I gave him my Clint Eastwood stare, but that didn't stop him

It Was an absurd question. "How much have you got to spend?" he asked. I gave him my Clint Eastwood look but surprisingly he did not fall to his knees and beg for mercy. I had forgotten for a moment that Toby was an estate agent whose specialist subject was crassness. They did not break the mould when Toby was born, it was removed by the Health and Safety Executive and buried in reinforced concrete. The nuclear waste demanded to be moved apparently.

I tried a more thoughtful approach. "I do not have any money to spend," I said. Now it was Toby's turn to look dismayed.

"It is the global capital markets that have the money to spend," I explained. "My hope is that when the markets have financed the German budget deficit and funded a new infrastructure for Guanxi Province there will still be enough left for me to buy a new home."

"So how much might that be?" Toby asked.

"No more than $5bn."

"So are you looking for a flat or a house?"

I was yet to be convinced that he was the right man to help me spend upwards of three times my annual salary. The problem, and Toby did not know this, was that his firm had a particular property that I liked. At least when you sell a house you have an element of choice. As a buyer you are stuck with the agent who has the property.

As far as Toby was concerned we had already bonded and by now he was preparing to "take down a few details". He stared over his clipboard and began to address me in surgeon-like tones. "What I am going to do now is take down a few details which will help us find the right property for you," Toby intoned.

"Will it hurt?" I asked.

Toby ignored me.

"How much did you say you had to spend?"

"I didn't"

"Is it a flat or a house you are after?"

"Yes."

"Bedrooms?"

"I sincerely hope so."

Toby then switched from the medical to the teaching profession.

"I will not be able to help you unless I have some idea of what it is you are looking for," he scolded. I did not want to tell him that I knew exactly what it was I was looking for. I didn't want him to find out yet.

Toby then moved into his man-to-man mode. He leaned across the desk and whispered: "This market is looking very sexy at the moment." I disagreed. The market was looking like a a rare opportunity for estate agents to race down to the pawn shop and take their mobile telephones out of hock. "The thing is," he said, "the way this market is moving you cannot go wrong."

I disagreed. The way this market was moving there was a grave danger I would be lumbered with the kind of debt which would make Italy look like a well-managed economy.

"If you hang around you are going to miss out," Toby advised. If I hung around Toby any longer either I would go mad or he would go dead.

I finally cracked and pointed to the picture in the window of the property I had my eyes on.

Toby's face fell.

"There is a problem with that property," he said. Had it been sold? Had it subsided. Had it been occupied by Peruvian terrorists?

"Well, really it's a problem with the vendors," he explained.

Were they serial killers? Were they fund managers? Were they in jail?

"Well, no," said Toby. "For no reason at all they have taken the property out of my hands."

I punched the air, grabbed the particulars and ran.

Toby chased after me shouting.

"You wouldn't like it. It's over-priced. You can't afford it. How much have you got to spend?"

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