.
‘Maybe he could rent it out?’ Suggest T, looking at B.
‘F**k off.’ Snaps B. ‘There’s no way I’m going in there without an escort.’
‘Nobody goes there, except me.’ I instruct sternly.

People don’t exactly put estate agents at the top of their most popular profession list, but I still remember a female negotiator who was kidnapped two decades ago, from a firm I worked for. And the infamous case of Suzy Lamplaugh the agent who disappeared without trace in 1986 after an appointment with a Mr Kipper, who didn’t exist.

‘We follow company protocol to the letter.’ I remind everyone citing the failsafe checks for outside appointments, particularly for our female staff.
‘If you do visit him you can borrow my pepper spray.’ Offers B.
‘And her handcuffs.’ Says T with a chortle.
‘The creeper probably has his own.’ Suggests S, with a visible shiver.

I decline the offer of a visit, with brush-off phone call. The creeper seems disappointed.

I just hope he hasn’t spent out on a body bag and wet wipes.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Please Release Me - Wednesday

‘For Jesus Christ’s sake.’ Exclaims assistant manager T, as he stares at his computer screen.
I’m hoping his exclamation is business related and not that nobody has swiped right on his Tinder profile.

‘What is it?’ I ask, wondering if his angsty mention of a saviour might have crossed some religious offence legislation I’m not up to date with. I’m pretty sure you can say what you like about Christians though…

‘Some nob-head has just released a press statement predicting house prices will rise 20% in the next four years.’ Answers T, shaking his head in disbelief. ‘How unhelpful is that?

It’s not that constructive. Every greedy vendor who has yet to sell will want to put their price up, and panicky buyers will offer in haste then withdraw at leisure once the surveyor, or another contradictory press release, makes them think again.

‘Will they really go up that much?’ Asks trainee F glumly. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford to buy my own home.’
You’ll need a successful career and a good employer’s reference, I think uncharitably. Both of which are unlikely.

‘These idiots in the press will publish anything just for a cheap headline.’ Contributes negotiator S.
‘Not exactly cheap at 20%, is it?’ Says T. ‘Now we’ll get every nut job under the sun acting on some badly researched survey, where half a dozen wasters hanging round shopping centres in the daytime, were happy to speak to a cretin with a clipboard.’

I’d have been proud of that line. I hope T isn’t thinking of starting a Blog.
But he’s right. It seems some papers - no names it’s my style - have property story myopia. They can’t see past the next incendiary headline predicting more chaos in an already fragile market. And successive Governments with revolving door housing ministers haven’t exactly helped the problem. It’s supply, demand and the cost of money. Not rocket science  guys - or I wouldn’t understand it.

‘The only good thing about idiotic statements like that.’ Says mortgage man M, joining the conversation. ‘Is people will actually hate journalists more than us.’
‘Do you mean estate agents or financial advisors?’ I ask, before I can stop myself.
M gives me a jowly frown.
‘We’re all in the same boat you know.’ He responds gruffly.
If we are, it’s going to sink faster then Syrians on a surfboard, with you as cargo, fat boy.

The first phone call comes in before lunch. A truculent vendor who has been grumbling from day one of marketing and conveniently forgets they ignored my advice on asking price and have a house that smells like a stray dog’s kennel. If I see another pampered pongy pooch sleeping on a human’s bed, I’ll never stop itching.

‘We’ve seen this article in the paper.’ Whines the man.
‘The 20% uplift one?’ I say, needlessly.
‘Yes,’ confirms the man. ‘And we think….’
Here it comes.
‘…we’re selling too cheaply.’

I gently explain, the survey, if you could grace it with that title, is an ill-researched, inflammatory piece aimed at selling copy and generating debate on the paper’s crappy comment section. Some number-cruncher will be checking hits the drivel had generated and calculating pay-per-click revenue against the sidebar of shame stories about C-list celebrities with their underwear showing.

‘Yes but you would say that wouldn’t you.’ Persists the man. ‘You just want a quick sale and your commission.’ You’ve been on the market for four months, I want to scream. Surely someone with a penchant for paying over the odds and the aroma of damp dog would have surfaced by now, unless they can’t wriggle out of their straitjacket.

‘We think you’re bringing round the wrong type of buyer.’ Continues the man, hitting his stride.
Yep, those picky punters with cash to spend are no good to you pal. You want Stevie Wonder with a head cold.

‘Are you allowed to take it off the market, without the owner telling you to?’ Queries F, once the fractious phone call ends.

I don’t often do it. But sometimes you need to cut you losses and move on.

Just don’t tell the bean counter boss.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tea And No Sympathy - Thursday

The phone rings and I look straight to the main office - my door is always open. Negotiator S is already on a call and nobody else is in sight.

I lunge for my handset. Three rings is the optimum, any less and you appear desperate, any more and people start to think they’re ringing an on-line agent - or call centre as we like to name them.

I trill out the corporate greeting, it’s cheesy but at least it’s consistent and gives an air of efficiency. My professional veneer soon strips away though, as I hear idiot savant trainee F’s, nasally whine.

‘Oh, I didn’t expect to hear you.’ Begins F hesitantly.
The choices for arsenic-laced sarcasm are endless but I remember he’s on a string of viewings and might be with a buyer.

‘How can I help?’ I ask pleasantly. That obviously throws the fool.
‘Err, you’re not going to like this.’ Replies F, as my goodwill vanishes faster than biscuits at a Weight Watchers’ end of term party.

‘What is it?’ I say curtly, realising he’s not with punters, or one of our vendors.
‘I’m a bit lost.’
I realised that months ago, but like a hopelessly over-committed gambling addict I need to keep playing. I’ve invested so much so far and training up new staff is….well… a bit of a lottery.

‘Where are you.’ I demand. I know where he should be, he’s got the keys and two sets of property particulars. I checked before he left the office.
‘That’s just it.’ Says F. ‘I don’t know. My sat nav has dropped out.’

Now can call me old fashioned - plenty do - but I never trust some random ex-military piece of hardware orbiting the earth. My old school A to Z of the office area is as well-fingered as a porn mag at a boarding school. Of course, like London taxi drivers made redundant by Uber and the circulating circuity 36,000km above me, I have the knowledge in my head. I know my patch more intimately than a one-eyed pirate. F is due to walk the plank.

‘Wow that sounded angry.’ Says S once I’ve ended my barked directions to the house, where a cash buyer with a deadline might still be waiting for  a jerk in a badly-fitted jacket.
‘He’s lost.’ I tell S curtly. Teeth grinding again. The dentist will be rubbing her latex-gloved hands with glee. I’m pretty sure I’ve paid for a small Polish village to be rebuilt over the last few years.

‘How can he be lost?’ Asks S. She’s trying to remain neutral and doesn’t want to bury her colleague, but I’ve already dug a metaphorical hole that will be challenging Melbourne soon.
‘His sat nav isn’t working.’ I say, as what feels like a lump of amalgam crunches to the back of my throat. Terrific.

‘Hasn’t he got…’ Begins S.
‘A map?’ I interject caustically. ‘ No, it appears those are for old fools with a fear of the future.’
‘I’m fearing for his future.’ Says S, with a disarming smile.
God, she’s good. I’m going to hate it when she gets pregnant.

‘The point of difference between us and some numpties behind a website and a multitiered switchboard in Mumbai, is we should know our area intimately.’ I rant towards S. She just keeps smiling coyly and I can feel myself faltering.

‘If we haven’t got a personal service, with local knowledge and experience we have nothing.’ I tell her, running out of anger as she just smiles back knowingly. If I could bear to lose her, they should drop her into the latest world conflict zone, she’d soon have them all bonding and drinking green tea.

‘Rant over?’ She finally asks gently.
‘For now.’ I answer as gruffly as I can manage. I can feel myself smiling and it’s not a good look with the state of my teeth.
Yes, she’s good.

‘You’re not going to bollock him when he gets back, are you?’ Asks S, as I sip on the brew.
I try and raise a scowl.
‘Because I know you’re a softy at heart.’ She says grinning.

I’m lost.


Away - using a map - for two weeks. Any Stateside realtors who spot a Brit looking in their window, say hello. It might be me.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Stamp Of Disapproval - Tuesday

‘So basically the Chancellor is trying to shaft grannies.’ Pronounces assistant manager T, with an image I’d rather not have.

‘I saw a website about that.’ Say trainee F, not exactly helpfully.
‘You are disgusting.’ Snaps negotiator S, eyes blazing. F looks crestfallen, then adds quietly.
‘It was about taxes on property…’

S looks embarrassed, her flushed cheeks quite fetching, as I think about how inept legislators can screw up the housing market with ill-thought out, clunky attempts to control market forces, yet not come up with a coherent construction policy for the last three decades.

The latest law with unintended consequences, is a hurried amendment to stamp duty, the iniquitous tax that penalises people for moving home. In a clumsy attempt to stop disgruntled pension holders - who were screwed over by another chancellor’s raid on their retirement funds - from buying second homes to let, for some meagre income in their dotage.

No doubt the puffed-up pontificators in Parliament thought it a great vote-winner to add a 3% levy for second home buyers, on top of the already punitive taxes for changing your home. Now they are hauling small fry in to the tax net; like separated couples with a home, each starting a new relationship, and two generation families trying to secure a property with a granny annexe, to avoid the £40,000 a year charges to put your aged parent in to a rest home. Meanwhile the big fish have off-shore tax avoidance schemes.

That won’t help us sell Mr and Mrs Hall’s home.’ Says S, trying to move on from her assumption that all males spend their spare time looking at dodgy websites. Most of them are blocked on our system, anyway…

S is referring to a pricey mistake, made by the aforementioned Halls, when they bought a sprawling home with separate annexe to accommodate Mr Hall’s ageing mother, last year. These moves need to be thought out in full - then probably discarded - as in my experience, using Mum’s money to buy a property you couldn’t normally aspire to, without actually waiting for her to die, often ends in tears.

‘The family aren’t going to like the fact the place will be harder to sell now.’ Suggests T. As we all nod in agreement, or at least I think we do. F tends to nod randomly anyway, the soundtrack in his head is something I’d rather not listen to.

Mrs Hall wanted to kill her mother-in-law after four weeks, then she did actually die there months later. The other beneficiaries, promptly fell out with their brother as their share of the inheritance was tied up in a sprawling house with, effectively, sitting tenants. An extra 3% on the price for prospective buyers isn’t exactly going to speed the process.

‘The thing with homes with a Granny Annexe,’ pontificates T. ‘Is when you haven’t got any on your books you get a stream of people wanting one. Then when you do get instructed to sell one, nobody is interested.’
‘Even less, if they have to pay a stupid tax on top.’ Adds S.

Nobody said the property market was easy. Too many people, restrictive planning controls and not enough homes being built, against a backdrop of Green Belt campaigners and not in my back yard complainers, who invariably, already have their own home and want to pull up the drawbridge. You’d think there would be a joined-up UK housing policy. You’d think…..

‘Surely they’ll have to change the rules.’ Says S, applying reason where none has been found to date.
Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. By the time you read this, perhaps common sense will have prevailed, but I wouldn’t bet your house on it.

“Oh for f**s sake.’ Exclaims T, later.
‘What now?’ I ask, as he slams his phone down angrily.
‘Another buy-to-let purchaser wants to pull out of a deal because the tax has changed.’ Answers T. I predicted this outcome when the meddling was announced. If only I could nail the lottery numbers with such accuracy. A few million and I’d be out of here.

Home free. Tax free.


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