Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday On My Mind - Friday

‘For crying out loud does she think I was born yesterday?’ I snarl at the phone, as the handset rocks in its cradle again.
‘Problem boss?’ Asks trainee F perceptively.
‘F***ing solicitors.’ I tell him, with a resigned look towards the office swear box. F looks at me studiously.
‘Not literally.’ I say, realising F has taken a statement at face value again. Although we do have to kiss lawyers’ arses quite regularly, I’ve never gone the whole way.

The legal fraternity and estate agency have a love hate relationship, we have to pretend we love them - they hate us. The two professions grudgingly recognise an unwelcome mutual dependency but agents generally think lawyers are too tardy and not pro-active enough when it comes to conveyancing. Whereas lawyers see our commission invoices and in common with the rest of the public, think we charge too much.

‘They don’t like being rung on a Friday.’ Says negotiator S soothingly. She’s right, and as she does the majority of the office sales progressing, has a fairly good relationship with most of the legal practices in town. It’s the out of town outfits, who will probably never deal with you again, that tend to duck your phone calls chasing progress reports, or try to fob you off with some neutral comment like, “it’s all going well.”

‘Partner is in court?’ Asks S, eyebrows arched attractively.
‘With a client?’ Contributes assistant manager T with a grin.
‘Only works part time?’ Offers F, joining in the guessing game as to why I’ve nearly broken another phone.
‘Put the request in writing?’ Says fat mortgage man M waddling across the office unpleasantly.
I crack an unlikely smile. ‘Something like that.’ I concede. ‘Just, I knew the secretary was lying.’

Now, when I entertain a solicitor - an increasingly rare event since my bean counter boss started forensically scrutinising every expense claim - the legal-luncher is often at pains to point out they don’t like being bothered on a Friday. It’s the day most sales tend to complete (the moving day) and often - a few weeks before - when contracts are finally exchanged.

I accept that plea from the more pro-active practitioners. The firms who ring you back, willingly give progress reports to you, and by proxy their client. The type of organisation that move 
as swiftly as the antiquated English and Welsh conveyancing process allows - the Scottish are a whole different ball game. But as often as not, ducking my phone call is a result of not having touched the file in days, sometimes weeks, and the reluctant recipient hiding behind a “delayed local search” or protracted “mortgage offer”smokescreen

‘I think we should always deal with the solicitors we know.’ Says S emphatically. ‘They get our recommendations and give us reciprocal business.’ Once again she’s right, but the big corporate estate agency chains want group agreements with soulless outfits that run call centres and centralised conveyancing pens. In my experience the service is poor and the fee kickback goes to a central fund rather than the local office. But then my boss thinks I’m a luddite, or he would if he knew what one was…

‘Bean counter’s secretary on line three.’ Says S late afternoon. ‘He wants to know why our weekly stats are not in yet.’
Because I’m still chasing two much-needed exchanges and the sodding solicitors won’t return my calls, I think angrily.
‘Can you say I’m with someone?’ I asks S limply, realising even as I say it I’m parroting the fob-off I’ve been given several times today by my legal friends.
‘Don’t think she’ll believe me.’ Says S hesitantly. 
Of course not, but it’s hard to prove as long as S has punched the hold button securely and not just put her hand over the mouthpiece as that idiot F keeps doing.
‘Say I’ll call her back.’ I offer. The irony not lost on me.

‘We had a blinder of a week.’ Crows the ringleader of our opposition, as the two groups jostle at the bar. It’s a Friday night ritual - come good week or bad.
‘Smashed it.’ I reply loudly.

Cracked the phone handset actually, but it’s a brief exchange…


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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Hungry For News - Tuesday

‘Anyone seen my paper?’ I ask testily, back from a valuation appointment with a couple who’d been completely misled on value by one of the less scrupulous agents in town. It still irks when people respond to their baser instincts - greed in this case, fuelled by a semi-plausible spiv in a suit - and overprice their homes. But then never underestimate the power of price flattery when owners want to sell their homes.

‘No.’ Answers assistant manager T. Before adding. ‘Just off to get some lunch.’ He exits the office, as I think, when I was his age and aspiring to become a branch manager, I grabbed a sandwich at my desk rather than prancing round the men’s clothes shops for nearly an hour. So T hasn’t pinched my paper. Not this time.

I read the message book and grind my teeth when I see “Bomber” our local demolition surveyor will be carrying out a full survey on a pretty terraced cottage I agreed a sale on, three weeks ago. The house has stood for over a hundred years, but by the time he’s finished dismantling it in a twenty page report, the buyers will imagine it has less structural stability than a tottering tower of Jenga bricks. Might as well put the For Sale board back up now.

‘Did you see Bomber is doing 12 Coronation Terrace?’ Asks negotiator S with a wan smile.
‘I’m surprised he comes out during daylight hours.’ I growl.
‘Because people are out to hurt him?’ Asks S naively.
‘No.’ I snap. ‘ Because he’s afraid of his own shadow. I don’t think that bastard has ever valued up a sale in his whole career.’
‘Why does he do it?’ Says S.
‘Because you can’t get sued if nobody ever buys the home you valued.’ I tell her angrily. It’s not exactly true, but I’m not in the mood to show equanimity - particularly as some sod has taken my newspaper again.

My wife would say I’ve changed over the years I’ve been selling homes. I’ve certainly changed my newspaper pick. I started out with a  low-brow tabloid I’d rather not name, then as the years took their toll and the grey hairs flourished, I went from a down-market medium to a right of centre, mildly racist - in retrospect - paper, through to my current choice. Something a bit more nuanced and balanced, or at least I think so at the moment. I just hope I don’t get to the retirement flat and Daily Telegraph stage while I’m still compos mentis.

B our loose lettings lush sashays into the office. If her skirts get any shorter you’ll be able to see what she had for lunch.
‘You seen my paper?’ I ask frostily, as she sits behind her desk and starts to apply fresh lip gloss.
Nobody bar me still buys a daily paper, like a growing number they prefer to read the news on-line for free, but someone has to pay for the content. In this case me, which is why I’d like to find the paper where I left it - on my desk.

‘Why what’s in it?’ Asks B nonchalantly, starting to file her nails now, despite my frequent requests not to saw her cuticles in public.
‘I don’t know what’s in it.’ I bark. ‘All I’ve done so far is pay for the bloody thing.’
‘Swear box.’ Says S coyly.
‘Oh for f**ks sake.’

Then the penny drops. F, my cerebrally-challenged trainee isn’t around, but the last thing he read was probably his school timetable. M, our man-mountain of a financial advisor isn’t in his office. I look uneasily towards the gents’ toilet. S follows my gaze, as B files back and forth like a hyperactive violin player.

‘I think he’s in there again.’ Suggests S gently.
‘How long?’ I ask flatly.
‘Don’t think I’ve seen him for twenty minutes, come to think of it.’ She replies with an apologetic shrug.
Terrific. I like to grab a sandwich while reading my paper, but the thought the newsprint has been absorbing the earthy aroma of an overweight finance fiddler while he empties his bowels, isn’t pleasant.

I’ve lost my appetite. 


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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Drip Feed - Wednesday

‘How many more of these flyers do you want?’ Asks trainee F, as he leans over the chugging colour printer. It seems to be working for once. If the engineer spends any more time in the office he’ll want his own coffee mug.

‘How many homes in the catchment area we’re going to mail drop?’ I respond. Answering a question with another question is an annoying management trait but the query is out before I realise it.

F stares at me with that vacant possession look he’s perfected, as an unpleasant grinding noise fills the air. It takes a moment before I realise it’s the printer, not F’s overworked grey matter, producing the distressing sound. He pushes the stop button and lifts the lid to expose a mangled piece of A4 with a familiar storyline about, homes wanted in your road, sale just arranged, disappointed buyers offering sexual favours to estate agents for first chance of a viewing….

‘F•••ed again.’ Says loose lettings lush B from her cluttered desk. It could be a statement about her activities last night, but I’m hoping she’d referring to the over-priced heap of electronic tat the bean counter boss made all the offices instal. No doubt it saved him a few pence on leasing costs and produced an attractive bottom line, I think, as appropriately enough negotiator S sways across the office distractingly.

Attention jerked back towards the troublesome machine I continue my internal dialogue. The number crunchers love to fiddle with suppliers to justify their existence, but at the coal face it means multiple jams, and call outs so regular that we all have the engineer’s mobile phone on speed dial. Still, here’s hoping the bean counter gets some more sponsors’ corporate tickets to those major sporting events.

‘So how many do you think we need?’ I say to F, once he’s tugged out several mangled sheets of paper and re-set the printer, with a little help from S.
F looks at S despairingly, as she tries to mime something to him. His frown lines deepen as I begin to lose my cool.

‘Electoral roll!’ I bark aggressively, immediately regretting the phlegm-flecked verbal assault.
F looks at the floor and for a moment I thinks he’s about to perform some sort of gymnastic head-over-heels carpet tumble. Fortunately S steps to the filing cabinet, bends over athletically and brings out the list of names and addressees for our office area.
‘In here,’ she says soothingly, handing the thick printout to the thicko. ‘You’ll find the information in here.’

‘Not sure this is that great.’ Says assistant manager T, as he reads one of the less mangled leaflets, with the fact meets fiction claims and a photograph of a house we sold recently in the area.
‘And why’s that?’ I ask him frostily. I changed it three times before giving F the go ahead to copy scores of them. I also remembered to add the warning paragraph about potential vendors checking terms and conditions before instructing us, if they have another agent already retained. Got to keep the Property Ombudsman happy.

‘I’d think we should have the price we sold number seven for.’ Replies T.
‘New owners get a bit pissy about that.’ I tell T, knowing of several complaints over the years.
‘It’s a matter of record.’ AnswersT. ‘Anyone can check with the Land Registry.’
T is right, but the data takes a while to come through and some buyers are a bit cagey about letting the world know their business - and the transaction is called ‘Private Treaty’.

‘I think this is the best way for now.’ I tell T. I might be wrong, the goalposts have been moved on me so many times, I feel like a forgetful council groundsman. But as we now have several hundred copies of the leaflet I’m happy to take a flyer…

‘It’s starting to chuck it down.’ Announces T, as I come back in to the main office post-piss. F and T are standing by a pile of the aforementioned leaflets. S is manning the phones, B is filing her nails.

Not sure where it goes on the profit & loss account, but I take a rain check.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Grinning And Baring - Thursday

I’m outside the dentist’s surgery before 8.00am. So early in fact, that I don’t need to pay parking charges for the first ten minutes. That ticket I received when that filling took longer than expected still grates a few years down the line. The irritation lasted longer than the filling, as it happens.

Driver gouging rate for parking on the streets - both I and the office pay rates for - paid, parking ticket displayed on the dashboard, I walk to the surgery door then nearly smash my face against the glass. The door is locked.

‘Oh for f**ks sake.’ I exclaim, louder than I meant to.
A passing woman on a bicycle looks back at me with disdain and a pretty young student type, ignores me and carries on talking to an unseen friend on a hidden mobile phone. She must have one of those concealed microphone and ear piece combos - or she’s another nutter. Tough call.

I rattle the door again, anger swelling as I pull the appointment slip from my wallet and double check I have the right time, day, month and year. You have to book a long way in advance if you want an NHS dentist, and woe betide you if you miss an appointment. You’ll be moved on faster than a single mother on the council waiting list.

A scruffy man in jeans and a grubby t-shirt joins me. I feel out of place in suit and tie and momentarily wonder if he’s about to mug me. If he hits me in the face, as the door just tried to, I’ll be in the right place for reconstructive surgery. Although that will probably be non-essential cosmetic treatment and only available privately. Same dentist, just better mood music at four times the price.

‘They not open yet?’ Asks the man gruffly, stating the sodding obvious.
A cascade of sarcasm aches, like a dying tooth, to flow the man’s way, but sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut.
‘Eight o’clock.’ I tell him sagely, pointing at the opening hours which escaped my notice earlier.
‘It is eight o’clock.’ Counters the man, tapping at a cheap digital watch like a hen at a seed bowl.
Great, bad enough I’m about to be probed by a surgical steel implement and told I don’t floss often enough, now some chav with no dress sense wants a pre-breakfast argument. 

‘All bloody foreigners you know.’ Continues the man. pointing past the opening hours to a set of plaques showing the dentists currently practicing. I don’t recognise the woman I had a year ago, but they all seem to have an excess of Z’s andY’s in their names and to have qualified somewhere in eastern Europe.

‘Taking our jobs this lot.’ Adds the man with a yellowy snarl. The choices for a pithy retort are endless. I don’t like casual racism, particularly when it is so spectacularly misplaced. Fortunately the door mechanism rattles as a key is inserted from the inside and we both gain entry.

The receptionist looks bored already and scans my name in to the computer.
‘That’ll be £18.50 before you go in.’ She says challengingly. What’s this? I’ve always paid after the treatment. I’m tempted to argue, but I find it’s best not to upset an organisation that can inflict pain so readily

‘Any new medicines taking?’ Asks the dentist in halting English. She’s not the same woman I had last time - on maternity leave it transpires. God, that must have been a dark night. I answer in the negative and the prodding and tutting begins.

‘Grind together.’ instructs the dentist. Causing  momentary confusion until I realise it’s an instruction, not a request.
‘You have stressful job, no?’ Enquires the woman from behind her surgical mask. Yes, actually. I deal with idiots, liars and time-wasters most days, I want to say. But I just nod. I read somewhere dentists have one of the highest levels of depression and suicide. No sign of estate agents - yet.

‘Have you ever considered wearing a mouth guard?’ Asks the dentist, as I feel more expense coming.

In the end, I just take the hit and keep smiling.


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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Astride The Fence - Wednesday

The early appointment was a waste of time, so I’m not in the best of moods as I hurry across the park, back to the office.

I’m guessing when the Victorians designated this green space they probably hoped it would become a haven for busy workers and perhaps somewhere to stroll hand in hand with a loved one on a summer’s evening. Instead, despite the local authority’s best efforts in the horticultural department, it’s frequented by the sort of homeless and hopeless people even I can’t help.

I spot the litter-strewn area from a distance, but I need to walk past. The gaggle of drunks are already garrulous with cheap super-strength cider, despite the clock not having reached mid-morning coffee time. I can feel a Daily Mail moment coming even before I have to circumnavigate the discarded bottles and food wrappers tossed into the nearby flowerbed. Dumped with total distain for the minimum wage gardeners who hoe out used condoms and spent needles in between the hardy weeds.

‘Spare some change for a cuppa mate?’ Demands one of the red-faced winos. It’s more an order than a request. His motley crew all turn toward me, eyes glazed, lips curled. One of them, I’m pretty certain was in the office a few months back, asking B our loose lettings lady if we rented to people on benefits. No wonder she drinks so heavily. Not so sure about the casual sex, but then maybe she gets better offers than I do….

‘Come on pal.’ Calls a second unshaven man, teeth like a yellowed piano keyboard. ‘Help out some people worse off than you.’ I could stop and have a chat, reason with the group that I give, in private, to the charities of my choice - the sort of line I used to give to the chuggers in day-glow jacket who try to get people to sign a direct debit order, when all they want is a sandwich and fifteen minutes away from jangling phones. I could.

‘Aw he’s not going to help you out.’ Spits a third piss-head. ‘Tosser in a suit, no chance.’ He’s right - on all three counts. I’ve been up well before the sun and I’m unlikely to start drinking inappropriately before six pm on a Friday. Why should I subsidise this bunch of anti-social low-lifes any more than I already do through my taxes? And yet…

‘Sorry lads. can’t stop. No change.’ I mutter hurriedly.
‘No change there then.’ Mocks a throaty female voice. I almost spin to double-check, but it’s true. One of the raggedy group belongs - or did at one stage - to the fairer sex. I shudder to think what the sleeping arrangement are on that park bench, particularly as they lock the public toilets now after dusk. Fact is you couldn’t see anything in there anyway. The ultra violet lighting that was supposed to make it difficult for you to shoot up, but just made it hard to hit those pineapple chunk fresheners they put in the urinals.

As I exit the park, a motorised council cart arrives with two downtrodden staff members inside. In the back are an assortment of gardening implements. I just hope they have sturdy puncture-proof gloves. Like some of those repossessions that have squatters in them, they’ll need to be careful what they pick up.

‘Dodge the aggressive beggars in the park did you?’ Asks assistant manager T, when I get to the office.
‘Bloody dirtbags.’ Voices B from her lettings enclave. ‘Why should we work fifty hours a week and be expected to give them more money?’
‘You don’t know what has happened to them.’ States negotiator S indignantly. 
‘Bunch of losers.’ Counters B. ‘Try working in lettings and you’ll soon stop sympathising with scum like that. You should see the state the flat in the High street was left in, after the eviction.’

‘I just hope you never need to ask for help from social services.’ Says S. Eyes blazing. She’s magnificent when roused, at least I like to imagine so…

‘What do you think, boss?’ Asks trainee F with an unexpected curve ball.

There are two sides to every story. 

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Monday, September 08, 2014

The Song Remains The Same - Sunday

We go, with friends, to a late summer festival in a field. Now there was a time, when the prospect of loud music, loose women and not washing for several days held an allure. Reading 1977 with a porous tent springs to mind. A weekend of mud, mayhem and a ruptured ear drum seemed an adventure at the time. Now my hearing is buzzing naturally, and if I want to have a shower I favour the en-suite, rather that a leaky fly-sheet giving a constant dripping even my bean counter boss can’t match.

‘It’ll be fun, stop moaning.’ Says my wife as we bump the car through a rutted field and the clouds darken, even as I swipe madly at her wretched smart phone I still can’t master, endeavouring to get the latest BBC weather forecast.

‘I see enough people living in squalor at work.’ I tell her cussedly. ‘If I want drug addicts lying in their own filth I’ll just go on the next Letting Department’s eviction.’
‘Is he always this negative?’ Asks my wife’s friend from Fat Club - or keep fit as they like to call it.
‘He didn’t used to be.’ Replies my wife, slightly morosely.
Possibly not, but when I was wearing straight jeans with a 32 inch waist and Graham Parker and The Rumour, Thin Lizzy plus Aerosmith, nearly deafened me, I hadn’t been flogging homes for coming up for three decades. Somewhere along the line the fun went out of it. 

‘Thank God we’re not staying overnight.’ I tell our motley crew - pretty sure they hadn't been formed in ’77’ and it’s a different spelling entirely - as we pass the tented village. A rainbow coloured forest of cheap nylon, and fluorescent guide ropes, flutter in the gathering breeze as I spot the schoolboy error many have made by pitching at the bottom of a dip. Waterside views might fetch a premium in the housing market but when it’s flushing through your sleeping bag with turds bobbing past your head, I’m suspecting the surveyor’s damp meter might not be the only thing to blow a fuse.

We erect our collapsable chairs towards the back. I’m not repeating the mistake I made at the Oasis concert that time. Not much worse than  aching for a piss, unable to move backwards or forwards, while a bunch of neo-Nazis try to start fights while opposing groups lob plastic bottle full of urine at each others' heads. Liam wasn’t happy - but then he never is.

‘See, this is fine,’ says my wife soothingly, as she opens out the picnic blanket and unfurls a coolbox full of Marks and Spencer ready foods which probably cost more than my entire 1977 weekend did. ’It won’t be too loud  and we can watch the bands on the big screen.’ She smiles and starts chatting aimlessly to her friend. I look at her partner, a man I barely know. He’s something big in the City.
‘Beer tent?’ I ask him. ‘I’m more of a wine man.’ He replies. Of course you are.

Several pints in, stodgy portion of couscous consumed and I’m fighting the bladder alarm. The ruddy-cheeked man is joining in with the ladies’ conversations having decided he really has nothing in common with beer-swilling estate agents - except when he wants notice of a cheap investment property to add to his portfolio. I’ve taken a stomach churning dislike to the man which might, in truth, be partially as a result of the durum wheat rehydrating in my guts courtesy of two quarts of London Pride, but also because he’s basically another odious bean counter.

Finally I break the seal, realising I’m condemning myself to regular bog-trots between now and the headliner’s first engineered encore. The row of regimented portable toilets look like shit attempts at low-cost first-time buyers’ properties. Appropriately enough, queues of mostly young women are lined-up outside them. Sitting room only.

‘Eh-up, it’s the estate agent!’ Slurs a familiar-looking man as I stand at the rank-smelling urinals. Gentle heat haze rising from the gurgling gutter. My heart sinks.

Time to face the music.


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Monday, September 01, 2014

Court Order - Monday

‘I need a man to come with me.’ Announces loose lettings lush B to an awkward silence. I stifle my inappropriate reply and by an act of immense projected will - and a warning scowl - manage to ensure that nobody else taps in the open goal.

‘Difficult appointment?’ I eventually offer after running several potential answers through my head as a precautionary measure. I don’t need a sexual discrimination claim, no matter how spurious. With the amount of booby-trapped legislation swirling round employing people I really should have paid more attention at school and studied to become a lawyer. On reflection, I’m glad I didn’t say booby-trapped out loud, too.

‘I’ve got to do an eviction for a landlord at eleven o’clock.’ States B, shaking her head. ‘And there’s no way I’m going there alone.’ Momentarily a mischievous inner self wonders if the fact she’s asking for a man to come with her isn’t a tiny bit sexist, but laws often work on the pendulum principle. Correct one injustice and the over-compensation creates another one. I’ve see enough matrimonial home sales to know that.

‘Are you expecting trouble?’ Asks assistant manager T warily. He’s already manoeuvring not to go with B. Those designer glasses and his penchant for expensive suits don’t lend themselves to a filthy flat and a punch to the face.

‘Single Mum, two kids by different Dads, aggressive men friend visitors and a viscous looking dog.’ States B taking up a whole days news content for The Daily Mail.
‘She’s had notice of eviction I assume?’ I ask, knowing already I’ll have to go with B. Some things you just can’t delegate - unless you’re my spineless bean counter boss.

‘Of course.’ Replies B dismissively. ‘But she is holding on to be formally kicked out so she can get re-housed by the Council.’ There was a time when I felt sorry for everyone losing their home, but after seeing some of the deliberately wrecked properties and the way some people abuse societies' safety net, my liberal left leanings have become a bit tarnished.

‘This has to be it.’ I state rhetorically to B as I pull up in the car, at 10.45am. We are nearly opposite an unloved terraced house in the “cheaper” part of town. The windows are peeling, a gutter is at a crazy angle and an overflow pipe is pumping water on to the crowded forecourt. Most of the neighbouring homes have cars squeezed on to what was once a small front garden before boundary walls were demolished. All except the property we are visiting. It has an array of rusting white goods dumped outside and a small mountain of overspilling bin nags. I’m starting to itch already.

‘You got rubber bands?’ Asks B, ferreting in her handbag, past the pepper spray and the rape alarm. I sigh heavily and shake my head. Schoolboy error. ‘Too bad.’ Says B leaning down and fixing a pair of those thick red rubber bands the postman sheds, around her trousers. Now I know why she didn’t wear her usual short skirt and jacket combo. I can almost sense the fleas sensing me, and the itching returns twofold.

‘Is she going to be difficult?’ Asks the bailiff when we are all at the front door bang on 11.00am. The court official has the look of a nightclub bouncer, head shaven and gym-pumped frame straining to escape his clothing. I take a half-step back. He’s the one being paid to take the hits, I think, as the muscled man bangs the door loudly then stoops and yells through the letterbox. A dog starts barking rabidly and I bump into B awkwardly, as she too positions herself behind the bailiff.

‘Wasn’t too bad.’ Says B once the woman, dog and two kids have gone straight to the Town Hall,without any resistance.
‘More than I can say for this place.’ I answer as we survey the spitefully trashed house, detritus everywhere, walls crayoned over in a juvenile hand.
‘I’ve seen worse.’ Replies B with a heavy sigh. ‘You start to hate these people after a while.’ Before I can disagree something bites my ankle sharply.

Sadly, you do.


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