Pity the poor estate agent, says Sandy Mitchell
City bankers often dream of escaping from the Square Mile to become artists or farmers – but how many fantasise about a new career in estate agency? Especially when, as a survey from the Committee on Standards in Public Life revealed, the only professionals trusted less by the public than estate agents are politicians. So this makes my mate James a very odd phenomenon, indeed.
A few months ago, aged 40, he swapped his lavishly-paid position at an American finance house in the City – where he had spent a successful 10 years – for a job selling flats and houses in southwest London. He planned to work for a year or so at an estate agency to get to know the market, then strike out on his own as a property developer. With the prime and superprime markets rising faster than deals can be made, it seemed like a reasonable career move.
James is used to handling hard-nosed brokers and wheelerdealers, but nothing prepared him for what he found. Initially, all went well and he was quickly hired by his local branch of a London-wide agency.
“I showed up at the office at 8.30am on my first day and was handed a big bundle of keys and a list of 10 appointments, back-to-back, at different properties in Clapham and Wandsworth,” he says. “The boss was very pleasant and explained that I should take a copy of the particulars for each property, get there five minutes before the client, walk around it for a bit and try to think up some clever sales patter.”
That was when he hit a snag. “It was impossible to say anything nice about the properties, they were that pokey and smelly. So I decided to make a joke of their worst points.”
His witty patter seemed to go down well with the clients and the first two made offers.
“The asking price of one place was £400,000 and this guy offered me 80 grand less. I told him that was pushing it but he gave me this whole story about how he was broke because he was paying his ex-wife alimony, and had lost some serious money in a deal. I wondered if this was a porky. Why did he bother?”
His client at the next flat was a Sloaney young woman working in the City. “It’s exactly what I want – I can’t believe it,” she gushed to James, promising to ring him within the hour to confirm her offer, close to the asking price. An hour passed, two hours, three... James phoned her; she put the phone down on him.
“By midday I was completely exhausted,” he says.
The pressure of dashing from appointment to appointment, always against the clock, and trying to find somewhere to park, was already draining him. Then, in the afternoon, he had to deal with one client who was needlessly rude, another who claimed to be a private buyer but whom James’s boss knew to be a developer, and two who simply failed to turn up for their appointments.
By the end of day one, James was so disgusted by his clients that he decided to resign immediately. “When I explained my reasons to the boss, he shrugged and said estate agents reckon as a rule of thumb that 75 per cent of clients are pretty relaxed about the truth.”