Movers and Sheikhers
“The Brits are coming” claimed Colin Welland during his 1981 Oscar acceptance speech for Chariots of Fire. “Les Euros, ils sont arrivés” is what I would say if there was an equally luminous property awards ceremony. For it is the Europeans, with their favourable exchange rate, who are currently flooding the London market, ensuring a positive outlook for the autumn.
The London market with which I deal inhabits its own particular sphere; £1m-plus properties are not so much affected by subprime mortgages as by currency exchange, confidence in the City of London and supply.
It has been a good week and I hope that it will end an even better one. I have two dream clients who are particularly “active” at the moment. One boasts the three Cs: that rare combination of being cultivated, charming and courteous. Having been in correspondence with them for some time, the client arrived in London for our first meeting bearing the local delicacies of the town from which they had come.
The flat we saw ticks almost all the boxes for them and after an evening and a morning spent there I am doing my best to secure it. But the vendor has been uncontactable since the initial offer was made, so it is proving rather hard to negotiate when we’re met with only his voicemail. It is causing me some anxiety, for not only do I like my client very much but I also know that for their requirements this flat is going to be hard to beat. I like to pride myself on my negotiating skills but this vendor is proving disconcerting, as not responding to a good cash offer that comes with impeccable credentials is unconventional to say the least.
I am still waiting for a response and can only hope that he is out of range and that as soon as he climbs a mountain and regains his mobile phone signal he will promptly be back in contact with the agent and we can close the deal.
It is still uncertain where the market is going, though the next couple of months look positive. There is interest in the mega-house once again and, as with all negotiations for it, there is a series of “runners” who feel entitled to – or even demand – baksheesh. It is an inevitability that I have come to accept, along with the apparently diminishing chance I have of ever selling the house. “The Sheik” (the owner) is capricious to say the least. One day he is inclined to sell at one price and the next he has increased it by £5m. I’ve tried to show him comparables, market trends and long-term forecasts, as well as pointing out the significant profit he will have made on a house he has never lived in, but this falls on deaf ears. I seem incapable of speaking a language that makes sense to him.
. . .
We have an offer hovering close to an acceptable level for The Sheik (acceptable today but, of course, this could change tomorrow) but as the offer hardens and comes closer to our bottom line figure the number of people who demand a kickback increases. I had set out a considerable chunk of my fee – in fact two-thirds of it – to accommodate such wants as I would rather get a deal done than quibble over commissions and, as my friend Fruity tells me, “always be gracious in life”. But the current demands would not only eliminate my fee entirely, they would also require me to go to The Sheik and insist on him doubling my commission in order for me to pass it on to others. That I can’t do.
This circumstance prompted me to ponder the nature of things: deals and otherwise. I spent the weekend in Sussex with a university friend, his wife and two children. There were 10 of us staying, including one of my closest friends (again from university), whom I see on a weekly basis and speak to almost daily, and another university friend whom I had not seen properly since we left 13 years ago.
Sitting around the table after dinner it struck me how little we had all changed and, I imagined, how little we will. The characteristics that had amused, irritated or endeared us to one another were still in place despite the graduation from teenage years to mid-30s and parenthood in most cases. And I thought of my clients in possession of the three Cs and how they would remain in possession of those qualities, and how any deal for the mega-house will inevitably be rife with baksheesh and complications. For things are, in life, so often as they appear to be.