It’s a phrase I’ve heard regularly over my career, most recently at a performance review meeting with the bean counter boss – but more of that another day.
The rest of my team look at F with a mixture of pity and bemusement, but for once the bovine-brained buffoon has a point. Splashed across the front page is an article predicting major meltdown for the economy in general and the property market in particular. Less than two weeks ago a rival paper had forecast price rises of up to 20%. For once F has asked a salient question.
Like short-lived media personalities, the propensity to talk someone or something up, only to gleefully drag the subject matter back down again seems endemic. I can join in with the rest of the mob when it’s some semi-naked bimbo – male or female – who is being trashed, but when it’s my livelihood I get a little pissy.
‘Take it all with a pinch of salt.’ I tell F with the wisdom of experience and a vapid get out of jail free phrase.
‘So the market isn’t going to crash?’ Asks F querulously.
‘He didn’t say that.’ Contributes assistant manager T grimly.
‘Well they seem to think we’re heading for trouble.’ Counters F referring to a recent RICS report.
‘And you believe they know what they’re talking about?’ Laughs T sardonically.
The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors is the august body whose latest press release has warned of choppy waters ahead. The surveyors they represent aren’t an estate agents favourite profession, coming slightly above solicitors and well below bankers. The truth is surveyors generally haven’t a clue what something is worth until we tell them the agreed sale price and they lop 5% off for good measure.
A dizzying dollop of déjà vu overwhelms me again and I have to sit down as I realise I’ve been here too many times before. Trying to second guess what the market is doing against a backdrop of contradictory media reports all serving to undermine an already fragile situation. Then in walks one of the aforementioned professionals.
‘Morning troops.’ Announces the surveyor breezily, he either has a skin thicker than mine or is oblivious to the antipathy in the room. To be fair to the man he’s one of the less destructive of his breed and doesn’t carry the nickname “ wrecker”, “spoiler” or “bomber”. That doesn’t mean we have to like him – just pretend.
‘So what do you think?’ Asks the surveyor, handing me the details of a house he’s valuing, one being sold by a rival firm. I begin to subtly undermine the price achieved but he’s already decided on that one. His question is more general.
‘I think price are unsustainable if I’m honest.’ He whispers. I’ve thought that for years, I think privately, but it’s not in my best interests to admit it.
‘There’s a glut of properties coming to the market and a dearth of buyers from what I can see.’ Continues the man, reading my mind unnervingly, before adding. ‘I’m beginning to feel nostalgic about Home Information Packs.’
True, the abolition of the despised packs has helped to boost stock levels, but the supply and demand situation has never been in balance since I joined the industry. It’s just a question of whether the buyers are shafting the sellers, or the other way round. As if to confirm it a sour-faced woman walks through the door clutching her survey report.
‘I wasn’t aware of all this work that needed doing.’ She whines using the report as a bargaining tool to reduce the price she agreed to pay three weeks ago. ‘And of course the market is falling now.’ She adds, before showing me the Energy Performance Certificate she ignored when pleading with me. “Don’t sell it to anyone else. We’ll pay whatever it takes.”
‘It’ll cost me at least £15,000 to double glaze and improve the energy and carbon efficiency.’ She concludes irritatingly.
Should my owners reduce? You tell me – failing that buy a paper.