Thursday, June 16, 2016

Speculate Accumulate - Thursday

‘Here comes the tosser you can’t abide.’ Warns assistant manager T, glancing out the office window.
‘You’re going to need to narrow it down a bit.’ Chips in loose lettings lush B, with a chuckle.
‘Funny.’ I tell her, with a scowl, but she is probably closer to the truth than I’d like. Several decades of dealing with people’s property problems and my milk of human kindness is more curdled than bottles on a dead pensioner’s doorstep.

‘Who is it?’ I hiss at T. I can’t walk to the window without being exposed - and people still won’t let me forget that time I absent-mindedly adjusted my trousers while changing bulbs on the illuminated display.

‘That slimeball of a speculator.’ Answers T.
‘Yuck, I hate him.’ Says negotiator S with a shiver. She’s a pretty good judge of character - most of the time.
‘Well he won’t be wanting to talk to me.’ Predicts B. ‘He’s lets all his grotty homes in multiple occupation himself, too much of a cheapskate to use a proper agent.’
Everyone looks at B in unison.
‘What?’ She demands, but it’s too late, the office door is opening and a chancer oilier than a leak at an olive factory, slides in.

I dislike speculators with a passion. They prey on distressed sellers and corruptible estate agents. Hoping to buy a property below the market value then sell it on with minimal cosmetic improvement, at a huge mark-up. They are not adverse to offering the infamous “brown envelope” to crooked agents - cash in hand for favourable access to a property to the exclusion of other competitors. It’s illegal and one of the few principles I’ve refused to compromise over the years. I act for the vendor, they pay my fee and I never forget it.

‘Alright guys.’ Calls the thirty-something man, dressed in expensive designer jeans and a t-shirt that probably cost more than my suit. I can now see his personalised number plate Range Rover, bumped up on the kerb across the road. There’s never a traffic warden around when you need one - get caught up on a difficult telephone call when you’ve rushed in to collect a set of keys though, and they appear like flies round a turd.

‘You got anything for me?’ Continues the Armani-clad vulture. ‘Repossessions, deceased estates anyone desperate to sell?’
I pride myself on getting the best possible price for any owner that entrusts their home to me, so by definition, flogging their property to a speculator wanting an immediate mark-up isn’t fulfilling my part of the contract.

‘Nothing.’ I tell the man bluntly. ‘Not with an earn in it.’
‘Oh come on.’ he wheedles. ‘You lot never find me anything.’
There’s a reason for that, I think spikily. I may have compromised on some of my youthful principles - the endowment selling scandal wasn’t my finest hour - but I have never knowingly undersold a client’s home.

‘Nothing that would suit you at the moment.’ I tell him, my body language about as unfriendly as it can be, but this guy has a hide like a rhinoceros. Don’t say it, I think as I see the words forming. If I wanted to be insulted I’d just video the sales charts at the monthly manager’s meeting and play it back endlessly…

‘I’ll make it worth your while.’ He spouts, with a salacious grin. He said it.
‘Give you any re-sales,’ he adds, then looking across at B. ‘Or the chance to find me some tenants.’
B smiles back in a sickly fashion. ‘No scumbag social security spongers though,’ continues the man as I see S’s hackles, and breasts rising. ‘They are nothing but trouble.’

‘Well done.’ Praises S as I watch the speculator jog across the road and drive away, as seconds later that hated traffic warden wanders round the corner. Typical.
‘You told him where to get off.’ Continues S with a smile that could melt glaciers faster than global warming.
‘He’ll be back.’ Predicts T. ‘People like that are impervious. He’ll do anything for a quick profit.’

True. But my pride is intact - until the next sales meeting anyway.


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Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Band Aid - Tuesday

A scream echoes round the office and nearly gives me a heart attack. At my age and with celebrities sharing the same birth decade dropping like flies, I can’t afford too many sudden shocks. As it turns out, F the idiot trainee, is the one risking electrocution.

‘What have you done now?’ I demand, as I enter the main office and see F hopping around his desk like some epileptic frog. 
The question is rendered as redundant as he should be, when I see a pool of hot coffee spread across his desk, seeping into his keyboard, as the free mug from a lending institution I really dislike, sits on its side almost empty.

‘He’s spilt his drink.’ Says negotiator S, as she moves to F’s work station and starts to dab at the puddle with some tissues.
‘Careful you don’t short-out the circuitry.’ Cautions assistant manger T, making no attempt to help. My circuitry is close to meltdown, I think uncharitably, and I can’t just be mopped down then switched off and on again.

‘How did you manage that?’ I demand, as F stops jerking around and patting at his sodden shirt sleeve. He won’t know.
‘I don’t know.’ He confirms, clutching at the dampened material, before saying pitiably. ‘I think I may have some sort of burns.’
‘Well it won’t be first degree.’ Suggests loose lettings’ lush B. She knows F flunked an expensive private education and is also well aware you don’t need any qualifications to become an estate agent.

‘You’ll be alright.’ Soothes S as she finishes clearing up the spilt beverage and begins to lift the dripping keyboard.
‘Careful.’ I tell her. ‘It might give you a shock.’
‘It’s low voltage. Shouldn’t be dangerous.’ Opines T still sitting in his chair, some distance away from any potential electrical arc.

‘I’ll get the first aid box.’ Says S, dropping the stained tissues into F’s waste paper bin and heading for the kitchen.
‘Slim chance of anything useful in there.’ Says obese mortgage man M. ‘Health and safety Nazis took everything out of the box, last visit.’

M is right. The paracetamol and Ibuprofen I left in the red plastic container were confiscated. The cream for minor cuts and abrasions removed, in case of allergic reactions and the scissors taken - presumably to stop me from stabbing someone from head office with a job title as meaningless as Esperanto.

‘Yep, he’s right.’ Confirms S, as she lifts the lid of the first aid box and pulls out a couple of faded bandages and square of linen that might double as a sling for a petite pantomime performer, should Snow White be playing at the local theatre.

‘About as useful as a chocolate tea pot.’ Confirms M, with a hearty chuckle.
‘That could cause even more nasty burns.’ Says T, with a smirk.
‘Good one.’ Says T.
If they high-five each other, I might really need to call casualty.
‘They’ve even removed the safety pins.’ Says S, with a shake of her pretty head, as she empties the useless contents on to the desk.
‘But surely….’ Begins F, still waving his arm around piteously.
‘Don’t even go there.’ Says T.
‘No point.’ Adds M, smugly.
Put your hand in the air and you’ll be needing a first responder, I think, scowling at the blubbery buffoon.

‘You’ll be wanting this.’ Suggests B, as she tosses an embossed A4 sized stationery item at me, while S tenderly inspects F’s arm, now his soggy sleeve is rolled up. Fleetingly, I wonder if I can produce a spillage she could attend to. Best not.

I Frown at B. She’s given me the company accident book. A journal where all incidents, no matter how trivial, must be recorded - for personal protection and insurance purposes. Translation: to cover the companies corporate arse cheeks, should someone wish to sue, retrospectively.

‘If I fill anything out there’ll be a load of pointless paperwork.’ I grumble.
‘Your shout.’ Says M, ducking responsibility with surprisingly agility, for one so bulky.
‘I think I’ll live.’ Says F, stoically.
I’ll be the judge of that.

I take a chance. 

If the ambulance chasers turn up, I’ll feign illness.


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Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Beat It - Wednesday

I’m in the main office, covering for snatched lunches and outside appointments. I like to show I can still do the front line chores. It’s the reason I get chased by dogs on leaflet drops and still make a mess of the tea and coffee orders when I show I’m a milk, no sugar, man of the people.

‘Tossers looking in the window.’ Hisses loose lettings’ lush B. She’s my only companion and a less than alluring - rescue the human race - procreation choice, should the world end like that guy standing outside the newsagents has been predicting for the last six months. Just my luck, help save the planet and be stuck with a nasty STI, a drunk pregnant woman and no antibiotics….

‘They look fairly normal.’ I whisper back, trying to banish the unwelcome thought of raising more than a smile, in B’s direction.
‘Time-wasters.’ predicts B, as the late middle-aged couple move hesitantly towards the office door.
‘Buying or renting?’ I ask softly.
‘Well the buy-to-let lot have dried up since the chancellor screwed around with stamp duty,’ answers B. ‘ So I’m thinking you’re the lucky one.’

True to form, B ducks behind her monitor and I am left with no choice but to stand and welcome the couple. I insist we greet people in the old school fashion. I hope it’s a point of difference to all the other new kids on the block, in polo shirts and chinos. We don’t do free coffee dispensing, but I do see everyone to the door. Not least to make sure they are safely off the premises.

‘How may I help you?’ I begin, as I show the pair to S’s vacant desk. The seat is vaguely warm as I sit down. Probably just the unaccustomed sunshine streaming through the window. Probably.

I wait as the wife responds to my question. She’s clearly the decision maker, first qualifying item obtained, now I just need to establish their needs and motivation. The basic contact information, names, addresses, email and phone details could be taken by a performing parrot. I want to know how these people can generate income for me. Do they have a home to sell? Can they proceed promptly? Would they like fat mortgage man M, to sell them some inappropriate insurance product? One that will doubtless be a future miss-selling scandal, but for the moment will satisfy head office’s increasingly demanding sales targets.

I takes a few minutes to get the dreary but necessary data. The pair probably think I’m putting them on our mailing list - something of a misnomer now most people communicate electronically - but I’ll decide whether we’ll be wasting any more time on them. You need quality control in this business, or like a prostitute with an absent-minded pimp, you’d spend all your time servicing f***ers who never pay you.

And then the woman utters a familiar, but still intensely irritating, line.
‘We’ve been looking for the last five years.’ She says earnestly, as the husband nods wearily. I catch B’s smirk across the office, as she theatrically mimes: time-wasters.
‘There’s never anything as nice as our house.’ Continues the wife, as I detect a frown of transient disagreement from the long-suffering husband. I almost feel sorry for him. Almost.

Of course I’ve had plenty of properties that would suit this picky pair, over the last half decade. But with the supply and demand imbalance still out of kilter, why would I make the transaction any harder than it is, by involving unmotivated messers? If I’m going to do sado-masochism I’ll do it in my own time, with appropriate sheets and privacy. There’s no safe word with these types. They'll just keep hurting you time after time.

‘Oh no, we won’t put our house on the market until we’ve found something.’ Replies the wife, to my half-hearted attempt to get a valuation for a sister office half way across the county, where this pair live - and will doubtless die.

‘Told you they were time-wasters.’ Crows B after I’ve seen the couple out.

Feel my pain.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Complaint's Box - Monday

I’ve not even shut the office door and it starts.

‘The bloke from number ten rang while you were out, thinks we’ve sold his house too quickly.’ Says assistant manager T, with a slump of his shoulders.

I’m guessing it’s not the Prime Minister. Two reasons: firstly the PM doesn’t own their place of residence, technically they’re just a pimped-up council house tenant. Secondly, no government in recent memory has had the hint of a joined-up housing approach, so property and any type of policy are not exactly bedfellows - unless it’s a cardboard box in a shop doorway.

‘He’s an idiot.’ Pronounces negotiator S as trainee F walks in from the kitchen. F hesitates and looks a little hurt.
‘She’s talking about the vendor of number ten.’ Enlightens T. ‘They think we’ve sold their house too quickly, too cheaply and will doubtless want a cut to the commission.’
‘Or withdraw from the sale and put the price up.’ Adds S.

It’s not a new dilemma. There’s a sweet-spot for selling a property new to the market. Just enough viewings to convince the owner we’ve done our job exposing the home to the market, a few who turn their nose up at the decor, location and price, then a buyer who tries a chip on the asking price, which we negotiate up to an acceptable figure. Job done.

But of course it’s not. As any agent, or seasoned house mover will tell you, the hard work often starts after terms are agreed. The delays, the quibbling, the inept surveyors, solicitors, lenders and a fragile connection of fickle buyers and sellers all roped together in a transaction chain that can founder at any given moment in the next eight weeks - or more. That’s when we earn out money. No sale no fee.

‘What did you manage to agree with him?’ I ask T apprehensively. He’s the assistant manger, well versed in these type of problems, plus I’ve coached him more productively and diligently than the procession of charlatans in trouser suits, with tick-box computer programmes and digital post-it note sessions, they’ve had in the training department recently.

‘Told him you’d ring him back when you got in.’ Says T, without a hint of shame.
Perhaps, I’m not as good as I think? Maybe a powder-blue flared set of strides - with room for a big arse - and a matching colour, bias-cut jacket, with just a hint of retro eighties-style shoulder pads…..

‘What?’ Asks T as I scowl at him. Surely he could have dealt with the problem when it was fresh? Convince the owner the job isn’t even half done, that we now need to nurse the transaction to a successful conclusion. Maybe, list the number of people who’d had details of his home, the comparable sales of other homes like his, in the area. The fact that we’d obtained a price he said he’d be happy with only a week ago. The even more pertinent fact that he is now in a position to secure the home he’s hoping to move to.

If you want something doing, do it yourself. It’s a phrase I lived with for years, until my mental and physical health started to take a hit, trying to do everything in the office single-handedly. Not trusting colleagues to do the job to my standards. As the body ages and the spirit weakens I’ve learned to relinquish control. T doesn’t seem to have noticed.

‘Just thought you’d prefer to explain.’ Says T petulantly, after I’ve suggested he could have dealt with the thorny problem. Not any more, I think sourly, as I steel myself for the difficult conversation. Repetition might work for classical musicians, but I just cramp up now.

No doubt the owner will cite the thousands of pounds of commission he now owes us, without a thought as to how much more work needs to be done before he finally opens that door with his new set of keys, and decides where first to shag his partner - I’d advise against the stairs until the carpets are down….

Never the less, someone is going to get f***ed.


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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Human Touch - Tuesday

‘Oh give me strength.’ Says negotiator S, as she replaces the phone receiver and puts head in hands.
It’s a familiar pose. When you deal with people and property, stress and disappointment is a permanent companion. It’s a wonder everyone’s cranium isn’t constantly cupped.

‘Vendor or buyer?’ I enquire, knowing either party is equally likely to disrupt a sale and just a likely to pull the plug on a deal with impunity - bar the lawyer’s bill.

‘Down the Hall’s chain.’ Replies S, referring to one of our owners whose sale has been moving at a geriatric mollusc’s pace. ‘Some numpties are using an on-line agent.’ Continues S, with a shake of her head.
‘Bit of a misnomer.’ Interjects assistant manager T. S raises a quizzical eyebrow and, distractingly, one breast.
‘Well,’ clarifies T. ‘A call centre with an automated switchboard and a cheap for sale board, isn’t a real agent, is it?’ He states semi-rhetorically.

He’s right. People have been predicting the death of the traditional, high street estate agent for the last twenty years. Ever since some spotty oik, with an algorithm and no sex life, thought writing a programme in his bedroom, would replace real people, with real knowledge and a wealth of experience. 

I’m not one to blow my own trumpet - not least because I’ve heard it’s anatomically impossible - but I’ve lost count of the number of sales, I’ve saved over the years. Where the easy part is agreeing the transaction and the hard bit is progressing the deal to successful completion.

‘Some idiot thinks they are saving money by using a cheap outfit,’ continues S angrily. ‘And they are trying to do all the sales progressing themselves.’
‘Not good.’ Says T, unnecessarily.
‘And now they have pissed off everyone in the chain, the solicitors refuse to talk to them and the first time buyer at the bottom is threatening to pull out if they can’t complete before their planned wedding date.’

‘Even I know it’s a false economy.’ Says trainee F, as he opens a packet of own brand, basics biscuits, from the local supermarket. I haven't got time to point out the irony. They can train dogs to fly planes now, but flogging dead horses won’t keep me stable…

‘Someone needs to talk to them and explain you get what you pay for.’ Suggest T, walking over and helping himself to one of F’s biscuits. More irony than what’s left of the British steel industry, in my office.
‘I know,’ agrees S. ‘And remind them you only pay a proper agent a fee, when they get the deal done.’

‘Work your way down the chain and speak to as many people as you can.’ I counsel.
S looks at me with a hint of distain, before saying.
‘I know, I’m doing that.’ She’s good, I sometimes forget how good with the other distractions.
‘The point is, I shouldn’t have to.’ Continues S. ‘If the industry wasn’t full of shysters and charlatans who can set up and start trading without so much as an IQ test.’

No sale no fee, is a double-edged sword for the estate agent. It encourages reluctant sellers to come to the market with no cost - other than the widely ignored Energy Performance Certificate - yet it means owners can change their minds with no real financial penalty. We, on the other hand, can work for months on a sale only to have several thousand pounds worth of commission disappear with a phone call. It does mean we work damned hard to keep sales together though.

‘How you getting on?’ I ask S, when I return from an abortive viewing. If I had ten pounds for every time I’ve stood on a doorstep, like a poor man’s prostitute, waiting for punters who end up screwing me over, I’d be….well…. I’d be better off than I am now. And not feeling so soiled.

‘I’ve managed to track down the fiancee at the bottom of the chain.’ Answers S. If this career fails, she’d make a great private investigator.
‘And we’ve got a bit of leeway, she’s happy if we can exchange before the wedding and we leave completion until they return from the honeymoon.’

Try negotiating that with an answerphone.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Alphabet Soup - Wednesday

‘More f***ing regulations to discourage my landlords.’ Exclaims loose lettings lush B vehemently. 
‘What this time?’ Asks assistant manager T, wth barely disguised boredom.
You should know, I think spikily, but I pause just in case…

‘They are ruling tenants can insist property is brought to a higher energy rating if it’s an F or G band.’ Answers B moodily.
‘What’s that again?’ Enquires trainee F, as I shake my head in disbelief. I’ve explained the European regulation - that insists all homes have an Energy Performance Certificate issued, telling prospective buyers or tenants how energy efficient their new home is likely to be - more than once.

‘It’s a load of bollocks. No one cares.’ Says T.
‘Exactly.’ Agrees B. ‘As if they haven’t tried to discourage landlords enough by levying extra stamp duty levy when they buy multiple homes.’
‘It’s meant to stop first time buyers becoming locked out of the market.’ Says negotiator S sharply.

I don’t need an ideological argument in the office again, particularly as my loyalties are torn and I swing more wildly than a weather vane in a hurricane. The latest piece of Government meddling in the property market is probably meant to help, but invariably the law of unintended consequences comes, with ill-thought through legislation.

‘What about my landlords?’ Argues B. ‘Half of them are only in the buy-to-let market because some leftie chancellor stole their pension pot, then pissed off to work as a consultant in the city.’
’Not that one.’ I correct her.
‘You know what I mean.’ Counters B, with a snarl. I do actually.

‘When was the last time anyone actually gave a toss about a home’s energy rating?’ Asks T, in my direction. Well of course they don’t. People buy homes with their heart, not their head - fortunately. It means an experienced campaigner can push physiological buttons no drone in an on-line call-centre outfit, ever could.

‘That lady last weekend was interested in energy efficiency.’ Says S, a little weakly.
‘She was a weirdo and a complete time-waster.’ Counters T.
‘Tree-huggers can’t afford homes anyway, so I don’t see why you are bothering.’ Contributes fat mortgage man M, not exactly helpfully.
‘You’re a big arse.’ Responds S.
Not grammatically correct, but as is often the case, I’m with her.

‘The point,’ continues T. ‘Is it’s just a load more paperwork that nobody needs. If you fall in love with a thatched cob cottage you don’t give a flying fig if it has a G energy rating. You just want beams and an Inglenook.’

‘But the certificate will tell you how inefficient the insulation is.’ Says S, a little unconvincingly.
‘They don’t give a shit.’ Snaps T. ‘They just whack the wood burner up and incinerate a few more trees.’

‘What do you think?’ Asks S, in my direction. Terrific. Now I’m going to upset someone, whatever I say. Fortunately I spot a timely intervention, coming across the road towards the office.
‘You should ask this man.’ I say pointing towards the dull-as-ditchwater Energy Performance Certificate issuer, coming our way.
‘Oh not that twat.’ Says T dismissively. ‘I’ve had more interesting conversations with my mother’s goldfish.’

T has a point. The man could bore for England. But then that’s what you get when head office, and the bean counter boss in particular, eschew good local practitioners for corporate agreements with the lowest cost provider willing to give a secret profit kickback, on their fee. Strictly speaking it’s illegal under the Estate Agents’ Act 1979 - unless declared to the client - but then the bean counter isn’t an estate agent. And anyone can be one. No study or qualifications required. I still wonder why I bothered….

‘I’ll email my report to you within twenty-four hours.’ Says the EPC man flatly, as he leaves the office with a set of keys for an empty home we have just listed. He needs to keep to the rigid service standards agreed corporately. But the truth is, nobody cares.

I’d tell the boss, but he likes to remain insulated from the truth.


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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.