Friday, November 09, 2018

Shop Until You Drop - Friday

‘Long time no see.’ Says a familiar face. I look up from my smartphone, like some vacant-eyed teenager. It’s the guy from the commercial agency, set of keys jangling. He used to be part of our organisation until it was floated off, surplus to requirements as it didn’t provide gullible mug-punters who’d sign up for over-priced insurance policies, that wouldn’t pay out.

‘How are things with you?’ I ask. It’s a knee-jerk question. I don’t really care and in any case I can see, the high street is littered with empty retail units, big commercial to let boards balanced overhead. The last time I saw this many vacant shops we were tumbling into another property crash, some folks thought could never happen. I have a long memory.

‘Pretty shit.’ Says the man with a grimace. It’s the sort of refreshing frankness you’ll never get from a residential sales operator. The crowing, acne-faced idiots, from out competitors who gather noisily in the pub every Friday night, would tell you the market is buoyant in Chernobyl if they thought you were buying.

‘Nobody committing?’ I ask unnecessarily. ‘Why would they?’ He responds bleakly. ‘Idiots in charge here and in the USA, Russians poisoning people on our high streets and we want to pretend we’re still a world super-power and can send the navy in if the natives get bolshy.’ And I thought I  was depressed…

‘Which one have you got a viewing on?’ I ask, waving my hand towards a sea of blank-glassed shopfronts.
‘Viewing? Do me a favour, it’s another lease foreclosure.’ He nods towards a unit with the landlord’s eviction notices still freshly taped to the door. I can’t do the lottery numbers but even I could have predicted another vanity-project bridle dress shop, funded by some brow-beaten husband, wasn’t going to last more than twelve months. I bet they didn’t negotiate a break-clause.

‘There’s no confidence in business.’ Continues the man, whose job I once coveted as an easier gig than dealing with home-owners. ‘If it’s not the bloody Brexit shambles it’s everybody looking at the kit in the shop then pissing off and buying it for ten-ten-percent less, on-line.’ Oops. Guilty.

‘I get more footfall in the tertiary shopping areas from rough-rough-sleepers than shoppers.’ He says flatly. ‘I reckon you lot will be selling all these places once they’ve been converted to residential flats, before long. There will be nothing left on the high street except coffee shops and….’ He hesitates.
‘Estate agents?’ I venture.

‘So are you suffering with on-line agents pinching your business?’ He asks, eventually getting round to my travails. I tell him I’m not really. It seems people have realised paying up-front for a future service isn’t exactly an inducement to peak performance. They’ve had the money and in a flat-lining market it’s the local guy with experience and knowledge who will get you moved - assuming you’ll listen to reality.

‘I’m thinking of doing something else.’ Pontificates the commercial agent. I’ve been the thinking about that for years mate and I’m still here. In a perverse way I quite relish a difficult market. In the past it culled the bad agents in a rather brutal Darwinian way, so I’m expecting the call-call-centre on-line clowns to go the way of the circus. The high street will have a few less cut-price cowboys too. The public might not like it but you can’t sell homes on the cheap, anything less then 1% of the sale price, on a no-sale-no fee, isn’t sustainable.

‘Look at this mess.’ Says the man, as we approach an empty shop with an inset porch. It was designed to give cover to shoppers escaping the rain. Now there’s the sad detritus of an absent homeless person stashed there. Cardboard laid out as a ground covering, hand-scrawled begging sign mentioning an ex-services past, and a grubby sleeping bag rolled up and stashed for later. The entrance reeks of urine.

‘We should meet up for a beer.’ Says the man, as we part.
‘We should.’

We won’t.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Chain Of Fools - Wednesday

‘Mrs Pendergast was in to see you.’ Says negotiator S, by way of a greeting.

I visibly droop - not something I usually imagine where S is involved. She smiles sweetly at me and goes to get a cup of tea. God I’ll miss her when she eventually goes on maternity leave.

‘She’s coming back.’ Calls S, over a rolling kettle.
‘What for exactly?’ I say flatly.
‘She wants to know why the chain is taking so long to get to an exchange of contracts on her house.’
‘She’s not alone.’ I call back. ‘Where’s she gone in the meantime?’
‘Retail therapy.’ Says S, plonking a freshly-brewed mug of tea in front of me. I might need something stronger.

People - the sort who engage cut-price agents - think all you need to do is list a home and prepare an internet entry to sell a property. It’s why mug-punters are prepared to listen to ill-informed, untrained “agents” who mis-lead them on price, take an up-front fee, then become more elusive than a four-leaf clover, once the bank transfer has cleared.

‘Is her husband with her?’ I ask S, as I study the bloated file belonging to Mrs Pendergast’s house sale. The hand-hand-written notes are on to their second page and the dates encompass four months of sale time.

‘No he’s at the golf club apparently.’ Says S, with a shrug.
‘So he’ll just be bad-mouthing estate agents at the 19th hole and being persuaded to cancel the sale, as they’ve obviously undersold.’
‘But they haven’t.’ Counters S, with a frown.
‘Yes, but that’s what the twats in the silly trousers will be telling him. Nobody at that golf club expects their homes to drop in value.’

‘Well I hope she rinses the old fool for plenty at the shops.’ Says S.
‘Bit sexist.’ Contributes assistant manager T, from the sidelines.
‘How’s that sexist?’ Demands S.
That’s all I need, a gender-equality argument that nobody with a penis is going to win.

‘You’re suggesting a woman is dependent on a man to pay for frivolous purchases, just because she can’t handle the fact a property transaction is a nightmare.’ Says T, ignoring my, obviously too subtle, shake of the head warning him to desist.
Just as I’m preparing for a volatile argument about embedded patriarchal prejudices and how all the people in the office who shave more than their legs, need re-orientation training from the People Division, in walks a pouty-faced Mrs Pendergast, weighed down by several designer-label bags.

‘I’ve just about had enough.’ Huffs Mrs P, as she sits at my desk and waves away the offer of a crappy instant coffee. Spent enough, more like, I think glancing at the bags. Not much change out of £500, I’m guessing. That’s a couple of months golf club fees. Mr Pendergast won’t be happy.

‘Why does it take so long?’ Pleads Mrs P, after I’ve painstakingly taken her through the extensive file notes, telling her about the stalled mortgage offer, where a self-employed buyer is having trouble producing three years of accounts, the survey in Newcastle that demanded a wall-tie inspection and the first-time buyers waiting for a Help-To-buy loan to clear.

‘Anything else?’ Demands Mrs P, frostily. I can feel it coming. There’s a local authority that will remain nameless, taking up to eight weeks to produce local searches that are virtually worthless, but need to be provided.

‘We’re nearly there.’ I soothe. We are but the incompetents elsewhere have a way to go. Regrettably some of them - lawyers and on-line cowboys - will be paid irrespective of result, I get nothing if this sale goes down. That’s why I’m still working long after Mrs Pendergast thinks my job has been done. Here it comes.

‘Only Clive has been talking to some people at the club.’
That’s his handicap, right there. 
‘And they think we may have undersold, they say the market would have gone up in the time our sale has taken.’

‘Are you saying you would pay more for the flat you’re buying?’ I ask, slightly mischievously.
‘Good God no.’

Thought not.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Catwoman - Thursday

‘Why am I coming along, boss?’ Asks trainee F, as we pull-up outside the neat, turn of the 20th century, terraced house.

‘To help measure up.’ I offer unconvincingly. Since they perfected digital tape measures by adding a laser pointer - early sonar-based efforts tended to tell you a small lounge was the size of the Albert Hall - there really is no need for someone to hold the end of a tape measure.

‘And you know it’s aways useful for more than one person in the office to have seen inside a house.’ I add hurriedly. F looks unconvinced. My statement is true but even F, with the intelligence of a cranially-challenged goldfish, senses an ulterior motive.

‘Ok, fair cop.’ I tell him as we move to leave the car. ‘They have a cat.’
F frowns at me. ‘So I’m some sort of decoy.’ He surmises, not inaccurately. ‘I just want you to keep the little hairball away from me and distract it while I get the sole agency form signed.’ I tell him.

I dislike cats with the sort of passion only a small flightless bird could muster. They like to torment me in a similar way, sensing I’m not a feline lover the selfish little flea-bags gravitate towards me like magnets. And they make me sneeze. No matter how many pills, potions, nasal sprays or liberal applications of Vics vapour rub I try before visiting a home with a cat, I’ll be wheezing and dribbling snot before I’ve sat on the sofa - the invariably hair-covered sofa.

‘I’m not a big cat man myself.’ Whines F, as we walk to the front door.
‘That’s okay.’ I quip. ‘It’s not a lion as far as I recall.’
F frowns. ‘I don’t get it boss.’
And you never will.

‘Nice to see you again.’ I fib, as I shake hands with the owner and get the first whiff of pampered pet. They’ll tell you their homes don’t smell, but trust me, I go in more properties in a week than most people will live in in a lifetime. Dogs smell worse, but cats pong too and at least a dopey labrador tends not to walk along the kitchen work surfaces five minutes after ripping the head off a fledgling sparrow.

‘Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?’ Asks the perfectly pleasant lady owner - if it wasn’t for her moggy myopia. F moves to answer in the affirmative but I manage to kick his shins sharply and answer in the negative. It would just mean sitting even longer in the fluff-filled air and sipping out of mugs the cat has probably rubbed its privates over as it patrols the kitchen drainer looking for food.

Details taken as quickly as protocol will allow we adjourn to the lounge. I look at the seating warily, it all has signs of shed fur and I’ll be filling with phlegm before my suit trousers have touched down.

‘Do you mind if I sit at the dining table?’ I suggest, hoping the hard-covered chairs will be less of a hairy allergy pit. The owner offers no objection and I direct F to sit in one of the comfy chairs while I do the paperwork. I can already feel my throat constricting, then as I try not to sniff like a cocaine-raddled Sloane, I see the ghastly creature slinking through the door. Please go for F, I think, eyes beginning to water.

‘Oh here she is, the little darling.’ Trills the woman, transformed into a cooing five year old who has just been given their first doll.
The snot-bomb looks at me with unforgiving eyes and heads straight for my lap, ignoring F completely. F**k off you ghastly bird murderer, can’t you see I hate you.

‘Oh she’s taken a liking to you.’ Says the woman, as the cat jumps firmly on to my lap and I just restrain myself for violently shoving it back down. I can feel the claws gripping through my trousers. It knows, it bloody knows.

‘Are you crying boss?’ Asks F, when we are finally back in the car.

Only in private.


Monday, September 24, 2018

Alternative Bangor - Monday

'Just a reminder, this family are a bit alternative.’ I caution T, my assistant manager.
‘Weirdos, you mean?’
‘No, just different.’ I tell him, less than convincingly.

We’re parked outside a slightly scruffy 1960s built chalet bungalow. The front garden looks unloved, I’m guessing the ageing hippy wife is going for some sort of natural Old English meadow look, but I’m also guessing the greying guy next door, fastidiously cutting his border edges, doesn’t approve. A Druid with body paint might love wildflowers with questionable medicinal properties sprouting through the crazy paving, but this guy won’t appreciate weeds self-seeding in his lawn.

‘Oh and before we go in and measure up you need to know they are a shoes-off household.'  I tell T apologetically.
‘Jesus Christ.’ Grumbles T, looking in to the car footwell. ‘I’m not sure if these socks haven’t got holes in them.’
‘Don’t worry.’ I tell him. H frowns at me, then grimaces. ‘Don’t tell me they provide those disposable paper slippers, for guests?
He’s got it.

We clamber out of the car and the grumpy gardener throws us a look of pure distaste. Two blokes in suits again. As nobody has died, he knows we’re either selling God or property. I give him a smile and he scuttles back indoors, as T picks up the briefcase, camera and digital tape-measure.

‘Anything else I should know?’ Asks T, as I open the creaky gate and head for the front door.
‘They’re vegans, so best not to mention your love of Nandos.’ I tell him.
‘Which ones are those?’ Says T. ‘The oddballs that are worse then vegetarians.’

‘Oh and the daughter is a bit alternative too.’ I tell T as I knock the door, no sign of a bell, the electrical waves probably disrupt the Ley-lines to Stonehenge.
‘Is that why you wanted me to come along?’ Says T, with a frown.
‘Pretty much.’ I admit. ‘Didn’t want to be left alone in the same room as the timid daughter.’ 
‘She wouldn’t be interested in an old man.’ Laughs T, as I put my finger to lips, detecting movement in the hall.
‘Obviously.’ I tell him. ‘But if she burst in to tears at the whiff of a man smelling slightly of McDonalds, I want a witness.’

‘Just respect their choices.’ I say softly, as a shadow appears behind the opaque glass.
‘You think they are a bunch of weird-beards ignoring several hundred thousand years of evolution and our dental pattern.’ Snipes T.
‘Not if they are paying my invoice.’ I whisper, as the door opens a timid distance, and we’re challenged for ID.

‘It’s a right dump.’ Says T softly, once we’ve done the introductions and we set about measuring up.
‘They don’t like electrical appliances.’ I tell him, wondering how we’ll sell this dusty place to potential viewers. 
‘No Television?’ Asks T.
‘No wi-fi either.’ I inform. ‘The husband thinks it interferes with his brain waves.’
‘Tin-foil hat when he goes into the shopping centre?’ Posits T, with a chuckle. Probably. 
‘Can we just come in to measure-up your bedroom?’ I ask, at the daughter’s door.
She looks at us through heavily made-up eyes, I’m hoping no animals have been used while testing the kohl, or she’ll be self-harming before teatime.

‘Suppose.’ She says flatly. The girl looks like she good do with a good meal, preferably involving protein and some dead chickens.
‘You looking forward to moving? Asks T breezily, as I l search for something to photograph that won’t deter buyers. For a moment I think she’s going to cry.
‘North Wales is lovely.’ I fib.
‘There’s no phone signal.’ Grumps the girl.
Yes, that’s why your parents are going there.

‘Did you see they had vegan soap in the cloakroom? Says T when we’re outside, sole agency form grudgingly signed. ‘Who is going to eat that?’
‘Think it’s more about animal welfare.’ I tell him unconvincingly. T shakes his head.
‘What’s that poem you quote?’ 
‘Philip Larkin - they f**k you up, your mum and dad.’
‘Spot on with that bunch of freaks.’ Concludes T.

Hard to argue.


Monday, September 03, 2018

Community Couldn't Care - Monday

'Here comes the village idiot.’ Announces assistant manager T, moving from his vigil at the office window and scuttling back to his desk.
‘Do you want to narrow it down a bit?’ Says loose lettings lush B, shaking her head.
‘Technically it’s the town nutter, rather than a village loonie.’ Adds fat finance man M, en-route to the kitchen.
‘You lot are so nasty,’ say negotiator S with a more alluring shake than B managed. ‘Most of these people are just lonely.’

S is preternaturally optimistic, an admirable trait given our profession, but it can’t last. We get far too many disappointments and setbacks to remain that upbeat for ever.

I move towards the window to see which particular loony tunes is heading towards our office. Ever since the local authority cut funding for the old unstable and lost, then called that lack of funding and compassion, care in the community, the trickle of muttering nut-jobs has become a torrent. And with all the local libraries shutting they often head for any shop or office without one of those security guards, the up-market jewellers have on the door.

‘It’s old mother Tucker.’ I say glumly. It’s not her real name obviously, but it stuck after T bestowed the moniker on the sad old crone after her third visit in a week, wanting to find a bungalow to suit her infirm husband. He’s been dead five years now, but just like the fact that she won’t find a single-storey dwelling to suit on her budget, it doesn’t seem to register.

‘What is it with these people, don’t they have homes to go to?’ Questions trainee F.
‘Only empty ones.’ Answers S, with the sort of compassion that means she can be the one to talk to Mrs Tucker for the next twenty minutes.

‘My theory remains true.’ I say, wistfully.
‘What theory is that?’ Asks M waddling back from the kitchen with a mug of tea, three sugars, and nothing for anyone else.
‘The eighty/twenty rule.’ I tell him hesitantly, starting to realise this might not go well. Even with my maths the office numbers mean some offence will be taken.

‘Eighty/twenty rule?’ Quizzes S, with a pretty pout.
‘He means eighty percent of the people you meet are idiots, charlatans or time-wasters.’ Enlightens T.
‘I’d say higher than that.’ Adds B.
‘But,’ begins F hesitantly, looking round the office. ‘Doesn’t that mean……’
‘Too small a sample to provide a reliable survey.’ I tell him hurriedly, as the door opens and in stumbles Mrs Tucker.

I know it’s sad. I know these people are damaged and chronically lonely, but if I wanted to help the community that much I’d have become a social worker. Talking to oddballs and the emotionally unstable is only an option if they have a home to sell, or rent. Failing that they can push their empty pram somewhere else. It doesn’t pay my bills. 

What? People don’t like estate agents anyway,  I’m never going to win a popularity contest.

‘So you want something with no stairs, then your husband can live and sleep on one level?’’ Says S patiently.
He won’t be living anywhere. And his only level is six foot under - or the mantelpiece depending on how they dispatched him.
‘And he likes to be able to look out at a garden.’ Adds MrsTucker, with a faraway, gummy smile.
The mantelpiece then.

‘You will post me details if something comes along, won’t you?’ Pleads the sad old woman, as S gently ushers her to the door. This is the last generation without email and internet.
‘I have your contact information.’ Answers S, slightly disingenuously. It’ll be in the bin before Mrs Tucker is through the door of our rivals.

‘Or you could ring me.’ Suggests MrsTucker hopefully. ‘Only I don’t always have my hearing aide in on account of the battery running down.’ Perfect.

‘God save us from the mentalists.’ Says T, after the old woman has gone.
‘Don’t judge, that could be you one day.’ Chides S.
‘Only if he has the operation.’ Says B, with a laugh before adding. ‘And it’s becoming very topical, you could probably get a grant.’

Man - I feel like a woman.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Happy Daze - Tuesday

I'm early and the car park is fairly empty. They’ve tried to drive commuters in cars out of town with an expensive park and ride scheme, funded by local taxpayers, but guess what? If people have cars, they want to drive them.

I tried the park and ride once, but apart from being too far out of town I then had to wait fifteen minutes for a bus that didn’t take me to where I wanted to be. It’s not as if you can have a couple of pints after work either, because the bus times are sparser still and you still have to drive home.

Back aching, brief case heavy, I pass the pay and display machine and see the price has gone up again and then see a planning notice. I always read planning notices, there’s a possible lead for future sales with every one. This one isn’t too helpful though, the local authority are giving notice of intentions to close the car park and sell it off, so some pension fund can build student flats. Not even sensibly-priced homes for first time buyers, just a dash for cash with no joined-up thinking. No wonder town centre retail is dying.

‘Hold-up there mate.’ Calls a familiar voice as I head for the park. It’s not a phrase I want to hear. At my age and dealing with annoying people every day, the last thing I need is new friends - or as in this case an old acquaintance thinking he is one. It’s the banker with the dodgy hips.

‘Thought you didn’t hear me for a moment.’ Wheezes the money-lender, as he catches me up with a lop-sided hobble. I pretended not to.
‘Long time no see.’ He says with a yellowy-toothed grin. I know he’s about my vintage and I don’t need any further demoralising reminders of the ageing process. The shaving mirror has that covered.

‘How’s tricks?’ I reply, thinking most of your deceptions have been rumbled Shylock, since the PPI miss-selling fiasco. Not to mention discredited accident sickness and redundancy policies that didn’t pay out - unless you tripped over a Smallpox sufferer and lost your job in the civil service….

‘Crap.’ Says the banker flatly. Terrific. If I wanted manic depressive I could have stayed in my car.
‘Not shifting many mortgages then?’ I ask, wishing the walk across the park away, even if it means opening the office post and finding a solicitor’s letter telling me a buyer has pulled-out and not had the balls to tell me.

‘It’s all about sales and add-on policies.’ Bemoans the banker, with a familiar diatribe. ‘It’s not the same bank I joined from school.’
Too right it isn’t bucko. You’ve shut half your outlets and I can’t find a single teller position open, when I try to pay cheques in at lunch time. Solicitors still send them and will be one of the last professions to embrace on-line banking.

‘And did I tell you my new boss is only just out of university?’ Says the man, puffy face turning florid. He did.
‘And she’s a woman.’ He adds, unnecessarily. The she prefix gave that away.
‘Better get used to that.’ I tell him. 
‘She’ll be pregnant and on maternity before long.’ Says the banker, with a look of distain. So, not his love child then.

‘All they want to do is cut costs, sell over-priced product and flog expensive accounts with monthly charges.’ Continues the banker. He’s struggling to keep up with me and doesn’t seem to have noticed I’ve picked up the pace by fifty percent.

‘I thought you were going to take redundancy and finish early?’ I say, as we swerve an early-morning beggar, with a can of super-strength lager in his hand.
‘Have a nice day anyway, gents.’ Says the rough-looking man, slurred voice heavy with sarcasm. You’ll probably have a better one I think, at least you’ll be pissed by lunchtime.

‘I reckon the whole economy could go belly-up, with all this financial uncertainty and this Brexit shambles.’ Concludes the banker, before adding. ‘Have a good day.’

It’s unlikely.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Chain Chain Chain - Tuesday

‘Mrs Waterman has been on the phone crying again.’ Says assistant manager T, when I return to the office. I sigh heavily and wonder if her husband realised the irony of his new wife being a serial-blubberer, when she took his name.

It’s not news that home moving is a stressful business, so I don’t know why I’m still surprised when the whole fractured process reduces people to tears. I just try to leave my crying until all the staff have gone home - although the office cleaner has stumbled in on a few awkward, soggy-tissue, moments….

‘What is it this time?’ I ask, shrugging off my jacket and wondering if I can spin the suit’s use out for another week before it has to go to the dry cleaner again. Nothing worse than a whiffy estate agent. It won’t win you any business if you arrive at someone’s home reeking of stale sweat and disappointment, even if their house stinks of pampered pets.

‘The first-time buyers at the bottom of the chain are pulling out.’ Answers T, with a shake of his head.
‘Does it matter, they live on the other side of the country, so we can’t help.’ Says T, wearily.
‘Probably not.’ I reply. ‘But you need to try every angle.’
‘You told her to go with the other bidder,’ says negotiator S joining the conversation. ‘It’s her fault for being greedy.’

S has a point, two very prominent ones, as it happens. When two parties were jostling for the Waterman’s home, I managed to negotiate a higher offer from both, without resorting to the unprofessional and ultimately destructive practice of revealing the other sides offer to each bidder, in a clumsy Dutch auction.

‘Give me your best offer and I’ll put it to my clients.’
‘But we need to know how much they’ve bid.’
You don’t. It’s a private treaty. And if you did, you’d only top it by a few pounds, in a spoiler bid. I’m here to get then the best possible price from the best possible bidder.
Turns out I only managed half of that equation.

‘I’d probably advise to go with the slightly lower offer, having looked at their position.’ I’d said to the Watermans.
‘You would say that wouldn’t you.’ Retorted Mr W. ‘It’s not your money.’
And it wont be yours either, if the chain of seven breaks somewhere along the protracted process, I’d thought. A chain of three, with no mortgage needed on two of the participants, was the better bet. You can tell people, but the won’t always listen when the pound signs are flashing in their head.

‘It doesn’t pay the bills by being right.’ I say to S and she looks at me gloomily.
‘People are complete f***ers.’ She replies, throwing her arms open and looking at the swear box.
An inappropriate response spools though my brain, but then I’m on to more pressing matters. How to save this deal.

Several phone calls later, I’ve discovered the first time buyers are splitting up, so short of a three hundred mile drive, some more tissues and a relationship counselling session, we’re looking for a new buyer. Needless to say the underbidder has found something else. It is worth a quick call, to try and ruin another agent’s day but I suspect the couple will tell the Waterman’s to twist. They do.

‘Why is this happening to us?’ Snuffles Mrs Waterman when I’m sat in her lounge, later.
Because you don’t listen to professional advice, I ache to say.
‘Look at the state of this place.’ She whines, waving at the removal firm's  boxes strewn everywhere. Yes, I told her not to start packing until contracts were exchanged - but once again….

‘I’m starting to think we just call the whole thing off.’ Says Mr Waterman.
Noooo, don’t do that fella.I’ve spent score of hours on this, not to mention the adverting, staff and viewing costs. You wouldn’t get this level of commitment from the on-line call-centre cowboys. They take the money up front then have no vested interest in whether you stay or go.

Late accompanied viewing tonight. Wish me luck.