Thursday, November 26, 2015

Train To Nowhere - Thursday

‘Have you seen the latest?’ Challenges assistant manager T grumpily, before I’ve even closed the office door.

The choices are limitless in this business, where setbacks and disappointments are as regular as a new David Beckham tattoo. I walk towards the message book and scan the content as T looks at me, fingers drumming annoyingly, on his desk. There’s nothing untoward amongst the list, other than a few callbacks and a survey to chase. I’m guessing it’s an internal issue.

‘Go on then.’ I prompt  T, less than enthusiastically. I notice negotiator S has stopped what she was doing and is paying attention. Trainee F is also looking at me - he probably wasn’t doing anything useful anyway.

‘More f***ing red tape.’ Snarls T. Clicking on his computer screen and spinning it towards me. I can see a long annotated memo from head office. With the schoolboy graphics and lengthy content I’m guessing it’s from Human Resources, or that limp-wristed waster in the training department. The well-worn adage: Those that can’t sell, train - could have been written for him

‘Give me a prĂ©cis.’ I tell T, realising as I say it that he almost certainly hasn’t read to the end of the missive. T looks at his shoes.
‘Anybody?’ I plead.
F screws up his face and ventures. ‘When you say pray-see, err, what exactly do you mean?’
Before I hit him - something Human Resources would certainly write extensively about - S comes to my rescue. Not for the first time.

‘It’s a new on-line training programme we all have to complete.’ She say with an apologetic shrug. S knows how I feel about these cringe-making multiple choice exercises, designed for the lowest common denominator. Ostensibly to increase knowledge bases and to inform students of the latest legislation - but in practice to cover arses and to save money.

‘I don’t like exams.’ Says F glumly. I still don’t know what his mother and various stepfathers paid all that money in private education fess for.  I guess it was just to get him out of the house. You can tell a boarding school boy at twenty paces - they have more hangups than a call centre worker.

‘What are they trying to cover?’ I enquire.
‘That fat woman’s arse, in HR.’ Says T bluntly.
‘You can’t say that, it’s sexist.’ Challenges S. 
They all look at me. I can’t even remember which box I ticked on that course.
‘Well?’ Urges S.
‘It is quite lardy.’ I say tentatively. There’s an awkward moment, then S laughs.
Dodged another bullet.

‘Who writes this shite?” Says T after S has given us a run down on what we’ll have to endure, under classroom conditions. It’s basically more due-diligence to ensure when someone falls foul of Government Money Laundering rules, or Immigration Checks, the company will have a fall guy to blame. The course looks like it’s been compiled by a primary school child with a basic PowerPoint programme and just the free included graphics to choose from.

They’ve paid thousand of pounds for some outside consultancy to produce this dross.’ I speculate angrily. Calling in management consultants to do the job you are already paid to do, is a booming industry. It’s the biggest con-trick since we convinced millions, in the nineties, that an endowment policy would pay off their mortgage.

If it’s not the Government abdicating responsibility for criminals and illegal immigrants then expecting us to be unpaid police and tax collectors, it’s head office freeloaders paying an outside agency to do their job. I could write a book about it…

‘When they say classroom conditions….’ Begins F tentatively.
‘They mean you can’t cheat by looking at someone else's paper, or getting the boy in the next bed to your’s in the dormitory, to do the exam in return for a dip in your tuck box.’ Says T brutally.

‘I always did all my own exams.’ Snaps back F moodily.
He’s not lying, I’ve seen his CV. It’s why he’s an estate agent - the last resort for in-bred idiots educated beyond their ability. And still no proper entry qualifications. Unless you count on-line tick-box bollocks.

I don’t.


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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Deaf And Dumb - Tuesday

‘What’s that going to be worth?’ Asks trainee F, after I’ve booked a valuation on a dated block of flats, slap bang alongside a busy road. It’s a good question, one assistant manager T answers for me.
‘A figure the owners won’t want to accept.’ He predicts, with a sneer.

T has a point. All property will sell, no matter how poor the condition, or location. It’s just down to the price. I’m pretty sure the elderly owners of the second floor flat, with no lift, are going to be in denial about the fact their home has an en-suite dual carriageway.

‘I wouldn’t live there.’ Says T Pointedly. ‘You couldn’t hear yourself think if you had the windows open, not to mention the diesel fumes. Ah, the great diesel con. We were all persuaded to buy an oil-burner, then the government ripped you off with excessive fuel prices and all the while you were poisoning school children and pensioners.

‘I would.’ Says F. ‘I’d live there. You could walk into town. And it’s close to the pubs and bus routes.’
‘It’s close to bus routes all right.’ Says T. ‘The whole top deck of the number 11 can see you squatting on the toilet, as it goes past your bathroom window.’
‘Yes but for the right price.’ Persist F.
‘They won’t listen.’ Argues T. ‘That sort won’t accept traffic noise is an issue.’

He has a point. But then when the elderly couple bought their flat the elevated section of road probably wasn’t there. Doubtless they will be half deaf, with those matching hearing aides that whistle wildly, like electric guitars too close to an over-cranked amplifier, if they put their heads close together.

‘What are they hoping to do?’ Asks negotiator S. It’s a great question, one I want asked before any valuation. Motivation is a powerful factor in driving a move and in instilling realism. If you can’t manage the stairs any longer, or want to escape an abusive relationship, it’s surprising how much more amenable to financial reality some people become.

‘Why do the communal areas always smell of boiled cabbage?’ Asks F later. I’ve managed to park the company car in the limited space available, ignoring the dire warning of cowboy clampers patrolling the site. I’m relying on my trusty Doctor On Call badge - nobody likes a deceased GP but it was hanging around the dead doc’s house and the beneficiaries just wanted everything cleared…

‘It’s just bad ventilation.’ I tell F, as I eye the steep and gloomy concrete stairs and realise it will be a hard sell on any viewings. That’s if I can shout loud enough over the constant traffic noise still intruding, despite the fact I firmly shut both the inner and outer, heavy communal doors.

Every home has it’s own unique smell. Most pet owners will be doggedly unaware of it. But it’s there, just think of the aroma when you come back from holiday and open your front door - assuming you can get past the junk mail. Blocks of flats have an unpleasant amalgam of every homeowner’s cooking, living and animal smells. This one is no different. I just hope nobody has a pet sheep. I still have flashbacks to that particular visit - thankfully it wasn’t wearing a dress but the owner was overfond of a Dorset Horn.

‘God it’s noisy.’ Shouts F as we measure up the second bedroom. The elderly owners are busy making tea which they may demand back once I tell them what they’ll need to price at, to get a buyer with badly impaired hearing, yet fit enough to make the stairs. I’m wondering about a mail-shot to the deaf school?

I glance out at the constant stream of traffic buzzing by. Despite some ancient looking secondary glazing, with the sort of insect collection that would keep David Attenborough engaged for hours lodged between the panes, I can feel my ears starting to vibrate and I’m pretty sure a filling is on the move too.

‘How much?” Shouts the husband indignantly, when I tell him my suggested asking price.

He wouldn’t hear of it.


Thursday, November 05, 2015

Enfranchise Me - Thursday

‘Fancy a valuation later?’ Asks assistant manager T as I return to the office. I’m immediately on my guard. T wouldn’t give away an easy instruction on a new property, so I’m sensing a curve ball. I sometimes wonder if pooling commission in the office is the best method. It’s less divisive and means fewer bust-ups over who won the business/sold the home, but it can benefit the lazy ones.

‘Where is it?’ I ask. T looks more sheepish than a Welsh shearer and negotiator S just looks down at her keyboard - which must be difficult with those huge breasts.

‘It’s somewhere naff, isn’t it?’ I say tersely.
‘Not exactly.’ Counters T unconvincingly.
‘Cough.’ I instruct. T tells me and I groan inwardly.

Now, you’d think any new home to sell on your books would be welcome and in general that’s true. You can’t sell it if you haven’t got it and a shortage of units to sell is the perpetual problem for most agents - until the market really turns. But T has just named a crumbling block of flats, with a short lease and a notoriously difficult absentee freeholder. Leasehold is a secondary form of tenure endured primarily by Londoners and flat owners. Only they don’t own their flats, they lease them for 99 years or more and in theory have to give them back at the end of the term.

‘You know they’ve got short leases don’t you?’ I tell, rather than ask, T.
‘Yeh, but they can use the legislation to extend.’ Counters T.
He’s right. Leasehold Reform laws offer a route for lessees to compel freeholders to extend their lease, or sell the freehold to a collective of residents, but it’s arcane, complicated and expensive. Particularly with a reluctant landlord intent on milking the building for all the income he can extract.

‘Isn’t that the block where there’s a huge hole in the sinking fund?’ Asks S. She’s right, the maintenance has been neglected and rumour has it a new flat roof is required at a six figure sum. A sum to be divided between the luckless owners.

‘And you won’t get a mortgage any more if there’s less that fifty years to run on the lease.’ Adds financial services man M, as he waddles towards the kitchen. ‘Cash buyers only.’ He adds, as I hear the kettle being filled with just enough water for one.

‘Is it even worth having on our register?’ Asks S after some protracted discussion on the inequities of leasehold and the number of rogue freeholders we’ve dealt with over the years.The shitesters who have separate building companies under a hidden ownership, that always get the overinflated maintenance work needed on the building. Not to mention the slyly written leases that have inflation-busting rises in ground rent designed to milk lessees until they are dry. And it’s usually the elderly.

‘We’re hoping to move into one of those nice new retirement flats.’ Says the ancient husband as I sit in the run-down block, later. Endearingly the old couple are holding hands and looking at me earnestly, as they perch on the saggy sofa.

Out of the frying pan into the fire, I think glumly. Assuming anyone will buy there cobwebby home, they’ll sell low and buy high at an overpriced retirement block and the extortionate maintenance charges will still be with them. I’m getting a stair lift and staying put, when my time comes.

‘I don’t understand.’ Says the wife, eyes rheumy and watering, after I’ve explained how lenders won’t advance funds until the lease on their flat is extended, or the freehold owned by the residents.
Neither do I grandma.

‘But we can’t afford to pay him any more.’ Says the husband angrily. ‘There’s already a huge bill coming for the communal boiler.’
Shit, I didn’t know that. I only just stop myself from looking at my watch - a cardinal sin. And I assume the impoverished pair don’t even know about the roof replacement.

They’ll be staying - until the undertaker comes.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Sun Damage - Wednesday

‘Who’s that wizened old crone staring in the window?’ I hiss to negotiator, S as I try not to make eye contact with the elderly lady staring past the property pictures.

S look up from her screen surreptitiously, as I walk obliquely across the office racking my brain for recognition. The woman looks familiar, but then I see an awful lot of faces and to be honest I tend to remember the brick elevations more readily than the flesh and blood ones - particularly if the wearer has more sun damage than the pyramids and is about as ancient. 

‘Isn’t that Mrs….’ Falters S. She’s struggling and she’s brilliant with names. I can barely remember my own some days.
‘Could you give me a clue?’ I whisper desperately, as I see the woman peering even more avidly through the glass. She’s going to come in. I know she is.

‘Oh you know….’ Continues S
I don’t.
‘The couple from Waterside Gardens who moved to Spain a few years ago.’
‘The Greens?’ I ask hurriedly, as the woman outside moves hesitantly towards the door.
‘Almost.’ Teases S.
‘For f•••s sake tell me.’ I growl as the mottled hand reaches for the door. The swear box is going to take another hit, but it’s worth it.
‘Black.’ Says S softly. ‘Mr and Mrs Black.’

The old lady comes in slowly. She looks like I do every quarterly award’s ceremony when that little shit H, my vertically-challenged rival branch manager, gets up on stage and waves the performance cup in my direction. Beaten.

‘Mrs Black.’ I exclaim effusively, moving over hand outstretched. ‘How lovely to see you.’
It’s not. I sold her house in Waterside Gardens against my better judgement. I wanted the commission but knew - like many - she’d tire of sunshine and sangria after a few months and want to buy her old home back for the same money she sold it for. Just rent it and get the folly out of your system old people. At least you’d have a fall back position when you become ill and realise the much-maligned NHS does have some merits - and a few more people with English as a first language. A few…

‘I wasn’t sure you’d recognise me.’ Says the old duck, falteringly.
‘Of course, I did.’ I lie, sensing S’s disapproval but not daring to catch her eye.
I’m hoping against hope Mrs Black is on a brief visit and not wanting to wind back the clock. They lose tens of thousand on ill-researched Spanish properties with dodgy drains and title, then can’t understand why the UK’s under-supplied market has moved on.

‘Mr Black not joining us today?’ I enquire jauntily and as soon as I say it, I regret it.
The old woman’s face crumbles. Shit he’s dead, I think, mind racing. Still, at least he doesn’t have to hear their old home would cost £75,000 more now. And that his widow could never afford it.

‘That was awkward wasn’t it?’ I say to S, after I’ve resorted to the communal box of tissues kept for when sales fall-through, and done my best Samaritans’ counselling session with poor old Mrs Black, before ushering her out the door.
Seems the locals didn’t speak much English, the rats were as big as cats and the plumbing wasn’t all they were used to. Oh, and of course Mr Black inconveniently died.

‘Will she be able to afford to buy here again?’ Asks S concernedly.
‘Half the size for more money.’ I predict glumly. ‘And that’s if she can ever shift a damp Costa Del Sol town house with crippling service charges and a pongy pool.’

‘Why do they do it?’ Muses S as I pass her a mug of tea I’ve made. I’m nothing if not democratic - except when it comes to leaflet drops on rainy days.
‘Grass is always greener.’ I tell S.
‘Not in Spain surely?’ She replies, with a twinkle in her eye.
‘Metaphorically speaking.’ I bat back, pleased she’s as sharp as she is - and still not pregnant.

‘Anything happening?’ Asks assistant manger T, breezing back from lunch.

Same old, same old.


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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Funding Gap - Thursday

‘Any luck?’ I ask fat finance man M, after a young couple leave his office. He still didn’t see them to the door, but unless you’re an impoverished French butcher, I still see no point in flogging a dead horse.

‘Not enough deposit saved yet.’ Bemoans M with a shake of his jowly jaws, before adding.’Makes you wish for the days when you could source a cheeky liar loan and tuck them up with an endowment policy.’

‘That’s disgraceful.’ Chides negotiator S with a pretty pout. I forget she’s so young she didn’t have to flog insurance policies, with dubious benefits to buyers, just to please corporate masters. It was about the time the line between the estate agent’s duty to the vendor became permanently blurred. I’ve worn glasses ever since.

‘You’ll follow them up though.’ I tell M pointedly. He won’t. The only time he shows any forward momentum is when there’s an unfinished packet of biscuits in the office kitchen.
‘They know where to find me.’ Counters M, heading for the aforementioned location.
Yep, and so do we.

‘Not sure I’ll ever be able to afford my own property and I spend all day selling them.’ Announces S sadly.
‘Bank of mum and dad is what you need.’ Says assistant manager T, referring to the one source of finance that will lend, without a raft of fact finding paperwork and a twenty-five year indenture.
‘Haven’t seen my dad for years.’ Answers S mournfully.
‘All the more reason to tap him up for a ten percent deposit.’ Says T jauntily. ‘Push the guilt trip buttons.’

S just shakes her head and looks achingly sad. And all these couples squabbling over the matrimonial home value, still convince themselves separation is in the children’s best interest and won’t harm them at all. It’s still harming me thirty-five years down the line.

‘Didn’t look old enough to buy anyway.’ Contributes B from her lettings’ desk. Didn’t stop her eying up the boyfriend though. I saw her. At least I was more discrete with the girlfriend.

‘You’ll buy eventually.’ I tell S with as much conviction as I can muster. It will probably take another property crash and I’m not sure I’m looking forward to my third one. But the market is cyclical - always has been.

‘Do you think prices will come down then?’ Queries S.
Hell yes. I have for some time, but then with a burgeoning influx of population fuelled by migrants, and pensioners who refuse to die at the appointed age, it may take a while yet. We could build a lot more homes of course, but planning restrictions, green belt policies and greedy landowners aren’t exactly helping things.

‘They can’t keep accelerating.’ I eventually tell S. She doesn’t look convinced.
‘More mug punters for me to let crappy converted flats to.’ Says B, unhelpfully. S scowls at her and so do I, but inwardly, B’s figures help pay my own rent and as an estate agent I don’t need extra enemies.

‘Is it just me,’ asks M, returning with a mug of coffee. ‘Or are buyers looking younger and younger?’ It’s the exact opposite actually, with the average age of a first time buyer being pushed towards middle age. I see countless overgrown children still squatting it their parents’ homes like cosy Cuckoos, but I know what M means.

‘It’s like when policemen start looking young enough to be your baby brother.’ Announces B all glassy-eyed.
‘They’re not real policemen if you just persuade them to dress up like that, for some sweets.’ Snipes S bitchily.

Before a cat fight breaks out - and rather disappointingly - the door opens and some pre-pubescent boy in an ill-fitting Next suit comes in and asks for the keys to a property we have on multi-agency, along with several of our competitors.

‘Who was that spunk bubble?’ Asks M slurping his drink loudly, after the young lad has left.
‘New trainee negotiator for that lot across the road.’ Answers S.
‘Didn’t look old enough to shave.’ Replies M.
‘I could show him something on my register.’ Says B ambiguously.

I’m really feeling my age.


Monday, October 12, 2015

If You Took A Holiday - Monday

‘You need to get up.’ Urges my wife’s voice through a sleepy fug. Now that causes some confusion to my jet-lagged brain, as I wonder what day it is and if the instruction is some encouragement for early morning action?

‘The Germans will have bagged all the sunbeds anyway.’ I tell her drowsily, once I’ve realised you only get pre-breakfasts sex, before the first wedding anniversary.

‘What are you talking about?’ Replies my wife curtly. And an unpleasant realisation hits me just as I realise there is no embryonic sunrise-warmth colour-washing the walls. Instead that inane couple from the local radio breakfast show are jabbering the usual nonsense, urging any loser with no life and a mobile phone to ring in and talk to them. Anyone.

‘We’re not on holiday any more are we?’ I state rhetorically, as I glance at the bedside clock and realise I’m late already and that it’s dark outside.
‘You can’t have forgotten the flight from hell.’ Says my wife nudging me in the direction of the en-suite, with one leg.

As I stand unsteadily and empty my bladder, something it proved hard to do on a plane journey where the sole aim of the cabin crew seemed to be to flog over-priced drinks and perfumes while blocking your route to the toilets, I realise it’s Monday. And I’m due back at work.

‘That week went too fast.’ I tell my wife, after a hasty shave where I managed to scrape off two days worth of sunbathing, then nick myself on the neck in a place where it will probably still be bleeding when my shirt collar needs to be buttoned.

‘Tell me about it.’ She says with a yawn, padding off in her dressing gown to put the kettle on. She could read the Blog, but doesn’t show much interest in truth.
‘Can I have some honey in my tea?’ I call, as I gaze in disinterest at the array of ties I’d rather not wear.
‘Diet starts today.’ Comes the reply in the negative.

That’s the problem with holidays and an all-inclusive package. You need a lot of self-restraint. I mean, if you want to dispel the convenient notion that your morbid obesity can somehow be blamed on genetics, just take a look at where the biffers head for once the breakfast buffet opens. It’s not the fresh fruit counter.

‘I’m exhausted before I start.’ I tell my wife over a soggy bowl of bran, with that opaque fully-skimmed milk I’ve avoided for the last seven days.
‘It didn’t help the holiday operators dumped us at the airport  three and a half hours before our flight.’ She reminds me.

If looks could kill, the airhead rep on the microphone, who gaily informed us as we trooped off the coach, that the queues would be extra long for check-in, would be getting gushy memorials on her Facebook page by now.

Quite apart from their woeful plumbing arrangements and a propensity to avoid paying taxes, you can see why the Greek economy is going down the pan. The charming service we enjoyed at the hotel evaporated faster than gob on a hotplate, once we entered the airport. Surly doesn’t even begin to cover it. Those grumpy security staff and sullen passport control people will empty your goodwill, faster than a Transylvanian hooker.

I’d been feeling quite upbeat after a week of limitless food and alcohol. With only one lapse, where I foolishly looked in a Greek realtor’s window. But four hours with a screaming kid two seats behind and an intransigent woman in front who kept trying to recline her seat, despite my knees being wedged so deep into the seat-back pocket I was nearly taking her up the arse with one patella, took its toll. 

‘Try to have a good day.’ Urges my wife, as I do the customary peck on the doorstep. Then I’m passing the same faces in the traffic congestion again and suddenly I’m walking towards the office. Two  more fantasies dashed - it hasn’t burnt down and the window display hadn’t changed much either.

Think I’ll go to the travel agent at lunchtime.


Friday, October 02, 2015

Mystery Dance - Friday

H my vertically-challenged, rival manager rings. It won’t be a social call. He only makes contact to gloat over his office’s superior sales figure, or because he wants something. If he’s run out of stationery again he can twist. Just because I have supplies of A4 paper, printer cartridges and compliment slips that could stock a Government Department for a year, I’m not about to help him out again. Bad enough I have to applaud every time he gets the quarterly performance cup. Apart from my dentist, he’s the only one smiling every time he gets that prize.

‘How are things?’ Asks H flatly. He couldn’t give a toss, so he needs to cut to the chase before the truant officer asks for some ID. Unless the circus is in town and he’s running away to perform with Snow White and six other short arses, H won’t be be leaving  - he’ll be taking.

‘Not too bad.’ I lie.
‘Many sales in the bin?’ Persists H unconvincingly. He’s clearly on for a bumper week. Gloating is such an appropriately small trait.
‘I’m holding my own.’ I say, thinking that’s what he’s probably doing. If I wanted telephone sex I’d dial a premium number, or at least I would if the bean counter boss hadn’t put call-barring on the office phones. Still not sure who the biggest wanker is in my office, but my money is on F the hapless trainee - although with his timekeeping he wouldn’t come early…

The silence becomes uncomfortable.
‘What is it you’re after?’ I say, cracking first. H chuckles.
‘Am I that transparent?’
Plastic tends to be.

‘The thing is,’ says H. ‘Word on the street is there’s a mystery shopper doing the rounds. I shrug and there’s another long silence, until I realise visual clues don’t work so well over the telephone.
‘So?’ I reply. I don’t get bothered unduly by mystery shoppers - individuals employed by head office to test the performance of  staff - as I hope everybody gets treated with courtesy no mater how banal their enquiry. The bitching starts once they’ve been identified as time-wasters - and once they are out of earshot.

‘So, we need to get the jungle drums beating.’ Continues H, urgently. ‘Identify the tosser and circulate their description. Get some photos if we can.’
I can understand H wanting to avoid steep steps but does he really need to cut so many corners? He sails closer to the wind then Sir Ben Ainslie, but as long as he keeps delivering top sales figures -  to continue the nascent nautical analogy - the bean counter boss, makes like Lord Nelson.

‘I’ll put the word out.’ I tell H, tiring of the conversation. He doesn’t know he’s born. Not for the first time I start fantasising that if only I had his office, with it’s superior catchment area, prime position and less than effective competitors, I could…. well… I could be a contender….

‘Make sure you ring me if they come to your office first.’ Urges H.
‘Worried about how your team will perform?’ I goad. Like a bunch of in-bred central London estate agents, his staff are fat on commission and complacency - just without the double-barrelled surnames.

‘We’re too busy to faff about with pretend applicants.’ Snaps back H. ‘If they don’t want to buy, rent or take out a policy, on to the next mug punter.’
You can see why the industry engenders so much love.

‘What makes you think we’ll spot them any more than you will?’ I ask tetchily.
‘Well your lot are…’
‘Are what?’ I snap.
‘Well you’ve got more time on your hands..’
It’s not getting any better.

‘If they get good service you’ve got nothing to worry about.’ I tell H. I may not be able to hear it, but I can feel my head banging against another wall.
‘Do you realise the number of tossers that come through my office door?’ Demands H.
Excluding staff members? I think sourly. Actually I do know, I see the weekly sales data - and that’s after H has sanitised it to make his conversion rates look better.

It’s a game, a numbers game.


Off for some late summer sun. Download the ebook and check the Twitter feed for your poolside property news fix.