Monday, January 15, 2018

Beginning At Home - Monday

‘Nice lady coming back to see you in about half an hour.’ Says negotiator S, as I come through the office door.
This isn’t what I want to hear. Nice ladies don’t come to see me, unless they are selling something I don’t want - or can’t afford.

‘What is she flogging?’ I ask, to a frown from S.
‘A dead horse, if she’s pitching to you.’ Interjects assistant manager T, with a grin.
‘It’s for a good cause.’ Continues S, ignoring T and fixing me with that devastating smile.
I soften a little, which with S is a little counterintuitive….

‘Some sort of begging letter, with a collecting tin most of the deadbeats who come in here will try and steal if we don’t chain it to the photocopier?’ I demand, sourly.
‘You are so jaundiced.’ Says S, with a beguiling pout.
‘It’ll come to you with time and a lot more disappointment.’ I tell her, shrugging off my coat and heading for the message book.

Apart from being a magnet for every lunatic in town and all the sad lonely people who have nobody to talk to during the day, my office seems to be the first port of call for anyone collecting for spurious good causes, from the big terminal ones, right through to well-meaning old women rescuing damaged Greek donkeys and stray cats that should have been spayed at birth.

‘Was she wearing a hi-viz jacket and a fake smile?’
I ask, distracted by several messages in the book that don’t bode well for some of the sales in my pipeline.
‘No she was quite normal.’ Counters S, as I see Bomber the surveyor has collected the keys for one of my high-end sales. He’ll down value the agreed price and no doubt ask for numerous independent contractors reports. Investigations almost guaranteed to spook the purchaser and make them think they are buying a dilapidated money pit, not a period home that has stood for a couple of hundred years quite happily.

‘What makes them think I have time to collect cash for free and hand out cheap lapel stickers to prove to passers by how worthy you are?’ I demand.
‘They are just to stop the charity-chuggers in the high street from bugging you.’ Suggests T.
‘Well it’s not working.’ I counter. ‘If those ill-dressed, failed students, expect me to sign a monthly direct-debt to save pit-ponies in Siberia, they’ve another think coming. They should get a proper job.’

‘Think they are volunteers.’ Says S, with a hint of annoyance.
They’re not. They are on commission, like me, and unless I sort out these sales taking forever while solicitors, lenders and surveyors try to screw then up, I won’t be getting any.

Agents do their bit for charity. Those with a more active social media stream than the clowns at head office, manage to raise their local profile quite well and buck the perceived image of estate agents being a bunch of sharks in cheap suits. I’ve done my fair share of sponsored walks and bike rides, but fatigue and a chaffed crotch gets you eventually.

‘The British are amongst the most generous charity supporters anywhere.’ States S. Not sure she has the figures to substantiate that claim. It is probably just a result of almost constant television nights where you are coerced into ringing a premium number to donate, while the tears are still falling after another heart-wrenching video-tape of a starving child and a devastated village. Perhaps I should take the collecting tin, after all. A good cause is a good cause and our image could do with a little polishing.

‘Here she comes.’ Announces S, nodding through the window. I spot a late-middle-aged lady, in sensible shoes, approaching like an ageing head girl from a private school. She’s sporting a tweed skirt and jacket combo.

‘You look like the man who makes the decisions.’ She announces in a plummy voice, flashing a lipstick-stained smile. I’m sensing a nut-job.

‘I’m here to tell you about the mistreatment of Korean puppies.’

Barking mad.


Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Groundhog Day Again - Wednesday

‘How do you do it boss?’ Asks trainee F, breaking a silence I hadn’t realised had descended.

I look across the empty office. How do I do what? I think. Put up with an idiot like you, when it’s clear I’m never going to need a silk coin-carrier, let alone try and fashion one from an even-toed ungulate’s lughole.
F looks back at me earnestly, the kind of doting gaze you might get from a slightly simple puppy  hoping for a doggy-treat, as opposed to a kick up the arse and a P45.

‘How do I do what?' I finally respond, wondering if F is going to ask, for the umpteenth time, how to re-set the colour printer, credit the franking machine, or make a cup of tea without those strange greasy globules floating on top.

‘Start again from nothing every year.’ Answers F, profoundly. He looks wistfully out the window where the last saps traipsing round the January sales are passing by, clutching goods they don’t really need and almost certainly can’t afford.

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for more years then I care to remember. The lot of a salesman is one of those Sisyphean tasks, just when you think you’ve reached the summit, some weasel-faced accountant, whose been over-promoted because he can fiddle figures, shoves you back to the bottom again, with an extra 10% added to the mountain top, by next December.

‘You don’t want to overthink it.’ I tell F. Realising, even as I say it, that there’s no danger of that happening.
His face creases in concentration.
‘No you really don’t.’ I urge. ‘Or you might cry and that’s not a dignified thing to do. At least not before the end of the first sales’ quarter.’

‘Cup of tea?’ Asks F, brightening considerably.
‘Yes please, just maybe wash the mug first, it’s been there since last year.’
‘I’m not an idiot.’ Says F, disappearing to the kitchen, humming tunelessly.
Hmm. You say that…..

The phone rings and I nearly jump out of my seat. The dead zone between Christmas and new year makes you forget how an active office should sound. Now with the new year and the latest set of targets upon me, I can expect the traditional influx of valuations and new instructions where the proximity of family, in overheated houses, has tipped a fair few over into finally separating and selling the marital home - at least until the lawyers get involved and they learn what half their house will buy them in the real world.

‘Morning tosspot.’ Crows a familiar voice, after I’ve parroted the corporate telephone greeting. It’s H, my vertically-challenged rival manager. I need his juvenile crowing, like another chocolate from the depleted tub, sitting on top of the filing cabinet. Just those mini Bounty bars to finish. I still dislike them, but the influence of parents who remembered ration books, lives on long after you’ve buried them.

‘You busy yet?’ I ask, regretting the question before it has finished echoing round the office. Even if he hasn’t had a single punter through the door since 8.30 am, H will lie. He can’t help himself. It probably started when the lady in the shop with the monopoly on over-priced uniforms, asked him his height, as he prepared for infant school.
‘Having it away, already.’ Trills H, predictably. ‘Two sales agreed, four new sole agencies and a couple of lettings to losers who’ve been kicked out of their homes by angry women, who found out they’ve been cheated on. God I love, social media! It’s so much easier to expose adulterers.’

H didn’t do charm school. That was obviously too much of a reach.
‘Anything else?’ I ask, despite myself. I may not have the goth haircut and multiple body-piercings but I can do self-harm as well as any angsty teenager.

‘Three cheeky contracts exchanged, to get the January invoices off and running.’ Replies H.
I know most solicitors are still skiing, or holed up in second homes in the west country, so there is no way these deals have happened this year. He’s cheated the system again.

God, I hate estate agents.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Festive Felicitations - December 2017

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you all.

In a mixed up world and a confused housing market, may - as ever - your chosen deity be with you.


Friday, December 15, 2017

Little By Little - Thursday

Back in the supermarket on another unwanted errand. This time it’s the German lot that are growing faster then Japanese knotweed. Funny, you win a couple of wars and the losers destroy your car industry, then your high street.

Not that I don’t shop there, obviously, or drive a foreign car. I gave British Leyland enough chances. I finally realised that breaking down at the side of the road in a dated car, poorly bolted together by some bolshie Brummies - while some smug bastard in a cheaper, better, Datsun drove past - had to stop. Like the Austin Allegro, as it happens…

‘See what’s in the middle at Lidl.’ Said my wife gleefully, over the phone. When I first started in this profession I couldn’t be reached, by office or spouse. Still not sure smartphone is the right term, for being on call 24/7/. Seems pretty dumb to me. Now I can get instructions to pick up some item I don’t need, any time.

‘Can’t beat the Germans can you?’ Says a hirsute bloke next to me in the centre aisle. Well you can actually beardy, I think, just not since 1945 - and that one time when Michael Owen scored a hat-trick in Munich. 

‘Pretty good value.’ I admit grudgingly as I rummage through cycling tops that appear to be a quarter of the price of one I bought a few weeks ago, and just as thermally efficient, with the same wicking properties. Bloody Krauts. 

‘I reckon before long our towns will be full of German discount supermarkets.’ Says the man, chuckling.
‘And coffee shops.’ I add, with jocularity.
‘Or f•••ing estate agents shops.’  Says the man laughing. I frown at him and he looks, as if for the first time, at my business suit.
‘Err, you’re not…..’
Yep I am you whiskery twat and they are offices not shops. A2 planning use for an office, A3 for a restaurant and A1 for retail, you shaggy-haired track-suit bottomed-wearing, ignoramus. 

Opportunity to make another friend I don’t want spurned, I move on to collect the items I was told to get. My phone throbs twice in my suit jacket  but I ignore it. Do something old school, like leave a message - or write a postcard.

‘Oh no.’ I mutter when I head for the tills and realise only one is manned. This is where the cost-cutting is. Of course they have the dreaded self-scan tills, my personal bete noire. I look in desperation for a staff member who might open one of the other tills, all with a red lane light illuminated. Nothing. And the three women ahead of me in the queue for green-lit lane two all have vast trollies overspilling with enough goods to support a Calais migrant camp for a fortnight. No wonder they are so fat they need to wear voluminous sports wear. Not that they’ll be jogging anywhere. 

‘Unexpected item in bagging area.’ Trills the automated voice, as I can’t decide which side are the scales and which side you put your pre-scanned shopping. Then the two items I’ve been send to collect - of course - refuse to have their barcodes read. Now I’m getting flustered and angry. And needless to say the PA system announces lane two will shortly be opening, just as the red mist descends.

The spotty oik I finally manage to attract, comes across and puts in an over-ride key. Then smugly taps in the barcode manually, the numbers are so small I can’t even read them. Then pleasingly, in a perverse way, he too fails to get the items recognised.

‘I’ll get something else to the same value.’ Says the lad. disappearing. ‘Leave them in the trolley and scan the other items.’

‘There you go.’ Says the employee, having fooled the machine with a citrus-flavoured toilet cleaning product. ‘Just hand this back to me when you go.’ He instructs, leaving me with an oversize lime and lemon polo mint on a backing card, before going to rescue someone else. Flustered I do as instructed as I exit the shop.

It’s only when I get back to the office, that I realise with horror, I walked out without paying.

I’m thinking Aldi, next time.


Friday, December 01, 2017

Close Shave - Friday

Back to the traditional barber’s shop for my four-weekly cut. You can’t afford to look scruffy with the amount of competition in our town. On-line agents with their call-centre set-ups might be able to look like extras from The Walking Dead, if all they do is take an up-front fee over the phone, pop a listing on a website, and get back to trawling Tinder. But at the cutting edge of property sales, they have to like you - and the look of you.

As I walk in, everyone turns as if a complete cowboy has entered a saloon bar. Admittedly there are plenty of cowboys in this, under-regulated  business of mine, but I’m not one of them. Although by the look of distaste on the assembled blokes waiting their turn for a trim, a few might have clocked me for an estate agent. Who else, other than an undertaker, wears a suit and tie in this day and age?

Reluctantly everyone shuffles along the bench seat to let me sit. All the barbers’ chairs are occupied and more worryingly there’s no sign of my usual man, the one who knows for sure what I do and is usually discreet enough to whisper when he inevitably asks about the property market. I can feel the looks of dislike on the back of my neck, if he does let people hear what I do, and with the mirror I can see them too. They don’t like estate agents but they sure like to know how much their home is worth.

‘He not in today?’ I say to one of the ladies, as she looks my way. She’s cut my hair before and in truth does it better than my missing mate.
‘On the golf course.’ Replies the trimmer , brushing hair from her top and unfolding the lethal-looking razors they use to trim your nape. 
The last thing you need when a barber has one of those in their hands, is to have a heated discussion about the vagaries of the UK housing market. Its a cut-throat business.

Golf is one of the few sports that leaves me cold. Probably, because after a lifetime in sales, I’ve never been able to justify half a day spent looking for a lost ball in some tic-infested undergrowth, while my competitors are signing up deals I am missing.

I nod and settle in to read the free newspapers. The choice isn’t great, just The Sun or The Daily Mail. One features radical opinions and scare stories penned by complete tits - the other….

‘Who’s next?’ Says a woman I’ve not seen before. She has the only spare chair available and I’m in a dilemma. If I say I’d rather wait for her colleague who I know can cut my hair well, it looks like I’m being impolite, or judgmental, or maybe even sexist. It was a lot simpler when I was a lad and the old bloke who operated out of his garage, only did clipper-cuts and favoured young boys, was the only choice. Come to think of it he disappeared in a hurry one day. Nowadays he’d be on some sort of register and I could sue for unwanted follicle-fondling, but at the time that sort of thing was brushed under the carpet.

‘How do you like it?’ Asks the woman, after I’ve reluctantly settled in to the chair. I seem to remember the old pervert in the garage had a similar line, and that’s before his tired old gag, about something for the weekend and a nod to his dusty display case of condoms and unsettling-looking lubricants.

I tell her the preferred grade, with a scissors on top finish and hope she doesn’t screw it up. A month of ridicule in the office and at sales’ meetings I can do without. Plus, I’m not sure I can afford the weekly cost of that Regaine hair restorer, if too much is removed. 

And then it comes, just as she starts long sweeps of the clippers.
‘So what do you do?’

It’ll grow back.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Complete Rubbish - Sunday

‘Oh deep joy.’ I say, visibly drooping.
‘What?’  Questions my wife. ‘It’s only a bit of gardening. It will make a change for you to do some hands-on work.’

I’ve been press-ganged into shrubbery cutting on my weekend off. Working alternate Saturdays for a lifetime, hasn’t been my greatest love but it does mean I’ve often managed to swerve some of those traditional manly jobs involving wrenches, power tools and remembering whether it is righty-tighty, lefty-loosey - or the other way round.

‘Anyway I do a lot of hands-on.’ I grumble.
‘Not that I’ve noticed.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Let’s just get cutting.’ Says my wife. ‘We can do a couple of trips to the tip over the weekend, then.’

And that’s why I was complaining. Now I’m all for penguins not choking on plastic bottle tops and I’m right there with the next man in ensuring Polar Bears don’t run out of ice - as long as they remain on someone else’s continent. But the misery of a trip to the Municipal Tip is unsurpassed. Overnight, when people began to recycle and separate rubbish into different colour-coded bins, the staff at the local tip became neo-Nazis. I believe the French call the town dump a dechetterie, which seems about right, as it’s a shitty experience.

I see the little Hitlers, in hi-viz jackets watching me even as I open the car tailgate. They also watch little old ladies struggling with bin bags bigger than they are, but never move a muscle to help. I’m guessing health and safety - or bone idleness.

‘What you got there?’ Demands a particularly ratty-looking operative, as I struggle with a defunct set of full-length blinds we no longer need. Yes, my wife has decided that as we are going to the dump, not only are we going to dispose of the thorny-cuttings that have made my arms look like I’ve gone twelve rounds with a tetchy tiger, but we can ditch all the other detritus clogging up the garage that never houses a car.

‘Metal.’ I say, heading for the appropriate giant bin. I’ve identified it as the most likely deposit-point, as its not general waste, green biodegradable garden mater, paper, cardboard, or approved plastic suitable for processing (check local providers for re-cycling suitability).

‘Nah mate.’ Says the camp guard, holding up his hand like a scruffy traffic policeman. ‘That’s got fabric.’
Yes it has. Well done Sherlock. Those are the bits that keep the sunlight out and helped the product  get its name.
‘So, general waste?’ I say, not entirely confidently.
He looks at me as if I’m the one smelling of rotting fish.
‘Not with metal on it.’ Counters captain Haddock disdainfully.

‘So you had to detach each fabric panel before you could dump them separately’ Laughs my wife as I tell the tale. ‘Maybe he just realised you were an estate agent, saw the sticker in the car window.'
‘I took that out.’ I tell her grumpily.
‘Probably just as well.’ She says giggling. ‘Nobody loves an estate agent - oh, apart from me.’ She adds hurriedly, and not entirely convincingly.
‘It’s not funny.’ I snipe. ‘They were even checking the green bags to see what sort of cuttings I was ditching.’
‘You’ll know what do to tomorrow then.’ She says slyly. ‘There’s two more big bags of garden waste to go.’

There’s a queue right out to the road on Sunday and I can feel my temperature rising. After ten minutes of gridlock I decide to sweep into a space outside the gates and walk the bags in.

‘No mate.’ Calls an angry voice as I unload. Well he’s wrong already, I’m no mate of his.
‘Can’t do that,’ says the SS trainee. ‘Got to drive in.’
‘You’re not serious?’ I spit back angrily. And the jobsworth points to a camera on a pole. ‘We’re watching you. Evidence.’

After the event, I think of a vitriol-laced diatribe demanding if I now have to sort deciduous, from evergreen before using the appropriate garden waste bin. But in actuality, I do a three-point turn and rejoin the queue. At the back.

You can see why people fly-tip.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Gone But Not Forgotten - Friday

To the supermarket, during my lunch hour, on a wife-inspired errand. Only it’s not a lunch hour of course, nobody on commission takes a full sixty minutes. Some other leaner - definitely leaner - and hungrier salesperson will take your business if you dawdle too long in Greggs, the baker.

‘Is it really necessary?’ I’d questioned, when she rang me with the request.
‘They’ll all be gone, if I wait until I can get to the shops.’ She’d replied, following up with the unwanted logic of: ‘In any case you’re just there in town and it will only take ten minutes.’

‘Ten f***ing minutes.’ I mutter as I grab a basket and belatedly realise I haven’t brought my own bags.
‘What’s that love?’ Asks an old lady, looking hopefully in my direction.
Now, I know I’m probably the first person she’s spoken to all day and if I get behind her in the checkout queue she’s going to dawdle for five excruciating minutes chatting to the till girl, while I seethe and rack up more expensive dental work, but I don’t want to engage - not unless she has a house to sell.

‘Just mentioned it’s a nice day, that’s all.’ I say dismissively.
She doesn’t get the body language, or hear very well.
‘Say again my dear, I haven’t got my hearing aide turned on.’ And she taps her ears.

Of course you haven’t. Why waste the batteries when you can annoy the hell out of everyone who you do eventually get to speak to, by asking the same thing three times, while they try to pay for a slimline sandwich meal deal and collect two ridiculous pot plants that their wife wanted and could have bought at the weekend, when she spotted them the first frigging time?

‘Nice day.’ I repeat, upping the volume substantially and pointing outside for dramatic effect.
‘No, still not coming through’ The old duck says with a gummy grin. ‘I turn the batteries off to save them.’ She tells me conspiratorially. ‘They’re so expensive.’
Not as pricey as cracked molars, I think uncharitably. 

‘Don’t I know you?’ Presses the tenacious grandmother. I don’t need this. Despite my low, on-line profile, I’m pretty well known in my town. I’ve been in most of the streets and many of the houses and you can see me in the office window, lit up like a poor man’s Madame Tussauds dummy, for most of the winter once the clocks change.

I tell her. Chances are she’s been in the office many a time, she might even have fallen over on the uneven paving slab we keep reporting to the council. If we’ve picked up one bruised pensioner and administered plasters and hot tea until the ambulance arrives, we’ve done a dozen.

‘Well you probably knew my husband before he died.’ She says, eyes lighting up. I certainly haven’t met him since you cremated him, I think sourly, eying the checkout line and seeing it grow. I cock my head, in seeming interest, you never know when the house will become too much for her. And she tells me.

That sour-faced bastard, I think angrily, trying to keep my feelings from my face. She’s just named one of the most cantankerous, pedantic and destructive chartered surveyors I’ve come across in my entire career. The old sod delighted in picking holes in properties, down-valuing the sale agreed price and putting deal-wrecking retention’s on the proposed mortgage the borrower wanted. If he turned up to collect the keys on a sale you could effectively take down the sold subject to contract board and start all over again.

‘Nice chap.’ I mouth as convincingly as I can. ‘The town has never been the same since he passed away.’ Well fifty percent accurate, I think. The fact that when we heard he’d croaked, it was one of the few times on a Friday night that all the estate agents in the pub, spoke to each other and smiled, is something she doesn’t need to know.

I really am a nice guy.