Monday, July 21, 2014

Your Call Is Important To Us - Saturday

‘I’m doing it. I’m doing it you automated arsehole!’
‘Hey what’s with the swearing?’ Asks my wife coming into the room with a pained look on her face. I could have an adult, level-headed discussion as to whether or not arsehole is actually a swear word, but I’m rather pre-occupied.

‘She’s asking again.’ I shout, feeling my blood pressure rising and getting that ringing in the ears which seems to last longer and longer, despite not having stood too close to a giant set of Marshall speakers for a decade or two.

‘Asking what?’ Says my wife placidly. Nothing inflames my ire more, when I’m trying to have a first-class rant, than someone speaking to me calmly - automated or not.

‘The f***ing taped bimbo.’ I shout in a voice an octave higher than my optimum pitch. She looks at me chidingly. ‘Yes. that was a swear word.’ I concede. ‘But these bastards are doing my head in.’
‘Do you want me to continue the call?’ Asks my wife condescendingly. That doesn’t help. Doesn’t help at all.

‘I’m pushing option one, when she says.’ I scream, hammering the phone’s keyboard like a psychotic woodpecker. ‘But nothing bloody well happens.’ 
‘Bloody isn’t a proper swearword.’ I counter, before she winds my spring any tighter. It probably is, but all reason left me about five minutes into the call, and I’ve yet to speak to a human being.

‘Have you tried the other phone?’ Suggests my wife, disappearing briefly then bringing me the wireless handset, the one that drops the signal randomly, just to add to my woes. I look at the old wired handset in my palm, then prod the hash key wildly over and over. I read somewhere if you keep pushing one button - can’t remember which one - you bypass the queuing system and get to speak to someone with a pulse.

The renewal notice for my house and contents, with a well known insurance company, came through today. Four pages of decipherable gibberish guaranteed to sap your will to live after two paragraphs. The only pertinent bit was the figure they would take from my debit card. No need to call us we’ll renew automatically for you said the missive helpfully.

Now I’ve helped flog worthless endowment policies, discredited payment protection plans, life cover and even piggin’ pet cover. The one thing I’ve learnt, apart from the tasty introducer’s commission you can generate, is that loyalty is for fools. The actuaries rely on your inertia and impenetrable documentation. The existing customer pays a mug punters premium, while the new client is wooed like a Premiership footballer at a night club.

‘So we don’t make a claim, and insure cars with these charlatans and they stuff the premium up fifteen percent.’ I told my wife witheringly before the call commenced. ‘It’s probably all the flooding.’ She answered wetly. Consequently, I was on a mission. The first blast of taped Vivaldi and the red-rag to a bull message that my call might be taped to help improve the customer experience suffered, the push button hell started.

‘Good morning Katy speaking. May I have your policy number?’ Asks a unusually Anglo-Saxon sounding voice. That throws me momentarily. I eventually parrot the number, after searching wildly for the information before my wife prods a finger at the string of digits in tiny print - the reading glasses are stalking me relentlessly. Then it’s my full name, address, postcode, date of birth, shoe size and preferred sexual position - for security purposes…

Estate agents get plentiful complaints, so I know being rude to a real person doesn’t help anyone’s cause. Controlled, polite yet with a faintly menacing undertone, is what I’m aiming for as I voice my displeasure.

‘I can apply a manual discount,’ says Katy pleasantly. ‘But the machine just generates the initial renewal.’ I bet it does.
‘This recognises your loyalty and no claims record.’ Continues Katy warmly, before reeling off a multi-paragraphed script of disclaimers and warnings that she must know nobody listens to.

End result: £40 less - and cheaper than two years ago.

Consider this a service - no need to ring me.


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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bearer Of Bad News - Thursday

‘Bad news boss.’ Announces trainee F before I’ve even crossed the office threshold. In the property game - where one in three sales is destined to fall-through no matter what the market does - you get used to a greeting like this.

‘You really need to narrow it down a bit.’ I tell F familiarly, as I walk to the message book.
’It’s not in there yet.’ Says F hurriedly. I turn towards him. Now in sales you train yourself to mask emotions with a neutral smile and demeanour, but F isn’t buying anything from me - other than a one-way ticket to the job centre - so I’ve clearly failed this time.

‘It only just happened.’ Says F pointing at his phone as if that inanimate object is likely to plead his case. I glance at negotiator S. The conflict flashes across her face almost imperceptibly, but I see it, with S it’s hard not to keep looking. S shakes her head from side to side and does that balancing thing with her hands - it’s not quite so successful where her tits are concerned, but I digress.

‘So just tell me.’ I instruct F, tearing my gaze away from S. I don’t want to seem creepy or I’ll end up on another awareness course blue skying asinine ideas onto yellow post-it notes and pretending I care.

‘Number 12.’ Begins F and my stomach lurches even before the reveal. There’s half a month’s worth of commission riding on this sale, tell me it’s recoverable. ‘Bomber is doing the mortgage valuation.’ Continues F with an apologetic shrug. The expletive is still pinging off the filing cabinets even as I place a pound coin in the office swear box and grind my teeth expensively.

Every town has one. Some several. Surveyors who routinely lop about ten percent off the agreed sale price just to cover their bony arses. It doesn’t seem to change much, no matter what the market is doing. Rising, falling - according to the papers it’s never stable - these little weasels in sports jackets and grubby coloured trousers conspire to wreck weeks of marketing, days of fractious negotiating and hours of assiduous finance placing. And we have to pretend we like them.

I know I’m not alone in this, my twitter feed confirms they are all over the UK. Their modus operandi doesn’t vary much. They just ask the sale price, request some comparable evidence of similar sales - then take off a number they’ve already thought of. Our particular bette noir just happens to bear the nickname “Bomber” but I’ve heard of: Dr Death, The Wrecker, Demolition Man and Poison Pete to name but a few. Same pimp, just different coloured trousers.

There was a time, when I first started in house sales that I aspired to becoming a Chartered Surveyor. Back then, all the senior partners were qualified with RICS after their name. In fact it used to be the only way you’d be invited to become an equity partner before the banks and insurance companies moved in and bought estate agency firms in a frenzy of overpaying. Some of the ex-partners are still sunning themselves and playing golf even now. I was born too late - plus I didn’t fancy several years of studying…

Now the surveyors we see are just as haunted as the house sales people. Targeted and monitored to within an inch of their next nervous breakdown. Spending your days rushing from dusty loft space to dusty loft space then dictating your survey, or more often now, downloading the pre-populated report on your tablet computer, while sitting in a mid-range Vauxhall with pastry crumbs in your lap I can do without. We tend to run Fords…

‘Hello all.’ Says Bomber when he arrives for the keys. I can almost taste the hatred, he has the skin of a rhinoceros.
‘Any comparable sales?’ Asks Bomber as I hand him No 12’s keys and a set of our sales particulars.
‘We had a lot of people wanting this one.’ I urge. ‘It’s worth every penny.’
‘We’ll see.’ responds Bomber as he leaves.

‘Stick the For Sale board back up boss?’ Asks F before the door has closed.

He’s learning.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Not For Sale - Friday

‘Can I have a word?’Asks negotiator S after tapping at my - nearly always open - door. You can have three I think, politically incorrectly. She does look good though and a lot more attractive than some of the other rubbish in the office window. Injudicious thoughts shovelled to the back of my brain, I answer in the affirmative.

S take a half-step in and pulls the door semi-closed. Not sure if my gulp is audible but it’s certainly inappropriate. I wait in anticipation, nagging voice at the back of my mind already pushing unhelpful scenarios. If she’s resigning I’ll be gutted. If she’s pregnant I’m not sure, even with two decades worth of sales experience, if I could feign any form of delight. Fortunately it’s neither.

‘There’s a dodgy looking guy in the office.’ States S, hand over her mouth as she whispers.
‘Could you narrow it down a bit.’ I tell her, craning to look into the main sales area.
‘Good point.’ Concedes S with a disarming smile. ‘He ’s asking if he can have a word with the manager.’

‘Complaining or selling something?’ I probe, still trying to spot the character in question. F the idiot trainee is stood in my line of vision, waving his hands about excitedly. He’s either just taken an offer or about to have a seizure - either comes with a lot of paperwork and arguably, both could have a favourable outcome…

‘Definitely wants something from us.’ Predicts S. ‘Far too polite otherwise.’
‘But shifty though?’ I press.
‘Oh yes,’ confirms S. ‘Made me feel bit uncomfortable.’
It happens.

‘Alright.’ Begins the scruffy haired geezer in a rhetorical opening gambit, when he’s been ushered in to my office by S. He’s dressed in stained jeans, a t-shirt barely retaining a bulging beer-gut and a bomber jacket that has seen better days. I was, until you washed up like a turd on a beach I think, as I catch an unwelcome whiff of nicotine, carrying halitosis and body-odour-laced undertones.

‘I wondered if you might put some business my way.’ Says the man with a yellow-toothed grin, as he proffers a business card. I take the offering and peruse his details as he adds. ‘For the usual consideration of course.’

Great, everybody thinks all estate agents are bent. Plenty are of course and if you don’t have any licensing standards or exams for entry - like most other countries do - it’s not surprising some dubious characters get to don a suit and con a punter. I’ve never taken a back hander - although a few people have tried to slap me - and even after all this time, when someone offers me a “brown envelope” full of used notes I still take offence. 

‘Not interested.’ I say curtly to the man’s obvious surprise.
‘We do a lot of business with…’ And the man names one of our less professional competitors. It doesn’t surprise me.
‘We’ll do any house clearance, you know, goods and chattels if someone’s popped their clogs and the family aren’t nearby.’ Continues the man odiously. Do I look like an unprincipled bastard?  I think angrily, and the unhelpful inner voice gives me an answer I don’t need but the charlatan in front of me, clearly subscribes to.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been offered bribes by developers and speculators to favour them with the chance to buy at a reduced price and with no competitors but now the f***ing rag and bone man thinks he can buy me. Trouble is, plenty of agents take the money rather than offence. No wonder the press and the public vilify the profession.

‘He left in a hurry.’ Says S when I follow the man to the door, just to make sure he’s off the premises.
‘Not quick enough.’ I reply watching as the man sidles across the road to the office of the competitor he named. No doubt they’ll be laughing at me in there, shortly.
‘What did he want?’ Queries S.
‘To buy me.’
‘God don’t you hate that?’ Says S.

Gulp. Yes…


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Monday, June 30, 2014

Licensed To Thrill - Sunday

So the holiday that seemed to be forever over the horizon draws to a close and with it comes the inevitable darkening of mood as thoughts turn to work and just how much damage limitation my team have managed, without my increasingly unsteady hand on the tiller.

‘You alright?’ Asks my wife as we meander along a row of sun-drenched shop units. Not really, I want to scream, but I answer in the affirmative. Few people are lucky enough to do a job they love which still remunerates sufficiently to provide the standard of living aspired to. I’ve seen enough impoverished musicians, painters and, yes, writers lose their homes to know following your creative urges can lead to the council house waiting list.

‘Oh don’t do that again.’ Chides my wife, bringing me back to the present. Momentarily I’m befuddled by her admonishment. Earlier by the pool I’d found myself idly rubbing my trunks in a half-baked drowsy stupor. Fortunately I’m not fiddling with myself in full view of the promenading public. Worse in some ways, I’ve stopped in front of another realtor’s window.

‘How many times do you have to check property prices?’ Asks my wife with a distinct chill to match the air conditioned office I’m peering into. 
It’s a good question. The paradox is, I’m fascinated by homes and values, even in Euros or Dollars. I still get a frisson of excitement to match the languid enjoyment of lying in the heat and watching the less obese bikini clad ladies round the holiday pool. It’s a thrill I’ve enjoyed since I didn’t need to shave every day - face or ears. And yet I yearn to break free from the damaging obsession. Property is a cruel mistress.

‘See, he looks good in a short-sleeve shirt.’ States my wife, not for the first time. I glance away from a villa with infinity pool and no asking price - if you have to ask you can’t afford it - to see an impossibly handsome man with dark mediterranean looks, emerging from the office, carrying a man bag. The swarthy swine gets away with that effete monstrosity and effortlessly carries off the chino trousers, deck shoes and polo shirt. The expensive looking sun glasses the man dons are definitely not the “ genuine thing mister” Ray Bans the African guy on the beach tried to flog me for 10 Euros, earlier.

‘You have to live south of the Isle of Wight and still be living with your pasta-making mother to get away with short sleeves in my business.’ I tell my wife curtly, as I watch the realtor stroll across the road and blip his keys to reveal the bastard is smoking a top-of-the range Alfa Romeo. It’ll break down and cost you a fortune in garage charges I want to sneer. But he’s gone with a screech of tyres, plus I can only just mange to order a beer in his native language.

‘Nonsense,’ continues my wife. ‘You’d be so much cooler if you just wore a summer shirt when it’s hot.’ Pointless telling her you are never going to look cool with a fading suntan, post holiday stomach bulging over your too-tight waistband, while driving a bog-standard mass-market saloon to a repossession in an ex-local authority tower block.

‘Lot of people reading Kindles and the like.’ Reports my wife as we take the last rays of our two weeks. She’s right. At least two-thirds this year are holding up e-readers, although it’s a fair bet not one of them has downloaded any of my output. Writing anonymously seemed a good idea, but in terms of marketing yourself it’s akin to not putting a photograph of the house you’re selling, in the office window.

‘I wish we’d met you before the last night.’ Chortles the woman sitting at our table as the sun sets. I’ve been avoiding this couple for thirteen days but relented, having drunk too much. I’ve fed her and her fat husband a few anecdotes for amusement and to see if I’ve still got it. Inevitably, she asks what I do? I give her my default evasive answer.

‘Why, are you a secret agent then?’ She responds jovially.

Something like that.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Closed For Extended Lunch

Like those old school solicitors that close for lunch, I'm on holiday for two weeks. So amuse yourself by guessing what hysterical headline about the property market your favourite tabloid will be running, reading back numbers of the Blog or if you get really enthused, by downloading a copy of the three 'Agents Diary' based ebooks now on Amazon - links on the right for those lawyers still lunching. Free reading app for all formats via Amazon website and priced cheaper than the warm beer I'll be buying for the next fourteen days.

I might tweet a few pithy observations about fellow holidaymakers if I can find a decent Wi-Fi signal priced as reasonably as my books - but then again I might not.

Finally, if you also happen to be on holiday somewhere in The Med for the last two weeks of June 2014 don't ask the man with a red nose and a six pack what he does for a living, as a punch to the face will only offend.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Neighbourhood Watch - Tuesday

‘So anything else I need to know about your home, something I may have missed?’ I ask as I sit in the living room, details and measurements taken, sales pitch to come.
‘What do you mean exactly?’ asks the husband defensively as his wife frowns. ‘Have you heard something?’

I ask these questions to personalise property details. To take them away from the anodyne, safe from prosecution, but boring to the point of self-harm when read, particulars most agents produce. A little nugget about the home’s history, a previous well-known owner, a tale about former uses, anything interesting - apart from ghost stories. Something is amiss here. I just hope it doesn’t include claims of the supernatural. They never help a sale - just flush out more weirdos.

‘Tell him.’ Urges the wife eventually, after the silence has become uncomfortable. I nod encouragement and the husband takes a deep breath.
‘Well,’ he begins. ‘I don’t want you to tell prospective buyers, but the man next door is a complete wanker.’
‘Language dear.’ Chides the wife, blushing beguilingly.
‘Well he is.’ Counters her husband. ‘He’s a world class tosser and we’ll be glad to see the back of him.’

Now I have a dilemma I could do without. Ignorance can be a drawback in the industry - just look at F, my intellectually challenged trainee - but occasionally being unaware of an issue, can be bliss. With nanny state legislation designed to help the lowest common denominator I’m obliged to flag up all sorts of potential problems to buyers. It’s not clear which ones - you have to wait until you are in court for clarification - but I need to know the nature of this animosity.

‘How long have you got?’Asks the husband, as I hear the wretched cat flap clatter in the background. An evil-eyed moggy slinks in, looks at me with distain and jumps into the wife’s lap. I can already feel my nose twitching faster than the cat’s tail. The allergy will have my nostrils weeping like the front row at a funeral before I’ve explained the sole agency form.

‘He’s just a nasty, evil man.’Offers the wife, stroking the cat lovingly. I can see hairs floating towards me in the sunlight and my back is beginning to itch already. I really don’t need this - except I do with properties hard to come by. If they have a neighbours’ dispute going on it will come up sooner or later. If not by virtue of awkward questions from viewers, it will be flagged-up when the buyer’s solicitor sends out standard pre-contract enquiries.

‘Could you enlighten me a little.’ I probe, sniffing back a thin trail of mucus which has started to flow. Seemingly, just by virtue of the visual clue the purring hairball sent me on entrance.
‘He hates cats.’ Answers the wife indignantly. I paste on my most neutral face, one the Swiss ambassador would be proud of.
‘How so?’ I ask, trying not to look at the pulsing mass of sneeze-inducing fur. The feline is eyeing me furtively. They know, even if the owners don’t.

‘The bastard tosses cat shit back over our fence.’ Snarls the husband, eyes blazing.
‘And Tabitha only ever does her business in a litter tray.’ Adds the wife. I’ve been round the bungalow and there were no signs of human offspring. I’m hoping Tabitha is the cat’s name and there isn’t an incontinent daughter somewhere, yet to be potty trained.
I’m guessing the dopy duo think their lump of snot-causing, itch-making, allergy irritating fur-bag doesn’t rip baby birds to shreds when they’re not looking, either. Something about cat lovers I just don’t get. And don’t even start me on the single women who keep them as hirsute baby, or a boyfriend substitute.

‘There’s no way it’s Tabitha’s do-do.’ Asserts the wife, before adding, ‘And he blocks our car in on the drive.’ I was coming to that thorny issue. Post war homes with shared drives are a nightmare. Planners were just glad a German tank wasn’t on the lawn back then. Nobody thought families would own two cars.

‘Any joy?’ Asks assistant manager T on my return.
Snot a lot.


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Thursday, June 05, 2014

Accompanied Viewing - Thursday

‘You’re never going to believe the latest.’ Says Assistant manager T as I return to the office.
The choices are endless, so in the end I drop my briefcase, sit at the spare desk and spread my arms.

‘This is classic.’ Begins T as the office falls silent and I notice everyone has stopped to listen, even bloated mortgage man M has waddled out to hear the story. This must be good.

T grins in anticipation and I can see he’s relishing an audience. At the end of the day all good estate agents are just frustrated thespians - with an income that fluctuates just as wildly. T begins by naming the local estate agent with the poorest reputation out of a bad bunch, quite an achievement with the sort of publicity the profession garners.

‘No hang on, let me get to the best bit.’ Presses T as the pantomime boos echo around the office.
‘He’s behind you!’ Shouts M to his own booming guffaw. Everyone looks disdainfully at the fat figure-fiddler as negotiator S says flatly. ‘He’s not.’ And given how the tail unfolds you wouldn’t want him to be.

T embellishes the story in a manner that makes me rather proud I’ve trained him. The intakes of breath and the hands clasped to mouths show he can carry an audience, it’s just a shame he’s not so good at maintaining his average fee and getting a board up. He finishes with a flourish and the office falls silent again

‘That can’t be true.’ Ventures S hesitantly.
‘True as I’m standing here.’ Counters T with a grin.
‘In their flat?’ Asks trainee F incredulously.
‘In their double bed.’ Answers T with a prurient chuckle.
‘Doesn’t surprise me.’ Says loose lettings lush B with a shrug. No it wouldn’t I think, not if the rumours are true.

‘Let me get this straight…’ Begins S.
‘That’s what he said.’ Interjects T to riotous laughter. I hold a hand up to restore some decorum. There’s a couple looking in the window and seeing a group of estate agents all rocking with laughter isn’t going to restore their confidence in the profession - particularly if they think we’re chortling about the asking prices they’re perusing.

‘So he shagged the office secretary in a client's apartment?’ Questions S, shaking her head in disgust.
‘While they were away on holiday.’
‘My God that shouldn’t happen.’ Sates S grimacing.
‘Wouldn’t be the first time.’ Says B scornfully. So the rumours are true, I think grimly, But she’s right. Clearly - and thankfully as it happens - none of my team have read my book. They’re in good company…

‘That sort of story has been a regular over my years in the business.’ I tell S. ‘It’s just the owners don’t usually have motion sensor cameras set up.’
‘Imagine how they felt when they say that on the hard drive.’ Says T with a laugh.
‘Don’t even go there.’ I caution F swiftly, as he lifts a hand to say something inappropriate.

‘They were sacked of course.’ States S rhetorically. ‘For gross misconduct and inappropriate behaviour?’
‘More for being caught, I think.’ Replies T.
‘What the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve over.’ Offers M.
‘True,’ concedes T. ‘But you can’t ignore the evidence.’
‘The video footage?’ Says F.
‘That and the sheets.’ Answers T, to a communal groan of distaste.

‘It’s no wonder the public hate us.’ Muses S as the phone rings and the office tempo picks up.
‘We’re not all the same.’ I tell her in a dignified response. Yep, thank God she hasn’t downloaded the book. Some things need to stay secret - or at least anonymous.

‘They should be banned and never allowed to be estate agents again.’ Continues S censoriously as another unlikely fantasy withers and shrinks.
‘That’s not going to happen.’ I reply, killing two birds with one stone. ‘He’ll be back flogging homes and cutting corners within the month.’
‘He shouldn’t be.’ Says S pouting distractingly.

She’s right, but all the time there’s still no licensing for estate agents in the UK and no minimum standard of entry - well, people are going to get shafted.