Monday, February 23, 2015

Kissing Frogs - Monday

‘You’re not going to be happy.’ Suggests negotiator S as I re-enter the office, smiling at me apologetically. The choices are endless if I’m expected to guess events likely to lower my mood, where the property business is concerned.

A sale could have fallen through, a chain of buyers outside my control may have collapsed, a surveyor might have rubbished a house we have agreed a sale on, a vendor might have changed their mind and decided not to move despite a deal being agreed on their home - oh you get the picture…

‘Narrow it down then.’ I say resignedly, as I shrug off my coat and walk on auto-pilot to see what horrors are lurking in the message book.
‘We’re double booked on viewings later.’ Says S, shooting a quick glance towards F the hapless trainee. She tries to cover it, but I know straight away who the culprit is. I just don’t know the crime yet.

Now there shouldn’t be an issue with viewings being arranged, they are the seed-corn of every sale. Even if the appointment comes to nothing it ensure the homeowners know we are actively promoting their home, not just posting a listing on a property portal and sticking a poorly-framed photo in the office window. So why the problem?

S answers even before I’ve fired up a spare computer screen.
‘It’s The Richardson’s,’ she announces with a shrug. ‘They want to look at the new instruction off The Avenue. I’m sorry, only you are available to do it.’
I shoot a glance towards F, then towards the office swear box. Both cost me dearly, on a weekly basis.

‘I didn’t know who they were.’ Gabbles F, cheeks turning crimson.
The Richardson’s?’ I say, looking at S and pointedly ignoring F.
S answers in the affirmative.
‘The monumental time wasters?’ I continue, acid reflux rising.
‘Yes. sorry.’
‘The tossers who have been looking for five years?’
‘Who never put their own house on the market even though I’ve valued it four times.’
‘That’s them.’
‘Who have viewed over one hundred properties and not been happy with a single one?’
‘The very same.’ says S, turning back to her keyboard.

Now the number-crunchers - my bean-counter boss being a fully paid up figure-fiddler, included - would have you believe that no viewing is a wasted one, that every no takes you closer to a yes. That, if you hit your targets for viewings and valuations and pour enough in to the top of the sales funnel, the required results will trickle out the bottom. They’ve clearly never met Mr and Mrs Richardson.

Some people will find fault with every home they see and in the unlikely event you ever show them something they might want to buy, I can guarantee they’d want too much money for their own precious house and somebody else in a more favourable position, with more realistic expectations, would beat them to the contract.

These are the sort of irritating pedants you’ll see on one of the endless property porn television programmes that pad out the viewing schedules. The type who want to escape to the country but want to be near the shops.Who want to downsize but expect to take all their bulky furniture with them. Who want to trade up to a dearer area, but don’t expect to pay any more money.

Most folk have a list of negotiable requirements for their next home. These mind-f***ers have a screed of non-flexible, demands. Even the prissy Escape to The Country Presenter with the beard, or the chubby ex-choirboy who wishes his voice had never broken, will be driven to distraction. I suspect once the cameras stop rolling the presenters’ opinions of these freeloaders are far from cherubic.  And yet…

‘You going still, then?’ Says assistant manger T as he pulls on his coat, at the appointed viewing time. He managed to grab the simultaneous appointment. I have an elephantine memory, retribution will be served frozen.

‘You never know.’I tell him frostily.
‘That’s the spirit.’ Cajoles S, with a winning smile. ‘They might love it.’

They didn’t.


Friday, February 13, 2015

The Only Way Is Up - Friday

Back in the budget hotel car park with a lowering sense of deja vu. This time there is some sort of barrier to negotiate and draconian threats of clamping cowboys if I don’t report to reception and obtain the appropriate get out of jail card.

I note a couple of new company cars, for those producing better sales figures than my office and the mood darkens. Then, as if to compound the misery, H my vertically-challenged rival manager, sweeps in with a shiny new German motor. The urge to key it with British Leyland lives, rises briefly, until I realise that the car park is monitored by CCTV. 

I’ve imagined many ways of resigning - with varying degrees of style - but being caught red-handed scratching graffiti on a BMW’s door, championing a defunct manufacturer that built crap cars isn’t my exit of choice. But man, it’s tempting.

‘You have ticket no?’ Asks the slightly stern looking girl on reception, as I make it through the revolving doors without being spat out into the car park again. There's a deep Freudian message in there somewhere but I’m too tired and simple to find it.

‘I’m with this lot.’ I say to the receptionist, indicating the crooked Welcome board where once again they've misplaced a couple of possessive apostrophes on two of the delegations. Not that I’m in a position to complain, I still get them wrong - and still receive reprimands from grammar pedants when I do - but at least someone is reading my output. Far better than being ignored.

‘So Estate Agents, no?’ Queries the girl. The staff seem to have shifted subtly over the past twelve months. I’m sensing a move further east, to newly admitted European nations. One thing is for sure not many indigenous locals seem to work here. The probably don’t get many UKIP delegations staying.

I acknowledge my guilt in ending up in a profession roundly despised by even third world cleaning staff and the girl, with roots badly in need of more peroxide, hands me an exit ticket. If only the career one was so easily taken.

‘I like to buy in this country.’ Says the girl with a crooked smile. I just stop myself from looking pointedly at my watch. No need to be rude before she is.
‘Only,’ continues Tatiana - happy to help according to her name badge - ‘The prices are as high as the mountains, no?’

When she puts it so charmingly it would seem churlish to point out appending NO as a suffix to every sentence tends to negate the earlier statement. So I agree with her and take the proffered, date stamped, escape ticket. Then despite my smile, her mood darkens.

‘And it’s all you peoples fault, no?’ She barks like a concentration camp commandant. Terrific, I think, as I head for the elevator my denial clearly not believed. I should check the back of my jacket to see if I’m sporting some sort of motif to make me more recognisable when the book and negotiator burning starts.

So, not only do buyers and sellers not understand how the market works, I can now add vast swathes of former Russian satellite states’ immigrants, along with “property expert” television presenters and politicians. Perhaps I should learn how to work in Housekeeping instead of housing, at least the shit tends to remain in the pan - or the bed.

The lift doors swish shut behind me and I steel myself for another piss-poor Powerpoint presentation from my bean counter boss. I read somewhere that Microsoft were stopping those tacky Clip Art inserts. The bean counter will be distraught not to have that ghastly graph with the briefcase wielding drone trudging uphill endlessly. Sales is a Sisyphean task, at least I think it is. Look it up, because it’s all Greek to me…

Then I notice the lift carriage is carrying adverts for local business outlets. The cut price clowns with cheap fees and cheap suits are staring me in the face. I spend my life persuading owners that a slashed percentage charge by an estate agent could end up costing them money, but some just won’t listen.

Just hope the lift didn’t have hidden cameras.


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Monday, February 02, 2015

Charity Begins - Monday

Hurrying across the park I spot the aggressive begging group. I need a quick detour, even though I haven’t go time for the “cup of tea” they expect me to believe they’ll be buying with any cash extorted from passers by.

I’ve done the charity bike rides and the sponsored walks - even estate agents need some good publicity - but I’m starting to tire of the excessive demands for my hard-earned  income. It won’t be long before one of these be-whiskered drunks - probably the one that popular opinion has it is a woman - starts to quiz me for my bank details and expects me to sign a direct debit form.

‘Oi can see you city boy.’ Yells one of the group, gesticulating lewdly in my direction. I’m rather pleased with the boy moniker. It’s one only appended nowadays by pensioners and the chronically myopic, but the universally accepted tosser motion I can do without.

‘Yeh. How about helping the homeless you capitalist bastard!’ Screams a high-pitched voice. That’ll be the woman then, unless the cold nights sleeping in our office doorway have affected the collective testosterone. 

I continue my circuitous route around the group, offering another universally recognised sign. A wide-armed, hand wobbling gesture to convey a shortage of money. It’s not that convincing, but probably wiser then the single digit riposte I nearly deployed. The nights are dark and I still need to get to the car park every evening.

‘We knows where you work.’ Hollers a third drunk throatily. And I know where you sleep, I think sourly. I’ve swept enough human detritus into the gutter over they years - and I’m not just talking  metaphorically.

‘You alright?’ Asks negotiator S with a look of concern, as I scurry through the door.
‘Yes, just being hassled by the unlicensed bandits.’ I tell her briskly.
‘The new lettings agency?’ 
No. That’s a whole other story. I enlighten her.

‘Oh it’s not their fault.’ Says S.
 It probably is.
‘They’ve just had a few bad breaks.’ She continues, as I shrug off my coat. Try having three sales fall-through on a Friday morning, I think uncharitably. Then daytime drinking is understandable.
‘They are all scumbags.’ Insists fat mortgage man M, waddling towards his office. ‘I’m damned if I’m feeding them.’ I know, but open goals are never as satisfying.

‘Look, if I thought they’d spend it on food or even the dogs they all seem to have, I’d give them some money.’ I tell S, her look of disapproval unsettling me. M’s disdainful dismissal of the rough sleepers even made me bridle. It’s not easy fluctuating between left of centre, right of centre and completely off centre.

‘You shouldn’t help them out it just makes things worse.’ States B from her lettings desk. ‘Anyway,’ continues B. ‘You may have repossessed some of their homes, so you’ve probably done enough already.’
I don’t actually repossess them. It’s the lender with the power of the courts and a pretty scary bailiff behind them, but I’m there along with the locksmith.
‘They should get a job.’ Suggests assistant manager T, joining the conversation. ‘And maybe try living off commission if they really want something to drown their sorrows over.’ S looks at me with a frown. 

What? It’s not as if I decided to flog off all the social housing at a discount, make the planning process so labyrinthian it takes years and not build enough homes for a burgeoning population.
And I haven’t personally been responsible for impregnating females and fathering the best part of the 750,000 births per year, statisticians say the UK has. In fact, the beggar offering the wanker gesture was closer to the truth.

‘Well I won’t be renting anything to those types.’ States B firmly.
‘They need somewhere to live.’ Says S passionately.
‘Other than our office doorway.’ I add, wishing immediately I hadn’t.
S scowls at me and I shrug and walk towards the message book, change jangling in my suit pocket in a copper, zinc and nickel chiming admonishment. 

‘Can you help me with a pound for my bus fare home?’ Asks a scruffy girl as I cross the park later.

Well, what would you have done…?


Friday, January 23, 2015

Wrong Move - Friday

‘Who was in the gents’ last?’ I ask, as I stagger back into some fresh air. It’s a rhetorical question. I already know it was M the clinically obese mortgage man. God alone knows why some people wait until they get to work to carry out their morning ablutions. I’m used to getting dumped on in this business, but I’d rather it wasn’t by colleagues.

‘I think you probably know.’ Replies negotiator S with a rueful smile. She nods towards M’s office where he is hunched over his laptop staring intently. I’d like to think he’s researching the best rates for first time buyers - or even air freshener sites - but it’s probably something more grubby.

‘Oh my daze.’ Exclaims trainee F, bringing me back to the present as he holsters the phone, claps a hand to his forehead before heading to where I’ve just emerged from. Good luck with that boy, you’ll need an aqualung.

‘What’s he confused about?’ I ask S, thinking the choices are endless.
‘Confused?’ Says S, head cocked to one side alluringly.
‘Yes, he was in a daze.’ I reply, starting to get tetchy even before I begin looking at group stats and the office league table.

S suppresses a giggle. ‘No, he said Oh my days.’ She tells me with a shake of her head.
‘What does that even mean?’ I snap back, wondering just when I became such a grumpy old man?
‘It means he’s had some surprising news, or a bit of a shock.’ Enlightens S.
The clown will certainly have a shock when he enters the toilets, and M has undoubtedly been enlightened…

‘Why can’t he speak in recognisable English?’ I grizzle. ‘It’s not as if his mother didn’t waste enough money on private schooling, now he has to effect some sort of hooded-street-thug patois.’
Now S is looking at me quizzically and I belatedly realise.
‘No, I don’t mean block paving in a garden - that’s a patio for crying out loud.’
I can feel my life ebbing away.

Non-standard slang and street talk explained as patois, I move on. I don’t have time to make up for all the deficiencies of Britain’s education system - and I thought I was betrayed when Margaret Thatcher stole the milk allowance.

‘Mrs Franklin on line three.’ Announces S later. I throw my hands to the sky.
‘The flat on London Road.’ Coaches S gently.
After enough people to fill a phone book, I can remember the properties but not the surnames.

‘We really need to get some viewings.’ I announce after five minutes with my ears being bent and a further two flannelling the woman on why we’d have some viewers for her home shortly. Even as I peck at the keyboard to pull up the history of Mrs Franklin’s flat, I suspect something has gone wrong.

‘iPad!’ Exclaims F with a familiar hand to forehead gesture.
‘I’m not interested in your birthday wish list.’ I snap irritably. It’s an expensive two bedroom flat, not an overpriced tablet I’m discussing. But something about F’s demeanour alerts me to a problem, one that becomes apparent as the property record rises onto the screen in front of me. We haven’t mailed out any details of Mrs Franklin's flat. Not one.

Now it’s true internet property portals are the main channel for enquiries and also for advertising homes for sale. And it’s equally true estate agents dislike the cost of the vast search engines. For years I was overcharged by the local papers, now it’s on-line robbery rather than ink and paper pilfering. And the irony is, a group of estate agents set up and nurtured one of the most well known sites. It’s a bit like greedy relatives with power of attorney emptying their ageing relatives bank accounts before the care home costs rack up.

‘Who was supposed to action the mail out?’ I ask angrily, grimacing towards F.
‘iPad.’ Repeats F eyes downturned.
I look to S for help.
‘He said. My Bad.’ She tells me.

Apparently it means I’ve screwed up

I’m also told opticians now do hearing tests….


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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

One Lump Or Two - Wednesday

‘Got those keys you were waiting for.’ Says negotiator S even before I’ve sat down. The last two appointments have been a colossal waste of time but you need to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince, so I keep puckering up.

I ask her if it’s the lender I think it is and the less than salubrious part of town I’m expecting? She answers in the affirmative. My sigh must hit some sort of nerve, as she smiles sweetly and says.
‘Do you want a cup of tea before you go back out?’

She’ll make someone a very happy man one day, I just hope it’s not the low-life she’s currently with - or that she’s still working for me when she falls pregnant. Employment laws are great on paper but in practice - well let’s just say it’s the reason H, my vertically-challenged rival manager, doesn’t recruit women of childbearing age any longer.

I can almost hear the howls of disgust from half the population. But I’m not H, I always employ the best person for the job, irrespective of gender. In fact if she were to stay in the business, S would become a better estate agent than anyone else in the office - myself included. Sadly, I’ve lost track of the number of talented women I’ve worked with over the years whose biological clock meant an early exit from the industry. I rather envy them, apart from the pushing and screaming bit…

‘You can come with me to measure up if you like.’ I tell S as she returns with a mug of steaming tea. I make a mental note to make the next cuppa. I don’t like asking any staff member to do something I’m not prepared to do. H thinks I’m an idiot to take this view - and regrettably his sales figures tend to bear that out. I won’t change though.

‘What’s it going to be like?’ Says S warily. I have to almost physically stop myself looking at her legs. If there are fleas again, those calves and ankles are way too exposed.
‘It’s a voluntary repossession.’ I tell her, glancing at the paperwork spread before me. There’s a half ream of conditions and demands that would make sole traders think hard about taking on the onerous task for the fee involved. But we have corporate masters and group agreements to service, which is why I collect those thick rubber bands the postman drops. Secure round your trouser bottoms and it’s a long way for the little bloodsuckers to leap once they sense the warmth of a fresh human body.

‘Shite area.’ Answers assistant manager T, to S’s question. He looks a bit peeved I’ve asked her to accompany me, but she’s a lot tastier and not only to wingless jumping parasites.
‘Everyone has to live somewhere.’ Counters S feistily, before adding. ‘Of course I’d like to come.’
Got to love her left of centre politics, though she might start swinging the other way after seeing too many more spitefully trashed former homes. They do say socialism is something that can only be cured by age and financial good fortune. But for now, got to love her….

‘Why are there so many fridges and washing machines outside?’ Asks S as I weave through the narrow street we are visiting, eyes straining for the house number. I should really put my driving glasses on but they make me look like a sad, middle-aged man.

‘Since they started charging commercial vehicles at the municipal tip.’ I tell her. ‘People don’t go as often, or they dump their waste goods at the side of the nearest bit of rural road.’
‘Probably why they are all still on the pavement.’ Says S with a wry smile.

This place is far from any greenery and has yet to be gentrified. The housing stock is low grade, spec built homes, in need of love and attention. Once the skips start appearing and a delicatessen and a coffee shop opens, the area will be on the up.

‘Not sure I like it here.’ Says S as I fiddle with the door lock.
We don’t stay long.

Next time I’ll take the right keys.


Monday, January 05, 2015

Here I Am Again On My Own - Monday

Another bleak January arrives and once again I feel as if I’ve been plunged into some dystopian nightmare, peopled by scores of malicious little figure-fiddlers constantly increasing targets and cutting costs. Well, it is a General Election year…

The park looks the same as I cross it wearily. The familiar winos are stirring from their benches and the Bulgarian Big Issue seller is just ahead of me, heading for the high street. His body language is guttural at best, as he slopes towards his draughty kerbside pitch. I wonder if his boss has upped the number of units he has to flog before he gets a bonus?

I sidestep the carcass of what might have been a deep-fried Kentucky bird of some description, or a particularly skinny cannibalised-rough-sleeper, and familiarly start to feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, only without the mildly successful back catalogue and cult following.

No sign of the street cleaners yet, or the downtrodden gardeners who battle against the fast food fly-tipping while trying to maintain some colour in the borders that isn’t corporate-branded packaging. I hope they have their sharp-proof gloves on, because I spot at least three discarded syringes where you might have hoped for a winter flowering pansy.

I look up at the office fascia as I arrive outside. Terrific, one of the fluorescent tubes is flickering forlornly. The last time I tried to save some money and brought my stepladder in from home there was nearly a very nasty accident to put in the book. I should climb up myself next time, although it was almost an inventive way of getting rid of F, the hapless trainee. But the paperwork would have been endless, and there’s already a bloodstain on the pavement.

I should call the maintenance firm head office have retained but I know it will take weeks before they eventually send some bozo with English as a third language, and the wrong type of screwdriver. Then the bill, when it hits my profit and loss account, would be most unwelcome this early in the year. I need contracts to exchange and some solicitors won’t be back from the Caribbean for another fortnight.

As I punch in the alarm code and the beeping eventually falls silent, I look at the reverse of the window display. This is where the photogenic sold homes reside until the sun fades them too much - and the over-priced duff stock sits, until the owner swops agents or withdraws from the market. “We’re not giving our house away, you know.”

In the kitchen, as cold as the grave until the heating cuts in, I fill the kettle and line up the slightly stained mugs. The tub of Celebration is still open by the coffee jar and even the aptly named Polish cleaners haven’t eaten any of the mini Bounty bars.

Here we go again, I think, as I stare at the newly inked office and individual targets pinned next to the Office and Factories Act poster nobody understands, particularly the bit about Railways. There is so much legislation swirling round running a business that you can see why the board man, the leaflet dropper and the locksmith all decided not to employ anyone alongside themselves. And as the kettle rolls to the boil, it seems I might as well be a sole trader, because nobody else has arrived yet. Then the phone rings.

Five fractious minutes later I’m still alone, and minus one sale for the first week. It’s not as If I haven’t heard the words, “We can’t find anything as nice as our home so we’re withdrawing from the sale and taking it off the market,” before. But is still hurts like a knee in the groin. Every time.

Computer screen coaxed to life, I watch the emails scroll down relentlessly. It was a much gentler, kinder pace when you had to wait for the postman to deliver bad news. The bean counter boss has been busy over the holiday period, his name appears on several curt missives I’ll be depositing in the virtual waste basket.

Feel a bit rubbish.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

It's Christmas - Wednesday

‘Anything happening?’ I ask, returning to the office. The annual stumble round the shops looking for last minute presents didn't go well. I was stopped in Marks and Spencer for the umpteenth time and asked where the ladies’ coats were? Now if they’d asked where the underwear department was, I’d have been more accommodating. Funny how when I’m bumbling round the main store in a suit everybody assumes I work there, but when I linger too long by the lingerie, the actual staff members look at me with suspicion.

‘Not much.’ Answers assistant manager T with a barely stifled yawn.
‘Nothing but time-wasters this time of year.’ Says lettings lush B with a sneer.
‘Or desperate to buy, or rent, people.’ Counters negotiator S.
‘Yes, but the trick is to tell the difference.’ I add sagely.
‘How do you tell the difference? Asks trainee F.

Telling him to put the kettle on was a bit harsh, but the paradox is, you often can’t sort the genuine punters from the complete nutters - at least not until they are on a viewing, in your car, sitting behind you and making you feel nervous. Best that F perfects the art of the perfect brew, before trying to decipher a perfect property storm.

‘Did you have any luck?’ Asks S, nodding towards the shopping bags I’ve deposited beside the desk. 
‘I’ve got a few presents but they are mostly pants.’ I say wearily.
‘Oi, oi,’ chortles fat finance man M, with an unpleasant gullet-rasping sound. ‘Got the red basque and suspender set too, did you?’
‘You haven’t a clue, have you?’ Says S, scowling towards M. You can see why his wife left him.

‘Bean counter rang when you were out.’ Says T, referring to my figure-fiddling boss. 
‘Where did you say I was?’ I ask urgently.
‘Don’t worry,’ soothes T. ‘I told him you were on a valuation.’
I was pricing up, I suppose, so I’ll settle for that.

‘What did he want?’ I ask. Looking at the day and date on the nearest computer screen. I can already guess.
‘If we were going to have any more contracts to invoice this month.’ Confirms T with a shake of his head, adding. ‘Has he never tried to get a solicitor to answer the phone in December?’
He’s never even sold a doll’s house, let alone a real one. But he’s good with numbers. Accountants will inherit the earth, the fact that they are meek and terminally dull is just a lucky coincidence for Matthew, or whoever ghost wrote his bit of The New Testament.

‘You could pretend you were The Pope asking for an update on your sale and most lawyers would still not take your call at this time of year.’ Says S ruefully. It’s too late for divine intervention to save my sales figures this month. Better to hold some deals over until January and have a flying start. I just need to keep it a secret from the boss, he want to have his Christmas cake and eat it.

‘Hi everyone.’ Says the board man as he breezes through the door. He clearly knows the bean counter is looking at board movement costs again, as he’s wearing an unconvincing smile and clutching an even less plausible tub of those Celebrations chocolates every shopping outlet has piled high, throughout the month.

‘All ready for Christmas?’ He asks chirpily, before adding a cheap looking card to the bounty he has deposited. And Bounty is about right. It used to be bottles of whisky, or a good red wine, now we share some crappy chocolates in the sure and certain knowledge that we’ll have loads of the coconut ones left come next year.

‘Thought he’d never go.’ Says T after the board man has indulged in some stilted chit-chat for five minutes before realising he’s about as wanted as another estate agent in town.
‘I felt a bit awkward we didn’t do a Christmas card for him.’ Says S sweetly.
‘Why should we?’ Quizzes B, with a scowl. ‘He wants our business, not the other way round.’
That’s B, goodwill to all men - at least when she’s pissed.

Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year everyone.