Thursday, May 23, 2013
I’m alone in the office with just imbecilic trainee F for company, as we cover the lunch shift. It’s not a lunch hour; such as you might get working in public service, or a heavily unionised environment. Here you grab some sustenance on the run, in between appointments. Spend too much time scoffing rather than selling and one of the, far too many for every town, opposition agents will be gobbling up your commission opportunities. It’s dog eat dog out there…
F takes a call from an abrupt, just short of rude, man wanting property in a road his wallet won’t stretch to. F frowns as he holsters the phone. I watch the rudimentary cogs grinding in his skull. You can almost hear the base material on base material friction.
You’ve been doing this for, like, ages.’ Announces F eventually, with not the most flattering of openings. I nod warily, as he continues. ‘So, did people always hate estate agents?’
‘Pretty much.’ I tell him, remembering my first sale as if it were yesterday and the fact that the buyer thought they’d paid too much and the seller thought we’d sold too cheaply - and not justified our commission.
‘What you have to understand,’ I tell F wondering if it’s worth the effort enlightening him when I’m trying to engineer a second written warning from a reluctant Human Resources department, who do take lunch hours but don’t like Industrial tribunals. ‘Is property is adversarial,’ I continue. ‘Each party is looking to stiff the other. Add in idiotic surveyors, incompetent solicitors, nervous lenders and a chain longer than on the Titanic’s anchor and you can see why people hate the process.’
‘Yes but why hate us?’ Asks F naively.
‘Because we’re the conduit.’ I tell him, instantly regretting it.
F’s face screws up painfully. Finally he asks.
‘Isn’t that some sort of internet scam?’
Still no entry exam for estate agency.
‘Anything happening?’ Asks fat mortgage man M as he waddles back into the office, face buried in something greasy from Greggs the bakers. He doesn’t need an hour to consume more calories than I eat in a day. I tell him the stark truth.
‘No leads for me then?’ Complains M, spitting flakes on to the carpet, that – unless I do it again - won’t be vacuumed for another 48 hours, after the bean counter’s cleaning cut backs.
‘You could chase up some of your back catalogue of non-written business.’ I suggest sourly. M looks at me with distain. He wants fresh meat – and two veg all wrapped in pastry, if he can get it. He certainly doesn’t see keen on foraging for scraps.
‘Bunch of piss-heads coming up the road.’ Says M nodding his chubby face towards the window and doubtless hoping to change the focus away from his non-performance. M only pulls his weight when he gets on the scales.
‘I don’t know how people can afford to get drunk during the day.’ I pontificate, knowing the answer is probably, ironically, in lettings’ lush B’s copy of the Daily Mail on her desk.
‘You might want to lock the door.’ Suggests M retreating to his office, leaving an aroma laced with processed onions.
It wouldn’t be the first time a bunch of drunkards came into the office to abuse an easy target. I dodged the flying chair last time, but I’m not as agile as I used to be.
Before I can decide, the group of Neanderthals are glaring through the glass making rigorous jerking gestures with cupped forefinger and thumb, while one of their number bangs on the window. The last two times I called the police we were closing for the day before the squad car arrived. I’m guessing there are more than a few constables who can’t get on the housing ladder.
The door spills open and the boldest, drunkest, low-life leers in and grunts.
‘You f***ers are the reason we can’t get no place to live.’
Not the fact you aren’t working and are spending all your benefits on cheap cider then, I ache to say - if it wasn’t for the fear of anaesthetic and more emergency surgery.
The spit will come off the carpet in a couple of days.
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Thursday, May 16, 2013
‘Do we sell park homes?’ Asks trainee F, phone cupped ineffectively instead of on hold, as I always keep telling the numbskull.
If it’s a home set in a park, I think, yes we’d be delighted - if it’s an overpriced shed, not so much. But with new instructions to sell always a battle, I waver, despite the evidence of history.
‘Get some more details.’ I tell F having walked over and stabbed the mute button on his phone base. ‘Then see when I can go and visit.’
It’s a long shot. Park Homes, for the uninitiated, are what used to be called mobile homes until someone realised you’d get more money for them if you took the wheels off, hooked them up to a rudimentary sewerage system and provided electricity for daytime television viewing. In the United States, I believe they’re known as trailer parks, in the UK they are similarly trashy only without the need for air conditioning units. The parks tend to be populated by elderly couples who failed on the property ladder of life, or have downsized ill-advisedly, thinking a timber cabin with stick on rubber roof tiles is actually a bungalow, only cheaper, thereby allowing them to eat more than value meals and tinned horsemeat for the rest of their naturals. The beneficiaries are never thrilled.
‘So they’re, like, really good value?’ Enthuses F after I’ve given him the low down.
‘Not exactly.’ Interjects assistant manager T.
F frowns that bovine look that makes you think slaughterhouse and a humane bolt-gun administered to the cranium - no questions asked and only minimal paperwork for the Personnel Department.
‘Nobody will lend on a park home.’ Continues T. ‘At least not mainstream banks and building societies.’
‘Waste of time.’ Echoes fat mortgage man M as he seesaws past, masticating.
‘Cash buyers only, as a rule.’ Says T.
‘And they’re too skint to take out decent insurance policies.’ Adds M. ‘Property underclass. I wouldn’t have one if you gave it to me.’
‘Thanks for letting me come with you.’ Enthuses F, as I negotiate the bumpy track and see the Park entrance. A paint-blistered sign promises high-quality new homes from a price point I still consider expensive. I’m already regretting my generosity twofold; one by coming to value a timber caravan I probably can’t sell, and two for bringing the only type of owner these places will appeal to – albeit in about forty-five years time after F’s inevitable failed marriages and ineffective career. I really must look into registering as a charity. I’ve talked about it and there are plenty of empty shop units in the high street for a rent-free outlet. I just need to get round to the paperwork.
As I daydream and slowly motor along the cramped, weed-strewn lanes of shabby units, an officious little man with a goatee beard and an attitude problem steps in front of the car and holds his hand up, traffic policeman style. I’m sorely tempted to accelerate, but of course I don’t. Window down, I wait for the inevitable lecture.
‘Who is this?’ Hisses F as the sour-faced man walks around the car towards me.
The park owner, or warden to be more accurate.’ I whisper. ‘Little Hitlers most of them. He’s about to warn us nobody sells without his say-so.’
And true to form, we’re informed.
‘So you’ve met that grubby little man.’ Says the lady owner, as we sit in her open plan lounge, slight swaying motion as the wind whistles round the angles. She’s made the best of a bad job with a mock fireplace housing an electric fire, and a sagging sofa set arranged toward an ancient cathode ray television set with a digital box perched on top. It’s still a caravan though, just without the option to shift elsewhere that easily. I tell her we’ve had our card duly marked. The owner reminding us all the homes are on leases granted by him and that he has to approve any new incomers - effectively making the whole flyblown couple of acres his own creosote-coated fiefdom. Needless to say, he’s already offered to ‘buy’ the unit, at a price even I wouldn’t dare to suggest.
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Thursday, May 09, 2013
‘Here comes Sheller.’ Announces trainee F with unusual confidence. There’s a long silence, as we look at him, each other, then follow his gaze out into the high street.
Assistant manager T sighs then enlightens the imbecile. ‘It’s Bomber, his name is Bomber.’
‘The end result is the same though.’ Says negotiator S with a shake of her head.
‘That’s what I meant.’ Counters F defensively. ‘Bomber.’ He hesitates then asks. ‘Remind me why he’s called Bomber again? He’s too young for euthanasia but a controlled explosion at his desk might work.
‘Because he destroys sales.’ Answers S, saving me from some witheringly sarcastic response that might involve another re-education course with some touchy-feely woman from HR who doesn’t shave often enough.
Every town has a harsh-minded surveyor or two. Long in the tooth practitioners who were sued until their professional indemnity insurers threatened to withdraw cover, after the last property crash. Where lenders who were all to happy to advance money rashly to those with dodgy employment letters, or self-certificated borrowers proffering back of a fag packet first year accounts, decided to retrospectively blame the surveyor for signing off a value that some expected to only keep rising. 20-20 hindsight is a real gift.
‘The twat just down-values every sale he looks at.’ Snarls T. ‘We agree a house at £375,00 he’ll value it at £ 350,000,’ continues T hitting his stride as Bomber does the same across the road. ‘Tie a deal up on the same house at £350,000 and you can guarantee he’s value it at £325,000. Those bastards are frightened of their own shadows. I’m surprised he comes out in the daylight.’
‘I’ve complained about him to my panel of lenders.’ Contributes tubby mortgage man M as he waddles across the office something chaffing again unpleasantly. ‘Tried to get him struck off but they won’t play ball like they used to.’ There’s a reason for that, I think glumly. My memory and longevity is elephantine and I’ve repossessed more homes than I care to remember.
‘If the sale goes down the pan, could you ask the owners if they’d like to rent it out instead?’ Asks B from lettings unhelpfully. The dagger-shaped looks just bounce off her. ‘What?’ She asks with an air of innocence she lost a long time ago. ‘A girl’s got to make a living.’
‘Be nice to him.’ I counsel as Bomber approaches the door. ‘You never know, he might value it up.’
‘Fat chance’ Says M without a hint of irony.
M is right. But I can’t afford to upset the surveyor, despite the fact his caution, bordering on outright fear, has cost me thousands this year alone. But then if it’s not Bomber, it’ll be one of his partners in destruction. I know of a Dr Death, The Terminator and at least two Grim Reapers, from discussions with sister offices.
‘Morning everybody.’ Breezes Bomber as he enters the office. The response is colder than a long-abandoned house. I’m surprised his damp meter doesn’t start pinging off the scale. I beckon him over, and he gives me the address. Only two weeks ago I was punching the air with delight when the sale was agreed, now I’m imagining the fractious conversation with the owner and a call to the board man to re-erect the For Sale sign.
‘Set of the details and the energy performance report please.’ Says Bomber with a forced smile I’d like to force back down his throat. He’s the only person to show interest in an EPC since the last surveyor came in to cover their arse.
I hand Bomber the information and ask him to sign for the keys.
‘Got any comparable sales?’ He asks whiningly. So you can work down from those figures, less ten percent, I think angrily. If you put enough caveats and disclaimers in a survey it becomes as worthless as the EPC he’s clutching protectively.
‘Hmm, price looks a bit full,’ speculates Bomber to an audible pantomime-style hiss from stage left, right and centre.
‘It reflects the market. We had competitive bidding and two disappointed punters.’ I tell him artfully.
‘Reckon it’ll be ok?’ Asks F after Bomber leaves.
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Friday, May 03, 2013
‘These sales figure are just not acceptable.’ Grumbles the bean counter boss, as he clicks his laptop tracker pad angrily. The stark figures flash up on the collapsible screen and there is nowhere to hide. Under the cheap laminate hotel table isn’t an option and there is no under-stairs cupboard immediately to hand. Not any more.
One-by-one, the pernickety figure-fiddler, reads out the sales, lettings and financial services performances, office by office, as if we can’t see for ourselves - those not too vain to don glasses.
H my short-arsed rival manager sits beside me and grins. His office is top of the pile, about the only time he can claim to be higher than anyone else – unless the circus is in town. But even his lucrative patch isn’t generating the sort of figures it once was. His ex-wife won’t be blowing such a big bonus come year-end...
It comes to my office and after all this time I’m almost beyond squirming – almost. Tell him to go f***k himself urges that mischievous inner-voice that really should stay tethered to a blog or anonymous Twitter feed. As if he could do any better continues the gobby Gremlin, as I try to focus on the bean counter’s rhetoric about shaking trees and rattling something, other than begging bowls.
I offer up some platitudes about renewed effort, a tele-sales push and re-visiting failed valuations with more vigour than I can truly muster for idiots who want too much money and aren’t prepared to pay a fair fee. The spotlight moves on and I sit back, heart pumping, trickle of cold sweat running uncomfortably down my back. One day I really will just stand up and tell him to stick his budget projections where the sun doesn’t shine. I’ll march from the hotel room, head held high, muted applause from my colleagues urging me to the car park – where I’ll find my company car and a glove box full of failed endowment statements and my latest mortgage deficit – one day…
‘Anyone in this room can be replaced.’ Snarls the bean counter unpleasantly, as I wonder if people behave like this in the public sector? Those that are not on long-term, fully funded, sick pay.
He’s bullying the girl from the office at the bottom of the list now. I’d like to jump to her defence. A younger, more chivalrous me, a man who had yet to compromise his principles with credit cards, life cover and more debt than a banana republic, would be standing up for her, pointing out the office had a crap location, too many competitors and a poor housing mix – but then she’s just come back from maternity leave, so at least she’s had a break from this childish nonsense…
‘We can’t buck the market conditions.’ Suggests the girl weakly. It looks as is one of he breasts is leaking through her blouse, unless it’s a milky teardrop.
‘You need to up your penetration.’ Says H from alongside me. He can be such a big prick for a small man.
‘That’s right’, agrees the bean counter. ‘We must take market share from the weaker players. Let’s shut some of these other bastards down.’
And the local estate agents’ association wonders why nobody attends the monthly meetings.
‘How about another price reduction competition?’ I find myself suggesting, to groans from around the table. It works, it worked in the past, but it’s not palatable unless you can explain the benefits to all.
‘My vendors won’t reduce, they keep reading surveys telling them price are going up.’ Counters a manager with a town boasting near on full employment. God I wish I could ban, pointless, contradicting surveys by vested interests. Strange how owners never latch on to reports showing declining values.
‘I can sell everything I can get.’ Boasts H, as I use all my willpower not to stab him with the plastic knife I couldn’t cut the bacon gristle in my greasy sandwich with. ‘I just need more stock.’ Continues H from somewhere around my ankles. ‘There are plenty of mug punters.’
‘You alright?’ I say to the new mother in the foyer.
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Sunday, April 28, 2013
Not sure how long this eco-friendly surge will last as I rather despise the worthy, beardy, touchy-feely, all animals should be cherished and not eaten brigade. But I’m off to recycle again. I’m going before the sun has barely risen, as I woke in the small hours once more, fretting about contracts and month end sales figure, plus I’d like to get to the recycling point before too many people can see me.
Company car loaded, a faint smell of alcohol permeating into the cabin space, I set off in the half-light only to see that obsessive car cleaning neighbour is already out on his drive, caressing his vehicle again. He’s wearing bright yellow rubber gloves and has his jet-washer plugged in and ready to go. I’m trying to stop planet pollution and this tool is about to subject the neighbourhood to early morning noise pollution. If I ever want to sell, he’s the type of twat that solicitors will be asking about in pre-contract enquiries, so I dare not put any complaint in writing. Don’t ever leave an audit trail - unless you are fending off the trading standards people.
The man looks up as I drive past and gives a cursory nod. He knows what I do and, like many, doesn’t like it. But then he’s some sort of number-cruncher – akin to my bean-counter boss - so the feeling is mutual. I just have the grubbier car.
To my dismay, the recycling point is already busy as I pull up and brake a little too sharply. I’m rewarded with a muted rattling and at least one shattering sound from the back of the car. Terrific.
I can see an old boy looking at me, even as I start unloading my considerable cargo. I seem to attract nutters like flies to a turd. Nothing in my body language says engage with me please - I do enough of that during working hours - but he’s clearly desperate to catch my eye and begin a conversation.
‘Morning.’ Announces the pensioner cheerily, as I struggle to lift far too many sagging and slightly soggy cardboard bottle carriers.
I give him the sort of nod the compulsive car cleaner gave me earlier, but I know that won’t shake him. He watches as I begin the laborious task of posting spent beer and wine bottles into the metal containers. To a cacophony of clanking, I deposit an embarrassing number of glass vessels, a vague recollection of the time and place of consumption flickering through my mind as each crash and smash echoes accusingly back at me. He’s still looking.
‘Good party was it?’ Asks the man brightly. God, surely there’s a 24 hour help-line for these people? They shouldn’t have to hang around Tesco Express car parks. Do I tell him it wasn’t a party? Mention I’m an estate agent and I don’t have that many parties- or friends - but need to drink heavily after six days a week of wearing engagement with members of the public, people like him? Probably not.
‘I just haven’t been here for some time.’ I tell the stalker neutrally and not entirely truthfully
‘I’m off the sauce.’ Announces the man explaining why he has that slightly wired look and has started the engagement I didn’t want. He clearly hasn’t tried to move house for a while, I think, sourly. But I’m wrong.
‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’ The persistent pest questions, as I return for my third trip to the car, cardboard containers replaced by those supermarket carrier bags. The ones they are reluctant to give you now and only hand out if you surreptitiously ask for them like some pervert requesting top-shelf material involving farm animals and Wellington boots.
‘Possibly.’ I say neutrally, shoving two bottles of dusty convenience store sourced merlot from a particularly bleak night when my wife was at fat club and my day had involved slim-pickings and two sales falling through, into the bin
‘It’ll come to me.’ Insists the man, as a trickle of stale red wine runs down my arm as if I’ve slashed my wrists.
‘I’m the estate agent.’ I tell him curtly.
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Monday, April 22, 2013
‘Who the f***k invented breakfast meetings?’ Moans H my short of stature, big of ego, rival manager. He’s gravitated towards me at the large rectangular table in this soulless budget hotel we’re in again. It can’t be because he feels superior next to me, at least not until the sales figures are flashed up on the screen.
‘Bloody Americans.’ Replies bulky mortgage man M from across the table. He’s just pocketed a fistful of boiled sweets, from the dish next to the fizzy water that makes you belch horribly, and he’ll no doubt take more than his fair share of the discount brand biscuits when they arrive with the stewed coffee and watery tea. Some mornings I can feel the life force leaking from me like a punctured tyre.
‘Hey my partner is from the States.’ Challenges the woman with the rather too short hair from Human Resources who is due to give a guest presentation on some touchy-feely staff relations issue that we’ll all ignore as soon as the first sale falls-through.
‘Male or female do you reckon?’ Hisses H in my ear, nodding imperceptibly towards the crop-haired people person. Momentary confusion surmounted, I tell him it doesn’t matter as long as she does her job. H looks at me as if he’s stepped in something unsavoury. Not a lot of justice in this world as his office turns over 25% more than mine, irrespective of ill-disguised bigotry - and shoe lifts.
‘Teas and the coffees.’ Announces the eastern European woman in the nylon housecoat as she wheels in a trolley. Her accent is thicker than the dusty tea will be, but she is pretty, in that slightly harsh-featured way borderline malnutrition and a frigid climate seems to breed. Idly, I wonder if she knows my dentist, as she leans across the table rather engagingly and both H and the HR woman check out her rear. That answers one question.
I thank the hotel maid and give her a smile that signals conversation done, but I must have slipped into sales mode, as she engages.
‘You are all the real estate peoples, yes?’ Questions the girl, nodding at me in encouragement. I don’t want to talk property before the greasy bacon sandwiches. And my bean counter boss hasn’t even arrived yet, with a mind-numbingly dull P & L account lecture that would have mathematics geeks trying to fashion nooses with the paper napkins, then looking for sturdy light fittings and volunteers to kick the chair away.
‘Yes, we’re the property experts. Chimes H irritatingly. After several decades I’m still not sure I’d call myself an expert and I’m one of the few to have taken the exams.
‘Yes, he’s big in bungalows.’ Calls M from across the table with a guffaw that is probably masking another of his monumental farts. H ignores M and the Polish waitress ignores H. It seems she want me to say something salient.
‘So,’ continues the woman, whose accent is sounding rather horny in a disconcerting way, after I’ve made a self-effacing comment about knowing a bit about the market. ‘When will people like me be able to afford to buy home?’
‘Come and see me for a financial fact find if you like?’ Suggests M, in between mouthfuls of those not very Nice biscuits. The chambermaid, because that’s the uniform I’m unhelpfully imagining her in now, gives M a look that could freeze vodka.
Several answers race round my head. Replies I’ve toyed with for years. Some serious price deflation, a good round of repossessions, land being released and sold at prices that allows for social housing to be built, the planning process being adapted to make green and brown field site permission conditional on affordable end-unit pricing. But I’m no chancellor. I can’t even work out a sole agency fee without my calculator.
‘Fobbed her off with the usual bullshit then.’ Chuckles H, as the tea-lady exits and the bean counter enters - clutching his laptop and a couple of reams of handouts.
‘First time buyer opportunity?’ Asks the bean counter, nodding at the door hissing shut on the closer.
Not for a while – unless it’s in Krakow.
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Tuesday, April 16, 2013
‘Our viewing figures are down.’ I tell the morning meeting with all the relish of a soggy burger left too long on the warmer, waiting for someone who actually wants pickle.
‘There’s no point in taking out punters who are just time-wasters.’ Counters assistant manager T, sipping his tea gingerly.
‘It’s a numbers game.’ I hear myself saying, not liking the whiny echo of my bean counter boss’s proclamations. Statistically, it’s true the more viewings you carry out, the closer you are to your next sale. But there needs to be some quality control, otherwise you’ll be ferrying, nutters, habitual lookers and just about every other socially incontinent individual, plus a few genuinely incontinent people, round your whole housing register - with nothing to show for your efforts other than disappointment and damp car seats.
‘I’m not sure people come into agents’ offices like they maybe used to,’ speculates negotiator S, adding hurtfully. ‘Than, perhaps when you started.’
There’s a choked communal giggle round the table, as I try not to take offence. I’m sure in ancient communities the elderly used to be respected for their wisdom and accumulated knowledge. Nowadays they are shunted off to overpriced boxes with orange emergency pull cords, an absent manager and rising service charges.
‘Yeh but you are always banging on about qualifying applicants properly.’ Continues T doggedly. ‘There’s no point shunting round dreamers like Mr and Mrs Brownlee, who’ll never move in a million years.’ There’s a soundless chorus of nodding heads – if such a thing can exist - and I can already feel my enthusiasm waning, that’s before I mention the lack of financial services introductions we’ve made for M, our moribund mortgage advisor. He’s on some continuing professional development course in a budget chain hotel, learning how to circumnavigate the latest mis-selling legislation. Financiers and insurers don’t like paying out if they can avoid it.
T has a point. Mr and Mrs Brownlee have been looking for the perfect property for at least a decade. I go to value their house every eighteen months, but in the unlikely event of ever listing a home they’d consider, I’d have several other better placed buyers before they’d finished haggling over their asking price, my fee and the fact that nobody could come to view unless they took their shoes off and hadn’t eaten peanuts in the last twenty-four hours. Yet, they’ll still be in the office several times a year, asking to see what we have available in roads they can’t afford.
‘Granted we need to manage our resources.’ I acknowledge, as I sip my weak drink and wonder just where central purchasing sources the dusty teabags from? Judging by the quality of the self-seal envelopes and the flimsy A4 paper that keeps jamming in the printer, it’s nowhere near what used to be called Ceylon, in my youth.
‘So it’s a circle you can’t square.’ Announces dozy trainee F bullishly. We all look at him and his confidence drains faster that lettings lush B’s glass most lunchtimes. ‘The fact that you want us to push more viewings but don’t want to waste time with… with…’ F trails off.
‘Idiots?’ suggests T pointedly.
Maybe the Brownlees’ are a dying breed, I ponder? The sort of greying-purchasers that are not internet savvy. Who need to physically visit an outlet for their holiday and property needs, rather than surfing the web and getting their jollies on-line like all the other porn-lovers - property or otherwise. At least Rightmove and Primelocation don’t ask for your credit card details before showing you the pictures and the occasional point-of-view video inspection – although they financially abuse us every month when the invoices roll in.
‘We need to aim for well-qualified applicants AND maximum viewings.’ I tell my team sounding like one of those training women, with the slightly too fat arse for a trouser suit, we employ. The sort with no direct sales experience who flog e-learning click-and-tick computer programmes that supposedly confirm you understand Money Laundering regulations and the difference between Data Protection Laws and Freedom of Information legislation.
I wonder if the Brownlees’ fancy a visit? They do make a nice cuppa.
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