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.


Friday, February 02, 2018

Cash Is My King - Friday

‘So this is your third viewing of the house.’ I say to the late-middle-aged couple I’m with, as we re-convene in the lounge after a lengthy inspection involving opening cupboards unnecessarily and an awkward moment in the vendor’s underwear drawer.

Of course I know it’s their third visit. I don’t spend precious time with people without qualifying them first. There are only so many hours in the day and literally millions of time-wasters out there. I blame Channel Four and its incessant property porn programming.

‘Yes.’ Acknowledges the husband grudgingly. ‘But we won’t be bounced into any quick decisions by anyone.’ Of course you won’t.
‘He’s always been cautious.’ Says the wife, with an apologetic grin.

Now I’m thinking how dull their sex life must be, rather than how soon I can get back to the office if they are not going to make a bid. Once you get past a third viewing and still don’t make an offer, the chances of a deal recede faster than Jude Law’s hairline.

This house will sell, that I know. The owners have listened to my advice on price, as they’re committed and not greedy. Other agents had tempted them with unrealistic valuations and an on-line outfit wanted the best part of £1,000 up-front with no motivation to do anything else, but the owners were experienced and sensible. If this pair don’t make a decision soon, I’ll find someone who will. But they are in a good position….

‘I understand you are cash buyers.’ I say as the couple prevaricate. It’s always best to double-check and our office idiot, trainee F, conducted the first two viewings.   
‘Yes.’ Says the husband smugly, adding. ‘You lot love that don’t you.’

Well, it’s better the offering pork bellies, or some smoke and mirrors digital virtual currency like Bitcoin, that I’m convinced will turn out to be some enormous Ponzi scheme when it finally unravels. Caveat Emptor.

‘Well if the money is in the bank and you are ready to sign a contract, unhindered by another sale, it puts you in a strong position.’ I say, by way of clarity. Although, some of the corporate estate agency chains would rather buyers used their mortgage services and pet conveyancing operations, as the secret profit kickbacks add value to every transaction.

‘Well it will be.’ Says the wife.
It’s not an audible alarm, but it might as well be. My heart sinks. Surely F has qualified this pair properly? We’ve spent hours with them already, plus  I picked them up from the station as they are obviously too stingy to cough for a taxi.

‘So, the money is not ready.’ I probe, as the husband scowls at his wife.
‘Once the sale goes through it will be.’ Says the husband curtly.
‘You’re selling another home?’ I ask, thinking if it’s not even under offer, I’ll probably enter orbit shortly.

‘It’s not a house.’
 Says the man, dismissively.
What then? Good god, is it a racehorse? A classic car, some pre-renaissance painting?
‘We’re selling a business.’ Enlightens the man. I’d have preferred them to be flogging Shergar - once they find him.
‘So not a cash purchase.’ I advance wearily.
‘It will be, once the deal goes through.’ Counters the man, peevishly.

Commercial business sales are infamously long-winded, as buyers and sellers argue over premises, stock and that notoriously hard to value, goodwill element. A buyer in a matrimonial sale would be, statistically, more likely to perform than this pair. I can find a better buyer for my client. I just can.

‘What time is your train?’ I ask flatly, as we head back towards the station.
‘Oh not for another couple of hours.’ Says the wife. ‘We were wondering if you could drop us off at one of your competitors, we’ve a viewing booked with them in fifteen minutes.’

‘Where’s F?’ I demand angrily when I get back to the office. I’m pretty sure the couple’s train will be diesel, or electric, but if not I’ve raised enough steam to power the Flying f***ing Scotsman.

‘Out to lunch.’ Says negotiator S, warily.



Monday, January 22, 2018

Accidental Landlord - Monday

Loose lettings lush B, has a grumpy-looking middle-aged couple sat at her desk. It’s fairly obvious the expensive German saloon car with personalised plates illegally parked outside the office window, is their car. The latent socialist insider me, wants to despise them, but I’ve learned the hard way not to be too quick to judge. There are two sides to every story.

‘First thing you need to know.’ Says the man to B, assertively. ‘Is I won’t entertain any tenants on benefits.’
‘I get that one-hundred percent.’ replies B, with feeling. ‘They are the bane of my life.’
‘We’re on the same page then.’ Responds the man. ‘I’ve spent too much on lawyers and court fees to have another single mother with a sob story and three kids by three different men, spend the rent money on alcohol and tattoos and not pay me.’

Now I hate stereotyping and there are plenty of decent people who have fallen on hard times, who need help. The trouble is there are too many for the taxpayer to cope and an awkward minority turn private landlords away from renting to them, by trashing their properties and spending the state-paid rent money on anything but the rent.

‘We will only consider proper couples, in decent jobs with cast-iron references.’ Says the woman, leaning in towards B, as if she doesn’t want anyone else to hear. I am, of course, listening fervently. For a moment I thought she was going to say they wanted to exclude potential tenants on racial grounds. We’ve come a long way since landladies put signs in their front windows stating, No Blacks or Irish, and thank goodness for that. Although her undertones tend to suggest they might want us to profile people on their sexuality. It’s illegal and won’t be happening on my watch.

I really want to dislike this couple, but then they may have become accidental landlords like thousands of others when past chancellor, Gordon Brown, ransacked their pension pots, by moving the tax goalposts. And if I could afford any savings, money that didn’t make any tangible interest, maybe I too would want a sensible return by buying a second property. I certainly wouldn’t want some irresponsible scumbag, who trashed the decor, alienated the neighbours and didn’t pay the rent in there. And, I suspect, neither would you.

‘Is that your car?’ Says assists manager T, pointing at the Mercedes with the blinking hazard lights, as he hurries through the door.
‘Yes.’ Says the landlord warily.
‘Only the traffic warden is on his way up the high street, with a glint in his eye.’

‘Blimey,’ says T with a chuckle as the door rattlers in its frame and the disturbed air swishes around the office. ‘Didn’t think old people could move that fast.’
‘They weren’t that old.’ I counter defensively, as the car disappears from view, just as the trainee nazi traffic warden skulks past. He looks in threateningly. God, it’s no wonder there are so many empty commercial shop units in town.

‘I’m glad they are gone.’ Says negotiator S, with an attractive pout. She’s magnificent when angry.
‘Thanks a bunch.’ Snarls B, as she watches a potential client drive away.
‘They were pair of bigoted old bastards.’ Snaps back S. ‘There are laws about people like that.’
‘Would you like some drunken-slapper in your house, not paying the rent.’ Asks B, without a hint of irony. She freeloaded at the last boyfriend’s flat for six months, drinking his sauvignon in return for sex, until he changed the locks. 

If the last ten UK Housing Ministers had the hint of a strategy and had stayed in place long enough for the sign-writer to put their name on the Westminster door, maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess. Reliant on a pressurised private sector of landlords to plug the gaps. For years this country has had too few properties, over-inflated prices for the average worker and no sustainable social homes building policy.

Given half an hour and a box of bird feed I could train a budgie to do a better job - but I’ve got to fly.


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.