Friday, October 02, 2015

Mystery Dance - Friday

H my vertically-challenged, rival manager rings. It won’t be a social call. He only makes contact to gloat over his office’s superior sales figure, or because he wants something. If he’s run out of stationery again he can twist. Just because I have supplies of A4 paper, printer cartridges and compliment slips that could stock a Government Department for a year, I’m not about to help him out again. Bad enough I have to applaud every time he gets the quarterly performance cup. Apart from my dentist, he’s the only one smiling every time he gets that prize.

‘How are things?’ Asks H flatly. He couldn’t give a toss, so he needs to cut to the chase before the truant officer asks for some ID. Unless the circus is in town and he’s running away to perform with Snow White and six other short arses, H won’t be be leaving  - he’ll be taking.

‘Not too bad.’ I lie.
‘Many sales in the bin?’ Persists H unconvincingly. He’s clearly on for a bumper week. Gloating is such an appropriately small trait.
‘I’m holding my own.’ I say, thinking that’s what he’s probably doing. If I wanted telephone sex I’d dial a premium number, or at least I would if the bean counter boss hadn’t put call-barring on the office phones. Still not sure who the biggest wanker is in my office, but my money is on F the hapless trainee - although with his timekeeping he wouldn’t come early…

The silence becomes uncomfortable.
‘What is it you’re after?’ I say, cracking first. H chuckles.
‘Am I that transparent?’
Plastic tends to be.

‘The thing is,’ says H. ‘Word on the street is there’s a mystery shopper doing the rounds. I shrug and there’s another long silence, until I realise visual clues don’t work so well over the telephone.
‘So?’ I reply. I don’t get bothered unduly by mystery shoppers - individuals employed by head office to test the performance of  staff - as I hope everybody gets treated with courtesy no mater how banal their enquiry. The bitching starts once they’ve been identified as time-wasters - and once they are out of earshot.

‘So, we need to get the jungle drums beating.’ Continues H, urgently. ‘Identify the tosser and circulate their description. Get some photos if we can.’
I can understand H wanting to avoid steep steps but does he really need to cut so many corners? He sails closer to the wind then Sir Ben Ainslie, but as long as he keeps delivering top sales figures -  to continue the nascent nautical analogy - the bean counter boss, makes like Lord Nelson.

‘I’ll put the word out.’ I tell H, tiring of the conversation. He doesn’t know he’s born. Not for the first time I start fantasising that if only I had his office, with it’s superior catchment area, prime position and less than effective competitors, I could…. well… I could be a contender….

‘Make sure you ring me if they come to your office first.’ Urges H.
‘Worried about how your team will perform?’ I goad. Like a bunch of in-bred central London estate agents, his staff are fat on commission and complacency - just without the double-barrelled surnames.

‘We’re too busy to faff about with pretend applicants.’ Snaps back H. ‘If they don’t want to buy, rent or take out a policy, on to the next mug punter.’
You can see why the industry engenders so much love.

‘What makes you think we’ll spot them any more than you will?’ I ask tetchily.
‘Well your lot are…’
‘Are what?’ I snap.
‘Well you’ve got more time on your hands..’
It’s not getting any better.

‘If they get good service you’ve got nothing to worry about.’ I tell H. I may not be able to hear it, but I can feel my head banging against another wall.
‘Do you realise the number of tossers that come through my office door?’ Demands H.
Excluding staff members? I think sourly. Actually I do know, I see the weekly sales data - and that’s after H has sanitised it to make his conversion rates look better.

It’s a game, a numbers game.


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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ladies And Gentlemen

I’m in a client’s house, keys in my hand, looking at Bomber the local surveyor. He’s earned the nickname, as every sale he gets involved in tends to explode horribly.

Now I understand property purchase is an adversarial business. Buyer pitched against seller, surveyor set against estate agent. But Bomber seems to revel in picking holes in every property he inspects for purchaser and lender. There’s a certain type of surveyor - and every town has one - who is so afraid of making a mistake, so petrified of being sued for negligence that they point out every defect, real or imagined. Rumour has it that Bomber is so scared of his own shadow he won’t be spotted on sunny days.

‘Do you like to watch then?’ Asks Bomber incongruously. I’m brought back from my internal reverie to see him looking at me curiously. I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck rising and I’m starting to feel unnerved. It’s a given that he’ll rubbish this well-maintained semi-detached house. A guarantee, that he’ll tell the buyers the home isn’t worth as much as they’ve agreed to pay - find out the sale price then subtract 5-10% seems to be his rule of thumb. But much as I’ve studied Bomber, with a mixture of distaste and almost pathological hatred, I’ve never noticed he wears lipstick.

‘The vendors have had problems with estate agents before.’ I answer, mind spinning around a tale of closet transvestites with folding ladders - and stocking ladders.
‘Who hasn’t?’ Replies Bomber, with a rictus grin. One that confirms, via his vermillion smudged incisors, that he’s wearing some mouth-enhancing lady product. Unless it’s blood? I think woozily. It would explain why he can’t come out unless it’s cloudy.

Yes, everyone likes to rubbish an estate agent. It’s a national sport only challenged by hatred of politicians and paedophiles. In this case my client had tried an cheap fee agent in the past, and entrusted their house keys to the muppets. Several items had gone missing on a supposed accompanied viewing. My pledge to them, to win the instruction to sell, was to ensure I monitored every visitor obsessively. Surveyors are usually handed home keys to carry out inspections alone, as a trusted professional. But my clients are fastidious about security and I’m guessing a cross-dresser with an obsession with damp proof courses - and now it seems ladies’ corsets - isn’t going to be welcome rummaging through their drawers unobserved. And that’s before he down-values the sale price by £15,000.

‘The price seems a bit full.’ Mutters Bomber as he stoops towards his bag, that now I look at it, seems a little effeminate.
He’s setting me up for the hit, flagging up the fact that he’ll be telling the prospective buyers they’ve agreed to pay over the odds, and that’s before he writes a report so shot full of caveats that it won’t be the worth the paper it’s printed on.

‘Not at all,’ I counter. ‘We had two other couples after this one. If your clients prevaricate I’ll have another buyer lined up with just one phone call.’ It’s bit of poetic licence but I’m guessing Bomber likes an Ombudsman about as much as the next guy - or girl…

Bomber throws me an odd look, the sort of unsettling, holding the gaze too long, stare that desperate divorcee used to give me every time I conducted a viewing at her house. Turned out she wanted a slice off the fee, rather than a piece of me, which made things even more uncomfortable.

As the slippery surveyor lifts an instrument from his increasingly girly bag - is that a pink lining I can see? - he grins stomach-churningly. He’s either going to deploy a damp meter or a dildo, I think absurdly. It’s fortunately the former, but still involves batteries and pleasure for just one person.

This will mean time-wasting third-party reports by specialist treatment companies who rumour has it pay back-handers - or in Bomber’s case backless dresses - to intoducers. I want to scream.

‘Are you alright?’ Asks my wife anxiously. ‘You just cried out.’

Bad dream.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Numbers Up - Friday

‘How did it go?’ Asks negotiator S, as I come back into the office wearing my disappointment like a tramp’s overcoat. I thought she was better at reading body language, most women are, but then again it might be just as well she can’t tell what I’m sometimes thinking…

‘Some people just won’t listen.’ I tell S dejectedly, as I walk towards the message book with trepidation. Bad news tends to hunt in packs, and after a pair of idiots convinced the market will support £50,000 more than their bog-standard end of terraced house is worth, I’m not expecting a call from The National Lottery. 

‘I think people get the estate agent they deserve.’ Opines S pensively.
‘The greedy gits do.’ Agrees  assistant manager T,  joining the conversation as he re-enters from the direction of the gents’ toilet. Terrific, I was hoping for some contemplative time in there with the dog-eared copy of FHM, now I’ll need to leave it a while.

‘Those tossers across the road had been in before me.’ I say nodding toward the opposition agents, not  wanting to read the message book quite yet. ‘Told them their house was worth fifty grand more than it is. Ignored the fact that two identical homes in neighbouring roads have both completed at £10,000 less than my suggested asking price, in the last three months.’

‘Let them waste their time marketing it.’  Suggests T insouciantly. ‘Nobody will pay that sort of silly money.’
I hope not. But then demand is strong, supply is weak and there are an awful lot of idiots out there.
‘Even if they did,’ says S. ‘Their surveyor would down-value the sale price and everyone would be back to square one. Complete wast of time.’
Time-wasters are never in short supply - sadly, sensibly priced homes to sell usually are.

I finally glance at the message book. A couple of vendors to call back, a survey finally booked on a long-standing sale in progress - not bad - then a note to call back my bean counter boss. Sales falling through, feel like a sickening kick in the stomach. Everyday house moving problems, like a slow drip Chinese water torture. And a pedantic, figure-fiddling, frustrated accountant with about as much real-life knowledge of the property market as the last couple I’ve just visited, questioning your every move, is akin to someone grasping your gonads and slowly, incrementally, twisting.

‘What did he want?’ I ask rhetorically.
‘He didn’t say.’ Answers S, with a shrug and an endearing half-smile.
‘Board penetration not high enough?’ Suggests T with a shake of his head.
‘Financial services ratios too low.’ Offers fat mortgage man M divisively.
‘Lettings department doing more business than sales?’ Contributes B, from her one-woman dating desk, unhelpfully.
‘Perhaps he just wants to see how you are?’ Pipes up trainee F, to riotous laughter all round. ‘What?’ He says, crestfallen. 
My God, he’s got a lot to learn.

‘How is he?’ I ask the bean counter’s secretary. You need to cultivate the gatekeeper and although I would’t shag her, I’ve done my best to stroke her ego for the last few years.
‘Bit of a grumpy mood.’ Answers the frumpy middle-aged woman, who if I didn’t still believe I was twenty-five inside, I’d concede is younger than me.
‘Any idea what it is this time?’ I say flatly.
‘Well he’s been hunched over his laptop all morning.’ Replies the woman.
Porn or the P and L accounts then. Either way it’s going to be hard.

‘Your available stock figures are worryingly low.’ Reveals the bean counter after the cursory, insincere, pleasantries. No shit Sherlock. I hadn’t noticed every time I go to the filing cabinet for property details, then return empty-handed like some malnourished Oliver, to apologise to hopeful buyers about the dearth of homes to offer. Hadn’t twigged we were slowly starving. Hadn’t realised the opposition were deliberately mis-leading sellers to win the initial instruction.

‘Increase your suggested asking price by another 10% each time.’ Says the bean counter. ‘I want market share.’

I have market despair. 


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Flying High - Thursday

A scruffily dressed man in his twenties peers in the office window. I’m sat at assistant manger T’s desk, as he’s out lunchtime shopping. He’ll come back with something else unnecessary on his credit card, no doubt.

‘Lettings customer?’ I whisper conspiratorially, to negotiator S. She looks up discretely and clocks the guy, who is shielding his eyes and looking in, grinning slightly insanely.
‘Bit judgemental isn’t it.’ Says S, looking towards lettings’s lush B’s vacant desk.B’s been out for over an hour, supposedly helping a landlord with a tricky check-out. Not sure who is checking who out, with B you never know.

‘More about his age than dress sense.’ I hiss, as the man starts chuckling to himself. Terrific, all I need is another nutter coming in. I often wonder if they bus them in for a day out from the padded cells.
‘Is he laughing at us, or himself?’ Whispers S.
‘Probably the asking prices.’ I reply, as the man moves away from the window and towards the door.

I sometimes wish there was a remote controlled deadlock I could activate, to stop the drunks and deadbeats coming in. I only just managed to get the keys in the barrel and the door secured, that time an angry evicted tenant turned up intent on breaking heads or furniture. Twenty minutes for the police to arrive - you’d have thought they didn’t like estate agents…

‘He’s coming in.’ Says S between a forced smile. ‘You want him, or me?’
I’d rather she spoke to the man if I’m honest, but then if it turns awkward I’m going have to go across anyway.
‘Me.’ I tell her and she visibly relaxes. Quite pleasingly, as it happens.

‘You lot trying to hurt the locals again?’ Cries the man, by way of a greeting. Wonderful. If I wanted an argument I could post something provocative on Twitter. I don’t need some grinning gonad with no job, and no prospect of any commission for me.

‘I’m sorry.’ I say neutrally.
‘I bet you are,’ continues the idiot. ‘You must love it every time prices go up.’
He couldn’t be more wrong.
‘No chance for local people to get on the housing ladder with your prices. We just have to buzz off!’

My back isn’t what it was and this bell-end has a couple of decades on me. I’m not sure I can throw him out on the street without embarrassing myself and with the time the constabulary take to arrive, I could be at the emergency dentist by then. And yet, I’m not sure this guy is a complete lunatic, nor can I smell any alcohol.

I rise and an awkward Mexican stand-off begins. I can see S has her hand poised over the fast-dial button but a pizza would get here before any help does. I need to deal with this myself. The man looks at me, then at S before turning back to me.

‘It’s a joke.’ He says, hands held wide.
‘The prices are dictated by the market.’ I tell him robotically.
‘No.’ Says the man raising his eyebrows as if I’m the shabbily dressed wastrel with no job and housing prospects. ‘In your window…’
‘In my window what?’ I snap.
‘There’s a wasp.’

‘That was awkward,’ I say to S after the man has left. ‘I thought he wanted a fight.’
‘Why did he bother to come in?’ Asks S bemused.
‘Some people just think they’re funny.’ I tell her, as I remember the number of times I’ve wanted to go into a baker’s shop and ask how much for the wasps buzzing around the pastries?

‘Could you get it for me?’ Asks S, as I locate the errant flying menace. Fittingly it has landed on an over-priced apartment with a short lease. Someone is going to get stung.

‘How stupid are these creatures?’ I ask exasperated, as the wasp refuses to be guided out the door by a copy of the local free paper. The angry insect just keeps banging it’s dozy head against the glass.

I know how it feels.


Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Back To Black - Wednesday

‘Here they come again.’ Warns negotiator S, as she looks across the high street. Everybody cranes their necks through the window display, to try and narrow it down a bit. You get plenty of wastrels and nutters through an estate agent’s door and it’s only worse in the summer, when you prop the door open because the cheap air conditioning the bean counter specified has pissed legionnaire’s disease riddled water, through the ceiling tiles again.

‘F**k no.’ Groans assistant manager T.
‘Swear box.’ Says S, indicating my one nod to charity collection after that disastrous bike ride a few years ago. A pedal where my group got lost, ended up with blistered feet, one suspected hernia and more sore bottoms than a Fifty Shades Of Grey convention.

Every estate agent has their regular time wasters, the perpetual lookers who always find fault with each new instruction you offer them and always say they’d move, if only they could find something as nice as their own home. In the end you realise they’ll only leave their existing house feet first in a box, but it doesn’t stop them pestering you.

‘They’re never going to buy anything are they?’ Says trainee F, with unusual insight.
Not unless some Russian oligarch with a sat nav failure decides to buy their house for several million.’ Chuckles T.
‘Even then they’d grumble about our fee.’ I say flatly.
‘You didn’t really do much for your money.’ Mimics S, to giggles all round.

Obsession about housing and prices has become as much a British pastime as talking about the weather. It’s not helped by endless variations of televised property porn presented by photogenic hosts. Hosts with about as much estate agency experience as those on-line outfits, sat in a large bedrooms staffed by spotty computer nerds with no social skills, but an in-depth knowledge of programming code.

‘Everybody wants to buy at Macclesfield money and sell at Mayfair prices.’ I announce, rather proudly.
‘You’ve been working on that one.’Says T, with a shake of his head. I have, but then these pearls of wisdom don’t just come out of a cracker.
‘You should write some of those down.’ Suggests S, with a winning smile.
If only she knew, but then again, probably best not…

‘Perhaps they are thinking of renting their house?’ Says T with a mischievous nod towards B, our loose lettings lady.
‘They can piss off.’ Snaps B grumpily. ‘I’ve got enough loony landlords to fill a coach trip to Bedlam.’
‘Is Bedlam that new development on the green field site they made all the fuss about?’ Questions F to groans.
Although, plenty of people were mad about it when the planning went through on appeal.

‘Perhaps they won’t come in.’ Says T unconvincingly, as the couple in question hesitate on the far side of the street and I pray for an ill-judged crossing attempt and a runaway juggernaut. ‘No they’re coming in.’ I say ruefully. I just thank God I managed to move the coffee machine from the front office to the kitchen. Start providing free beverages for these people and you’ll be tucking them in with a blanket and a hot chocolate every night, when you close.
‘Morning Mr and Mrs Godfrey.’ Says S with Oscar-winning sincerity, as the pair arrive with, sadly, no sign of any heavy goods vehicle brake failures.
‘Do you have anything new for us?’ Asks Mrs Godfrey with a condescending look. I nod towards them. I must have valued their home at least four times over they years and I know, in the unlikely event of the idiots ever actually placing their tired semi-detached house on the market, they’d opt for the most outlandish asking price and the cheapest fee. Not me. Never me.

‘Have you thought any more about placing your own house on the market? It would put you in a better buying position.’ Coaxes S, after she’s taken them through several perfectly acceptable replacements for their own home.

‘You find us something better than ours first.’ Says Mr Godfrey dismissively.
‘I doubt they will dear.’ Adds his wife. ‘What we’d really like to do….’

Yes, is pick your house up and move it.

F**k off.


Friday, August 21, 2015

Pimms O'Clock - Friday

‘We going to the pub tonight, boss?’ Asks trainee F. It’s as enthusiastic as he’s been all day, but then free drinks keep their allure a little longer than posting: we have buyers urgently looking in your area, leaflets through doors, endlessly.

‘Probably.’ I tell him, deliberately opaque. F frowns and looks at negotiator S - most people do - and she gives him a reassuring nod, as do her breasts. So we’ll be going then.

‘Any news on the survey for number twenty-four?’ I ask assistant manager T, in an attempt to try and make some progress before I have to start buying beers. T looks at me with barely disguised distain. ‘Nobody except estate agents will still be at work at this time of day.’ He says, tilting his head towards the clock. I look at the numerals in surprise, that’s what you get for studying the office P&L accounts doggedly, when you failed O-Level maths. 

‘Time flies when you’re having fun.’ Says loose lettings lush B, sourly. She’s been battling with an angry landlord and two nightmare tenants who are due to be evicted, all afternoon. I can see why she’ll need a drink by closing time. It’s the several more gin and tonics and casual sex with a stranger she probably could do without. Probably.

‘Those wasters are threatening to go to the local papers, when they’re kicked out.’ Continues B, referring to the soon to be evicted pair. ‘God knows why the taxpayer has to fund their drugs and nicotine habit. I hope they get the shittiest bed and breakfast in town.’

‘It’s the kids I feel sorry for.’ Says S compassionately.
‘He should put something on the end of it.’ Snaps B, like a female Jeremy Kyle. The voice of experience, I think, trying not to grin. She’s avoided unwanted, or otherwise, pregnancy so far. Just as well, because I’m not sure I could ever fake another smile and enthusiastic response, if I’m told I’ll need to run an office with another staff member on maternity leave…

‘If you save and spend sensibly you just end up funding pissheads’ lifestyles.’ Grumble obese finance man M, as he waddles across the office.
‘Not sure anyone would underwrite accident sickness and redundancy policies for any of B’s housing benefit tenants.’ Says T with a wry laugh.
‘They’d need to have a job first, before they’d qualify for redundancy protection. Fat chance of that.’ Replies M with his enduring lack of self-awareness. Even then the policy wouldn’t pay out, I think.

‘They are all scum.’ Says B angrily.
‘They’re not all.’ Counters S. ‘They’ve just had a hard time of it.’
‘How hard is it to got to the cashpoint at midnight in your pyjamas, once your free money is in, then go to the all-night off-licence.’ Says M sarcastically.
‘I think you reap what you sow.’ Pronounces F obtusely. That stops the conversation in its tracks. God alone knows what goes on in that head of his.

‘Good week?’ Asks the opposition manager, when I finally lead my team into the pub, like some cut-price messiah. I still don’t know why the majority of estate agents share the same watering hole, something to do with posturing and false bravado. I puff up my metaphorical tail-feathers and lie enthusiastically.
‘Yeh, us too.’ He replies, visibly crestfallen. It’s a game, but I still like to win.
‘How did they do?’ Asks T, once I’ve bought the drinks and we’ve circled one table like a motley tribe of Red Indians. I look across at the opposition.
’How did they do, or how did they say they’ve done?’ I answer.
‘Good point.’ Concedes T.

As I buy the second round and wonder if I should go home before my tea is in the bin again, B’s mobile phone rings insistently. She glances at the caller display and grimaces. ‘Shit, it’s the lairy landlord.’
‘Don’t answer it.’ Suggest T.
‘You have to,’ counters S. ‘It might be about the tenants getting kicked out.’
‘Tell him they can sleep in our office doorway.’ Says M with a rumbustious chortle.

Just one more drink then.


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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Room For Improvement - Wednesday

‘This looks a right dump.’ Says assistant manager T gloomily, as we pull up outside a boarded-up mid-terrace house, in the less salubrious part of town.
‘They don’t exactly hoover the carpets before they go.’ I tell him sarcastically.
‘I’ve got no sympathy.’ Replies T. ‘If you don’t make the payments what do they expect? They’re not exactly Greece.’

I glance at the newly minted set of keys lying in the car’s coin tray. The house we’re about to enter is a voluntary repossession - not that the word voluntary ever seems appropriate when the lender snatches back someone’s home. The keys arrived in the post along with our instructions to market the house once two independent valuations have been carried out. Carried out by sports jacket wearing surveyors who live at home with their mothers and have to ask us what the house is worth, before they put their professional opinion in writing.

‘At least the locksmith has done the hard work.’ Speculates T, nodding towards the flaky paint front door, where a new brass lock barrel is shiny incongruously against the general neglect of the front elevation.
‘Did you remember the torch?’ I ask T, as I clamber out and feel my sciatic nerve ping like a racquet string popping.
‘Yup.’ Answers T nonchalantly.

The boarded windows are to keep squatters out but it’s a safe bet all the services will have been disconnected. We’ll be stumbling around in near darkness with God only knows what littering the floor. I should get danger money. Instead I get commission.

‘More keys than a jailor here.’ Says T, as he tries to open the door while I glance at the paperwork. It might be a digital age but those lenders still like lopping down rain forests.
‘Got it.’ Mumbles T as he frees the door and pushes inwards. A sickly waft of fetid air rises in our faces.
‘Food left in the fridge?’ Asks T, features creased in distaste.
‘That or another dead body.’

T fumbles for the torch switch, as he kicks away the junk mail piled high against the door sill. Nothing happens. Preparation! I want to scream, but according to my wife I’m more OCD than the mumbling man who pushes a shopping trolly round town, matching plastic bags arranged meticulously down each side. He probably used to be an estate agent….

‘Did you check the batteries were working?’ I demand tetchily.
‘They were last time.’ Counters T petulantly.
One more dead man in an empty home might not be noticed, I think fleetingly. Before heading back to the car to get my own torch from the glove box.

‘I though someone was supposed to have cleared this place.’ Says T disdainfully. The smell is getting stronger and we’ve not made the kitchen yet. Boxes of junk are piled against the walls and several black plastic bin liners are spilling content that would look at home on an Mumbai rubbish tip.

Then something suddenly moves in my peripheral vision.
‘Ayeee. What the f**k was that?’ ScreamsT, like a schoolgirl.
Heart pounding, I sweep the beam towards the abrupt movement, just in time to see a unfeasibly long curled tail skittering out the door.
‘Tell me that wasn’t a rat.’ Says T, designer glasses flashing in the half-light.
‘Well I don’t think they left their pet gerbil behind.’ I answer with a shiver. We’re going to need pest control again. I wonder if I can strike a deal and get them to terminate the cheap-fee agent that opened last year, at the same time?

‘Smell is definitely coming from the fridge.’ I tell T as he flings open the back door and some welcome light illuminates what is left of the kitchen. All the cabinets have been torn from the wall, leaving just two copper pipes with taps balancing on the end above where the sink used to be.

‘Why don’t they leave the white goods in the garden like the other chavs round here.’ Snipes T. Nodding towards the offending fridge. He’s yet to be made redundant. But he’ll learn.

Think it was once, a bag of prawns.


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