Thursday, May 05, 2016

Oddball Out - Thursday

‘The creeper came in while you were out.’ Says negotiator S, as I return to the office. I seem to miss all the fun while on appointments, but I’d hate to be shackled to the desk nine hours a day like some call centre drone - or on-line estate agent, as they want to be called.

‘Which oddball are you referring to?’ I ask S, dumping my briefcase and scanning the message book for problems.
‘He has a point.’ Says assistant manager T. ‘There are plenty to choose from.’ And as he speaks trainee F returns from the gents’ toilets with that vacant possession look on his face again. ‘See what I mean.’ Continues T, with a nod towards the idiot savant.

‘What?’ Questions F, head on one side.
‘They think you’re a creeper.’ Says lettings’ lush B, unhelpfully.
‘I didn’t say that.’ Announces S, hurriedly. ‘I meant that weirdo from the flats off the high street.’
‘The creepy one?’ Questions F, to groans of despair.

Every agent gets them. The freaks and weirdos with a fascination for bricks and mortar, fuelled by endless daytime television programmes for property porn addicts with no real job to go to. The regulars soon become known to even the newest recruit, as they come in with disturbing frequency, proclaiming to be looking to buy, sell or rent. The only certainty, is they never actually do. It doesn’t stop them coming in though.

‘What did he want this time?’ I ask S.
‘One of us tied to his bed wearing his late mother’s dress, probably.’ Says T unpleasantly.
‘Don’t say that.’ Cries S. ‘He gives me nightmares as it is.’
‘I’m just saying.’ Defends T petulantly. ‘I bet there’s nothing good going on behind his door of an evening.’

We get to see some curious things, having access to the public’s homes with just a key and an inquisitive nature. It’s why I’m loathe to let F do too many viewings after the missing underwear controversy. I’m fairly sure it wasn’t him and the woman just misplaced some of her laundry, but you can’t be too careful.

‘Do you remember that repossession with a drawer full of girly mags for amputee fetishists?’ Asks T, with a smirk.
‘Oh, for goodness sake.’ Snaps S. ‘You made that up.’
Please don’t say it, I think. Looking at T firmly, but fat mortgage man M, beats him to it.
‘Don’t worry, he can’t prove it. Hasn’t got a leg to stand on…..’

Reprimand for inappropriate behaviour in the office issued and a quick check on the Human Resources handbook to ensure I don’t need to fill out some sort of incident report, and we’re back to the creeper.

‘He said you can value his flat again if you want to.’ Continues S, with a grimace. I’ve visited at least three times over the years and there’s no way he’ll move without the help of an undertaker. The stale-smelling home has curtains perpetually drawn and his late mother’s clothes hanging in the wardrobe.

‘I don’t want to.’ I announce.
‘Maybe he could rent it out?’ Suggest T, looking at B.
‘F**k off.’ Snaps B. ‘There’s no way I’m going in there without an escort.’
‘Nobody goes there, except me.’ I instruct sternly.

People don’t exactly put estate agents at the top of their most popular profession list, but I still remember a female negotiator who was kidnapped two decades ago, from a firm I worked for. And the infamous case of Suzy Lamplaugh the agent who disappeared without trace in 1986 after an appointment with a Mr Kipper, who didn’t exist.

‘We follow company protocol to the letter.’ I remind everyone citing the failsafe checks for outside appointments, particularly for our female staff.
‘If you do visit him you can borrow my pepper spray.’ Offers B.
‘And her handcuffs.’ Says T with a chortle.
‘The creeper probably has his own.’ Suggests S, with a visible shiver.

I decline the offer of a visit, with brush-off phone call. The creeper seems disappointed.

I just hope he hasn’t spent out on a body bag and wet wipes.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Please Release Me - Wednesday

‘For Jesus Christ’s sake.’ Exclaims assistant manager T, as he stares at his computer screen.
I’m hoping his exclamation is business related and not that nobody has swiped right on his Tinder profile.

‘What is it?’ I ask, wondering if his angsty mention of a saviour might have crossed some religious offence legislation I’m not up to date with. I’m pretty sure you can say what you like about Christians though…

‘Some nob-head has just released a press statement predicting house prices will rise 20% in the next four years.’ Answers T, shaking his head in disbelief. ‘How unhelpful is that?

It’s not that constructive. Every greedy vendor who has yet to sell will want to put their price up, and panicky buyers will offer in haste then withdraw at leisure once the surveyor, or another contradictory press release, makes them think again.

‘Will they really go up that much?’ Asks trainee F glumly. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford to buy my own home.’
You’ll need a successful career and a good employer’s reference, I think uncharitably. Both of which are unlikely.

‘These idiots in the press will publish anything just for a cheap headline.’ Contributes negotiator S.
‘Not exactly cheap at 20%, is it?’ Says T. ‘Now we’ll get every nut job under the sun acting on some badly researched survey, where half a dozen wasters hanging round shopping centres in the daytime, were happy to speak to a cretin with a clipboard.’

I’d have been proud of that line. I hope T isn’t thinking of starting a Blog.
But he’s right. It seems some papers - no names it’s my style - have property story myopia. They can’t see past the next incendiary headline predicting more chaos in an already fragile market. And successive Governments with revolving door housing ministers haven’t exactly helped the problem. It’s supply, demand and the cost of money. Not rocket science  guys - or I wouldn’t understand it.

‘The only good thing about idiotic statements like that.’ Says mortgage man M, joining the conversation. ‘Is people will actually hate journalists more than us.’
‘Do you mean estate agents or financial advisors?’ I ask, before I can stop myself.
M gives me a jowly frown.
‘We’re all in the same boat you know.’ He responds gruffly.
If we are, it’s going to sink faster then Syrians on a surfboard, with you as cargo, fat boy.

The first phone call comes in before lunch. A truculent vendor who has been grumbling from day one of marketing and conveniently forgets they ignored my advice on asking price and have a house that smells like a stray dog’s kennel. If I see another pampered pongy pooch sleeping on a human’s bed, I’ll never stop itching.

‘We’ve seen this article in the paper.’ Whines the man.
‘The 20% uplift one?’ I say, needlessly.
‘Yes,’ confirms the man. ‘And we think….’
Here it comes.
‘…we’re selling too cheaply.’

I gently explain, the survey, if you could grace it with that title, is an ill-researched, inflammatory piece aimed at selling copy and generating debate on the paper’s crappy comment section. Some number-cruncher will be checking hits the drivel had generated and calculating pay-per-click revenue against the sidebar of shame stories about C-list celebrities with their underwear showing.

‘Yes but you would say that wouldn’t you.’ Persists the man. ‘You just want a quick sale and your commission.’ You’ve been on the market for four months, I want to scream. Surely someone with a penchant for paying over the odds and the aroma of damp dog would have surfaced by now, unless they can’t wriggle out of their straitjacket.

‘We think you’re bringing round the wrong type of buyer.’ Continues the man, hitting his stride.
Yep, those picky punters with cash to spend are no good to you pal. You want Stevie Wonder with a head cold.

‘Are you allowed to take it off the market, without the owner telling you to?’ Queries F, once the fractious phone call ends.

I don’t often do it. But sometimes you need to cut you losses and move on.

Just don’t tell the bean counter boss.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tea And No Sympathy - Thursday

The phone rings and I look straight to the main office - my door is always open. Negotiator S is already on a call and nobody else is in sight.

I lunge for my handset. Three rings is the optimum, any less and you appear desperate, any more and people start to think they’re ringing an on-line agent - or call centre as we like to name them.

I trill out the corporate greeting, it’s cheesy but at least it’s consistent and gives an air of efficiency. My professional veneer soon strips away though, as I hear idiot savant trainee F’s, nasally whine.

‘Oh, I didn’t expect to hear you.’ Begins F hesitantly.
The choices for arsenic-laced sarcasm are endless but I remember he’s on a string of viewings and might be with a buyer.

‘How can I help?’ I ask pleasantly. That obviously throws the fool.
‘Err, you’re not going to like this.’ Replies F, as my goodwill vanishes faster than biscuits at a Weight Watchers’ end of term party.

‘What is it?’ I say curtly, realising he’s not with punters, or one of our vendors.
‘I’m a bit lost.’
I realised that months ago, but like a hopelessly over-committed gambling addict I need to keep playing. I’ve invested so much so far and training up new staff is….well… a bit of a lottery.

‘Where are you.’ I demand. I know where he should be, he’s got the keys and two sets of property particulars. I checked before he left the office.
‘That’s just it.’ Says F. ‘I don’t know. My sat nav has dropped out.’

Now can call me old fashioned - plenty do - but I never trust some random ex-military piece of hardware orbiting the earth. My old school A to Z of the office area is as well-fingered as a porn mag at a boarding school. Of course, like London taxi drivers made redundant by Uber and the circulating circuity 36,000km above me, I have the knowledge in my head. I know my patch more intimately than a one-eyed pirate. F is due to walk the plank.

‘Wow that sounded angry.’ Says S once I’ve ended my barked directions to the house, where a cash buyer with a deadline might still be waiting for  a jerk in a badly-fitted jacket.
‘He’s lost.’ I tell S curtly. Teeth grinding again. The dentist will be rubbing her latex-gloved hands with glee. I’m pretty sure I’ve paid for a small Polish village to be rebuilt over the last few years.

‘How can he be lost?’ Asks S. She’s trying to remain neutral and doesn’t want to bury her colleague, but I’ve already dug a metaphorical hole that will be challenging Melbourne soon.
‘His sat nav isn’t working.’ I say, as what feels like a lump of amalgam crunches to the back of my throat. Terrific.

‘Hasn’t he got…’ Begins S.
‘A map?’ I interject caustically. ‘ No, it appears those are for old fools with a fear of the future.’
‘I’m fearing for his future.’ Says S, with a disarming smile.
God, she’s good. I’m going to hate it when she gets pregnant.

‘The point of difference between us and some numpties behind a website and a multitiered switchboard in Mumbai, is we should know our area intimately.’ I rant towards S. She just keeps smiling coyly and I can feel myself faltering.

‘If we haven’t got a personal service, with local knowledge and experience we have nothing.’ I tell her, running out of anger as she just smiles back knowingly. If I could bear to lose her, they should drop her into the latest world conflict zone, she’d soon have them all bonding and drinking green tea.

‘Rant over?’ She finally asks gently.
‘For now.’ I answer as gruffly as I can manage. I can feel myself smiling and it’s not a good look with the state of my teeth.
Yes, she’s good.

‘You’re not going to bollock him when he gets back, are you?’ Asks S, as I sip on the brew.
I try and raise a scowl.
‘Because I know you’re a softy at heart.’ She says grinning.

I’m lost.


Away - using a map - for two weeks. Any Stateside realtors who spot a Brit looking in their window, say hello. It might be me.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Stamp Of Disapproval - Tuesday

‘So basically the Chancellor is trying to shaft grannies.’ Pronounces assistant manager T, with an image I’d rather not have.

‘I saw a website about that.’ Say trainee F, not exactly helpfully.
‘You are disgusting.’ Snaps negotiator S, eyes blazing. F looks crestfallen, then adds quietly.
‘It was about taxes on property…’

S looks embarrassed, her flushed cheeks quite fetching, as I think about how inept legislators can screw up the housing market with ill-thought out, clunky attempts to control market forces, yet not come up with a coherent construction policy for the last three decades.

The latest law with unintended consequences, is a hurried amendment to stamp duty, the iniquitous tax that penalises people for moving home. In a clumsy attempt to stop disgruntled pension holders - who were screwed over by another chancellor’s raid on their retirement funds - from buying second homes to let, for some meagre income in their dotage.

No doubt the puffed-up pontificators in Parliament thought it a great vote-winner to add a 3% levy for second home buyers, on top of the already punitive taxes for changing your home. Now they are hauling small fry in to the tax net; like separated couples with a home, each starting a new relationship, and two generation families trying to secure a property with a granny annexe, to avoid the £40,000 a year charges to put your aged parent in to a rest home. Meanwhile the big fish have off-shore tax avoidance schemes.

That won’t help us sell Mr and Mrs Hall’s home.’ Says S, trying to move on from her assumption that all males spend their spare time looking at dodgy websites. Most of them are blocked on our system, anyway…

S is referring to a pricey mistake, made by the aforementioned Halls, when they bought a sprawling home with separate annexe to accommodate Mr Hall’s ageing mother, last year. These moves need to be thought out in full - then probably discarded - as in my experience, using Mum’s money to buy a property you couldn’t normally aspire to, without actually waiting for her to die, often ends in tears.

‘The family aren’t going to like the fact the place will be harder to sell now.’ Suggests T. As we all nod in agreement, or at least I think we do. F tends to nod randomly anyway, the soundtrack in his head is something I’d rather not listen to.

Mrs Hall wanted to kill her mother-in-law after four weeks, then she did actually die there months later. The other beneficiaries, promptly fell out with their brother as their share of the inheritance was tied up in a sprawling house with, effectively, sitting tenants. An extra 3% on the price for prospective buyers isn’t exactly going to speed the process.

‘The thing with homes with a Granny Annexe,’ pontificates T. ‘Is when you haven’t got any on your books you get a stream of people wanting one. Then when you do get instructed to sell one, nobody is interested.’
‘Even less, if they have to pay a stupid tax on top.’ Adds S.

Nobody said the property market was easy. Too many people, restrictive planning controls and not enough homes being built, against a backdrop of Green Belt campaigners and not in my back yard complainers, who invariably, already have their own home and want to pull up the drawbridge. You’d think there would be a joined-up UK housing policy. You’d think…..

‘Surely they’ll have to change the rules.’ Says S, applying reason where none has been found to date.
Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. By the time you read this, perhaps common sense will have prevailed, but I wouldn’t bet your house on it.

“Oh for f**s sake.’ Exclaims T, later.
‘What now?’ I ask, as he slams his phone down angrily.
‘Another buy-to-let purchaser wants to pull out of a deal because the tax has changed.’ Answers T. I predicted this outcome when the meddling was announced. If only I could nail the lottery numbers with such accuracy. A few million and I’d be out of here.

Home free. Tax free.


They charge VAT on digital e-book downloads - but still cheaper than a Costa coffee, links on the right.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Data Overload - Wednesday

I’m on another unwanted course in another cheap hotel, staffed by eastern europeans who’d really rather be at home, from their body language. 

As a man who started his career on a basic wage so low that the Job Centre wouldn’t carry the advert, I’m all for sensible salaries as not everyone can walk the commission tightrope. But you have to wonder if the guaranteed minimum wage isn’t dragging Svetlana and Bogdan away from perfectly good jobs at the Razgrad Ramada Inn - although maybe they don’t have a demand for shitty under-lit meeting rooms that require stewed coffee and stale custard creams…

‘This will be another colossal waste of time.’ Whispers my vertically-challenged, rival manager H, as he sits beside me and that unconventionally pretty woman from the city centre office goes and sits at the other end of the table. Damn the little squirt, I was hoping for some distraction from another poorly-delivered PowerPoint presentation.

‘You know what they say.’ I mutter through my amateur ventriloquist’s grimace, as a butch looking woman, in inadvisable trouser suit, enters the room clutching a clipboard.
‘What?’ Replies B.
‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ I croak back, trying to keep my teeth together and wondering just how the fat-arsed woman managed to leave the house without checking her appearance. I’m guessing no full-length mirrors.

‘You didn’t let me finish,’ says H hurriedly. ‘ I meant what the hell is that?’ And he nods towards our bulky guest speaker, about to bore us rigid on the Data Protection Act.

It’s not a chivalrous comment but then nobody at the sharp end of sales has much time for pen-pushing jobsworths who know the minutiae of every laxly-drafted piece of legislation, but couldn’t sell a lifebelt to a drowning man. At least not without  torturously advising him of the health and safety limitations of a non-kitemarked flotation device, as he slowly sinks for the final time.

Strange, how the UK property industry becomes progressively hog-tied by clunky laws that produce unintended consequences often detrimental to the intended beneficiaries, and yet is still one of the few countries in the world where an estate agent can practice without a licence, or any relevant qualifications.

‘We could do with some data protection from that fat backside, way too much information.’ Comments H, as the presenter sets up a projector, bending unfortunately in front of us and nearly blanking out 150 x150cms worth of matt-white, flame retardant/mildew resistant Bi-Office tripod screen.

‘Today I’m going to give you a refresher on the implications and implementation of the Data Protection Act 1998.’ Drones the woman as she indicates her dull first slide, now visible on the just erected screen. I can feel another little piece of my life ebbing away and for a moment I think the gurgling is an audible representation of it, until I see H had got the thermos style coffee pot and is pumping the black button to try and liberate some gravy-like cash and carry coffee. He’ll need it to stay awake.

I wouldn’t mind, but I still don’t quite get how the Data Protection Act and the secrecy required, dovetails with the equally ponderous Freedom of Information Act. Who am I kidding? It doesn’t.
‘Here we go.’ Says H sourly, as a slide listing DataProtection principles pops onto the screen.
‘A raft of extra paperwork to do and special status for ever minority and freak show member under the sun.’
And I thought I was the jaundiced one. Still H has a point. We are already unpaid border control and tax evasion monitors. You begin to wonder just what these not very civil servants actually do?

Three hours later and the stale sandwiches arrive and the dull woman with the oversized arse cheeks comes towards me. I never attract the pretty ones.

‘How are you finding it?’ She asks me, grabbing the last two egg and cress sandwiches.
Hard to miss, I feel like saying, particularly as I had my eye on the final food offerings. But of course I do what everyone will do with the Data Protection requirements. Lie and prevaricate.

‘Very informative thank-you.’


Friday, March 18, 2016

Boys And Girls - Friday

‘Have you seen this ridiculous article?’ Asks assistant manager T, as I walk across the office fretting nobody is on the phone.

As I can’t see his computer screen, it’s not an easy question to answer. Hopefully he’s not on another frivolous social networking site, they seem to suck more time from a working day than porn portals used to - before they were blocked by our main server.

‘Here look.’ Encourages T, spinning his screen and showing me an article, surprisingly, with a property based theme.
‘What is it?’ Asks B from her lettings’ desk.
‘You’ll love this.’ Predicts T with a smirk, as I skip read the vacuous, poorly-researched article. ‘It seems lettings agents are inherently sexist.’

That’s all I need. Some things are just taboo in the new world of office politics, and now the porn has been made inaccessible it’s anything remotely, sexist, racist or disability related. I just hope T isn’t about to say anything contentious.

‘That’s f***ing bollocks.’ Snaps B angrily.
Terrific, I’d forgotten inappropriate language. The swear box is already getting hard to lift.
‘Why do you say that?’ Asks negotiator S, as she joins the nascent discussion, that might be heading towards an argument, shortly.

‘Because most lettings’ agents are women anyway.’ Answers B.
‘Women can be sexist too.’ Responds T, looking at me for some sort of support that isn’t going to be forthcoming. Since Lady Di died, I’ve not been interested in minefields.

‘That’s a typical male response.’ Argues S, her eyes alive with fire. God, she’s attractive when roused.
‘And that’s a typical female retort.’ Bats back T, as I sense I’m losing what little control I had.
‘Men get called out for decades of sexist behaviour and they start whining that it’s not fair.’ Snarls S. ‘You try getting wolf-whistled at, every time you go on a building site wearing a hard hat.’

It wasn’t me. I was talking to the site foreman, who also had a hard hat on.

‘What does the article say?’ Asks B, in a move I hope will defuse the situation. So I quickly finish reading the scant piece. Before I can deliver a verdict, T says to B.
‘Anyway, you are guilty of being pretty sexist yourself. You are always lusting after young male tenants and commenting on their butts when they leave the office.’
‘That’s different.’ Replies B.
I’m not sure it is.

‘This writer…’ I begin.
‘A woman.’ Interjects, T.
‘Yes, this writer, reckons she doesn’t get the same treatment as men when she tries to rent places.’
‘Probably doesn’t.’ Announces S, icily.
‘Says,’ I continue. ‘That she is patronised when she asks technical questions about boilers and maintenance but then doesn’t get the same discounts on the rent that men negotiate, when she comes to sign a tenancy.’
‘That’s got nothing do do with having tits.’ Spouts T, as I die a little inside again. ‘More like they are just big tits, and too stupid to get a deal.’

‘What do you think?’ Demands S, looking at me piercingly. I feel naked again. Not even a hard anything, to protect me.
‘Yeh, what do you think?’ Adds B.

I think women are usually the decision makers when it comes to choosing a home. I think women, if they stay long enough in the profession, are often the best estate agents. I think, women have more empathy and patience, as a rule. Something the tortuous property transaction process demands in spades. I also know, that women dominate the lettings industry, at least outside of London, as traditionally the lettings side of the business was seen as a junior partner to the sales operation. That’s been turned on its head in recent years. Probably why I seem to feel dizzy most of the time.

‘I think we are in an equal opportunities industry.’ I hear myself saying pompously, to groans of derision - both male and female. ‘It’s purely down to ability, who succeeds in this job.’
‘Yeh, but there’s a lot of pricks.’ Says B, unhelpfully.
‘Yes, and we’re often just treated as pleasant to look at adornments.’ Adds S.

Shit, I hope she hasn’t finally realised why I insist she sits at the desk nearest the window.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Point And Shoot - Thursday

‘Great news.’ Announces assistant manager T gleefully, as a delivery driver exits the office.
I don’t get a lot of great news; all my distant aunts have croaked without leaving me a penny, so early retirement isn’t exactly an option and in the property business what is great news one moment can transform to a steaming pile of doo-doo, with one fractious phone call.

‘What is?’ I ask warily. The question covers both his announcement and the ominously looking technical package he is unwrapping, like a greedy kid at Christmas.

T looks at me with a hint of pity, his designer glasses flashing under the fluorescents like some sort of modern day morse code signalling system. I feel an S-O-S approaching.

‘It’s the new wirelessly connected digital office camera.’ Says T, with a soup├žon of scorn in his tone. He knows how I feel about new technology. I’m the unashamed luddite in the office and it doesn’t help that most new products ship without an instruction manual now. That means downloading, or possibly uploading, some sort of PDF file I can never open. Or in the rare case of an easy-start, paired down guide, included in the box, the print is so small my arms are no longer long enough to read the content.

‘Been waiting for this.’ Crows T excitedly, extracting a complicated-looking camera with a swollen, wide-angle lens and more buttons than an octopus’s cardigan.
‘You can upload to a portal on the move with 4g and edit, manipulate and spacial cross without leaving the car.’ Continues T.
No, I haven’t a clue what he just said.

‘Shouldn’t you read up on it?’ I ask, as T pulls the lens cap of and starts panning round the office like David Bailey on speed.
‘Nah.’ He answers dismissively. ‘Just experiment, it’s all intuitive anyway.’
It might be to you bucko,I think sourly, as trainee F joint the fun and starts clawing at some leads inside one of those impossible to open, heat-sealed plastic packages.

‘You are going to do yourself a mischief.’ Predicts negotiator S, stifling a laugh, as F tries to prise apart the packaging with a letter-opening knife. I can see the office accident book coming out again and I’ve only just got the blood off the front cover.

‘What the f**k is this all about?’ Exclaims F, as he nearly impales himself and the packaging still refuses to yield its contents. I nod at the swear box, but in truth, for once, I’m with the public school retard. I mean with all the product research and whiny focus group opinions companies obsess about nowadays, surely someone has stopped and said: “You know what, boffins? Nobody can open these pissing, plastic, packs.”

It might be my failing eyesight, or a brain that has reached hard drive capacity, but I’m not that adept at new tricks any longer. My wife would endorse that, I’m sure. And to think I used to chuckle, in quiet contempt, at the elderly failed negotiator who I first worked alongside as a trainee. He struggled to operate the black and white Polaroid Instant and doggedly suggested we didn’t need photographs on our property particulars, as it would spoil the surprise when the potential buyers turned up for a viewing.

I used to love the excitement of waiting for the little four by four photo to develop and I can still smell that chemical aroma that preceded un-peeling the backing paper before seeing a poorly framed shot of an overpriced house. Yes, even then people thought property was too expensive -particularly when interest rates hit 15%.

‘You might have to load the first few photos for me.’ I tell T flatly.
‘No probs, grandad.’ He replies with a grin.
It’s a shame you can no longer hit staff without reams of forms to complete.
‘I’ll help you out.’ Says S kindly.
It’s tempting - but adapt or die is the motto in this industry and I can’t afford to go yet. Plus, I’m pretty sure there are no elderly spinster aunts left.

I’m over-exposed again.