Thursday, 21 October 2010

Never mind flat hunting; join us in our hunt for good manners

I’ve just started the delightful task of flat hunting in London and, after just a few hours of it, I’m ready to give up. It’s easy to become disillusioned by London; it’s monstrously expensive, very over-crowded, and full of extremely rude people. I thought I’d dealt with my fair share of ill-mannered people, until this morning. When I started ringing estate agents.

I know these people have a reputation that precedes them, and it’s probably something they can never really escape or, indeed, do anything about. Much like tax inspectors and traffic wardens, estate agents must enter their respective worlds knowing they’re not going to fill the most popular of shoes. But, unfortunately, like their loathed counterparts, they are very much a necessity. Which is probably why some of them think they can get away with it.

My wrath was excited this morning by my very first call, so you can understand why I was at boiling point by lunchtime. The woman at the other end of the phone was practically sniggering before I’d barely opened my mouth; when I told her my budget she emitted a loud snort, then tried to cover her tracks by quickly rattling on about a ‘suitable property’. She made me feel like a complete waste of her time, and, to add insult to injury, corrected my pronunciation of my own name when I told her what it was. When I went on, with gritted teeth, to explain why I had pronounced it so, she laughed and actually said the words, “yeah, whatever”. The NERVE.

Unfortunately, any estate agent I spoke to after that didn’t really stand a chance, even if they were nice in a snivelling kind of way. Most of them seemed to be irked that I’d phoned them at all, broaching the rather worrying question of what they thought their office phones were for if not for speaking to customers. I realised very quickly that as a young female with a small budget, I carry very little weight in the property world. If the London housing market were the Masai Mara, I’d be the tiny insect eaten by the oxpecker which sits on the elephant’s back. ‘Insignificant’ doesn’t even cover it.

The crux of the matter, particularly when it comes to people like that ghastly woman from this morning, is that they know they’ve got you in a bit of a bind. Without them, flat hunting is a damn sight harder, and people who can’t stomach their condescending tones have to resort to using word of mouth or Gumtree. Believe me, I’ve tried both, and neither have been fruitful. The latter, when I last checked responses to my ad, was rather terrifying. Note to all ladies: steer clear of Gumtree users who use the words ‘nice lady’ and ‘willing to’ in the same sentence. Yuck.

My main point of frustration in all this is the complete lack of manners exhibited by people who are there, and who are getting paid, to help you. Quite what they think they’ll get out of such bad customer service is beyond me; they won’t get customers, for sure. But perhaps this is a minor glitch, and just beginner’s bad luck. Perhaps there is a glorious estate agent waiting for me around the corner, with a plethora of properties all snugly within my budget. And with lovely manners to match. Read more by Rosie.