What is it? Love a young professional couple, don’t we. We love a Young Professional Couple in the landlording world. It just works, as a dynamic, the Y.P.C., every step of it: they are Young, blinded by the intensity and newness and vitality of their love, and also they have never really lived outside of a flat-share with six other people before, so they are totally oblivious to, say, how much a monthly flat for two people should cost, how many windows a flat might need, how much mould it’s fine or not fine to live with, things like that. And they are Professional, because we hate those without jobs, don’t we (even though the maximum ceiling of the local council’s universal credit system often dictates rent costs in the surrounding postcode), because those without jobs don’t deserve the high level of service we landlords provide, so we love a couple of young people with jobs, Professional jobs, good old-fashioned salaried jobs with bosses we can call up and double-check their salary with. And then Couple, the masterful flourish at the end, because they balance each other out when they are like that, don’t they, yin and yang, she’ll do the bills probably, she’ll remind him to pay rent and not lean his bike in the hallway so it scratches up all the wallpaper, he’ll earn more because he’s a bloke, and then because they are only paying half each we can amp the rent up a bit. There is nothing landlords love more than a Young Professional Couple. They are what we get into this business for. The dream.
Where is it? Will talk to the lad primarily, when they turn up. “Hello mate how you doing mate yes,” that sort of thing. Initiate the handshake but look as if I’m distracted halfway through it. What I do is affect an air of already being late to another meeting that started at the same time as this viewing did (even though I don’t actually have a job), as though I am doing them a great favour by squeezing them into my stacked schedule of passive asset holding. This creates urgency. Then I’ll give them probably two to three minutes to view and assess a space they are going to spend a year of their life paying £18,000 pounds for. “Yeah, as you can see, bedroom, kitchen,” I’ll say. “Floors, walls.” I will describe the flat as if I have never seen a property before in my entire life. “As you can see, lots of light comes in through the windows.” I’ll describe the flat as if I’ve been forced to make a 15-minute presentation in front of a class that I forgot entirely to prepare for. “Freezer – you can keep frozen sort of goods in there.” I’ll look at my watch while she gently tries to convince him that this could work. “Could be nice, for us,” she’ll say. “If we move every single piece of furniture around… and change the curtains.” At this point, I will yell some arcane rule I have just made up on the spot – “Can’t change curtains,” I’ll say, as if the curtains were left to me by a beloved relative, a family heirloom, and that a tenant can’t be trusted to unpeg them from a curtain rail and fold them up in the back of a wardrobe for a year without damaging them irreparably, and that doing so would be a deposit violation – and at this point we will enter a sub-negotiation. “We have our own sofa – could we bring it along with us?” she’ll say. Probably bought a nice one on Gumtree. Probably wants to actually be comfortable, during the evenings, and actually take nice photos on it for Instagram, instead of this strange coarse flat grey thing I’ve bought in bulk from an old factory that went bust after it flooded. At this point I will suck air through my teeth as if weighing up a great moral quandary, but instead what I will be thinking is this: sofa-haver, is it. Bought a sofa, has she. This little bitch has money. Play this right and I’ll get two hundred extra quid a month out of these cunts.
What is there to do locally? Easiest way here is to pretend that dozens of other couples – younger than these ones, maybe! More professional! – are desperately interested in this flat, which makes them panic. They probably have to move out in two weeks anyway so they need to either get this all wrapped up today or tomorrow, or they are fucked. This obviously is advantageous to me. “Yeah, well yeah, sofas,” I’ll say. “Only thing is – and I’ll be straight up with you—” (I say this to make them feel like I am being honest) “—I’ve got another viewing later, and it’s for three.” “Three people?” she’ll say, and I’ll look sad and nod. There’s no way that these two can compete with the mighty spending power of three professional people. They’ll get absolutely blown out of the water by them, they think. So they’ll offer me more money on the spot to make sure they secure it, and I make an extra grand-and-a-half a year just by making them panic a bit. And that’s going straight in the ISA. “Hold on,” she’s saying. “Three people? In this flat?” Yeah.
Alright, how much are they asking? “You think this flat is big enough for three people to live in?” she says. Her tone has changed and I don’t really like it. Look at the bloke. He’s saying nothing. “Yeah, well look at the flat,” I’ll say. “It’s got two beds in it, look.”
And she’s going like, “Yeah, it does, but that doesn’t mean it has two bedrooms.” I’m getting a call on the Bluetooth headset I for some reason still wear, in the year two thousand and twenty-one, but I ignore it. “Two beds means two bedrooms,” I say. “Two beds two bedrooms.”
“No, she is right,” the bloke one is saying. “Where’s the living room?”
“Well, you can have a living room in this room,” I say. “The second bedroom.”
“The bedroom with the fridge in it?” he says.
“Quick aside,” she’s going. “How, logistically, does the fridge being in one bedroom work?”
“What do you mean?”
“Alright, so say we have a third person in this 300sq ft flat,” she says, and I nod because that seems like a normal thing to me, “and it is 8AM in the morning, and I need some milk for my cereal, but they are still asleep.”
“Knock… gently,” I say.
“Knock gently?” she says.
“Yeah, hold on,” bloke one’s saying. “That doesn’t make sense at all. What if I want a can at 11PM, but they are already in bed?”
“Get them to pass it to you through a crack in the door.”
“What if they’re shagging?”
“Can I ask another question?” bird one’s saying. “Why, of all the formations of furniture you could have had in a room that includes a bed, a desk and a fridge – mental, by the way—”
“— why would you put the fridge in front of the window, so it is blocking about 40 percent of the light?”
“That’s where the nearest power socket is.”
“But do you not see how a room should not have to choose between having a source of natural light and having a fridge in it?”
She’s guiding me to the bathroom now. “Do you see a problem with that?” she says. I look inside a room I can just about stand up inside and turn around in, which has a toilet and a sink and a shower that for some reason is up on a ledge. “No,” I say. “I am a landlord, and this is exceptionally normal to me.”
“Where’s the window?” the boy one pipes up.
“There’s a light.”
“Have you ever had a shit in the pitch black?” he says. I am a London landlord and I take aesthetic cues from Russian prisons. I don’t see a problem with this. “No,” I say.
“So this is the main bedroom,” she says. We’re not moving very much while all this is happening, by the way. The flat is too small for significant transitions of space to take place. I’m basically just turning around on the spot. “Yeah,” I say. “Look, it’s done up like one of them trendy east London places, but just really, really cheaply. Bed made of steel pipes, for some reason. Two walls painted lurid green. Absolutely no warmth from the floor because the whole place is tiled. Wardrobe you can’t open if the door to the bedroom is also open. Desk chair I seem to have found soiled in a skip.”
“Yeah,” she says. “It’s shit.”
I counter with some lines I learned from my little landlord forums: “A lot of renters these days just want somewhere to lay their hat at night. They are too busy sampling the delights of London’s glamorous nightlife scene to want to sit at home and actually have a fridge in their kitchen.”
“How am I meant to afford nightlife when I’m paying £1,500 a month to you?” she says. “Yeah,” he chips in. “I’ve had to take on bar shifts as well as my day-job just to make rent.” I pull up my phone and start scrolling my Facebook groups for support. “‘A lot of young couples these days prefer to rent’,” I say, “‘it allows them the freedom to taste domestic life together without being chained to a single postcode’.”
“I’d like to be based in a single postcode,” she says. “I’ve never met my neighbours, once, in half a decade of living in this city.” He pipes up: “I’ve moved five times in two years.” That’s the freedom you lot want, isn’t it, though? No kids, no commitments. You could pack up and move to Europe for a couple of years, if you wanted to! “How did you vote, mate?” he says. I’m not answering that. I’ve just noticed he’s actually quite tall.
“Listen,” I say. “I’m a good guy. I’m not like one of those monster corporate landlords. When something’s broken, I fix it.” “What about the light in the main bedroom?” “It’s a special bulb that I have to order off a special website. Repair on that is mere weeks away.” They are walking out the door. “Alright! You can bring your own sofa in! I’ll move one of the beds!” They are still walking. “Alright! £1,450 a month!” The bloke glares at me. “£1,400!” She glares at me. “I can’t go lower than that! I’m a businessman!”
They’ve gone. All my life I thought I was the good guy, but the reality is I do not have a soul in the way that normal people have a soul. Every time I watch TV or see a film, or that one time I read a book, I realised that 99 percent of people feel the sharp edges of the world differently to me. They have deep sonic waves of emotion and empathy that impact everything they do; they feel the warm glow of love and the searing heat of anger and the bright skipping dance of a weekend. They kiss and they drink and they sweat together in the gorgeous squirming bounce of a dancefloor, and they go home exhilarated, breathing the sweet cold air of the city at midnight. I feel pounds and pence and net profits and monthly loss. I sit at home on a laminate floor and sleep in my bumbag, and the first thing I look at on my phone every morning is my bank account.
Did I do it wrong? Did I live my life wrong? They teach you very young that the point of life is to create money to augment the living of it. The naked pursuit of those funds is surely the endgame of all that. If you strip away all of the life out of life, and just have the income, then surely you are living more life, double or triple life?
This morning I started the day at a property auction and today I am ending it by shitting in darkness in the middle of Old Street. I am wealthier than 95 percent of the country and I still am incapable of sending a single email without a typo in it. My skin is grey and my heart is dull. One day all of this will click, somehow – maybe the addition of a fifth flat to the portfolio, or maybe I could gobble up some cheap terraces in, like, Huddersfield – and suddenly the world will appear to me as it does to others: bright, in full colour, meaningful.
I am not the wrong one. I am a taxpaying businessperson who provides a service that keeps human beings just about dry and just about warm while they sleep, at great personal cost to them. Without me, the property market would fall apart, and by “apart” I mean would equalise down to a sensible mean. The world should bend to me! The world should bend to me! The world should bend to me! I didn’t do it wrong! I’m the only one who did it right! I have my initials sewn into my polo shirt!
Will lower the rent to one–three and put it on Gumtree again. Some cunt’ll still have it.