When there’s a man at the end of your garden path in a suit peering at your house he’s either a well-dressed burglar or an estate agent. There’s a certain symmetry in the fact that they are both vying to rob you.
As we lived in a what the Americans call a ‘gated community’ they had to get out of the obligatory Mini. Yes, I said ‘gated community’. Unlike US gated communities, it’s frowned upon to treat it like a military compound, stockpile weapons, and take several wives. In the UK, it’s more like an open prison for the middle classes. Private estate. You see those signs malingering outside of such places.
Estate agents love gates of course. They’re willing to walk 75 metres for a place with a gate. A ‘desirable feature’ we’ll come to learn. Everyone likes their slice of exclusivity. Their little slice of Monaco in SE25.
Two facts about gates. Fact 1: they break all the fucking time. They’re as reliable as lifts, escalators, washing machines, and Yodel couriers. When they’re not broken they’re in training to be broken. Fact 2: your average south London miscreant can climb a fence. In fact they don’t need to, they can just buzz and one of your neighbours will let them in. They probably don’t even need to lie. “I’m here to burgle number 51.” Bzzzzzzt. Seriously they kept no one out. Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t exactly have to parachute in during the night. On a couple of occasions they kept several people in. One memorable Saturday morning we held two Sky vans hostage for over an hour during a power outage. Only two houses knew the secret of the manual opening and we were 50% of those. If the power went out completely, I seriously think most of them would either starve or resort to cannibalism. Reality TV producers, there’s a show locked inside those gates.
Bonus fact: when the son of one your neighbours is the bonafide pikey little stereotype, it doesn’t matter if you have a gate. He has the code. And your bikes.
So, he’s at the door. A handful of high-gloss promotional literature. The smell of eau d’aspiration is already leaking through your letter box like there’s a nervous Pepé le Pew outside. To be fair, they’re not so bad. They have a job to do and I — cough — work in sales, so have some sympathy, as much as my worn and tawdry soul can still muster. Which isn’t much.
All four came in as much-of-a-muchness. All young go-getters, I imagine anyone older than 25 was out selling ‘premium’ properties. Other than the one who looked he might have been a young go-getter once. He was older and gone now. All brought tales of their victories in nearby house sales, magnificent, self-sacrificing tales of glory, where perhaps no maidens were saved, but asking prices were answered in the affirmative. House values rocked in at much the same numbers. Apart from agent four, who seemed to have been blessed with a surfeit of optimism. Yes, well the beach of pessimism is a bad place for optimism like that to run aground. We weren’t convinced. We’re still waiting for the promised supporting evidence. I don’t think he was convinced either when it came down to it.
In the end, it was a toss-up between the three. We felt a bit bad in end going for one of the bigger names, but he gave the impression he wouldn’t stop at kidnapping the children of any would-be buyers in order to get the best offer. It’s mercenary, I know.
So, a few days later we inked the contract, signing over several thousand pounds despite that fact they weren’t offering a full-on TV advertising campaign, which might have offered a justification for the fees. I could only assume they’d be carpet bombing SE London with several tonnes of glossy leaflets featuring our house.
A note on valuations
There’s someone dull who will always utter the words ‘estate agents don’t value houses’. They don’t. But it’s not what the house is worth, it’s what people will pay for it. Evidently these are very different concepts. If one met they other they’d hate one another and you’d probably find them fighting in a pub car park at midnight.
That’s why house prices are so daft and drift aloft with the helium of speculation.