I Was a Terrible Estate Agent in London, and Here's What I Learned
Estate agents are bad, and I was the worst.
(Illustration by Cei Willis)
January is the worst time of year for house-hunting. It doesn't matter if you're trudging around rental properties because your flatmates all had magical Christmases with their significant others and decided to move in together, or if you're trying to buy somewhere after a festive season full of your relatives explaining how their first three-bedroom flat in Fulham cost £120,000 in 1987 and "why don't you get on the property ladder"? The worst part, clearly, is estate agents, with their tiny cars and their smug grins and their weak handshakes and the way they act like you're their super-best-mate, so they can do the "I'm just going to be honest with you, you'll get nothing on that budget" chat. Did they mention the reference check that costs £300 that they'll almost certainly forget to do? They didn't? Sorry, it's just standard, mate. This area? Duck under the police tape, dodge the piles of congealing sick and they'll tell you how it's really up-and-coming but still with that local vibe, you know? They're the worst, and I know this all too well. Because I was an estate agent for 18 months, and I'm so very sorry. Look, everyone's got a past. And it taught me a lot.
IF YOU'RE BUYING A HOUSE, DO YOUR RESEARCH
Let's get one thing straight: I was never a Mini-driving, bullshit-spewing official estate agent. I was an unpaid magazine intern during the week, and at weekends, I was a kind of estate agent substitute. The 'stand-in Geography teacher you never really respected' of real estate. If an actual trained, professional estate agent called in sick on a Saturday or Sunday, they'd phone me at 6am, and I'd stumble out of bed, hungover, put on the same cheap, crumpled H&M suit jacket as always, cover up my tattoo because that was the never-said-but-implied rule, drive to the site and learn a fact sheet about the houses or flats I was selling. Then I'd spend the day showing people around saying things like, "It's an amazing area" and "so many great restaurants around here" while barely being able to remember the nearest tube stop. If people were actually going to buy there, they'd have Googled these things, right? And if I didn't know the answer, I'd just say: "Oooh, great question. Let me check with my colleague back in the office" and hope they forgot about it.
NEVER VIEW YOUR POTENTIAL HOME ON A WEEKEND
Look, I was on £10 an hour and my sole aim every working day was to get rid of people from the show flat so I could sleep off my hangover on the bed. The one and only time I successfully sold a flat, it was a Sunday and I was so shocked I had no idea what was happening. This wide-eyed, enthusiastic couple wrote me a cheque for some kind of deposit and I hadn't listened to any of my training, so I put the cheque in a desk drawer, said "yeah, thanks, that's... off the market now?" and wrote a Post-It note to the agent who worked there during the week. Was it off the market? Don't ask me, I've got no idea how that shit works.
REAL ESTATE AGENTS ARE ALL AWFUL
Tweet me about your mate who's actually a really nice Foxtons employee, petition my workplace, look me up on Facebook and tell me I'm wrong: I don't care. It's true. From the agent who played a Jack Johnson CD in the office every single weekend, every single day, on repeat – I'd hear "Brushfire Fairytales" over and over, for nine hours straight, like some chill vibes Guantanamo – to the guy who paid me with a blood-splattered, rolled up £50 note that my local pub refused to take, probably because it was too much of a 90s cliché. All the actual agents I worked with were pretty weird.
One woman, all polyester Next suit and blonde highlights, made me call every single person who'd ever visited the show home and ask if they were "really, really sure" they didn't want to buy here, as if nagging sold £750,000 houses in Roehampton. I pretended every call went to voicemail so I didn't have to speak to another human being.
IT'S REALLY EASY TO STEAL FROM SHOW HOMES
All show homes are decorated to have some weird, subconscious message going on, like: "hey, we get you, young professionals! You work hard, play hard! You like to travel the world, but also love culture!" While the wall art was always a shit-show of photos of the London skyline, the bookcases would be packed full of books by climber Joe Simpson, Bear Grylls, and inevitably Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist. Often, I'd see potential buyers look at the books, pick one up, and carry it around the house before just... taking it with them. I didn't care: it's not my house. Go for it. But I guess if you're under 30 and you're in the position to buy a townhouse in Putney, you feel like you're entitled to use a show home as a free bookshop.
IF YOUR ESTATE AGENT'S BEING A BIT VAGUE WITH YOU, THAT'S BECAUSE THEY'RE LYING
I don't think I ever lied to anyone's face , aside from assuring one woman that I was sure her cat would "love to live" in a one-bed flat next to a motorway but look – I'm not a cat owner. I don't know what cats like. But I did leave certain things out of my sales pitch. In 2007, I was telling potential house owners in the Fulham and Chelsea area that Imperial Wharf station would be open and working "really, really soon". It opened in September 2009. The average UK life expectancy is 81 years old, so if you think about it, two and a half years isn't that long to wait.
One development was right next to a well-respected centre for learning and education (university halls) and another had loads of parking (if you didn't mind buying a car parking space for £120,000).
90% OF RIVER VIEW FLATS IN BATTERSEA ARE OWNED BY MIDDLE EASTERN BUSINESSMEN WHOSE DAUGHTERS WANT TO STUDY FASHION IN LONDON
There's no point being jealous, because that's just the way it is. And it often goes wrong, like the girl who came into the site office, high and paranoid, saying she'd lost her dog and ripped her curtains off the wall and also maybe the £1m flat her dad had bought her had secret cameras in it? Nobody in the office had ever, ever seen her with a dog. Had she bought a dog that day and lost it? Or was there never any dog at all? Unclear.
NEVER LET ANYONE GET BETWEEN YOU AND THE DOOR
Not a mantra I found in a show home copy of The Alchemist, but the only bit of training I listened to. Because if it's just you and one other person looking around a flat, and it starts getting weird, you're better off running away than trying to stab them with a door key. Fortunately, the only people I was ever alone in houses with were late-twenties couples talking about school catchment areas and over-enthusiastic parents with tape measures. But it would always start with this weird politeness stand-off at the front door, where they were wanting me to show them the flat, and I'd want to stand nearest the exit. It'd go like this: "You first/ no, after you/ it's just through here/ no really you show us the way/ No, no, it's straight ahead/ Honestly, ladies first!" until I'd hiss: "You HAVE to go first, PLEASE, just go" and they'd scuttle through and everything would be awkward while I banged on about storage space and underfloor heating.
EVEN IF YOU LITERALLY PULL THE DOOR HANDLE OFF WITH YOUR BARE HANDS, SOMEONE WILL STILL BUY THAT LONDON FLAT
Yeah, just in case you missed 8,392 headlines to the same effect: it's pretty desperate out there in the housing market. The new-build flat where I ripped the door handle off in front of potential buyers? That sold. The time I tried to open a terrace door (the terrace faced out onto the main road between Victoria and Vauxhall Bridge, so not a picturesque view) and the entire glass pane fell out, hitting me and the couple's ten-year-old daughter? Gone. The one-bed flat that was less than 10m from the Hammersmith flyover, where I had to raise my voice to say "See? You can barely hear the road!" Sold. The Hampstead box flat with a view of a grey wall and a train line? £485,000, please.
Basically, we're all fucked. Sorry about that.
More stuff from VICE: