Property: The name's Dracula - and how can I help?

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The Independent Online
FOR REASONS that need not trouble you at this point I have been spending a little time in Romania recently. While it is a quite compelling country it is also home to the patron saint of estate agents, aka Dracula - a blood-sucking monster who does not work during the hours of daylight. Given that his legendary home is in Transylvania, a beautiful region which is but a short hop from the Romanian capital of Bucharest, it would not have been surprising if the local estate agents were a bloodthirsty bunch. They are not.

Indeed, so pleasant are the Bucharest boys that I am considering organising an educational programme to Romania for the local chapter of the Vampire Appreciation Society ( Floggit and Runn et al).

My recently acquired insight came last week when I had cause to give the impression that I needed to embark on an urgent flat hunt in Bucharest. There is an extremely complex and at one point highly dangerous explanation, but I do not want to put you off your munchie crunchies so I will give only the barest of outlines.

At 5pm on Wednesday I issued this edict to my Romanian colleagues: "Find me a flat and find it fast."

But this was not really an instruction, merely part of an elaborate charade I was constructing. I assumed that my words would drift out of the window to join the carpet of snow being laid on the ground. I was wrong.

"When would you like to see it?" a colleague responded.

"Six o'clock or not at all," I barked with smug satisfaction, having set a deadline I assumed would be unreachable.

Five minutes and a couple of phone calls later, my colleague returned, shrouded in remorse and offering abject apologies.

"I am so sorry, it cannot be done," she said. "The earliest he can do is 6.15pm."

"Tomorrow?" I asked.

"I thought you meant today."

Indeed I did. I was, as they say in all the best publications, shocked and stunned.

"Well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs!" I exclaimed.

"No, you will go to the Cafe Acapulco. He will meet you there."

I pondered for a moment as to whether this was a practical joke. I have become accustomed to estate agents whose first reaction is one of disdain. This desire to serve was new to me.

It is not as if the Bucharest property sector is in terminal decline. There is no glut of empty and rotting apartments. Indeed I am informed by those in the know that "the market is pretty tight just now." I am not qualified to say whether there has been a London-style Bucharest boom, but if there has, it has not inspired complacency among the estate agency fraternity.

When I got to Cafe Acapulco I was greeted by not one estate agent but two. Politeness personified, they escorted me to the flat they had selected, where we were met by the proud owner and her husband who had scurried over for the visit. Despite the speed of the response, the apartment was exactly what I had asked for. This was first-class service.

The conversation was conducted in pidgin French but the message was clear. It was a clean and tastefully conducted refurbishment. It came with all mod cons and with an offer from the owners to purchase even more cons should I need them. Everyone was pleasant and helpful. The owner even responded positively to a little gentle beating down on price.

Why can't it be like this in London? I thought.

There is an answer but that will have to wait.