Friday, July 13, 2018

Work Experience - Friday

‘The guy from the local comprehensive school wants to come and see you later.’ Says assistant manager T, as I re-enter the office.
‘Been hanging around the gates again?’ Asks bloated mortgage man M, with an unpleasant chuckle.
‘That’s not even funny.’ Snaps negotiator S, leaping to my defence. ‘There’s enough weirdos out there without you making tasteless jokes about them.’

S still hasn’t got over that oddball who made her uncomfortable on a viewing last week. He was probably harmless, but you can’t be too careful. We’ve lost good people before and we always know where our female staff are, and they have rigid emergency procedures for tricky situations. The blokes can just fend for themselves….

‘He doesn’t want me to do another talk on careers does he?’ I ask T, ignoring M who waddles back to his office, trouser material chaffing audibly.
‘Unlikely after the last effort.’ Says lettings’ lush B, with a laugh. ‘ How many turned up?’
‘Enough.’ I reply, grouchily.
‘Yes but how many?’
‘This really isn’t relevant.’ I say.
‘Double figures?’

The problem is people really don’t warm to estate agents and I can’’t even blame them. I don’t like 90% of my profession - or trade to be more accurate. The standard response to revealing your job, is at best a groan of derision and on one occasion for me a threat of imminent violence. Just recently I watched one of those television dating programmes and the poor girl who reluctantly revealed her role to the potential suitor, actually put her hands over her face and said, ‘please don’t hate me.’

‘No, not a careers talk this time.’ Continues T. ‘He is trying to place some year eleven pupils on work experience but each employer needs to be vetted.’
‘Year eleven?’ I ask, still bewildered.
‘You used to call them fifth-formers.’ Answers T, with a shake of his head. And I understand they’ve just changed all the grades for GCSEs. I’m a man out of time.

‘Good luck getting a green light on vetting in this place.’ Says B, nodding towards M’s office.
‘He wouldn’t molest a child.’ I say abruptly.
‘He might eat one though.’ Says T, laughing.

‘How come the grammar school never wants to place pupils in estate agents’ offices?’ Asks S.
‘Because only the comp thickos, who don’t have any qualifications think they can do your job.’ Announces M, back from his lair and possibly irked at overhearing our conversation. He never misses a chance to remind everyone he has passed quite onerous financial services exams. I voluntarily sat my estate agency exams years ago, but apart from the depth of industry knowledge it gave me, nobody has ever asked me for them.

‘Are we going to get one to play with?’ Asks trainee F, sensing a chance for someone junior to him joining us.
‘You don’t play with them.’ Chides S. ‘And you lot better not think you are having some naive girly in a short skirt to letch over.’
‘That won’t be happening. ‘ I say seriously.
‘I wouldn’t mind a young boy to boss around.’ Says B, completely undermining any feminist solidarity with S.

Stern lecture on the correct way to respect others in the workplace issued, albeit somewhat half-heartedly, I retire to my office. I’m really not sure I can be arsed with all the paperwork that comes with a work placement. And some self-entitled snowflake who balks at answering the phone or photocopying and thinks they get to drive a flash car and have the keys to homes they’ll never live in, is more than I need. Particularly if they burst in to tears at the first harsh word from a punter, like the last one.

‘Not sure it’s worth the aggravation.’ I say later, once I’ve studied the email from the school and the list of health, safety and insurance questions to be satisfied, before some delicate flower with acne and an attitude is allowed through our door.

‘Oh go on boss, it will be fun.’ Presses F.
It won’t.

‘It will give a young person valuable experience.’ Suggests S, with a warm smile.
It might.

‘You’ll probably find nobody wants to come anyway.’ Says T. ‘People really dislike us.’

They do.


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Pint-Sized Problems - Thursday

‘What are you drinking?’ Asks H, my vertically-challenged, rival manager.

We’re in the pub that sits between our two office areas’ boundaries and I’m already regretting the meeting. Hearing him crow about how well his office is doing, isn’t going to lift my mood and if he wants a therapist to unload on, I’d rather he pay for the privilege. Still, he has enquired about my alcohol requirements….

‘I’d like a pint of best.’ I tell him, wondering if I have actually misjudged the little squirt.
‘Great.’ He says, heading towards a table. ‘ I’ll have the same.’
Nope. Haven’t misjudged him at all.

‘How far off your target are you? Asks H, quaffing a surprisingly big slurp of beer for such a short-arse. He knows. We see the electronic stats every week.
‘It’s recoverable.’ I say, weakly, parroting the same line I give my, equally odious, bean-counter boss every time he asks the same question.

‘We’re at the mercy of the market, those clueless arseholes in government and the bank rate.’ Says H sweepingly.
Plus, if you have the best office location in the group, a town with full employment and hardly any crappy leasehold flats with greedy freeholders rinsing the elderly lessees it helps, I want to say.

‘And now they’ll be giving all the wastrel junkies and single mothers longer tenancy agreements and fixed rents, if the left-wing loonies get more power.’ Continues H. ‘An investor landlord will become an endangered species at this rate.’
H won’t feature on any Labour party candidate long-list, in a hurry.

‘And how do you reckon you’ll do by year end?’ I ask reluctantly, after H has blown himself out ranting about those less-fortunate than himself - except in the height department.
‘Cream it, as usual.’ Says H, with a smug grin. He was just itching to tell me what I already knew. Bastard.

‘You can’t keep talent down, no matter how may ill-advised politicians meddle with the market.’ Says H, warming to his theme and getting towards the end of his pint. I begin to hear just white noise and start wondering if he’ll put his short hand into those deep pockets and actually buy me a drink, before we head our respective ways.

H is so self-satisfied and sure of himself; born of years selling in a boom town, with high demand, a shortage of properties and decent competition, coupled with easy lending. I sometimes wish I could be shallow enough to exude such unshakable myopic believe in my own ability - but then show me a person lacking self-doubt and I’ll show you a psychopath, or a simpleton.

‘You need to get your lot on individual targets, rack up the pressure on them to sell.’ Suggests H, draining his pint and looking covetously towards the bar. If he’s left his wallet in the office again, I’ll swing for the parsimonious pigmy.

‘It’s divisive.’ I say, referring to the fact that my staff pool their commission. ‘And if you ask me, the vendors get a poorer service if nobody wants to take ownership of anything other than their own deals.’
‘Figures don’t lie.’ Responds H.
It’s your lucky location, I want to shout. But unless you have access to a jump racecourse and a good knackers’ yard, flogging dead horses isn’t a sustainable plan.

‘Maybe you’ve just been doing this too long.’ Suggests H, after he’s lectured me on the benefits of treating your staff like disposable ledger entries and discarding anyone who falters, with the ruthless efficiency of fellow midget dictators. Napoleon comes to mind.

H has a point. One I’ve pondered long into many a sleepless night. But like those old footballers, before they scrapped the maximum wage and money flooded into the top-flight game, I can’t afford to retire and I’m guessing opening a sports store, or managing a pub while running to fat, isn’t going to work.

‘Won’t stop.’ Announces H abruptly. ‘Can’t drink and drive any more.’
I’d settle for a soft drink and some words of encouragement.
‘I’ll get them next time.’ Says H, as he leaves.

He won’t.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Bittersweet Home - Wednesday

Fifty-odd weeks of the year, there’s a game I play when not actually visiting their homes, or being polite to them in the office, that works well when people-watching. Try it, if you like, I’ve not filed for a patent.

Take any outside situation, be it cafe, park, beach or just avoiding the crowds in Oxford Street and ask yourself as people walk towards you, would I talk to them on holiday? It might be an indictment of me or more likely the general public, but ninety-nine times out of one-hundred, as I search for fashion sense, self-awareness and a hint of intellect in the eyes, it’s a big fat, badly-dressed, overweight no. So when you do actually go on holiday, be prepared for quite a few dinners for two.

‘Look at the state of that.’ I  whisper to my wife, as another obese Brit in unsuitable swimwear waddles past me at the pool.
‘Shhh. You are so judgemental.’ My wife replies. ‘They might be nice once you get to know them.’
‘I have to deal with knobs all day long at work, I’m not going to start conversing with them voluntarily.’ I say. ‘Particularly when you can actually see their knob.’

What is it with old men and Speedos? If I wanted to see wrinkled willies thinly-encased in over-stretched lycra I’m sure there’s a specialist website, but I don’t - particularly when I’m trying to relax on a sun-bed and read my Kindle in direct sunlight. And don’t even start me on thongs. If you meet complete arses every day of the working week, there’s no need to ever see another one.

‘Don’t you despair of the human race?’ I ask my wife, as I wave for another ice cold daiquiri - a sort of slushy for adults that I’ve become rather fond of. Well, as you can no longer drink at lunchtime in a working week, there’s something pleasantly decadent about getting quietly pissed, then sleeping in the afternoon, knowing everyone in the office is stressed and sober.

‘You just don’t give people a chance.’ My wife responds, wearily. ‘I do, I just don’t really believe in them until they exchange contracts.’ I retort. ‘Until then they are just another wastrel, who’ll probably go back on their word.’ Maybe I’ve been selling homes for too long. Bad surveys, bad solicitors and bad karma have sucked the optimism from me.

‘I mean look at this meathead.’ I hiss, as a tubby lad with a wife-beater vest struts by, clutching one of those ridiculous e-cigarettes.
‘You don’t mind looking at his girlfriend.’ Responds my wife, tartly. Busted. But in truth just as much as I was checking out her toned bikini-body, I was actually thinking, no I won’t be talking to you on holiday, because your partner is punching above his considerable weight and you, girl, have made some bad boyfriend and tattoo choices.

‘Why do pretty girls ruin their bodies with awful inking?’ I ask as the pair walk by.
‘So you were looking at her.’ Retorts my wife.
‘Purely in an observational fashion.’   
‘What other kind of looking is there?’
She doesn’t need to know.    

‘Now that’s a outfit only an Italian can get away with.’ I say later, as we escape the heat of the pool and check out the local town. I’ve been drawn, like a moth to a flame, to look at the local real estate office, much to my wife’s chagrin. A stylish-looking man has just sauntered out of the office in question. The olive-skinned bastard looked effortlessly cool, in a linen ensemble, that on a sweaty-Saturday in the UK, would resemble a rumpled dish-cloth after four fruitless viewings with time-wasters from Tewksbury, who will, only put their house on the market once they find something. ‘Ours will sell really easily, you see.’ No. I don’t.

‘Have you seen the piss-poor photos these Italians take, and where are the EPC ratings?’ I ask as I look in the dull window display with far less flamboyance than the just-departed agent.
‘You are ready to go home, aren’t you?’ Asks my wife.



Friday, June 01, 2018

Time Machine - Friday

‘I’m cleaning you now, is ok?’ Enquires a heavily-accented female voice.

Startled, I look up from my desktop screen. The early-thirties, almost pretty, lady in a pink-tabard looks back at me with a cautious smile. It’s one of the contract cleaners. I probably know her name as she’s a vaguely familiar face, in a seemingly endless round of eastern European women who have access to the office, since my bean-counter boss fired the reliable old lady who used to clean and took on some cut-rate cowboys.

‘What time is it?’ I say, without thinking. It’s on the clock on my wall, my silenced phone on the desk and my computer screen, so I’m guessing Lena, or perhaps Sofia, or for an outside bet, Zuzanna thinks I’m a bit of an idiot.

The cleaner smiles and points at my wall clock. Maybe her English doesn’t stretch to quarter-past seven, or maybe she’s on a different time zone at home. Either way I’m late for supper and in a whole heap of trouble.

‘I’m sorry.’ I say with a sheepish grin. ‘Busy day, lots of paperwork.’ I point at my screen, which is where most of the paperwork resides these days, while Sofia, I’m pretty sure it’s Sofia, looks in my almost empty bin and turns her head sideways.
‘Virtual paperwork.’ I say by way of explanation, but now he’s just looking worried. She thinks I’m a weirdo.

‘Maybe start in the main office, first.’ I say pointing to the darkened expanse outside my window, all the desks clear apart from trainee F’s workspace. I’ll genuinely throttle him, if he keeps forgetting to clear his desk before leaving. People look through our office window 24/7 and they want to see attractive, affordable housing. They obviously won’t see much of that, but I’d rather they didn’t see a pile of files, a stained tea mug and a half-eaten sandwich from Subway.

‘Damn it.’ I say to the ceiling tiles, as I look at my phone to see three missed calls from my wife and an urgently-winking WhatsApp logo. Seems she’s eaten her supper and what’s left for me, will be in a choice of the oven, the fridge, or the swing-bin.

I’d been so engrossed in the latest profit and loss account that time had just slipped away and now like some poor man’s Doctor Who, I’d rather like to travel back a bit and start again - obviously I’d not regenerate as a woman, that would just be odd….

Rather than risk a full-blown argument by actually ringing home, I send an apologetic message via the family group, then realise, too late, that both my sons will also realise I’m an uncaring office slave, who doesn’t think enough about his wife. Then the phone rings.

Like some hopeless junkie, I try to resist the pull, not least because it might actually be my wife. But anyone in sales will tell you, a ringing phone is like a raging itch. You just have to scratch it.
Corporate greeting parroted, relief that it was a time-waster not my wife, is fleeting. I give the enquirer the information they want, then start to gather my things.

‘Always busy, no?’ Says the cleaner, looking up from emptying F’s bin, as I move into the main office.
Not always productively, I think, before answering in the affirmative. Out of the corner of my eye, I’ve noticed fat finance man M’s office light is still on. He’s nowhere to be seen, but as I go to switch off the fuel-during bulb, I have a vague recollection of the obese oaf waddling awards the gents’ toilets earlier, magazine under his arm.

‘Last man doing business today?’ Asks the woman, a waft of cheap perfume and stale sweat accompanying her question. I look towards the toilets at the back of the office. Possibly not. If M is still in there, straining to unload a week’s worth of compacted takeaways, she’s in for an unpleasant surprise. 

I decide to risk it and head for the exit, with a cheery goodbye.

Seems I’m not the only one with a shitty job.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Price Is Wrong - Tuesday

Please don’t say it.

‘The thing is, we can’t afford to reduce our price, it’s so much more expensive where we want to move to.’
‘I appreciate that.’ I say cautiously. You work hard enough to win instructions to sell from vendors, so you don’t want to lose them before you’ve earned a penny - unless you are an on-line outfit, who take the money up front and couldn’t care less afterwards…

‘We need every last pound, or we’ll never get something as nice as our house.’ Says the wife, waving her hand round the dated lounge, with a faded 1980s wall frieze that will eventually come back in fashion, if they wait long enough.

The intransigent woman has missed the irony of her comments. If it’s more expensive where they want to relocate to, you are not going to get the same property, for the same money. Are you?

Please don’t say it.

‘What we’d really like to do.’  Begins the husband - please don’t say that either - ‘Is pick our house up and move it to Surrey.’
Too late. Idiot. I should tell them, but truth is one of the first casualties of war - and property sales.

‘I expect you hear the a lot.’ Says the wife, with an apologetic shrug. Every f***ing day, madam.
‘Oh not really,’ I lie. ‘It’s an understandable sentiment.’ It’s not.
‘So why exactly is our house not selling?’ Asks the husband, frowning.

Experience tells me to tread cautiously. Telling someone they might like to clear underwear off the radiators before viewings, or spray some air freshener around to mask the stench of their flea-bitten pets, or even wash-up the debris from last nights’ takeaway, isn’t always that well received. I’m wounded already, so another casualty in this war, I can do without. But they really need some straight-shooting.

‘You remember I recommended an asking price £15,000 less than we started with?’ I venture, by way of a probe at the enemies’ defences.
‘I remember you were £20,000 lower than two of the other agents we spoke to.’ Replies the wife, icily.
Reconnoitre over,  heavy entrenched resistance ahead.

In a spirit of gentle reconciliation, I list the data I have with me. The number of viewings so far, the adverts we’ve placed in the local press, the hits from the on-line property platforms. The feedback from the viewers.

‘Yes but we just haven’t found the right person yet.’ Says the wife, doggedly.
Someone who likes water-marked whisper grey bathroom suites, a tired limed-oak kitchen with burns on the working surfaces and carpets with more stains than a tramp’s trousers?

‘You are just not bringing the right type of buyer round.’ Suggests the husband, with a hint of annoyance. One who likes to pay over-the-odds for a home that if they stay another decade without updating, could be one of those museum-piece time-capsule exhibits?

Please don’t say it.

‘We might have to consider using another agent.’ Suggests the wife, confirming my fears, but not saying that hated phrase.

Now I’m really worried. If they’ve checked our sole agency agreement, they’ll know they can give me two weeks notice and I don’t want another agent to come in and sell at the price it should have been all along.

Of course I could have refused to place their home on the market at this inflated figure, at the beginning. But I fought off several other competing agents, two of which, vastly overstated the value to try and grab the business and lock out the other agents. Old estate agency adage: If you haven’t got it, you can’t sell it.

I take a deep breath and tell them my suggested price reduction, sweetened with a fresh advertising push and some advertorial in the local free rag. I pause and pray.

Please don’t say it.

‘You must be joking.’ Says the husband.

I’m not. But please don’t say it, anyway. The wife scowls at me. Here it comes.

‘We’re not giving it away, you know.’

And there it is.



Friday, May 11, 2018

Everyone Knows My Name - Friday

‘You buying again?’ Asks the pretty barmaid who will doubtless be moving on to something more challenging before long.

We’re in the pub, for the Friday drinks session. My team, as always, a few paces behind me at the bar. Within hailing distance to confirm drink requests but out of contactless payment reach.

‘It’s sort of an end of the week tradition.’ I say, as I confirm the beverage requests and try not to stare as the barmaid heaves, alluringly, on the real ale pump, in a low-cut top.

‘Cheers boss.’ Calls out trainee F, as he necks some hideously sweet flavoured cider concoction with ice in the pint glass.
‘Yes, thanks.’ Confirms negotiator S, as she accepts her gin and tonic and appears to scowl, at the barmaid. Surely she’s not jealous, of the slight attention I’ve received? Almost, certainly not.

Buying the team a drink in the pub, is a tradition I inherited when I first started in the business, all those years ago. I keep it up, almost out of nostalgia, as nobody stays for more than a couple any longer with the drink drive laws as they are. The days when the old surveyor and our commercial agency man used to down three pints of a lunchtime, then go on to down-value a competitor’s house sale and let a tertiary-positioned shop unit to Blockbuster, have long gone.

‘Do they ever buy you one back?’ Asks the barmaid, as the others circle round a table, like Red Indians at a wagon train.
‘Not really.’ I say, with a hint of melancholy.
‘You probably put it all down on expenses and claim it back.’ Posits the girl.
‘You’ve not met my bean-counter boss.’ I say sourly.
‘Which one is he?’ She asks, nodding toward my tribe.
‘I wouldn’t be here if he was.’ I say, abruptly.

‘Got the hots for the barmaid boss?’ Asks F, when I join my staff.
‘Eugh.’ Cries S. ‘He’s old enough to be her father.’
I frown at S.
‘Anyway he’s not like that.’ She adds hurriedly.
‘They all are.’ Says lettings lush B, with feeling.
Time to change the subject.

‘Good week guys.’ I pronounce, drawing deeply on my pint and wishing I could stay all evening.
‘Make sure you say that loudly, when  the dirtbags from up the road come in.’ Says assistant manager T.
‘Yes, because they’ll be lying about the week they’ve had, at maximum volume.’ Says S.
And as if on cue, in walk the competitors, all loud suits and lairy attitude. I can feel my skin crawl.

It always amazes me when there is a furore about agents, illegally, colluding over fees in a town and forming a cartel. Every patch I’ve always worked the estate agents are at each others throats, each trying to steal the others’ business and undercut their fees. There’s not a lot of love lost.

‘Alright guys?’ Calls out the manager of our rivals. He’s a good twenty years younger than me with not a hint of grey hair. I dislike him intensely.
‘Yes.’ I answer loudly. ‘Had a cracking week, market is going crazy.’
He looks momentarily annoyed, then recovers his equilibrium.
‘Yes, we’ve smashed it again.’ He crows. ‘Surprised we’ve left any business for you lot.’

He’s a liar, whereas I have obviously just been a little creative with my market report.
‘Arsehole.’ Hisses T.
‘If they are doing that well, why do they have to keep touting our instructions and upsetting our vendors?’ Snarls S.
‘They are all arseholes.’ Says B, gloomily.
‘That lot, or men in general?’ Ask S, with a chuckle.
‘You work it out.’ Growls B, downing her wine in one hit.

I watch as the rival group all get drinks and encamp to the opposite side of the pub. At least with the on-line agents you don’t actually have to see them and chances are they won’t answer the phone….

‘Another drink anyone?’ I eventually ask, after people have been nursing almost empty glasses for an uncomfortable length of time. Suddenly people are downing fluids faster than camels at an oasis.

‘In the chair again?’ Asks the barmaid.

Yes. An orthopaedic one. 


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Social Housing - Thursday

'I'm not sure how much longer I've got.' Says loose lettings lush B, looking at me mournfully.
I nearly side-swipe a badly parked, not-so-Smart car, as I look askance at her. God is it the big C, I think grimly, as I slow the company car and ponder what platitude I can give to a washed-up sexually desperate drunk, with something terminal?

‘Have they given you a time-span?’ I finally ask weakly, thinking I’m not equipped to deal with this, despite the human resources-led courses I’ve been on teaching empathy and awareness of others, particularly vulnerable women.

‘Who?’ Asks B frowning.
‘Err, the doctors.’ I say falteringly, as a mad mother shoves her baby in a pushchair out in to the road as a way of getting a crossing. I wave the woman and child across and start to realise I’ve made another faux-pas. 

‘Why would I talk to a doctor about it?’ Says B. ‘Unless it’s to ask for more anti-depressants.’
‘When you said not much longer….’ I falter.
‘F**k no.’ Laughs B. ‘I’m not dying.’ She pauses. ‘Well maybe a little inside. I meant this bloody job. How much longer can I cope with lying scumbags and low-lifes who trash properties and get aggressive with me then expect to be re-housed by the council once they’ve wrecked one of my landlords’ homes and been evicted with eight months rent arrears?’

‘That’s a relief I thought it was something serious.’ I tell B.
‘It is serious.’ She snaps.
‘True, but we all come to hate the public in the end, it’s the few decent and honest ones we deal with that make it worth while.’ 
‘When do I get to meet them?’ She asks, voice wobbling.
‘Socially or professionally?’ 
‘Piss off.’

B has a point. You don’t often see people at their best when it comes to property transactions. Greed anger, frustration - to name but three in a toxic cocktail of emotions - come together to make the whole process fraught and confrontational.  The fact that I’m accompanying B to re-enter a trashed flat one of her clients has just gained back from two junkies, with two young children who are rumoured to now be in care, probably isn’t helping her mood.

‘Seriously though,’ continues B, leaning across, her over-short skirt riding up discomfortingly ‘I’m thinking of jacking it all in.’
The one night stands, the drinking too heavily, the quiet desperation of an internal clock ticking, whether it’s for a baby or a better job?

‘We all have days like that?’ I tell her blandly, starting to get uncomfortable with her proximity and emotional state. After much re-education from head office, the male/female relationship at work has become so potentially dangerous that I’m scared to say anything any longer for fear of offence, real or imagined. I’m just waiting for the trans-gender awareness course to drop, then I’ll have the full set.

‘Shit.’ I say recoiling back as the door opens to a pile of junk-mail, final demands and an aroma of something rotting. ‘Watch out for needles.’
‘See what I mean.’ Says B, awkwardly close behind me. She’d been too frightened to come to the flat alone and now I’m wishing I’d brought a chaperone too. If someone is going to get physically abused it’s going to be me, whether or not the tenants have broken back in and are about to try and f**k me up.

‘Its the fridge.’ I say gagging slightly as we look at the trashed kitchen, what looks like dried blood on the walls, half-eaten takeaway trays covering the surfaces and bags of broken bin-liners strewn around the cloyingly-sticky floor. ‘It’s always the fridge.’
‘How can these animals live like this?’ Asks B, suppressing a sob. ‘This is going to cost thousands to clean up, not to mention the lost rent my landlord has suffered. And we’ll be paying to keep these deadbeats in a bed and breakfast.’

‘Power is off.’ I say unnecessarily, as we edge toward the fridge and the all-pervading stench. If it’s blow-flies again I’m going to gag.

Thank god for the extra strong mints in my glove box.