Sunday, November 19, 2017
‘Oh deep joy.’ I say, visibly drooping.
‘What?’ Questions my wife. ‘It’s only a bit of gardening. It will make a change for you to do some hands-on work.’
I’ve been press-ganged into shrubbery cutting on my weekend off. Working alternate Saturdays for a lifetime, hasn’t been my greatest love but it does mean I’ve often managed to swerve some of those traditional manly jobs involving wrenches, power tools and remembering whether it is righty-tighty, lefty-loosey - or the other way round.
‘Anyway I do a lot of hands-on.’ I grumble.
‘Not that I’ve noticed.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Let’s just get cutting.’ Says my wife. ‘We can do a couple of trips to the tip over the weekend, then.’
And that’s why I was complaining. Now I’m all for penguins not choking on plastic bottle tops and I’m right there with the next man in ensuring Polar Bears don’t run out of ice - as long as they remain on someone else’s continent. But the misery of a trip to the Municipal Tip is unsurpassed. Overnight, when people began to recycle and separate rubbish into different colour-coded bins, the staff at the local tip became neo-Nazis. I believe the French call the town dump a dechetterie, which seems about right, as it’s a shitty experience.
I see the little Hitlers, in hi-viz jackets watching me even as I open the car tailgate. They also watch little old ladies struggling with bin bags bigger than they are, but never move a muscle to help. I’m guessing health and safety - or bone idleness.
‘What you got there?’ Demands a particularly ratty-looking operative, as I struggle with a defunct set of full-length blinds we no longer need. Yes, my wife has decided that as we are going to the dump, not only are we going to dispose of the thorny-cuttings that have made my arms look like I’ve gone twelve rounds with a tetchy tiger, but we can ditch all the other detritus clogging up the garage that never houses a car.
‘Metal.’ I say, heading for the appropriate giant bin. I’ve identified it as the most likely deposit-point, as its not general waste, green biodegradable garden mater, paper, cardboard, or approved plastic suitable for processing (check local providers for re-cycling suitability).
‘Nah mate.’ Says the camp guard, holding up his hand like a scruffy traffic policeman. ‘That’s got fabric.’
Yes it has. Well done Sherlock. Those are the bits that keep the sunlight out and helped the product get its name.
‘So, general waste?’ I say, not entirely confidently.
He looks at me as if I’m the one smelling of rotting fish.
‘Not with metal on it.’ Counters captain Haddock disdainfully.
‘So you had to detach each fabric panel before you could dump them separately’ Laughs my wife as I tell the tale. ‘Maybe he just realised you were an estate agent, saw the sticker in the car window.'
‘I took that out.’ I tell her grumpily.
‘Probably just as well.’ She says giggling. ‘Nobody loves an estate agent - oh, apart from me.’ She adds hurriedly, and not entirely convincingly.
‘It’s not funny.’ I snipe. ‘They were even checking the green bags to see what sort of cuttings I was ditching.’
‘You’ll know what do to tomorrow then.’ She says slyly. ‘There’s two more big bags of garden waste to go.’
There’s a queue right out to the road on Sunday and I can feel my temperature rising. After ten minutes of gridlock I decide to sweep into a space outside the gates and walk the bags in.
‘No mate.’ Calls an angry voice as I unload. Well he’s wrong already, I’m no mate of his.
‘Can’t do that,’ says the SS trainee. ‘Got to drive in.’
‘You’re not serious?’ I spit back angrily. And the jobsworth points to a camera on a pole. ‘We’re watching you. Evidence.’
After the event, I think of a vitriol-laced diatribe demanding if I now have to sort deciduous, from evergreen before using the appropriate garden waste bin. But in actuality, I do a three-point turn and rejoin the queue. At the back.
You can see why people fly-tip.
Friday, November 10, 2017
To the supermarket, during my lunch hour, on a wife-inspired errand. Only it’s not a lunch hour of course, nobody on commission takes a full sixty minutes. Some other leaner - definitely leaner - and hungrier salesperson will take your business if you dawdle too long in Greggs, the baker.
‘Is it really necessary?’ I’d questioned, when she rang me with the request.
‘They’ll all be gone, if I wait until I can get to the shops.’ She’d replied, following up with the unwanted logic of: ‘In any case you’re just there in town and it will only take ten minutes.’
‘Ten f***ing minutes.’ I mutter as I grab a basket and belatedly realise I haven’t brought my own bags.
‘What’s that love?’ Asks an old lady, looking hopefully in my direction.
Now, I know I’m probably the first person she’s spoken to all day and if I get behind her in the checkout queue she’s going to dawdle for five excruciating minutes chatting to the till girl, while I seethe and rack up more expensive dental work, but I don’t want to engage - not unless she has a house to sell.
‘Just mentioned it’s a nice day, that’s all.’ I say dismissively.
She doesn’t get the body language, or hear very well.
‘Say again my dear, I haven’t got my hearing aide turned on.’ And she taps her ears.
Of course you haven’t. Why waste the batteries when you can annoy the hell out of everyone who you do eventually get to speak to, by asking the same thing three times, while they try to pay for a slimline sandwich meal deal and collect two ridiculous pot plants that their wife wanted and could have bought at the weekend, when she spotted them the first frigging time?
‘Nice day.’ I repeat, upping the volume substantially and pointing outside for dramatic effect.
‘No, still not coming through’ The old duck says with a gummy grin. ‘I turn the batteries off to save them.’ She tells me conspiratorially. ‘They’re so expensive.’
Not as pricey as cracked molars, I think uncharitably.
‘Don’t I know you?’ Presses the tenacious grandmother. I don’t need this. Despite my low, on-line profile, I’m pretty well known in my town. I’ve been in most of the streets and many of the houses and you can see me in the office window, lit up like a poor man’s Madame Tussauds dummy, for most of the winter once the clocks change.
I tell her. Chances are she’s been in the office many a time, she might even have fallen over on the uneven paving slab we keep reporting to the council. If we’ve picked up one bruised pensioner and administered plasters and hot tea until the ambulance arrives, we’ve done a dozen.
‘Well you probably knew my husband before he died.’ She says, eyes lighting up. I certainly haven’t met him since you cremated him, I think sourly, eying the checkout line and seeing it grow. I cock my head, in seeming interest, you never know when the house will become too much for her. And she tells me.
That sour-faced bastard, I think angrily, trying to keep my feelings from my face. She’s just named one of the most cantankerous, pedantic and destructive chartered surveyors I’ve come across in my entire career. The old sod delighted in picking holes in properties, down-valuing the sale agreed price and putting deal-wrecking retention’s on the proposed mortgage the borrower wanted. If he turned up to collect the keys on a sale you could effectively take down the sold subject to contract board and start all over again.
‘Nice chap.’ I mouth as convincingly as I can. ‘The town has never been the same since he passed away.’ Well fifty percent accurate, I think. The fact that when we heard he’d croaked, it was one of the few times on a Friday night that all the estate agents in the pub, spoke to each other and smiled, is something she doesn’t need to know.
I really am a nice guy.
Thursday, October 26, 2017
‘Lambs to the slaughter.’ Says assistant manager T, as the first batch of bright-eyed, naive punters start to arrive.
A gaggle of fresh-faces have been peering nervously through the office window, waiting for the appointed start time of our First Time Buyers’ Evening. In truth they could come in anytime, we’re really quite welcoming - obviously we soon stopped the free coffee machine after the deadbeats and vagrants started turned up for a warming drink, on us. Bad enough they sleep in the office doorway, without providing gratis hot beverages. Don’t want to encourage them - unless the come in to a big legacy from an ancient aunt.
‘Welcome, come on in.’ Encourages negotiator S, ushering in several couples, some even heterosexual ones. Very old school.
I’ve placed S on the door as she’s the most photogenic and with her décolletage she appeals to all but the gay men. Trainee F is on standby in the kitchen, to cater for that market. We welcome all persuasions, casts and creeds, as long as they can leverage a big mortgage, or have inherited cash.
‘Going well.’ Comments T, as the office fills with eager, want-to-be buyers. We’ve brought in a couple of local, user-friendly solicitors, to give a quick legal consultation. If they get the conveyancing business, they can put some probate work our way if we get a nice cold winter.
T is right. The office hasn’t been this busy, since we sold off some ex-MOD houses at knock-down prices. Pretty sure the Government undersold those, but as with the Help-To-Buy scheme, propping up unsustainable new homes’ prices, big business will always run rings around career politicians who’ve never had a proper job.
‘Keep them coming.’ Slavers obese mortgage man M, as he takes a quick waddle to the kitchen. He’s had a stream of bushy-tailed youngsters, funnelled to his desk for free financial advice, but of course nothing comes for free. I still abide by the old-fashioned Caveat Emptor motto, but luckily not many schools round here teach Latin. Just hope he hasn’t started mis-selling again, those commission claw-backs are a bastard…
‘Some of this lot aren’t exactly in the first flash of youth.’ Comments lettings lush B, as she sulks at the back of the office. She’d rather people stay locked in to renting, but it’s dead money and you can’t easily remove generations of yearning to own your own home - although ten incompetent UK Housing ministers in a decade, tried.
‘Some of this lot must be forty, plus.’ Continues B, with obvious distain. It’s partly the market, and sky-high prices driven by lack of construction and a burgeoning population. And partly over-indulgent parents, who feed, cloth and iron for giant-sized children, well into their fourth decade. Change the locks or move to a one bed flat, folks. If your daughter is fat and frigid and your son bald and still playing an Xbox, it’s time to be cruel to be kind.
I’ve had great success with first time buyers’ evening over the years. Back in the early nineties it was a terrific vehicle for gaining fresh stock, ahead of the event, then flogging endowment policies and dodgy payment protection schemes, along with the homes. I was never comfortable with the insurance and finance side of the deal, too many conflicts of interests. But needs must, and I had a big mortgage too - not an endowment one, mind….
‘That went pretty well,’ Says T as the last couple leave and we say goodbye to the tame lawyers, with a reminder that they owe us some reciprocal business, once the icy pavements arrive.
‘More than well,’ gushes M. ‘I’ve signed-up over ten couples, with a another dozen to follow up. Got to love a naive first timer.’ He really has no redeeming characteristics.
‘How about a last-time buyer event next?’ Says T with a grin. ‘Shift some of those vacant retirement flats with the piss-stained carpets.’
‘You’re horrible.’ Says S, with a pout.
‘We could do a bog-off double-deal tie-in with the local undertaker.’ Continues T, laughing.
Burn one, get one free.
Friday, October 13, 2017
‘Much happening?’ I ask trainee F, as I return to the office. It’s a double-edged question. I want the good news, but there’s an equal amount of unwanted tidings in property. The worst being a sale falling through. I’m guessing on-line agents aren’t that bothered if a deal collapses as they get paid irrespective of result. But the traditional, full-service-agent, gets diddly-squat, nada, zip, if a sale doesn’t proceed to completion.
‘Drone salesman called in to see you.’ Announces F, with a soppy smile.
‘What was he selling?’ I ask frowning.
‘I told you.’
‘You told me he was boring, and talked too much.’ I answer shirtily. ‘But then I’ve said before, selling isn’t telling. You remember the two ears, one mouth rule?’
F looks at me bemused. He has the attention span of a cerebrally-challenged goldfish, so I realise he may not remember the old sales’ adage that you must listen twice as much as you speak. As ever negotiator S comes to the rescue.
‘He meant a salesman that sells drones. Those hovering things that you mount a camera on.’ She enlightens, gently.
Now I realise it’s me who is the fool, it’s not a new phenomenon but it smarts every time.
‘You told him I’m not interested.’ I say to F.
‘Tell me he’s not coming back?’ I ask groaning.
‘Well he was in town anyway, seeing one of our competitors.’
‘He said he was.’
‘How many times, have I told you?’ I demand wearily. ‘Don’t believe most of what a salesman tells you. He’s on commission.’
Reprimand issued, mostly to cover my embarrassment at misunderstanding a drone salesman, I head for the message book to see what fresh hell has been inked in there for me. The salesman is, having a coffee, somewhere up the high street and will be back shortly. The truth is I can’t make purchasing decisions any more. It’s all been re-allocated to head office, where some jobsworth constantly renegotiates our supplier contracts, presumably for free lunches and crap branded pens that break in your pocket and leak ink over your suit. Invariably, we end up with a more complicated purchasing system and a national supplier who is half as efficient as the local business that preceded them, was.
‘I think it would be great.’ Says F gushingly, as I return to a spare desk and nurse a cup of tea, no sugar - I’m on a diet again.
‘Don’t you need a special licence to fly them?’ I ask flatly. ‘To stop people taking out an Airbus on final approach.’
‘They take the footage for you, I think.’ Says F. ‘Or maybe there’s a training course?’
Terrific. Another patronising teacher who tells because they can’t sell, is all I need. And sending F, as the youngest, supposedly most tech-savvy staff member isn't going to work. He still hasn’t mastered the colour printer. The clown causes more jams than a broken-down lorry on the by-pass.
Many of these, drop-in as they are passing salesman, have vanished as more and more business is awarded centrally. Others have died a death, as their product suffers the law of Darwin, rendering them extinct. Time was, I was plagued by map salesman trying to flog you overpriced handouts for lost punters, which they’d lifted - sometimes with dubious legality - from a Ordnance survey sheet. If you showed interest, they wanted names and numbers of all your local business contacts, to try and flog them advertising space in the margins of the expensive street plan. Google maps finished that, thankfully.
‘Why would I want aerial views of half the shite-holes we are trying to flog?’ I ask sourly. ‘It’s not going to help unload an ex-council house someone bought at a knock-down price with right-to-buy, by showing they have a load of spent white goods in the back garden and haven't cut the lawn for three months.’
Then in he comes, with a bad suit, sickly grin and an over-sized briefcase.
‘Have I got something you are really going to want.’ He begins gushingly.
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
‘Thought you might like to do a viewing later, boss.’ Says trainee F, with more artfulness than he usually employs.
I probably won’t enjoy it, as it happens. Despite what many think, the hard sell in estate agency is winning the property instruction in the first place. That’s where the competition is and the dark arts deployed. You can’t hard sell a viewing and subsequent purchase. And if you do, the potential buyer has eight weeks or more to change their mind, once lawyers, surveyors and lenders get involved.
‘And why did you think I might like to do that?’ I ask F.
He looks uncertain.
‘Tell him.’ Urges assistant manager T, with a mischievous grin.
‘Well… you know you say match staff to similar people for appointments.’ Says F, hesitantly.
‘Don’t worry it’s not a pair of poofters.’ Interjects mortgage man M, unpleasantly.
‘God you’re such a neanderthal throwback.’ Says negotiator S, scowling at M and tossing her hair back, distractingly.
I’m deflected from F, as I now need to point out to everyone that legislation, rightly, insists we don’t discriminate against people on race, religious, disability or sexuality grounds. Rather stuffy lecture delivered, I pause.
‘Yeh, yeh.’ Says M stalking back to his office and his copy of The Daily Mail. ‘But it doesn’t mean I have to like them, or those weirdos who want everyone to use the same toilets just because they can’t decide if it’s a dick between their legs, or not.’
Quite a lot of work to do on M. I wonder if I should apply to send him on that minority awareness course I went on? He probably could do with sitting in a circle of chairs empathising within a gender-neutral environment and sticking yellow post-it notes up whenever he thinks of a situation when his dated pre-dispositions and ingrained masculine prejudices, come to mind. He’d paper a whole, f***ing wall.
‘So why me?’ I continue, looking at F.
‘Similar age profile.’ Answers F.
‘Similar grey hair.’ Interjects B from her lettings’ desk.
‘Similar dress sense.’ Says S, with a laugh.
‘And similarly grumpy.’ Says T, completing my character assassination.
As I walk up to the cheaply converted, once proud, Victorian house, I can see what they meant. The man I’m meeting looks like a tubbier version of me. Cheap crumpled suit, badly-knotted tie, wrinkled forehead and hair that I like to think of as, the stately silver fox look, but on this guy just looks like surrender.
‘You the estate agent?’ Asks the man warily. Yep, the man with a set of keys, a clipboard and a base model company car. You’ve got me, Sherlock. I eventually answer in the affirmative.
‘I was expecting someone younger.’ The man says flatly. Yes, and I was expecting someone looking a bit more like George Clooney, bucko.
‘No offence.’ He continues. Plenty taken. ‘Only most of your lot are barely out of puberty, kids and shitesters most of them.’ He pauses and looks at my car. ‘And with flashier motors.’
‘God this is grim.’ Remarks the man, when we’ve both wheezed our way to the top floor penthouse. I make a mental note to change the description to attic flat, even before we start ducking to avoid the sloping roofline.
‘Why does everywhere smell of cabbage?’ He asks as we take a cursory look round the grotty studio flat, dodging stale takeaway cartons and trying not to make eye contact with the ladies’ underwear on the radiators.
‘I can’t live in somewhere like this.’ States the man wearily, over the monotonous drip of a leaking kitchen tap.
Should have thought of that before you shagged you secretary, I say internally. This guy is on the wrong end of divorce proceeding and the wife will be getting the family house. He better hope the younger woman likes three flights of stairs, dodging prams and bikes on poorly lit landings and listening to other people having more sex than she’ll be getting, through paper-thin walls.
‘Good day?’ Ask my wife, when I finally get home smelling stale and disappointed.
‘Love you.’ I tell her, causing a momentary frown.
I can’t be doing with starting again.
Friday, September 15, 2017
‘Don’t get old will you.’ States the grey-haired man rhetorically as I sigh internally. If I’ve heard that statement once, from an elderly owner, I’ve heard it a thousand times. But you have to humour potential vendors if you want their business - particularly if you’d like to sign-up a sole agency before the complications of probate and bickering beneficiaries.
‘I just don’t know where the time has gone.’ Ruminates the old fella, as I glance at the overgrown garden and think; well you didn't spend it cutting the shrubbery back.
‘I sometimes forget how ancient I’ve become.’ Continues the man, eyes focused in the middle-distance. Yes, yes. Here we go.
‘And then I look in the mirror and hardly recognise the old fool looking back at me,’
That I can relate to, granddad.
Ageing and the housing needs of the baby boomers who are suddenly becoming unsteady on their feet, is a massive demographic ticking-time bomb. I don’t think over-priced, shrunken-square footage, sheltered homes are the answer. Particularly with onerous leases, unfair clauses for re-sales and spiralling service charges just when the owners are running out of funds.
‘The family keep telling me I can’t cope with this place.’ Continues the man waving his hand towards the overgrown garden. ‘But I've had the best times of my life here. I don’t want to go and live in a box that smells of cabbage, where old women play whist all afternoon with daytime television on at volumes even I can hear.’
I’m warming to this sparky pensioner, something I try to avoid. Liking your client is dangerous. Particularly if you are tempted to tell them to stay put and get a home help in three times a week - until you fall over on the nightly piss run, too often. I’ll always do my utmost to get a good result for a vendor, it’s a matter of professional pride, but becoming fond of them is a luxury I can’t afford.
‘I told you Patricia is in one of those ghastly care homes, didn’t I?’ Says the old man. ‘Only I’m becoming forgetful.’
He did and I don’t blame him for trying to forget it. His wife is apparently totally unaware when he visits, being kept alive for no real hope or reason, and it’s costing this poor old man £1500 a week.
‘Two years she’s been in there, young man, God alone knows what its cost me.’
£1444,000. And it’s the reason the family think he needs to downsize. If he’d been profligate and not bought his own house and had savings of less than about £23,000 the local taxpayer would be funding his wife’s care. Its a funny old world.
I pitch a price and my fee and he becomes sharper than before.
‘My son says I can get it done for just an up-front fee with one of those inter-web things.’ He means an on-line agent - or call-centre, as professional agents name them.
I start to counter this argument, with cautionary tales of impersonal, non-local service, dearth of industry knowledge and a lack of motivation to see the deal through, if you’ve been paid irrespective of result.
‘Oh you don’t need to tell me that.’ Says the man decisively. ‘ I’ve been around long enough to know you get what you pay for.’
Care homes, excluded, I think fleetingly.
‘I don’t want some kid in shorts dealing with my property.’
That’s the stuff, sir..
‘I want someone a bit long in the tooth - like yourself.’
Not so flattering….
‘What do you think about those sanitised boxes, with the pull cords and a communal lounge?’ Asks the man as my pen hovers, in his trembly hands, over the sole agency agreement. I hate them with a passion, they rip-off vulnerable old folk and are often worth less than the dead parents paid for them, when the grieving family come to sell.
I feel a bit sick as I leave. I’ve indulged in more fudge and had an unwelcome glimpse into my future.
Still, a sole agency and a For Sale board can’t be bad.
Friday, September 01, 2017
‘So you’re sure we can’t wear short-sleeve shirts?’ Presses assistant manager T, as the uncharacteristically warm weather continues.
‘You can wear them.’ I tell him ‘ You’ll just look like some plonker who belongs in a fast food outlet.’
‘But they can wear short-sleeve blouses.’ Whines T, gesturing towards the women.
‘Yes,’ agrees trainee F. ‘Doesn’t it seem a bit…’
Please don’t say it.
He said it.
I have a file full of memos - yes, I still print them off - detailing crimes, real, or thought, that the women in Human Resources have flagged-up, most ending in “ism”. Now there’s an industry that is actually growing. They don’t actually produce anything useful, but if you were a careers advisor you’d surely be telling young girls to get some HR qualifications.
‘You just don’t look the part.’ I say wearily. ‘People will mistake you for a McDonald’s employee, or a Hawaiian on holiday.’
‘You’re just exaggerating boss.’ Says F.
Well that’s what I do, particularly when giving people a price on their home. Honesty gets you nowhere, particularly with all the shitesters out there.
‘It does seem a bit unfair on the boys.’ Says negotiator S, leaning forward and nearly spilling out of her over-cantilevered top.
‘She has a point.’ Suggests T.
Two quite prominent ones as it happens.
‘People just expect you to look the part.’ I say, dragging myself back on topic.
‘Not sure they do any more.’ Counters T. ‘Only the old ones.’
‘They’re the ones with the money and the property.’ I remind him . ‘That’s why you shouldn’t have a beard, or tattoos and should polish your shoes daily.’
‘God, not that old chestnut.’ Yawns T. ‘Nobody cares.’
Now I know I’m getting long in the tooth - it’s why that painful extraction took so long at the dentist recently - but some truisms remain in sales. People judge you quickly when you arrive at their home to pitch for the business. And if you are at a disadvantage straight away, because of your grubby shoes, dodgy tie, or badly-inked tattoos, you’re on a hiding to nothing.
‘Yeh, but you’ve got an obsession with tattoos.’ Says T, as the conversation meanders on.
‘He is right.’ Contributes loose lettings lush B, from her desk. ‘Nearly everyone has one nowadays.’
Yes, and in her case it makes her look even more like a desperate middle-aged slapper, trying too hard.
‘But you’re saddled with them for life.’ I say, to a communal groan. ‘Why not just get a temporary one? Then when you grow up you won’t look like some itinerant fairground worker.’
‘Some of them are works of art, actually.’ Snipes B.
Not the miss-spelt ones, or the cretinous on the face graffiti - and don't even start me on why some knucklehead needs left and right, or love and hate, actually on their knuckles.
I know times change. My mother used to warn me of dire consequences if I ate food in the street. Informing me I’d end up looking like a lorry driver, if I masticated in public. The same fate was predicted if I didn’t pay attention at school. As it happens driving an articulated rig looks a reasonable career choice now. Freedom of the open road, in charge of your own destiny and plenty of room for tax-free cash if you can squeeze a few economic migrants behind the pumpkin pallets.
‘The point I’m making.’ I labour.
‘Is you’re old-fashioned and prejudiced.’ Interjects T, with a sly wink towards S.
Am I? God, I might have to check the HR file to see if I need to file a self-disclosure report.
‘Just don’t wear a short-sleeve shirt,’ I snap, as morbidly obese mortgage man M waddles in.
‘Or people will tell you they want to go large.’
There’s an awkward silence.
‘What?’ demands M, clutching - disappointingly - a Burger King bag.
‘Fascists and fashion crimes.’ Says T, obliquely.
M shrugs and wobbles away.
‘Look, I could cut off a mullet, ditch the suit with the turn-up trousers and shave a mistaken moustache. But you’re stuck with a this way up arrow on your arse forever.’ I conclude.
And I thought hissing was confined to the pantomime.