Secret Agent: A day in the life of an estate agent

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The Independent Online

One of the things I struggle with most as an estate agent, other than the obvious indignity of being an estate agent, is having to tell a vendor the truth about why their property isn't selling. If it's not because they've been greedy and insisted on asking too much for it, it's because there's some fundamental flaw. But, of course, it's only the very brave who point this out. Imagine having an unattractive single friend: it's so much easier to blame the shallowness of men than suggest she has a nose job.

There's one scenario, however, that always lets us off the hook with demanding vendors: tenants. It's rarely in the tenant's interest to facilitate the sale of their rented home, so asking them to be accommodating to an estate agent is the equivalent of expecting turkeys to look forward to Christmas. Invariably, the relationship degenerates into a tale-telling playground farce with the agent accusing the tenant of denying them access, the tenant accusing the agent of barging in without asking, and the vendor sending everyone to detention. Thankfully, our latest problem property was a rented first-floor flat, so when the owner called up wanting to know why we hadn't sold it, I didn't hesitate to apportion blame.

"The tenant?" she said, slightly surprised.

"He's making our lives very difficult," I explained, a bit unfairly I'd been to the property once. "He only lets us do viewings when he's actually in the flat."

"And what's wrong with that?"

"Well, to be honest, he's creepy," I said, hoping he'd moved in too long ago for her to remember what he looked like. "He stares at everyone I bring round. I think it puts them off."

I took from her disconcerting lack of reply that this wasn't reason enough not to have found a buyer, so I did what I always do when faced with someone who thinks estate agents are compulsive liars: I proved her right.

"He's a beast. The place is a pigsty. No one wants a flat that smells of takeaways and socks."

"Really," she finally said. "That's interesting."

For an awful moment, I thought she might own a takeaway and was in some way offended, but it was much worse.

"Just so you know," she announced, curtly, after another killer pause. "That 'creepy beast' you refer to is my son."

I lurched in horror.

"And I find it intriguing that he's been hindering the sale of the flat," she continued, icily, "when he moved out almost a month ago."

In the awkward silence that followed, the seed of a not-very-honourable idea began to form. "We're doing our best, Mrs Robinson, but basement flats are notoriously difficult to sell."

I'm ashamed to say that Mrs Brown fell for my "mix-up" and even empathised with how difficult it must be to keep track of who owns what. For what it's worth, I now own a barrelful of guilt.