Thursday, August 21, 2014

Golden Oldies - Thursday

Negotiator S appears prettily in my peripheral vision and for a moment I think it’s another of those awkward dreams. Finally, I register she’s really there and the screen that had almost hypnotised me is the stark reality of my office profit and loss accounts - not one of those dodgy sites now blocked by the main server…

‘Got lovely old Mr and Mrs Lockwood in the office.’ Begins S with a winning smile. I try to surreptitiously glance round her to see the office sales area, but she’s standing sideways and it’s a big ask without appearing pervy, or dislocating a couple of neck vertebrae.

‘Err, just remind me…’ I say pathetically. I can remember just about every home I’ve ever sold but the names are too much data to keep, with my ageing hard drive.
‘From The Avenue.’ Prompts S. ‘We’ve got a sale arranged on their house but they haven’t found anything to to go to to yet.’ Of course I remember. A sweet old couple who have wracked up some of those more obscure wedding anniversaries between the precious metal milestones. I need them to find somewhere or my potential commission will be stalled forever in the sales pipeline, with no chance of converting to hard cash.

‘Great news.’ I say to S, before hesitating. ‘So…why do they need to see me?’
S sighs and smiles again. God, she’s so hot she should carry an over 18s only, certificate. ‘They like you,’ she continues. ‘They want your advice on the flat they’ve seen.’

Now I want my vendors to like me. I positively crave their affection when I’m pitching for the business against several other estate agents. But, like a serial shagger, once I’ve consummated the deed - and bagged a signed sole agency - I’m keen to move on to pastures and punters new.

I sense a dilemma looming. I’m not a big fan of shared communal space living and with the leasehold laws in the UK as they are I wouldn’t want a flat without a peppercorn ground rent, a share in the freehold and an in-house management company. At the very least.

‘Where have they found?’ I quiz S, frantically thinking of the blocks in my area that don’t have greedy freeholder issues, diminished lease terms and huge holes in their sinking funds. S tells me the name of a well known retirement home builder and I grimace.
‘Really?’ I say rhetorically.
‘Really.’ She answers unnecessarily, adding. ‘They really like it. It’s the security and the companionship.’
And the rip-off prices, I think sourly. Hoping, not for the first time, that if I make it to the Lockwood’s advanced years I won’t be too senile to remember why I hate the shrunken square footage and overpriced warrens the elderly are wont to move to.

‘So what do you think?’ Urges Mr Lockwood in his reedy voice once S has sat them in front of me with two mugs of tea, and I’ve greeted them like long lost friends. I have a sneaking feeling Mr L is not long for this world . Like many ailing partners, he’s probably trying to manoeuvre his wife into a home that will suit her once he’s gone - there’s certainly not enough room for two people for too long.

Well, he’s paying too much. The ground rent goes up regularly at punitive levels. The lease is a paltry 99 years - fine when you are looking at twenty max to live but not so great for re-sales and disappointed beneficiaries -  and the service charges are a licence to print money. And yet, it gives them something they think you can’t always put a price on. Peace of mind.

If it were my parents I’m not sure what I’d advise, but that decision is no longer one to trouble me. The truth is I might change my opinion if I make it as far as the Lockwoods. Through rheumy eyes the world might look a different - scarier - place.

‘They seem pleased.’ Says S after I’ve seen the old couple to the door. ‘What did you tell them?’
‘What I thought they wanted to hear.’

It’s the bottom line.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Here Hear - Wednesday

‘That’s marvellous,’ I say gushingly, using an adjective I tend to reserve for those over pensionable age. ‘I just need to do the tedious bit now.’ I continue. ‘The paperwork.’

‘What’s he saying?’ Questions the elderly husband who is slumped in a worn armchair staring at me with those rheumy eyes that indicate a light slowly dwindling. The wife. a grey haired, slight but formidable lady, turns towards her ancient husband, ex Royal Navy, and ups the decibels several notches.
‘He needs to put everything in writing.’ She hollers, as the old boy fiddles with his hearing aid again.

I’m in a dated but well-proportioned 1930s built semi-detached house on the outskirts of the original town. The sort of strip development that filled fields pre-war as the population recovered after the Great War, before being decimated again by Mr Hitler and his henchmen. Doubtless, as now, people grumbled about new housing being built in their back yard. nothing much changes - other than the asking prices.

We’ve agreed the asking price for this home moments earlier, it’s bullish but reflects the market and the potential the house offers. It’s rife for modernisation and boasts the sort of garden no current day developer would leave behind. Maximise price, minimise square footage being the accountant-driven mantra of today’s builders.

I engage in neutral chit-chat while I try to complete as much of the paperwork as I can while the old man’s hearing aid whistles and chatters in the manner of a land line when it picks up an incoming mobile phone signal.

Price and vendors’ full names and the address completed I re-iterate, hesitantly, the agreed fee.
‘Oh don’t give me percentages dear,’ says the wife briskly. ‘How much in pounds and pennies?’ Shit. No agent ever likes to articulate the exact amount. Reluctantly I tell her.

‘Ooh, that’s not much less than we paid for the house.’ Says the woman wincing. ‘And I’m afraid it’s plus VAT.’ I say trying not to visibly cringe.
‘How much more is that?” Quizzes the woman, turning frostier by the moment.
‘Twenty percent.’I whisper
‘In English.’ Demands the wife. I tell her.
‘Stone the crows.’ She gasps. It’s an option…

‘I can’t hear what the lad is saying.’ Grumbles the old fella at ornament-rattling volume.
‘He says it’s going to be bloody expensive Arthur.’ Replies his wife loudly. No point reminding them it is No Sale No Fee at this juncture, or that those who move subsidise all the time-wasters who don’t.

‘Now I just need some proof of identity and address.’ I say flatly. Seems the Government has contracted out of just about every state function to the lowest, and often, least effective bidder. Or in my case a dupe who is made to provide the function for free. Estate agents are now quasi Border Control and Income Tax administrators as I need to ensure these ancient crumblies haven’t just crawled out from under the Lidl delivery lorry, or are masterminding an illicit drugs cartel from their tumbledown greenhouse.

‘What’s he saying?’ Bellows the old man in frustration as his hearing aid whistles like an asthmatic kettle. If I articulate any louder the next door neighbour will be able to join in.
‘He needs our passports and a utility bill.’ Soothes his wife.
‘Eh? What the devil for?’
‘What for love?’ Quizzes the wife with a wry smile.
‘Border Control and Money Laundering.’ I tell her apologetically. She repeats the phrase at what I imagine is the mythical number eleven on an amplifier. 

The old boy looks at me with distain.
‘Eh?’ He snarls angrily. ‘He wants the border and my lawn doing? Tell him we have a gardner Liz,  and if they don’t like us as we are they can lump us.’
Slight confusion over, unpaid civil servant role reluctantly carried out, I get towards the finishing line, feeling as lost and worn out as the ancient mariner.

‘We don’t want a For Sale board do we Arthur?’ Shouts the wife. The bean counter boss has been riding me weekly - not a pleasant picture - over my board rate penetration. My plea falls on deaf ears.

Low key, high volume marketing then.


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Thursday, August 07, 2014

Upgrade Available - Thursday

‘F**k it.’
‘Not a chance.’ Mumbles a sleepy voice.
‘Not literally.’ I tell my wife, before adding. ‘Are you awake then?’ Which on sleepy reflection wasn’t the smartest response.

‘I am now.’ She replies sourly.
‘What time is it?’ I ask wearily. I have a good idea, as I’ve woken at the same time three night’s running.
‘It’s nearly half-past two and you have your own watch.’ Comes the testy reply. ‘Now go back to sleep.’
Not a hope in hell, I think, as I sigh and clamber out of bed to the sort of feminine groan that used to signal slightly more success than waking your partner, before making a solitary cup of tea.

If I wanted to be picky, I think drowsily as I stumble down the stairs, I’d have pointed out to my wife that her time check was a tad inaccurate. The moment I woke up, praying it was after 6.30am, was 2.22am precisely. Like one of those endless Paranormal Activity movies I’ve been pinging awake at exactly the same time for several days now, but the only levitation around tends to involve lifting inappropriate nighttime snacks from the fridge. Needless to say the suggestion of a fixed camera in the bedroom received a frosty response.

Despite loony ladies’ claims to have ghosts residing in their home - still not a great sale clincher - the only poltergeist I have found is the malicious one in my head. A spectre that has me fretting over sales figures and management accounts at sparrow-fart o’clock. Paradoxically, the more you crave sleep the more elusive it becomes, no matter how dog tired you are.

Tossing and turning doesn’t work for me - particularly the tossing as my wife is a light sleeper - so I inevitably end up sloping downstairs for a piss and a cup of tea. Sadly the bladder seems to be weakening along with the mind.

At first, with the thrill of smoking a brand new car and visiting luxury homes I could aspire to if I hit my targets year-on-year, the thrill of house sales kept me running on adrenalin. No matter how hard I worked, I slept like a log. But slowly, insidiously, like water eroding a rock, the pressure of ever increasing targets and ever increasing responsibility began to take its toll. Now I wake up head spinning like an elderly hard drive. I have a feeling I’ve reached capacity.

‘Open you bastard.’ I mutter, as the ancient PC spins and splutters to life, while my cup of tea cools alongside me. The house is silent as a grave now my two sons have left for university and unless my wife starts snoring it’s going to remain that way - other than the tip-tap of a keyboard - until the radio alarm goes off.

Dilemma. Do I look at my office sales figures and the management accounts, the reason I was cattle-prodded awake at 2.22am, or do I write a blog entry and Tweet a few times to fellow insomnia sufferers? I might even have an anonymous exchange with my fellow realtors around the world. Intriguing, but not likely to pay the mortgage. I open the management accounts - eventually.

I’ve always had the gift of the gab, it’s the reason good sales people are often born performers, but mathematics has remained a foreign language to me. If the calculator hadn’t been invented I’m sure I’d be stacking shelves in a supermarket store somewhere, with the prospect of ending up like one of those grey-haired old men collecting snaking lines of trollies in the car park, when they should be lunchtime drinking and reminiscing.

Whatever the numerical equivalent of dyslexia is, I think I have it. My bean counter boss is a figure-fiddler par-excellence but couldn’t flog a life-raft to a drowning man. They say the meek shall inherit the earth, well they’ll be dull, with halitosis and an accountancy qualification.

My mind rapidly becomes snow-blinded by the blizzard of figures. My ailing computer spews out columns and lines but I’m running a drowsy Windows 2000 in my head.

It just doesn’t add up.


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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hot To Trot - Tuesday

‘Looks like it’s going to be another warm one.’ Says my wife, tugging back the curtains to let an unaccustomed cascade of light into the bedroom. I wince at the brightness and in preparation for the long-running dispute that I can sense is about to recommence.

After decades of selling homes, in all markets and all weathers, I still can’t quite get use to the few short months when the bedside alarm ushers in the local radio retards, in daylight. Incidentally, it’s probably just me, but it seems you need to have some sort of speech impediment to get into broadcasting now - and a name with no vowels in it.

‘What are you wearing today?’ Asks my wife. This would seem like a perfectly innocent question to a bystander - although why anyone would be standing in my bedroom unannounced I can’t imagine. Move along, nothing to see here. But I know there’s a barely hidden agenda.

‘I’m not going through that again.’ I tell her as I stumble towards the shower.
‘I’ve ironed a couple.’ Counters my wife artfully.
‘I’ve told you a hundred times,’ I say wearily. ‘I’d look like an Australian bank manger in a short-sleeve shirt.’
‘I’m not suggesting you wear the shorts and knee-length socks.’ Counters my wife, eyes heavenwards.
She just doesn’t get it.

The UK weather doesn’t present too many occasions for this sort of marital dispute, but over the course of my stubborn career I’ve had this running argument, every few days our summer doesn’t resemble an Indian rainy season.

‘You’ll be much more comfortable.’ Says my wife as I arrive back five minutes later, soggy and still groggy. She’s holding up a flimsy piece of clothing enticingly, but not in a good way. Short-sleeves just don’t look professional in my opinion. I strive for that Barack Obama level of cool, roll up the long sleeves if you have to, but don’t resemble a barman in a Spanish cocktail bar. The item she’s presenting was an unwise purchase for a Greek holiday and I’m pretty sure I didn’t even wear it then. Although after several glasses of post-prandial Ouzo I can barely remember my own name, let alone which dodgy Marks and Spencer summer shirt I was wearing when I danced on the table.

‘Are you even doing anything?’ I shout at my car dashboard, as the traffic slows and I try to calculate if I’ll still be the first in the office - almost certainly. My arms are warming like a couple of kebabs on a barbecue, and I’m more hot under the collar than usual. I spin the dial on the fan and all I get is more noise and a higher velocity of warm air. The air conditioning in my ageing company car, needs topping up again. I just can’t face the customer service hell hole the local main dealer provides. There are only so many molten-plastic-laced cups of vending machine coffee you can endure, only to be told: ‘The parts for that ain’t in stock mate. You’ll have to come back next wednesday.’

‘Morning.’ Says negotiator S warmly, as she breezes through the door and I sit at the main desk, sweat dripping down my back unpleasantly. S looks hot too, but in a much less sweaty way - although….

I watch as she walks to the kitchen area, puts the kettle on then returns to her desk. Demure just about covers it. She’s in a skirt and sleeveless blouse combo. The top must be man made, as the fibres are under almost as much pressure as I am.

Then the door opens again and the contrast couldn’t be more dramatic. B our loose lettings lush click-clacks in on those vertiginous heels. She’s rocking the slutty teacher look. Skirt shorter than S’s by a good three inches, dark lacy bra showing conspicuously through a white top. More make-up than a circus act. And stockings.

Finally M, the man-mountain mortgage peddler arrives. He’s perspiring like a cook at a Chinese take-away. Deep damp patches under his arms and a moist line down his dark blue shirt, tracing his vertebrae. No sign of a jacket.

Not cool.


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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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