Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Real Estate Hell

I'm currently residing in a place that might be familiar to you renters and home-owners alike: Real Estate Hell. Raise your hand if you know what I'm talking about. Yeah. That's what I thought.

Our landlady has decided to sell up (which only seems to happen to us when we find a flat we like e.g. the same thing happened in Maida Vale four years ago), which is fine, really, since we had been house hunting since the beginning of this year. What's not fine, though, is the fact that we put the house hunting on hold for a while since we're also in the middle of planning two transatlantic wedding receptions, which are happening in July and August.

So, as if deciding on the color of chair covers in Seattle or putting in a bulk order of wedding favors from a chocolatier in London aren't stressful enough, these mornings find me fumbling for my iPhone, with my head still under my pillow, squinting with one eye open, and scrolling frantically through the newest properties that "match" our search terms on It's become a well-rehearsed habit now, my flow-chart of deciding factors that will make me place the dreaded call to the real estate agent within the first fifteen minutes of my working day: 1) consider the price and our budget 2) location via map view 3) floorplan/square footage 4) outside space or no outside space 5) transportation links, bus routes, etc.

Then I arrive at my office desk at 9:15 a.m. and make the 3 or 4 calls to my selected targets. The words rattle off my tongue as I describe the properties we're interested in to the sales person on the other end of the line who sounds like a candidate for The Apprentice - and I mean that in the least possible nice way. I spell out my name once, twice, three times, and the agent still sends property emails to the wrong person (a man who shares the same name as me, different spelling, who happens to reside in Canada, btw), then texts me to say, "I have sent you 11 properties in the past 7 days. Please let me know if you are still looking as I haven't heard from you." You haven't heard from me, because I'm not the random Canadian man you've been sending the actual emails to, you idiot.

Or, I call an agent about a specific property I'd like to view, either with or without John, depending on our schedules. "That one's had an offer accepted, I'm afraid," he says with all the smugness of the Cheshire Cat over the phone. He's not afraid, not really. He's not apologetic - in fact, he sounds, could I be right? Downright gleeful. Yes, I have called agents before to cancel a viewing, only to have them chirp, "Perfect!" They're not disappointed you've cancelled. They're laughing at you. Because they know you're desperately looking and desperately not finding, but also that they have 1,000 other buyers just like you lined up and waiting to be screwed over. They're rubbing their hands in anticipation.

Of course, when you're the other side, i.e. the tenant whose landlord has decided to sell, you also get delightfully screwed over by agents. My favorite experiences include the agent who, given the responsibility for finding us a new place to rent last year when we were looking to move, sent us a photo of the very flat we were currently residing in. I wrote a one-line email that said simply, "Hi. We live there. Thanks." Or, the very same agent, who, after showing our flat to some potential renters left both doors unlocked for me to walk straight into after a late night excursion with a friend. Imagine walking straight into your home at 10 pm at night without having to use your keys, after a full 14 hours of not being in it. Scary, right?

When I hang up the phone with these agents, my hands are very nearly shaking with rage. It's the bullshit I can't stand. When I tell them my budget (which is already between £100-200k more than the average couple in our age bracket could afford, I'm guessing), they suck in their breath through their teeth: "Well, it's a bit difficult to work within that price range, I have to say. Everything I've sold in the last few days are going waaaaaaaayyy [and they like to stretch this word out] over the asking price. I doubt you're going to find anything for that. Still," he continues gravely, "I'll try my best, I'll try my best." As if they are a surgeon informing a patient that she has an inoperable disease but will nevertheless "try their best." I mean, come on. Have you seen me before? Do I have the words, "STUPID" or "GULLIBLE" written across my forehead? Bottom line is, I don't care if properties you've sold have gone over the asking price. I am not here to award you a medal. Just get on with your job.

Speaking of medals, I had a "sales trainee" call me up from another agency a few days ago who announced that I had been "shortlisted" for a property as if I had been shortlisted for the Nobel Peace Prize. I mean, seriously. I actually laughed out loud, which he mistook for joy. No, my friend, it was a pure, unadulterated, ironic laugh.

But it's the agents who'll be laughing all the way to their next commission.


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