Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Price Is Wrong - Tuesday

Please don’t say it.

‘The thing is, we can’t afford to reduce our price, it’s so much more expensive where we want to move to.’
‘I appreciate that.’ I say cautiously. You work hard enough to win instructions to sell from vendors, so you don’t want to lose them before you’ve earned a penny - unless you are an on-line outfit, who take the money up front and couldn’t care less afterwards…

‘We need every last pound, or we’ll never get something as nice as our house.’ Says the wife, waving her hand round the dated lounge, with a faded 1980s wall frieze that will eventually come back in fashion, if they wait long enough.

The intransigent woman has missed the irony of her comments. If it’s more expensive where they want to relocate to, you are not going to get the same property, for the same money. Are you?

Please don’t say it.

‘What we’d really like to do.’  Begins the husband - please don’t say that either - ‘Is pick our house up and move it to Surrey.’
Too late. Idiot. I should tell them, but truth is one of the first casualties of war - and property sales.

‘I expect you hear the a lot.’ Says the wife, with an apologetic shrug. Every f***ing day, madam.
‘Oh not really,’ I lie. ‘It’s an understandable sentiment.’ It’s not.
‘So why exactly is our house not selling?’ Asks the husband, frowning.

Experience tells me to tread cautiously. Telling someone they might like to clear underwear off the radiators before viewings, or spray some air freshener around to mask the stench of their flea-bitten pets, or even wash-up the debris from last nights’ takeaway, isn’t always that well received. I’m wounded already, so another casualty in this war, I can do without. But they really need some straight-shooting.

‘You remember I recommended an asking price £15,000 less than we started with?’ I venture, by way of a probe at the enemies’ defences.
‘I remember you were £20,000 lower than two of the other agents we spoke to.’ Replies the wife, icily.
Reconnoitre over,  heavy entrenched resistance ahead.

In a spirit of gentle reconciliation, I list the data I have with me. The number of viewings so far, the adverts we’ve placed in the local press, the hits from the on-line property platforms. The feedback from the viewers.

‘Yes but we just haven’t found the right person yet.’ Says the wife, doggedly.
Someone who likes water-marked whisper grey bathroom suites, a tired limed-oak kitchen with burns on the working surfaces and carpets with more stains than a tramp’s trousers?

‘You are just not bringing the right type of buyer round.’ Suggests the husband, with a hint of annoyance. One who likes to pay over-the-odds for a home that if they stay another decade without updating, could be one of those museum-piece time-capsule exhibits?

Please don’t say it.

‘We might have to consider using another agent.’ Suggests the wife, confirming my fears, but not saying that hated phrase.

Now I’m really worried. If they’ve checked our sole agency agreement, they’ll know they can give me two weeks notice and I don’t want another agent to come in and sell at the price it should have been all along.

Of course I could have refused to place their home on the market at this inflated figure, at the beginning. But I fought off several other competing agents, two of which, vastly overstated the value to try and grab the business and lock out the other agents. Old estate agency adage: If you haven’t got it, you can’t sell it.

I take a deep breath and tell them my suggested price reduction, sweetened with a fresh advertising push and some advertorial in the local free rag. I pause and pray.

Please don’t say it.

‘You must be joking.’ Says the husband.

I’m not. But please don’t say it, anyway. The wife scowls at me. Here it comes.

‘We’re not giving it away, you know.’

And there it is.



Friday, May 11, 2018

Everyone Knows My Name - Friday

‘You buying again?’ Asks the pretty barmaid who will doubtless be moving on to something more challenging before long.

We’re in the pub, for the Friday drinks session. My team, as always, a few paces behind me at the bar. Within hailing distance to confirm drink requests but out of contactless payment reach.

‘It’s sort of an end of the week tradition.’ I say, as I confirm the beverage requests and try not to stare as the barmaid heaves, alluringly, on the real ale pump, in a low-cut top.

‘Cheers boss.’ Calls out trainee F, as he necks some hideously sweet flavoured cider concoction with ice in the pint glass.
‘Yes, thanks.’ Confirms negotiator S, as she accepts her gin and tonic and appears to scowl, at the barmaid. Surely she’s not jealous, of the slight attention I’ve received? Almost, certainly not.

Buying the team a drink in the pub, is a tradition I inherited when I first started in the business, all those years ago. I keep it up, almost out of nostalgia, as nobody stays for more than a couple any longer with the drink drive laws as they are. The days when the old surveyor and our commercial agency man used to down three pints of a lunchtime, then go on to down-value a competitor’s house sale and let a tertiary-positioned shop unit to Blockbuster, have long gone.

‘Do they ever buy you one back?’ Asks the barmaid, as the others circle round a table, like Red Indians at a wagon train.
‘Not really.’ I say, with a hint of melancholy.
‘You probably put it all down on expenses and claim it back.’ Posits the girl.
‘You’ve not met my bean-counter boss.’ I say sourly.
‘Which one is he?’ She asks, nodding toward my tribe.
‘I wouldn’t be here if he was.’ I say, abruptly.

‘Got the hots for the barmaid boss?’ Asks F, when I join my staff.
‘Eugh.’ Cries S. ‘He’s old enough to be her father.’
I frown at S.
‘Anyway he’s not like that.’ She adds hurriedly.
‘They all are.’ Says lettings lush B, with feeling.
Time to change the subject.

‘Good week guys.’ I pronounce, drawing deeply on my pint and wishing I could stay all evening.
‘Make sure you say that loudly, when  the dirtbags from up the road come in.’ Says assistant manager T.
‘Yes, because they’ll be lying about the week they’ve had, at maximum volume.’ Says S.
And as if on cue, in walk the competitors, all loud suits and lairy attitude. I can feel my skin crawl.

It always amazes me when there is a furore about agents, illegally, colluding over fees in a town and forming a cartel. Every patch I’ve always worked the estate agents are at each others throats, each trying to steal the others’ business and undercut their fees. There’s not a lot of love lost.

‘Alright guys?’ Calls out the manager of our rivals. He’s a good twenty years younger than me with not a hint of grey hair. I dislike him intensely.
‘Yes.’ I answer loudly. ‘Had a cracking week, market is going crazy.’
He looks momentarily annoyed, then recovers his equilibrium.
‘Yes, we’ve smashed it again.’ He crows. ‘Surprised we’ve left any business for you lot.’

He’s a liar, whereas I have obviously just been a little creative with my market report.
‘Arsehole.’ Hisses T.
‘If they are doing that well, why do they have to keep touting our instructions and upsetting our vendors?’ Snarls S.
‘They are all arseholes.’ Says B, gloomily.
‘That lot, or men in general?’ Ask S, with a chuckle.
‘You work it out.’ Growls B, downing her wine in one hit.

I watch as the rival group all get drinks and encamp to the opposite side of the pub. At least with the on-line agents you don’t actually have to see them and chances are they won’t answer the phone….

‘Another drink anyone?’ I eventually ask, after people have been nursing almost empty glasses for an uncomfortable length of time. Suddenly people are downing fluids faster than camels at an oasis.

‘In the chair again?’ Asks the barmaid.

Yes. An orthopaedic one. 


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Social Housing - Thursday

'I'm not sure how much longer I've got.' Says loose lettings lush B, looking at me mournfully.
I nearly side-swipe a badly parked, not-so-Smart car, as I look askance at her. God is it the big C, I think grimly, as I slow the company car and ponder what platitude I can give to a washed-up sexually desperate drunk, with something terminal?

‘Have they given you a time-span?’ I finally ask weakly, thinking I’m not equipped to deal with this, despite the human resources-led courses I’ve been on teaching empathy and awareness of others, particularly vulnerable women.

‘Who?’ Asks B frowning.
‘Err, the doctors.’ I say falteringly, as a mad mother shoves her baby in a pushchair out in to the road as a way of getting a crossing. I wave the woman and child across and start to realise I’ve made another faux-pas. 

‘Why would I talk to a doctor about it?’ Says B. ‘Unless it’s to ask for more anti-depressants.’
‘When you said not much longer….’ I falter.
‘F**k no.’ Laughs B. ‘I’m not dying.’ She pauses. ‘Well maybe a little inside. I meant this bloody job. How much longer can I cope with lying scumbags and low-lifes who trash properties and get aggressive with me then expect to be re-housed by the council once they’ve wrecked one of my landlords’ homes and been evicted with eight months rent arrears?’

‘That’s a relief I thought it was something serious.’ I tell B.
‘It is serious.’ She snaps.
‘True, but we all come to hate the public in the end, it’s the few decent and honest ones we deal with that make it worth while.’ 
‘When do I get to meet them?’ She asks, voice wobbling.
‘Socially or professionally?’ 
‘Piss off.’

B has a point. You don’t often see people at their best when it comes to property transactions. Greed anger, frustration - to name but three in a toxic cocktail of emotions - come together to make the whole process fraught and confrontational.  The fact that I’m accompanying B to re-enter a trashed flat one of her clients has just gained back from two junkies, with two young children who are rumoured to now be in care, probably isn’t helping her mood.

‘Seriously though,’ continues B, leaning across, her over-short skirt riding up discomfortingly ‘I’m thinking of jacking it all in.’
The one night stands, the drinking too heavily, the quiet desperation of an internal clock ticking, whether it’s for a baby or a better job?

‘We all have days like that?’ I tell her blandly, starting to get uncomfortable with her proximity and emotional state. After much re-education from head office, the male/female relationship at work has become so potentially dangerous that I’m scared to say anything any longer for fear of offence, real or imagined. I’m just waiting for the trans-gender awareness course to drop, then I’ll have the full set.

‘Shit.’ I say recoiling back as the door opens to a pile of junk-mail, final demands and an aroma of something rotting. ‘Watch out for needles.’
‘See what I mean.’ Says B, awkwardly close behind me. She’d been too frightened to come to the flat alone and now I’m wishing I’d brought a chaperone too. If someone is going to get physically abused it’s going to be me, whether or not the tenants have broken back in and are about to try and f**k me up.

‘Its the fridge.’ I say gagging slightly as we look at the trashed kitchen, what looks like dried blood on the walls, half-eaten takeaway trays covering the surfaces and bags of broken bin-liners strewn around the cloyingly-sticky floor. ‘It’s always the fridge.’
‘How can these animals live like this?’ Asks B, suppressing a sob. ‘This is going to cost thousands to clean up, not to mention the lost rent my landlord has suffered. And we’ll be paying to keep these deadbeats in a bed and breakfast.’

‘Power is off.’ I say unnecessarily, as we edge toward the fridge and the all-pervading stench. If it’s blow-flies again I’m going to gag.

Thank god for the extra strong mints in my glove box.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Release Me - Tuesday

I’m sitting in a late-middle aged couples’ lounge, with a tea tray, best china and some enticing looking biscuits. These are good signs. Most people despise estate agents and wouldn’t give you the time of day, let alone some freshly-brewed darjeeling, the Royal Doulton and chocolate Hob-Nobs.

‘We called you in because we’ve used you before.’ Says the husband with a warm smile. Yes you did sir, and I remember. I might struggle with siblings’ birthdays and wedding anniversary dates, but I pretty much remember every client I’ve ever dealt with.

‘And we trust you.’ Adds the wife warmly. I sit back in the glow of unaccustomed appreciation. Hopefully they won’t quibble too much when it comes to the sole agency fee. Not that I’ll rip these nice people off. I just know they’ll be prepared to pay a fair fee for a good job. Those who’ve moved home a few times know the value a good agent can bring to the smooth conclusion of a sale, in an often fraught marketplace.

‘You’ve been around the block a few times.’ Continues the wife. ‘ Not like some of these kids in shiny suits.’ Okay, that’s probably enough praise now.
‘We wanted someone who knows the ropes and will give us straight answers. You’re long-enough in the tooth not to try all that sales and smokescreens bullshit.’ Adds the husband, leaning forward to pour the tea.

I sit back and sip the brew, waiting for them to speak. Silence can be a strong weapon in a sales situation. Too many of these, fresh out of school unqualified youngsters, forget it can be better to listen. They just talk at the potential client without engaging. I’ve done the walk round the house, have some provisional details ready to draw-up and a price in mind. Prior preparation, prevents poor performance.

‘Of course we really don’t want to move.’ Says the wife, with a shrug. I just manage not to spray their off-white carpet with milky tea.
‘You don’t?’ I splutter , hesitantly. Surely this isn’t another fool’s errand? If these people just want an insurance valuation and are too tight to pay for one, I might actually soil their carpet.

‘You see we keep seeing these adverts on daytime television.’ Says the husband by way of incipient explanation.
Funeral plans for those not suspecting a sudden death, by way of angry estate agent? I think absurdly.
‘And there must be a catch.’ Adds the wife.
Of course there is lady, it’s daytime television. They’re not appealing to anyone lucid and in gainful employment.

‘What do you know about equity release?’ Asks the husband, finally revealing why I’m here. Obviously most financial advisors now charge for advice - and if they don’t you have to ask questions about the product they are advising you purchase. This pair want the benefit of my long property experience for the price of a cuppa and some of McVitie’s finest. 

People who haven’t saved sufficiently for their retirement and think the uplift in property prices is the answer to their financial incontinence, see this wheeze as a way to stay in their home and fund a few round the world cruises and party lifestyle, until the health gives up. The debt is often the disappointed beneficiaries’ problem. 

‘You realise you are just deferring the interest cost and have no method of repaying it other than selling up when you can no longer cope with the house.’ I say cautiously. I already come across families in distress from the last time this method of ‘free-money’ from you home was popular. Elderly people who didn’t think they’d live as long and now are being pressed to sell to repay a long-spent loan, for a kitchen and a Saga holiday. The next big miss-selling scandal?

‘But we can have all this money and stay in our home.’ Counters the wife. Until they ask for it back or the interest wipes out any equity you have left and gives your children a debt to repay along with the funeral costs, I ponder sourly.

‘So you don’t really get something for nothing.’ Concludes the husband at the door.

Only me.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Some Help To Buy - Wednesday

‘Who has he got in there?’ I ask, nodding towards fat finance man M’s office, where a fresh-faced couple are listening earnestly to him.
‘Couple of first time buyers.’ Answers assistant manager T, with a theatrical rubbing of hands.
‘He’ll eat them alive.’ Suggests loose lettings lush B, with a smirk.
‘Literally?’ Asks trainee F, with a worried look. He’s been watching too many cannibal holocaust films.
‘No, figuratively. ‘ I tell him, to no appreciable enlightenment.

‘Just because he’s big-boned, you can’t make fattest comments like that.’ Reprimands negotiator S, in an unexpected show of sympathy towards the portly policy peddler. 
‘He’s just a greedy pig.’ Corrects B.
‘He says it’s hormonal.’ Defends S, wavering slightly.
‘They all do.’ Responds B dismissively.

‘What do you think boss?’ Asks F.
What? I wonder. Do I imagine M is a morbidly obese glutton with no off-button? Yes. Do I think he’s more interested in his commission, than the naive young buyers, or perish the thought, the client of ours whose flat they might be buying? Yes. Will I do anything about it with finance sales’ targets and a year end objective that seems further away than manned flight to Mars. Definitely not.

‘He has to fill out a fact find and an audit trail to demonstrate he’s given the best advice.’ I parrot, almost word for word from an unconvincing sales’ meeting chaired by the company’s financial services supremo, an ungracious man with an attitude and an abacus. 

‘Bollocks.’ Scoffs T. ‘You don’t believe that for one minute after all you’ve said about endowment policies he miss-sold and don’t even start me on PPI.’ 
‘Boom.’ Exclaims F excitedly.
I look at him quizzically, not for the first time.
‘He slam-dunked you there boss.’ Says F, grin faltering.

‘Bit mean to send F out on a solo leaflet drop in this weather.’ Says S, ten minutes later.
‘It’s all part of the learning process.’ I counter, watching as the young couple start to rise and leave M’s office, clutching enough paper to take out a small rain forest. They look bemused, which is probably just what M intended.

‘Can they buy the Devonshires’ flat?’ Asks T, almost before the office door has closed.
‘No. Can’t afford it, they need to buy new. I’ve signed them up for a Help To Buy scheme, they’ve seen a new build for £300,000.’ Says M with a greedy grin.
‘But, the Devonshires will take £250,000 or near as damn it.’ Says T bemused.
‘Got to be a new build.’ Replies M. ‘That way they get 20% on a deferred interest loan from the Government. You should know that.’

T looks a little crestfallen, as the young couple were introduced to M, by him. Now they will be helping a developer to obtain a price they wouldn’t get without the Government’s deeply-flawed, but well-intentioned, Help To Buy Scheme. I’m not great with figures, but it seems they are paying 20% over the odds, and over what they could otherwise afford, just to keep the Chairman and shareholders of a major developer, in Tuscan villas and Range Rovers.

‘I’ll never be able to buy my own home.’ Grumbles F.
‘You could with Help To Buy.’ Counters M.
‘How long is the  Government equity loan deferred for?’ Asks T.
‘Five years with nothing to pay.’ Crows M, smiling.
‘And their deposit?’ Questions S.
‘Only need to find five percent, instead of ten.’

So propping up unsustainable prices for builders. I think sourly. I’ve seen two property crashes and my team still don’t believe it ever happens. It does.

‘Boss, do you think it’s a good deal?’ Queries F. All eyes turn towards me.
‘How long is the mortgage term for?’ I say to M, deflecting for time. M has the good grace to look slightly embarrassed.
‘Erm, thirty-nine years.’ He mumbles through a cough.
‘F**k me, did you flog them a funeral plan as well?’ Demands T.

Now I know I’m old fashioned, but if you can’t buy a home over twenty-five years, you shouldn’t be buying it.

‘Don’t stress it.’ Says M. ‘ Their parents will be dead by then and they’ll inherit.

Best advice.


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

You Move Me - Monday

‘Can you help us? Our solicitor and agent are useless.’ Pleads the red-eyed woman sat at my desk.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard that particular request. They say moving home is the third most stressful life-event after death and divorce - and I’m not convinced death fully-qualifies as a life-event….

They’re a bunch of idle f***wits.’ Says the husband, to a scowl of disapproval from his tearful wife.
I’m tempted to raise the old adage that public and government contract-awarders alike tend to forget - you get what you pay for. This couple are my buyers, so my duty isn’t to them it’s to my vendors, the people paying my fee, but unless I sort this mess my clients won’t move and I won’t get paid.

‘Our agent just never answers the phone and the cowboy who came round and over-valued our house has just disappeared.’ Moans the woman. Cowboys tend to get shot, I think fleetingly, but in this case I suspect he’s just ridden off into a purple-hazed sunset.

‘And the outfit he recommended as solicitors seems to be staffed by an ever-changing bunch of schoolboys who don’t do their homework.’ Spits the husband.
‘Like dealing with a call-centre?’ I venture mischievously.
No surprise there. Maybe next time employ a traditional estate agent and a proper, local lawyer?

‘So why couldn’t our lot do that?’ Asks the wife an hour later, after I’ve spoken to the whole chain, three sets of solicitors and a reluctant lender, agreed an expedited mortgage offer and a proposed completion date. Because you paid a cheap fee up-front and they have no incentive to do anything, other that look for the next mug-punter to sign up? I think angrily.

‘If we ever move agin I won’t be using an on-line load of idiots.’ Says the husband, offering me his hand as the couple leave. Great, I think, maybe come back and see me next time?
‘Oh we won’t be moving again.’ Interjects his wife. ‘Never!’
Not so great.

Maybe one day, if a UK Housing Minister stays in post longer than a few months, we’ll have a joined-up policy for the industry. But I suspect I’ll be long gone. Other countries demand a minimum standard of education to practice as an estate agent - or realtor - and a sound form of licensing and monitoring. We continue to think cheap is value for money and when engaging a future service, you don’t find out until it’s too late, you’ve been duped.

‘Mrs Simmonds on line three.’ Announces negotiator S, later in the day. She’ll be ringing to say how delighted she is I’ve achieved a full-price asking price on her flat after just a fortnight of intensive marketing, five viewings and two competing offers, I think a little smugly.

‘I’m not really happy with the amount of fee I’m paying you.’ Says Mrs Simmonds by way of a greeting. The wind coming out of my sails is almost audible.
‘You don’t seem do have done a lot for the money.’ She moans and a lengthy diatribe about skill-sets, expertise, exam qualifications and the job being far from over, spools through may head. I should introduce Mrs Simmonds to the couple I had in the office earlier. They left singing my praises and wanting to bear my children - but then again they didn’t pay me a bean…

‘I wonder if I’ve undersold it.’ Continues Mrs Simmonds, in the time-honoured whine of an owner who is unhappy if you sell too soon and quick to change agents if you take too long. I’m tempted to give her the number of the on-line outfit my new friends employed, but they probably wouldn’t answer the phone.

‘What did Mrs Simmonds want?’ Asks negotiator S, after I’ve convinced the woman she won’t be paying me a penny until I nurse the deal through to a successful moving day.
‘What do they all want?’ I snap back.
‘Something for nothing?’ Ventures S, with a beguiling smile.

There you go.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Upload And Forget - Tuesday

‘Oh for f***s sake!’ Exclaims assistant manager T, as his phone handset hits the cradle damagingly.
‘What is it?’ Asks negotiator S, with a sympathetic smile.
‘Another w****r who is making a huge property mistake.’ Spits T, angrily.
‘You’re going to need to narrow it down a bit.’ Replies S with a giggle.

She has a point. Even the most seasoned of businesspeople have blinkers on when it comes to making sensible decisions on property matters. It’s a murky fog of greed, emotion and anxiety - no wonder you need a trusted professional to hold your hand.

‘Those f***-wits in the two bed flat I valued have only gone and given it to some on-line cowboys for an up-front fee.’ Reveals T, face turning puce.
‘That’s their look out then.’ Soothes S. ‘They’ll most likely be back in three months, chastened and out of pocket.’
‘They’ll be too embarrassed to see me again.’ Predicts T, probably accurately. ‘ It’ll end up on the market with those idiots down the road.’ T sweeps a derisory hand towards one of our competitors in town, a cheap-and-cheerful outfit - without the humour element.

‘I imagine you pointed out to them the folly of paying in advance for a future service?’ I say, semi-rhetorically.
‘Of course I cocking did.’ Snarls T.
‘Swear box is is waiting.’ I admonish, nodding towards the office expletive collector.
‘Put me down for a f***ing fiver then.’ Says T dismissively. ‘I’m fed-up with these myopic idiots.’

T has a point. As I try to tell the public and train my staff; if you buy a car, it’s pretty easy to see the distinction in price between a Mercedes and a Micra. But trying to compare a service - one you’ve yet to receive - on the basis of some promises from a profession that is hardly held in high esteem by the public, isn’t such an easy pitch.

‘These cretins don’t seem to understand getting a sale through to completion is massively more than just listing a home on a property portal.’ Says T, dejectedly.
‘They’ll find out.’ Soothes S.
‘Not until it’s too late.’ Grumbles T.

He’s right again. Most high street agents offer a no-sale, no-fee, arrangement. The hard work often begins after a sale has been agreed, with lender and title problems, protracted chains to negotiate and a several month sale process to navigate. This is when an experienced and qualified estate agent earns their corn.They have to, otherwise they don’t get paid.

‘Why do people do it?’ Wails T.
‘Because they think they are saving a thousand pounds or two.’ Says S.
‘More often than not, they under-sell if the market isn’t tested property.’ Replies T. ‘And that’s before the sale has to be rescued multiple times ahead of an exchange of contracts.’
‘They probably signed up for the on-line cowboys’ call-centre conveyancing service too.’ Says S, not helping matters.

This is another area yet to be fully understood by a naive public. A cheap shirt, you pretty much know is going to fall apart after a wash or two - a cheap solicitor will leave you even more exposed.
Obviously some people will have a successful experience with an on-line estate agent, but in my view it’s the digital equivalent of putting a postcard advertising your house in a newsagent’s window. Just for £1,000 - not £2.50 a fortnight.

‘Did they pay the money in advance, or take the deferred payment  option?’ I ask T. Some outfits, dodge the thorny issue of folk not wanting to pay ahead of delivery, by signing the seller up on a pay-later scheme. I wouldn’t advise my worst enemy to do that.

‘Paid now.’ Says T. ‘ I mean, it’s like shelling out for an over-priced hooker and finding she doesn’t come.’
‘And neither do you.’ Adds loose lettings lush B, unhelpfully. 
It’s not. Although…..

‘Make a note to call them once a fortnight until they are ready to use us.’ I instruct T. ‘They’ll probably be talking to you more often than some faceless, so called local property expert, who lives fifty miles away.’

‘They don’t deserve me.’ Snipes T.

They do.