Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Dog Day Afternoons - Wednesday

‘Messer alert.’ Warns assistant manager T, as he squints through the window display.
I look up from my keyboard and see a casually dressed late-middle aged couple peering hesitantly through the glass.

‘On holiday?’ Questions negotiator S, joining the conversation.
‘Who’d come here on holiday?’ Counters T. He has a point, but then we don’t know where this pair come from. I’m guessing not Syria though.

‘They look like they are lost.’ I venture. ‘Probably coming in for guidance.’
‘Don’t these people have smart phones?’ Asks T, testily. No, they don’t. And the older ones who are thinking of downsizing, until they see what developers charge for shrunken-square-footage flats, don’t even have computer.

‘Well, we’re about to find out.’ Says T, as the couple move towards the door. T clambers out of this chair and for a moment I think he’s going to grab the door, something I’ve been trying to install for years, but predictably he heads for the gents’ toilet instead. Wonderful, now it’s either S or me, as idiot trainee F is nowhere to be seen and loose lettings lush B is filing her nails and looking disinterested.

S is first to make eye contact and the newly arrived man perks up, as most do at the sight of her. The couple gravitate to S’s desk as I watch and listen, as sales people should.

‘How may I help you?’ Asks S, with an open question and devastating smile. The guy is going to need a pen and paper - unless he wants to crib from my list.
‘We want one of those maps you people hand out.’ Interjects the man’s wife, curtly. Clearly not liking her husband’s glassy-eyed stare gravitating towards S’s impressive cleavage.

Definitely old school. We stopped handing those out for free about a decade ago. Most people use Google and can navigate round the strangest town without recourse to an illegally reproduced Ordnance Survey sheet, festooned with adverts for ropey removal companies and shady solicitors. S patiently explains we don’t supply the dated cartography hand-outs any longer.

‘I’m surprised.’ Responds the woman sniffily. ‘With the amount you lot charge, you’d think you could afford it.’
Terrific, another estate agent hater. You wonder why they come in. Oh, hang on. because it’s free and they shut the local library.

S patiently probes the couple, qualifying their needs to establish whether there is any potential business from their visit. A home to sell, one to buy, lettings opportunities, even an insurance product, or a liars’ loan from fat mortgage man M, who still isn’t back from his trip to grab a quick lunch….

‘So you just want directions.’ Concludes S, without betraying her anger, in the tone.
‘A map would have been nice as well.’ Says the woman. I should register as a charity.
S writes down the necessary information and even escorts the time-wasters to the door. You never know who they’ll speak to, or when they might come back to actually do some business. We kiss a lot of frogs, in this industry.

‘Tossers?’ Asks T as he returns from the toilets, as the couple leave.
Don’t even tempt me.
‘Nothing in it for us.’ Answers B, finishing her filing in a cloud of cuticle dust. She was listening then, just not engaging.

‘Do agents still bother with handing out map folders?’ Asks S, looking pointedly at me. Well I have been here longer than some of the roads on the latest editions.
‘Think that doddery old independent does.’ Answers T, nodding up the high street towards one of our long-standing competitors. It’s a wonder he is still in business, but he dabbles in commercial lettings and earns a bit for the occasional survey.

‘He still have that old dog in the office?’ Asks T, with a scornful laugh, before adding. ‘And I don’t mean that sour-faced receptionist covered in cobwebs.’ Everyone chuckles at the image. Estate agency moves on, or dies, and there’s rumour she passed away some months ago but the owner hasn’t noticed. They don’t get a lot of footfall in their tertiary position. Having his wheezing labrador, slumped and panting in the office doesn’t exactly bark cutting edge agency, either.

Wrong direction completely.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Fashion Move To The Left - Monday

‘What in the name of God was she wearing, pyjamas?’ I ask incredulously, as a chavvy looking woman exits the office after visiting loose lettings lush B’s desk. The lady was sporting those baggy, floral patterned trousers that seem in vogue, despite only being suitable for supermodels with flawless figures.

‘Someone should call the fashion police.’ Says assistant manager T chuckling. I start to join him, then realise both B and S, my sweet-natured negotiator, are scowling at me in disapproval. Oh no, have I crossed another boundary that wasn’t there when I first started in the industry? Political correctness is more confusing than local government reorganisation, when they changed all the county borders.

‘They are quite fashionable.’ Says S, frostily, her stern look challenging me to disagree.
‘And commenting on people’s dress sense is sexist, anyway.’ Adds B in sisterly support.
I don’t think it is. I happily slag-off blokes who come in with slack tracksuit bottoms meant for exercising in, when they clearly have done nothing more strenuous than waddle to the fridge for the last six months.

‘It just wasn’t very becoming.’ I say weakly.
‘That’s sexist too.’ Continues B. I look to T for help, but he’s suddenly become very interested in his computer screen.
‘What’s sexist?’ Asks trainee F, appearing from the direction of the gents’ toilets after fifteen minutes. I make a mental note to leave if for a while, even though my bladder is firing off full-up signals.

‘He’s making comments about female customers’ clothing.’ Enlightens S, nodding towards me coldly.
‘Another shocker with a fat arse and those flowery leisure pants?’ Asks  F, perceptively, but not entirely helpfully.
‘And now you are doing it!’ Snaps S. ‘How are we going to change attitudes with neanderthals like you?’
That’s F out of the argument. He’ll be Googling neanderthals, with creative spelling choices, for the next twenty minutes.

‘I just don’t get the style, that’s all.’ I continue wearily. ‘They are not flattering and make people look like they are still in their bed-wear.’
‘It’s not for you to judge.’ Snaps B.
Just as well she doesn’t read the blog - that’s how I keep going.
‘Women can make choices without the patriarchy dictating to them how they dress.’ She continues.
I’m guessing she won’t be holidaying in Saudi Arabia this year.

I haven’t seen such a ghastly clothing style, since those terrible culottes things, that were worn in the eighties. But I feel I’m going to need to apologise again, just to ensure there’s no paperwork required by Human Resources and a re-education course to attend.

‘What are they called anyway?’ I ask, after making the necessary atonement.
‘Comfy bottoms.’ Says T with a giggle. I shut him down with a fierce frown.
‘They have lots of names.’ Answers S, ignoring T.
 Yep, and I’ve got a few.
‘But some outlets sell them as Lounge Drapes.’
Haberdashery shops and curtain makers I presume.

‘I don’t think you can call men sexist.’ Posits F, as I cringe. Really? You going down that cul-de-sac fella?
‘Why?’ Demands B angrily, ‘You are all inherently prejudiced.’
‘Well,’ continues F doggedly. ‘You can wear short skirts and sleeveless tops in a heatwave and we have to sweat our nuts off in suits and ties.’
I could point out at this juncture, that if you have actually perspired away your bollocks you might be able to wear a summer frock, but best not to open a trans-gender debate. We’ve only just enough room for two toilets as it is.

‘We’ve been oppressed for hundreds’ of years.’ Argues B, as I wish I’d never made the thoughtless comment and the phone would ring.
‘Well at least you are comfy when the air conditioning fails again.’ Chips in T, as I sense an unwanted sex war brewing. The fact is, women are more than equal in property and some of the most successful agents I’ve met have been female.

‘I read on-line that some firms allow men to come to work in cut-offs, if they are smart.’ Says F, to laughter all round.

I give him short shrift.


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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

So What Do You Do - Wednesday

To the new chiropractor-come-sports injury masseur-come-witch doctor. Like a punter at the roulette table, I know the odds are stacked against me and this time I’m not expecting free food and provocative staff in low-cut tops. It’s me who is making a tit of myself.

But that’s the thing with long term pain conditions. You’ll try anything, no matter how seemingly obscure, for the faint hope of some relief from the constant, wearing, nagging discomfort that follows you like a sadistic spectre, from morning ‘till night.

I approach the door with trepidation and a dull throbbing in my coccyx. As I walk in I’m greeted with the cool waft of air conditioning that actually works, unlike our ageing office unit that still pisses on your head, like some angry dominatrix, as soon as you heat up.

‘Hello.’ Chimes a soothing female voice and I spot a pretty twenty-something woman behind the fake timber-veneer counter. She’s slim and attractive so I know I’m not back with the NHS physiotherapist. She seemed to spend more time consuming pies than massaging thighs, when I was referred. I know the ailing health service is under pressure but a handout I could have printed from the internet and the offer of a daytime pilates class with a bunch of pongy pensioners, was never going to hit the spot.

‘How may I help you today?’ Continues the woman, standing to reveal a perfectly starched white top, of a semi official nature. The NHS biffer wore a creased nylon billowy blouse that might easily have doubled as a cheap parasol on a sunny day. I’m obviously paying through the nose for all this pleasantness, but at least she’s started well, with a open question. I give her my name - something I don’t do lightly - and appointment time.

‘So, if you could just fill out our questionnaire on your health background and doctor’s details while you wait, it would help enormously.’ Soothes the woman. Not bad, apart from the annoying habit of people under the age of thirty beginning every sentence with the word so, it’s a good start.

Half way through the form, with the scent of something resembling those joss sticks people burnt in the sixties, in my nostrils, I get to the occupation question.

‘How is my occupation relevant?’ I ask. I instantly regret it. The woman seems to quite like me. I know it’s sales too, just with more soothing music and less body odour - but as soon as she hears I’m an estate agent I’m expecting the atmosphere to become frostier than a butcher’s meat locker.

‘It helps us to understand any stress you might be under, whether you job is sedentary, and physical strains or posture issues.’ Reels of the receptionist smoothly. I’m pretty confident I tick all those boxes. So I do. Then pass her back the form, looking at my shoe laces. She scans it and I’m fairly sure I hear a sharp intake of breath, either that of their air conditioning is about to dump on me too.

‘So you’re an estate agent.’ She finally says, after an interminable silence, punctured only by the quasi red indian chanting, piping from some hidden speaker. No sign of the sperm whale, so far.
I fess up and get ready for the inevitable opprobrium, and a secret do not resuscitate style addendum being added to my notes, to forewarn the back doctor. I’m surprised.

‘I adore property.’ Gushes the woman, face coming alive. ‘I would really love to do your job.’ She continues animatedly. You wouldn’t.
‘I can’t think of anything more exciting than looking at people’s property all day long.’
‘It can be rewarding.’ I tell her neutrally. Best not to dash her hopes too much, not before her colleague gets their hands on me when I’m semi-naked and vulnerable.

Just then her phone chimes and a disembodied male voice asks her to send me in. Saved by the bell.
‘Do you need many qualifications?’ Asks the receptionist earnestly, as I hobble towards the appointed door..

No. Just open an office and get hands on.

Then the pain starts.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Help To Cry - Tuesday

‘Seen this guys?’ Questions fat finance fiddler M, as he sways into the centre of the office, waving his laptop.
There’s a long, indifferent silence. If it’s the McDonald’s website again and a Happy Meal offer for morbidly obese chubsters who blame genes, not intake, I’m not interested.

‘What is it?’ Asks negotiator S, eventually. She’s far too nice for this industry.
M spins his laptop, an action that causes the hint of an exhausted wheeze, and shows us a banner headline followed by the sort of facts and figures, interspersed by indecipherable graphs, that still make me shiver nearly forty years after my last math’s lesson.

‘Over 23,000 mortgage products to choose from currently.’ M replies, with a podgy grin. ‘That’s why you lot need to keep wheeling the confused and desperate in to me.’
‘Didn’t think you could tuck them up with endowment mortgages any more.’ Says assistant manager T, sarcastically.

M scowls at T. ‘That was along time ago,’ he says defensively. ‘And anyway products are much more sophisticated nowadays.’

‘People still don’t understand them though.’ Ventures trainee F. He’s right, but not the best advocate as he still hasn’t grasped how to work the franking machine, without clearing our complete credit balance on one mis-stamped envelope to Spain. If only I could post him somewhere….

‘What you mean,’ argues T. ‘Is there are more ways to confuse vulnerable borrowers and flog them insurance policies they don’t need, that won’t pay out if they are actually terminally ill.’
‘That’s a very jaundiced view.’ Snaps back M. ‘And you might not want that repeated at the next sales managers’ meeting. Particularly with your level of introductions.’

There’s an uncomfortable silence, one I feel I need to fill. But then I’m more aligned with T, than M. I hate flogging mortgage and insurance products, I’m here to sell my clients’ homes at the best possible price. But sometimes you have to swallow your pride, particularly as individual targets leave you more exposed than a flasher on a breezy beach.

‘We are a team.’ I say, unconvincingly, as loose lettings’ lush B, totters through the door on inappropriate heels. She ignores us all and heads for the kitchen, where I hear a kettle filled with enough water for one.

‘It’s not the product range that causes young people a problem.’ Says S, with raised eyebrows in the direction of B and her solo beverage. ‘It’s the fact that people will never be able to save up enough for the deposit, if they are paying rent at the same time.’
‘Exactly.’ Agrees T. ‘And that government Help to Buy scheme was a shambles. You save, they are supposed to add to your pot and it turns out you can’t use the funds for the 10% deposit. It’s a joke’

T is spot on. The hastily launched proposals, like most Government plans for UK housing in the last two decades, were clumsy and without detail. But as ever, by the time the schemes were called in to question, the clowns who launched them were long gone and lunching in the city on a lucrative consultancy deal, with a featherbedded pension. Come the revolution….

‘All you need to worry about is getting them in front of me.’ Says M, with a queasy smile. ‘I can do the rest.’
‘Yeh, but I’m nor sure I’d want any friend of mine taking on a thirty-five year mortgage.’ Counters T.
‘Or my granny being coerced into an equity release plan on her house.’ Adds S.
‘Yes, but I’d like my own flat with an en-suite and a gym in the basement.’ Says F, with a glassy-eyed stare.
‘That’s more like the attitude we need.’ Concludes M triumphantly.

‘They not need any financial advice?’ Quizzes M, later.
I’ve just seen new clients to the door. They’ve verified my draft particulars, signed up on a sole agency, entrusted me with the sale of their home and I really want them to do well. I don’t want them hurriedly stitched up, they can go to A & E on a Saturday night for that.

‘Got their own financial advisor.’ I tell M, fingers crossed under the desk.

A man needs some integrity.


Monday, August 15, 2016

Back On The Road Again - Monday

‘You off to the back quack?’ Asks assistant manager T, as I walk towards the office door without a briefcase, or clipboard. I made the mistake of telling him I was trying, one more time, to see if another in a procession of charlatans offering a “free” first consultation, could ease the pain.

I’ve had more pins stuck in me than a self-harming Goth. Seen chiropractors, osteopaths, sports injury therapists and a host of other alternative healers in between. If I have to listen to any more whale music while a vegan with scented lube violates me, I might just completely flip - and I don’t mean roll over while someone approaches me with a hose and stirrup pump. I drew the line at colonic irrigation. I get enough shit in this job as it is.

‘This the jokers offering a visit at no cost?’ Queries fat mortgage man M. See, it’s round the office faster than flu.
‘It is.’ I tell him curtly.
‘You know nothing is free don’t you.’ State M rhetorically.
‘Apart from our no obligation valuations.’ Chips in negotiator S, with a winning smile. I wonder, fleetingly, what she could do with some jasmine-smelling petroleum jelly.

I do know nothing is for free. Everything has a price - even if it’s those bastards in London Road who went with the opposition agent at £50,000 more than I recommended. They shouldn’t start packing any time soon.

‘I know.’ I tell M, looking at the office clock and calculating how long I’ll need to hobble to the Body Treatment shop. I don’t want to sit there too long before my appointment. Once you’ve heard one Minky singing an aquatic lullaby you’ve pretty much heard them all, and the sad selection of tree-hugging magazines in the waiting room are greener than a curly kale smoothie and just as sick-making.

The format doesn’t change, but still they hook in the gullible and desperate - I like to think I’m firmly in the latter category, but who really knows? An initial consultation, that wastes two-thirds of your freebie, listing ailments, aches, pains, medical history, then the inevitable disclaimer that obviates all responsibility should the wheat-free practitioner insert something into a cavity, that won’t come out again.

Then like a high-class prostitute heavy on the tease and light with the hands on, they just get you half-naked and settled, full of expectation against past experience, and it’s time to stop. Needless to say they’ll need you to come again. Next time at full price. And of course it will take several sessions before they can fully ease your pain. Sucker.

‘How long did you last with the last lot?’ Asks M, with a wobbly-chinned chuckle.
‘About three hundred pounds worth.’ I tell him ruefully.
‘Why did you stop?’ Asks S gently.
‘Because he was getting shafted with none of the best bits.’ Speculates T, with a laugh.

T has a point. You seemingly get a vertebrae-clicking law of diminishing returns with alternative back cures. After a while it’s the same plodding procedure with the hands-on healer urging you to relax when your body, forewarned after the first sudden downward pressure, tenses like a virgin on their wedding night. Then it’s all soreness and regrets.

‘It wasn’t only that.’ I tell my audience. ‘They just seem to run out of ideas. A lot of them seem like one trick ponies.’
‘They do animals there too?’ Asks trainee F, wide-eyed and idiotic.
Someone is being taken for a ride.

‘Was that the bloke that kept asking you about the property market?’ Asks T, grinning.
I nod. The last thing you need when down to your boxer shorts and vulnerable, is having to tell some angsty failed veterinary candidate he’ll never be able to afford to buy his own home, as a self-employed muscle manipulator with a massive student loan. Painful.

‘Perhaps it will help this time.’ Suggests S as I check the clock and start to leave.
Almost certainly not. But in life, as in sales, you have to persevere.

I’ll be back for more.


Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Bedtime Blues - Wednesday

I'm looking at the bedside clock again and it doesn’t seem to have moved from the last five times I’ve rolled over, hoping it might be morning.

I’m contemplating a trip to the bathroom just to break the pattern of tossing and turning and to let the covers cool, but I’m conscious of not waking my wife. Although her steady breathing is starting to become mildly irritating after I’ve huffed and puffed, searching for the comfort of dreamless sleep, for the last two hours.

They say moving house is the third most stressful life event, after death and divorce. I’m beginning to wonder if living those three crisis points, albeit vicariously through third parties’ fractious house sales, is taking its collective toll? I can’t remember the last time I had a blissful, undisturbed night’s sleep.

As my stomach churns and my sciatic nerve throbs, I try to chase some unhealthy anger against a solicitor who is holding up a protracted chain I’ve been fretting over for six weeks, from my mind. I’m betting the virtual call-centre, on-line agents, with their cheap fees and even cheaper service don’t suffer so many disturbed nights.

And now the bladder alarm has gone off, a good three hours before the actual bedside clock is due to pipe inane local radio into my head, doubtless about ten minutes after I finally fall into an exhausted sleep.

‘What time is it?’ Mumbles my wife, as I hobble towards the en-suite, obviously not as mouse-like as intended.
‘Go back to sleep.’ I urge her. No point in two of us being grumpy for the rest of the day. Some rest-deprived area of my mind imagines the solicitor’s grinning features at the bottom of the darkened toilet bowl, as I try to urinate quietly. I don’t actually know the dilatory fool; he’s faceless and not exactly taking the piss - although with the speed he dispatches half-formed sales’ contracts, he actually is….

After a bit of fuzzy-headed confusion and a hint of some collateral splash damage on the floor, I push what I think is the short-flush button. The bowl empties like the Hoover Dam’s sluice gates opening. Not the economy, water-saving bowl evacuation then. That won’t please my wife, or the environmentalists who foisted the hapless Energy Performance Certificates on everyone who wants to sell their home.

Half way back to bed, hands still dripping as I couldn’t find a towel without putting on the light and sending the extractor fan in to full Rolls Royce jet engines spooling up to maximum thrust mode, I halt. Perhaps I won’t be able to shake the problem sale from my head by just clambering back under the over-heated duvet? Particularly as another difficult deal has crept into my consciousness. I decide to do what Englishmen the world over have done for decades, when a problem won’t go away. Make a cup of tea.

Brew cooling alongside me, I tap at my computer keyboard as dawn rises apologetically in the east. Soft light creeping through the curtains as a pre-cursor to what might be another dark day. Not for the first time I curse that inept careers advisor at school. That and my casual approach to studying anything other than the unobtainable girl who sat in front of me in class. I wonder where she is now. I sometimes ponder if I’ll get her matrimonial home to sell, in the inevitable divorce.

As the room brightens further and I send an inane tweet to anyone who is stupid enough to be awake and wanting UK property news, I start to feel sleepy. Thank you God.

Slipping quietly back into, the now soothingly cool covers I close my eyes.
‘Could you make any more noise?’ Asks a cranky voice, hardly brimming with human kindness. Not that quietly then.
‘Go back to sleep.’ I urge her, again. And annoyingly she does, Steady breathing returning in seconds. That’s night-time feeding two children in their infancy for you. 

Just as I pass a hopeful note to the girl in the desk ahead of me, a nasally intrusive voice announces:
‘It’s Wednesday morning and here’s Taylor Swift.’

Shake It Off.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Running And Scared - Monday

‘That’s not good.’ I announce to the office, as I study my Estates Gazette, the publication aimed at property professionals more than common estate agents.  I still read it though, as the company pay the subscription, set up and forgotten after a long-gone chartered surveyor, was once based here.

Nobody says anything, so I cough conspicuously.
‘What is it then?’ Asks assistant manager T languidly. I’m guessing I’ve interrupted his social media monitoring rather than a diligent attempt to progress one of his long-standing sales.
‘Surveyor getting sued for a dodgy valuation.’ I tell the assembled office. B our loose lettings lush, looks up briefly then starts filing her nails again. It’s marginally better than running them down a blackboard, but only just.

‘Is that bad?’ Asks trainee F. ‘I thought you hated all surveyors.’
‘Not hate.’ I counter.
‘Dislike then.’ Offers T.
‘Distrust?’ Contributes negotiator S with one of her beguiling smiles.
‘They are sale wreckers.’ Spits obese finance fiddler M, as he waddles past.

It’s more complex than that. Surveyors have a tough time of it too. When I first entered the industry, pre-internet and coloured photos on sales particulars, a surveyor was a much respected professional. Most partnerships required you to be qualified to enter the firm, and legions of minor public school under-performers would become  Chartered Surveyors as they were too dim for medicine or law. Before long they were taking extend lunch hours, learning golf and doing surveys nobody took any notice off.

Those who qualified too late to enjoy the instant millionaire sell-offs of small partnerships to banks, building societies and insurance companies, began to work for their money. When valuations were wrong in a rising market nobody cared or noticed, but when values fell, lenders cut up rough to find the tertiary development they’d lent millions on to a dodgy developer, was worth less than half the loan, once the borrower hand gone bust. That’s when the lawyers, who use to bully the surveyors at school, really started to bugger them…

‘Are they sale wreckers?’ Asks F, still doggedly trying to learn despite the fact I’ve covered this ground before. There must be retarded goldfish with better retention skills than him.
‘They just cover their arses most of the time.’ I answer. ‘If they knock the agreed sale price by 10% some of them seem to think it will stop them getting sued retrospectively if the market goes belly-up.’
‘Like I said, sale wreckers.’ Concludes M smugly.

‘Give us the gist.’ Says T, waving at the periodical in front of me.
I relay the familiar tale. Big loan from unheard of city lender on an ambitious build project where the developer has pinned his business plan on ever rising values, not built-in value. As often the case, the figures don’t add up, builder wants more money and someone looks again at the original valuation and finds the cupboard is bare. End result, lawyers laughing, surveyor crapping himself in court. 

‘So they’ll be even more scared of their shadows when they value any of our sales.’ Predicts T with a sneer.
‘And we’ll have buyers unable to complete, or trying to re-negotiate the price.’ Adds S, with a frown.
‘And big PI problems.’ I add.
I see F frowning at me again. Granted I hate it when people use unknown industry acronyms, but I have told him before.

‘I’m not referring to Magnum, when I say PI.’ I tell F wearily.
The whole office looks at me blankly. M has disappeared so sadly nobody else is likely to remember Tom Selleck’s finest hour - or moustache.
‘You don’t mean the ice cream do you?’ Ventures F hesitantly.
God I feel old some days.

Professional Indemnity Insurance (PI) explained to an increasingly disinterested audience, I look to move on. Then I see Bomber, our own local sales destroyer, striding across the road towards the office door.

‘Tell me that dickhead isn’t valuing one of our deals.’ I plead, as everyone else spots the harbinger of doom.
‘Oops, I forgot to tell you.’ Admits F, face reddening.

You don’t need to be a detective to guess what happens next.