Friday, April 21, 2017
‘Here comes the sleazeball.’ Announces assistant manage T, with distaste. We all look across the high street and, unprompted, three people chorus: ‘You got anything for me?’ in perfect sneering unison.
I learnt early in the industry to dislike property speculators. Estate agents have a bad reputation - some of them deservedly so - but I knew instinctively I wasn’t going to like the predatory, slightly underhand tactics of your local dealer.
A good agent had his client’s interest at heart, and it’s always been a matter of pride to me to extract the best possible price for my vendor. Its why I rage at property porn programmes where the photogenic, totally unqualified, presenter tells the viewers in a stage whisper, ‘the agent tells me they’ll take much less than they’re asking.’ Bad agent. Period.
‘How come we never sell him anything?’ Asks trainee F, gormlessly. You can pay for a expensive private education, but a polished turd is still a turd.
‘Because he always wants an angle.’ Explained negotiator S patiently. She’s too good for this business.
‘And he’ll want to buy at under market value, to make a fat profit.’ Adds T.
‘But he says he’ll give us the property back to sell,’ persist F. ‘Then we get two commissions.’
‘It’s called a secret profit and it’s illegal if the owner is unaware of the implications.’ I snap testily.
‘Bit like flogging crap policies to buyers and working harder for them than the vendor.’ Adds T, nodding towards fat finance-fiddler M’s office. He’s had a couple in there for over an hour, could be a lengthy fact-finder form, or they could be selling pies.
‘If you sell a speculator a property a normal punter could buy, not one that can’t be mortgaged or with structural difficulties,’ continues S coaching F with the patience of a saint. ‘By definition you are underselling it.’
‘Yeh, but you get it back to sell when he’s splashed some emulsion around and put new doors on the old kitchen carcass.’ Persists F.
That’s why less scrupulous agents sell - often off-market without giving genuine buyers the chance - to their local pet speculator and if he’ll meet them in the pub later, with a fat brown envelope stuffed with fifty pound notes, so much the better. The only back-hander I’ve ever taken in this business, was from an angry buyer who’d been beaten to a house in a contract race. It stung but I didn't sue - its hard enough to get a lawyer to call you back as it is…
‘He’s coming in.’ Says T, as the man in question crosses the street and makes a beeline for our door.
‘Doesn’t take a hint does he.’ States T rhetorically.
‘Don’t offer him anything.’ I mutter through a ventriloquist's smile.
‘Morning guys.’ Announces the speculator as he bowls in to the office, all designer jeans and expensive dentistry. I detest him. And here it comes…..
‘Got anything for me?’
‘Not today.’ Says T, almost too quickly. But not quickly enough for me. I try not to catch the man’s eye, but these characters have hides like a rhinoceros. He moves to my place at the spare desk.
‘Come on,’ he cajoles. ‘You must have something with an earn in it. There’ll be cheeky drink in it for everyone.’
What the f**k is that? I want to demand. A bottle of Sunny Delight with a monkey face on the front? It’s insulting to think, this odious oik thinks I’ll take his money and betray a client. But then he’s clearly finding plenty who will.
‘Deceased estate, need a quick sale. Old lady wants in to a retirement flat and doesn’t know how much her gaff is worth, maybe?’ Persists the man with an over-bright grin. I’m going to be so tempted to key his Range Rover the next time I see it bumped up the kerb outside a cheap refurbishment, with a rival’s For Sale board outside.
I’m saved when the man’s top-of-the-range I-Phone rings and he starts talking loudly about a conditional contract and a holding deposit. He offers an exaggerated, call me, mime before leaving the office in a fug of cloying after shave.
Monday, April 10, 2017
‘I’m not too good with exams.’ States trainee F unnecessarily. I’ve seen his CV and for his family to spend that amount of money on a private education, with so little qualifications in return, merits the mother of all refunds.
‘It’s more of a test.’ Soothes negotiator S, in a comforting fashion - she has the necessary equipment.
‘You don’t even know you’re born.’ Contributes obese finance-fiddler M. ‘We have to sit multiple complex exams to sell insurance and finance.’
Only because you all mis-sold for years, I think sourly.
‘You should try being in lettings nowadays.’ Says B. ‘We have to act as immigration officials, gas safety engineers, money laundering snitches and wet nurses, all rolled in to one.’
It’s true, there is a lot of regulation - some of it conflicting - the modern property professional needs to keep abreast of.
You’d think estate agents would need to be qualified, yet fledgling internet agencies still keep appearing, conning people for up front fees and claiming to have local property experts on hand. If expert means some failed window cleaner from a town forty miles away, who has scraped through a multiple choice computerised learning programme, with the none to subtle prompting of the training company who need the pass rate to look good, then smashing.
‘Why do they keep making us do these ridiculous e-learning courses?’ Asks assistant manager T, grumpily.
‘Because it saves on employing real, touch-em, feel-em trainers.’ Suggests B. Its not the best image, as rumour has it she both touched and felt that married bloke in the training department, who left in a hurry last year.
B does have a point though. I almost feel nostalgic about some of the trainers we had in the past. True, most of them only trained because they couldn't sell - and I still haven't forgotten that creepy little man who handed out cuddly toys to a circled bunch of bemused and grizzled negotiators, to “help form empathy within the group”. He shouldn't have been allowed within a mile of any infant school. But at least they were human.
‘Saves money too.’ Says T. ‘They only want to cover their own arses as cheaply as possible. If trading standards, tax and revenue, passport control, or the legionnaire’s disease police come after you, head office can claim we’ve been properly trained.’
I tend to agree with T. My bean counter boss spends his life avoiding responsibility, ensconced in his office with a spread sheet and a hard-on, by all accounts. Celebrities might want to expose their butt cheeks to all and sundry, with big Belfie shots published on-line, but head office staff like their rear-ends covered.
‘Who designs this rubbish?’ Asks T, warming to his task. He has the prelude to the latest e-learning trial, on his computer screen. A few example questions are laid out Janet and John style, with four options as answers, for each question.
‘Some over-priced consultancy who peddle the same tatty programme to all our competitors too.’ I offer, as a shaky hypothesis.
‘It’s a con, that’s what it is.’ Says T.
‘Talking of cons,’ Pipes up F. ‘Is there any way we can get a copy of the answers, beforehand, like last time?’
‘Don’t worry.’ Says S to F, as he moves towards hyper-ventilation. He probably hasn’t been this agitated since he was probed behind the bike sheds by his game’s master.
‘I’ve told you, exams don't agree with me.’ He replies shakily.
‘For God’s sake, there are only four options, and two of them are obviously wrong.’ Snaps M, grumpily. ‘And that’s before someone gets a hold of the crib sheet. You try learning what the difference is between APRs, AERs, compound and flat rate interest and how to explain it to a dullard.’
‘I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever get it.’ Says F, flatly.
‘That’s why you are the world’s longest-standing trainee.’ Chuckles T.
‘Just remember, you eat an elephant a bite at a time.’ Offers S, with a smile. F looks bemused.
He’d still be a local property expert with some firms though….
Thursday, March 23, 2017
‘She’s prickly today.’ I whisper to S, my negotiator, as I see B the loose lettings lush arguing with a young couple, at her desk. The pair are giving as good as they get, albeit in a sort of guttural slang English, peppered with language richer than they appear to be.
‘She’s been moody all day.’ Confides S, nodding towards B, as the heavily tattooed and heavily pregnant female she’s arguing with - an earlier production model in a pushchair alongside - starts to spout a line about unfair treatment. I grind my teeth. You don’t need accusations of that kind, no matter how false. The paperwork wipes out rain forests…
‘They can’t, like discriminate us, ‘coz we’s on the social.’ Spits the woman, as her neanderthal partner grunts in agreement. He has multiple piercings and a big ring through his nose that I’m thinking might come in handy if I need to lead him, forcibly, from the office. His tattoos are less inky than his girlfriend’s, but do extend up his neck in a fetching manner, that he might think fashionable, but pretty much precludes him from working in any public-facing position.
‘What a pair of retards.’ Offers fat mortgage man M, in a wheezy stage whisper as he waddles past us, en-route to the kitchen.
‘You can’t say that.’ Replies S, bristling, turning to me and adding. ‘Can he?’
Best not to tell her what I was thinking - pretty much a mantra to stick to all the time with S, as it happens.
‘They do seem a little agitated.’ I say to S soothingly. B is now spouting some line about her landlords not wanting tenants who don’t have their own income and employment, to cover the rent. It’s not an unreasonable request, and one I’d want to make if I could ever afford a second property as an alternative to my pitiful pension.
‘It’s f***ing guaranteed.’ Shouts the female, swooping to pick up the soiled dummy her child has spat on the floor. The chubby girl is too old to be sucking on the comforter but as her mother - and possibly her father - are still locked on to the State’s virtual tit, it seems ironically appropriate.
Actually, when the state paid rent direct to landlords it was a fairly safe vehicle for buy-to-let landlords, but once the benefits were diverted to the tenants first, the problems started. The off-licence and the drug dealer, sometimes got the cash before the landlord. It’s a cliche, but most cliches are rooted in unfortunate fact.
‘You shouldn’t pre-judge people.’ Says S softly, as the argument continues across the office. My money is on B, if the two feisty bitches start to fight. I reckon I can take the pig-nosed bloke if it kicks off, he’s wearing enough ironmongery for me to get painful purchase.
‘We try not to.’ I reply in a conciliatory fashion. And I don’t; I’ve sold enough homes to scruffy-looking individuals who turned out to be loaded, just with poor fashion sense, to know that. But the endless stream of deadbeats, who seem to know more about their rights than contraception, are starting to test, even my loosely liberal, ideals.
‘They just need somewhere to live.’ Continues S. ‘It’s not their fault housing costs in this country are a joke.’ I nod in agreement. She is right, and successive UK Housing ministers who last about as longs as an epileptic virgin on his wedding night, haven’t helped the problem. But this angry couple must have spent six month’s worth of rent on their absurd inkings, they don’t come cheap. And the over-sized baby in the pricey pushchair has managed designer boots and pierced ears, before she has jettisoned the dummy and been potty-trained.
‘I tell you what, I’ll swing for some of these people one day.’ Growls B, after the punchy pair have left, and the office door still rattles in its frame
‘Couldn’t you have found them somewhere?’ Asks S.
‘Would you want scum like that in your flat?’ Snaps back B.
‘I haven’t got one.’ Says S, haughtily.
Friday, March 17, 2017
I’m early to the office again, so decide to pick up the post from the DX drop-off point. Document Exchange is a private postal system favoured by lawyers, accountants and a few quasi-professionals, like estate agents. Our collection point is round the back of a local solicitor firm’s rather gloomy offices. There’s a dank alleyway approach, where you sometimes find rough-sleepers and always hope it’s nobody you’ve evicted from their home.
As I near the venue, dodging the detritus of last night’s takeaway leftovers scattered across the road, the door is just closing. The drop-dead gorgeous receptionist from the law firm at the far end of town, is just leaving, arms full of bulky brown envelopes. I silently curse my luck, just being in the same confined space as her while we unlock our boxes, would have been a guilty pleasure.
‘Morning.’ I say breezily, flashing her my best smile - one designed to convey a friendly, non-threatening in a sexual way - bonhomie. She looks at me struggling for recognition. I tell her my firm’s name and who I am.
‘Oh, yes right.’ She answers flatly. ‘I didn’t recognise you.’
Great. I’ve turned into one of those middle-aged women who no longer turn heads in supermarkets and who would actually welcome a wolf-whistle from a building site, if they hadn’t been banned by the joy-stealers. The last time I was on a construction site the list of health, safety and welfare rules ran all down one side of the portacabin and the only pin-up was a boast about the zero accident rate tumbling from scaffolding.
‘No worries.’ I say to the fast departing girl, who looks as good from behind as the front elevation. It took me all this time to gain some confidence talking to the fairer sex and now all they see is an old bloke who might just be leching inappropriately….
I shrug and punch the four-digit code into the door entrance panel. Turning the handle and thrusting forward I nearly break my nose on the peeling door surface.
‘What the f••k?’ I bellow rhetorically, juggling the knob angrily. The door rattles but stays firmly locked.
‘They’ve changed the number.’ Says negotiator S, once I’ve rung her mobile phone.
‘Why didn’t they tell anyone?’ I ask grumpily. ‘ Did they send a f•••ing fax, or something?’
S laughs, knowing only too well some solicitors still communicate by the ancient shiny copy-paper system, then admonishes me for the expletive which will cost me another visit to the office swear box - and gives me the new number.
Inside the gloomy ante-room there are two walls covered in banks of square wooden boxes, each with a wider than average letterbox hole and a lockable door. I ignore the dank, slightly decomposing aroma, briefly wondering if another wino has pegged it behind the industrial-sized wheelie-bins outside, and open the company cubby-hole.
As I sort through the bulky manilla envelopes, keeping a keen eye out for any familiar franking marks that might be a lawyer’s firm I recognise, sending me a completion commission cheque, the door swings open again.
I look up to see another young woman, I don’t know come breezing in. She’s multi-tasking, by scanning her phone messages, frantically tapping some sort of response - thumbs moving in a blur - and chewing gum. I can’t see any visible tattoos as she has a long-sleeve coat on, but if I was a betting man…
She might be another junior legal employee or even a negotiator for the latest bunch of cut-fee shitesters to open up in town. After all, in UK estate agency no experience or qualifications are required.
‘Morning.’ I offer, with the same smile that has failed once already.
She looks up startled - I swear she wasn’t even aware I was there until then - and gives me a scowl. I’m just passing pleasantries, I don’t want to shag you, I feel like bellowing, but spooling the scenario forward I can envisage a complaint, some sort of offenders’ record and a police caution, so I leave hurriedly.
I’m too old for this lark.
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Tuesday, March 07, 2017
The rain is back with a vengeance, as I battle through rush hour traffic for a late viewing. You can see why the more sprightly pensioners head for Spain in their early dotage. I’d advise them to keep a foothold in the UK property market, not sell-up completely for the lure of all day piss-ups and a pool, but you can’t tell them. They trickle back when their health starts to fail and they discover the much-maligned NHS its still better than a paid for clinic, more used to dealing with drunken British teenagers than early onset dementia.
I pull out slightly to avid a great sheet of standing water adjacent to a bus stop. I’m rewarded with a nodded thank you from two people in the queue and a bolshie blast on the horn from some boy racer coming the other way. I open my hands in question at the spotty oik as he speeds past oblivious to the road conditions, and get a single rigid finger thrust at me in return.
‘Tosser.’ I mutter towards the headlining. Not sure if Ford deliberately targeted the Ka at semi-literate retards with more tattoos than brain cells, but they seem to have cornered the market in aggressive kids who have somehow passed their driving test, but have more chance of becoming Prime Minister than successfully parallel parking.
‘Terrific.’ I mutter to myself as I crawl down the appointed street looking for a parking slot. These terraced houses were built just post-war and planners didn’t envisage owners, or more accurately around here renters, with three cars per household. The rain is lashing down still, as I finally find a space half across the double yellow lines, and switch off. As the downpour refuses to abate I wonder how those new houses they plan to build on what everyone who 's lived around here for more than twenty years knows is a flood plain, will fare.
As the car clock approaches five minutes before the appointed viewing time, I twist awkwardly to retrieve my umbrella from the back seat. I’m rewarded with a stabbing pain in my lower back and a view of a slightly soiled squab - that old woman viewing the retirement flat turned out to be as incontinent as her aroma indicated - devoid of anything other than a yellowy stain.
‘F**k!’ I bellow, as a vision of my brolly, sat by the office door still dripping from my earlier failed valuation, swims - appropriately - into view. The car is still rocking from my expletive as a teenage mum, with a toddler on one arm plus twin babies in one of those double buggies struggles past, looking at me suspiciously. God knows what she’d doing out in this weather, unless she’s searching for the fathers….
I stand on the doorstep, clipboard in hand and watch the rain lashing down. The owners are at work, not home until late obviously, how else could they service a mortgage without both working punishing hours? They are, needless to say, childless. I try not to become a Daily Mail reader, as I pogoed to The Clash in my youth, but some days I can feel my angry middle-Englander trying to escape.
Fifteen minutes later I’m still surveying the soggy street and trying to avoid a persistent drip that is determined to get down my shirt collar. I could go inside, I have the keys, but there’s one of those passive-aggressive stickers on the door’s side panel, warning Hawkers, Circulars and cold callers to not knock. They might as well put up those offensive notices from the fifties telling Irish and blacks they can’t rent round here. I’m guessing the woman of the house will know if I’ve lurked around inside without potential buyers with me, and you never know when people have motion sensitive cameras rigged any more. It’s taken all the fun out of the knicker drawer…
‘Have they rung in to cancel?’ I ask when negotiator S eventually answers the office phone.
‘Do they ever?’ She answers, semi rhetorically.
‘They’re not coming are they?’ I say, completely rhetorically.
I’m sinking here.
Wednesday, March 01, 2017
I pull slowly into the council car park, the only one I can still use without punitive charges that chase local businesses out of town, even as clueless councillors wonder why there are so many charity shops in the high street?
My wheels spin on the un-gritted surface. For a moment I think the company car is going to slide rather gracefully into one of the disabled spaces that are always annoyingly free, while I circle endlessly for a space, post appointment. The doctor on call sign doesn’t fool the Nazi wardens who patrol here with zestful malice, as long as it’s not raining, so I might have to lift one of those Blue Disabled parking badges if we get to another deceased estate property before the distant relatives have stripped it.
‘Morning.’ Calls a familiar voice as I step gingerly onto the glistening tarmac, having found a free bay and placed the legitimate taxable-benefit permit in the window. I look up to see the disillusioned banker with the dodgy hips, parked opposite me. Great, now I’ll have to talk to him all the way across the park and on to the office. His job title is only one letter swap away from the truth….
‘Slippery.’ Says the banker as he shuffles towards me and I hope for some black ice and a tumble. The new implant can’t be that well bedded in yet, so a dislocation and a trip to A & E can only be a misplaced foot away.
‘Don’t know why they can’t put salt on the surface.’ I say to the banker, as we slip-slide in some ghastly approximation of Dancing On Ice, towards the exit.
‘Cutbacks.’ He answers, spreading his hands for balance like a cheap tightrope-walker. ‘Same at the bank nowadays, bean counters looking to cut corners, irrespective of the consequences.’
He has a point, my boss is a figure-fiddler par-excellence and to think we used to pinch the sandwiches from that geeky kid who excelled at maths, each school lunchtime. Last I heard he was running some multinational outfit who specialise in buy-ins and turnarounds. Shorthand for asset-stripping, a shed load of redundancies and a pension pot deficit.
Our musings on middle-aged underachievement are cut short by a pitiful scream and a dull thud. We spin in unison and I make an unseemly grab at the banker's sleeve as my inappropriate brogues, with the leather soles, momentarily betray me. We steady each other like a pair of over-sized fawns on a frozen lake, to see another old person has taken a tumble.
We get several fallers a year outside the office and I always give out cups of tea and the meagre dressing our impoverished First Aid box will allow us to stock, now the health and safety bitches from head office have removed all the drugs and the scissors. I look at it as more of an investment than compassion that might alter the public perception of estate agents. If they croak in the ambulance, the family might find my business card in a handbag and give me the probate sale.
‘Are you alright?’ Asks the banker pointlessly, as we approach the old lady whose head is already bleeding alarmingly. She has a crimson stain spreading through her blue rinse and we can see her thermal underwear, with her legs at such an an ungainly angle. I’m no paramedic, but I’m guessing not.
‘I don’t want to get old.’ Says the banker wistfully, once the ambulance has gone and we resume our journey. It’s the same comment I get several times a week from ancient people contemplating selling the family home for something more manageable, with emergency pull cords in the bathroom. Pointing out the alternative is much less palatable, is always futile.
The park is as treacherous as the car park and I wonder why the council can’t supply those children’s Penguins, you see on ice rinks for stability, as people slide towards work. Probably spent the budget on a drop in centre for trans-gender giraffes with height issues.
‘You’re late.’ Taunts assistant manager T, at the office before me for once.
I let it slide.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
I’m early to the office again. Sleep patterns seem to become more erratic with age, either that or the stress of ever-climbing sales targets finally upset the bio-rhythms.
‘Morning.’ Says the man sweeping up the takeaway detritus from the previous night’s leisure activities. He just beats two overfed pigeons to the remains of a Kentucky Fried Chicken box. Not sure if that would qualify as some sort of avian cannibalism, but as the mad bag lady who keeps feeding them doesn’t seem to grasp, pigeons are basically flying rats.
‘Busy night again.’ I say to the street cleaner, nodding at the collection of franchised food outlet boxes, he is retrieving. I used to be a punk rocker, and railed agains society for a while, until I needed somewhere to live and a mortgage offer. But the sort of scumbags who can’t even be bothered to find a bin to dispose of their unwanted artery-clogging foodstuff, bring out the angry from middle-England man in me. Obviously, I would never buy the Daily Mail though…
‘They’re a bunch of animals.’ Says the unshaven council employee, with vigour. He’s technically accurate: pig, chicken and a beefy-looking kebab carcass, all in plain sight. The vegetarian take-away doesn’t open late, clearly when you get the boozed-up munchies you want something that used to have a heartbeat to satiate yourself. In any case, the veggies always use the bins, or take their containers home with them. You could almost forgive Linda McCartney for singing on Band On The Run.…
‘What’s the country coming to?’ I ask rhetorically, hoping to move on and get the office opened and the post too.
‘I’d shoot the bastards.’ Suggests the cleaner vehemently. Little extreme. I’m sensing a Brexiteer with a dislike of foreigners and their food. Next time I’ll not engage in platitudes and walk straight past him, like most commuters do. If he dislikes me, I’ll just show him a business card. Nobody loves an estate agent.
‘You are going to have to move mate.’ I say to the prone figure, swathed in cardboard who is slumped in the office doorway.
‘I’m homeless pal, have a heart.’ Pleads the whiskery man, a waft of cheap alcohol rising from him like cider-laced steam.
‘Sorry, I need to open up the office.’ I tell the vagrant, patience thinner than a supermodel. I sometimes toy with putting some of those anti-tramp spikes in the doorway to solve the rough sleeper problem, but my industry’s image is already poor enough and knowing my luck I’d just impale one of our elderly clients. They hang around the office long enough, without being stuck in the doorway, pinned to the floor and shuffling unsuccessfully like an crumbly extra from The Walking Dead.
‘You lot are part of the problem.’ Says the man, as I finally get him to gather up his meagre belongings and shamble towards one of the charity shop doorways. They won’t open for a while and it’s an amusing test of their benevolence to see if they’ll move him on.
We’re not part of the problem actually, I think, as I pick up the post and feel a stinging pain run down my leg. F**k, bend your knees you idiot. How many times do you need to be told?
‘We just reflect the market.’ I say to the empty office, my voice bouncing round the void. The talking to myself is becoming an issue. ‘It’s supply, demand and the availability of finance.’ I continue, as I fill the kettle and line up everyone’s mug. I’m probably the biggest one. I don’t know why I’m still here, and I don’t know what to do about it.
Glancing at the office diary, my mood sinks a little further. Selling isn’t for the faint-hearted. You need the resilience of any rough sleeper, you just get screwed over in a warmer environment.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m sat on my own, tea cooling, morning meeting notes prepared. I glance at the clock, they’re all cutting it fine today. That recurring fear that everyone will ring in sick on the same day rises.