PUBLISHED ON Wed 12th Jan 2022

House Hunting

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by Adam Valli

Buckinghamshire based

Magician. Writer. Actor.

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They say that after the death of a loved one and divorce, moving house is the most stressful event in adult life. And I'm fairly sure that that is in no small part because it involves dealing with estate agents. 

With the impending birth of our first child looming over us, my wife and I would soon be forced by circumstance to abandon our lives in Central London to seek more spacious accommodation elsewhere. So in an attempt to get ahead of the problem, I had spent a lot of time looking at property ads. And property ads invariably lead to estate agents.

I'm sure that not all estate agents deserve the average reputation they are stained with as a profession. I have a friend who's an estate agent, so I know that at least one doesn't. But like any average reputation, there are going to be some that do and some that don't.

One of the first estate agents we had the displeasure of meeting over the course of our house hunt did. We'll call him John. Because that was his name. And if you listed every negative trait an estate agent could have, I'll bet John had every last one of them: the too-perfect suit and hair, the unjustified fake grin and a level of enthusiasm normally only seen in Americans that just doesn't suit the English. And that was just for starters.

One of the other things I really hated about John was that he made out that his firm was the best - when they weren't - and all other estate agents were untrustworthy, when the reverse was probably closer to reality. And he did it all with that smarmy grin and sickly insincere enthusiasm.

One thing you quickly realise when you're looking at property ads is that 90% of property ads lie. They use slippery language to turn negatives into positives. If a property is pokey and small they describe it as cosy or intimate. If it has been poorly maintained they'll tell you it's in need of modernisation. And if it's in a really sorry state - a veritable shit hole - they'll tell you it has development potential. As a potential buyer, it is my job to understand and decode these half truths. I have to spot that the ad for the cosy two bed flat with development potential is an attempt to make appealing a pokey little shit hole.

And another thing I noticed - literally every house and flat is said to be 'stunning'. I don't think I've looked at one property that was not described as being a 'stunning' something or other - a stunning detached house with stunning views etc. You get the idea.

It's possible that estate agents somewhere have some sort of evidence that the word 'stunning' sells more houses. Or it could be that this is just the way it's always been done, a quirk carried over from the days of print.

But I can't tell you how many times I've arrived at a house, walked in the door and thought, "They lied! This is not stunning! I am not stunned! They over-promised and under-delivered!"

So myself and my heavily pregnant wife met up with John - as you do - outside the particular house of interest. Or, more correctly, the house that had been of interest when I'd seen the Rightmove listing and booked the viewing but, having driven up to it down the badly maintained street it was situated on, was now no longer interested in.

Over the course of our house hunt, this too became a frustratingly frequent occurrence. Several times, we'd drive down a crummy street that looked genuinely dangerous and I'd have made up my mind before I reached the house. "There'd have to be oil under this house to make it worth buying," I'd think to myself. But being British, I'd politely turn up to the viewing anyway and go through the motions.

But anyway, back to John.

John began his spiel as he began to show us around this allegedly stunning three bedroom semi.

What they meant by 'stunning' in this particular house, I cannot tell you.

I began to wonder if estate agents have their own scale, and that beyond stunning, you can have 'fantastic' , 'amazing' and 'out of this world', thus meaning that, legitimately, what they in the profession refer to as 'stunning', the rest of us call 'average'.Because this house was, by every measure, an average house.

And the allegedly 'stunning view' was only of the similarly average house across the street, which sported a scary-looking Union Jack draped over one of the windows. Maybe whomever wrote the ad really liked Union Jacks and therefore considered this view to be genuinely stunning. But I did not. And I don't think they did either.

I'm not sure if it should, but conspicuously displayed Union Jacks often make me feel uneasy.

The Union Jack, nowadays, seems to be more of a symbol of racism than of British patriotism. I'm not sure if others share my view on this, but if they do, I think it's a shame that the likes of the BNP and EDL have hijacked the symbol to incite fear instead of pride. (Not, at time of writing, that there's a vast amount to be proud of.)

It's not always the case, of course. I think we can all agree, The Queen pulls it off. You don't drive past Buckingham Palace and think, "Shit! Lock your doors. It looks rough round here!"

So it's not the flag itself, it's the context.

The Queen flies her flag from a flagpole. She hasn't draped it scruffily out of her upstairs bathroom window, and accessorised her palace exterior with a modded Vauxhall Corsa and an old fridge.

To be safe, I think the rule is, if you don't live in a castle, stay away from flags.

Anyway, back to John and the house. What I'm trying to say is that nothing about this house was stunning and it was misleading, even immoral, to describe it as such. And John was wasting his breath and our time trying to convince us otherwise.

But I'm going through the motions, so I ask the questions I always ask, "Has there been much interest?"

To which every estate agent says, "Oh yes. We've got three firm offers on the table all over asking. So this one's going to go by sealed bid."

Three offers over asking for this hovel? No John! I don't believe you. You're making it up. The property ad was fraught with half truths and misleading adjectives. Now you're inventing offers. It's all lies. I know it. It's just excruciatingly irritating that I can never prove it.

On the drive home, I got to thinking - what if estate agents did tell the truth? Had to tell the truth? Like a real-estate-themed version of the Jim Carrey film 'Liar Liar'. I don't suppose they'd get very far describing it as "an average three bedroom semi". Or, if they really had to be honest, "a slightly disappointing three bedroom semi."

But I suppose that estate agents like John didn't build the houses. They are just tasked with selling them. Which means trying to make them appealing. And that is a  task that, on occasion, is going to involve bigging up a shithole.

Would John sell the house? Probably. But not to me. Going by his suit and hair, that were clearly trying to compensate for something, I don't expect John was any stranger to bigging up a disappointing semi.

 

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