Once again, I was about to hit the road.
In a different way though, as my house contract was coming to an end and I needed to move into a bigger house, not only because I got fatter, but also because we are going to be more crowded this time.
We are forming “Yet Another Greek Ghetto” in London. Nothing special here. To be honest, I don’t miss my old house at all yet, as I felt like a giant and I was tired of hitting my toes in the passage between my desk and my bed.
So, my tale of clashing with the mafia of house agents, had begun.
And to be honest, it did not start really well. I was really trying to figure out what is wrong with these alien-like human beings that are sent from the planet of misery, to make the life every poor little bastard who is trying to find his small place in this rat-race city even harder.
But let’s move forward step by step.
Step One – Having to decide halfway through the twelve month contract if you are going to stay or leave.
It all started a beautiful September afternoon while I was sipping my Earl Grey with milk, writing code in the office – business as usual. I found an email sitting around in my inbox. It was from the agency that is responsible for the house, asking if we are going to renew the contract, which is until the end of January.
Yeah, it really sounds logical, I really know where I will be in 4 months, especially in London.
“Seriously ma’am, you gotta quit smoking dat grass”
Well, I kindly responded that I didn’t have a clue if I will be alive by the end of January and I also kindly asked about the deadline for me to answer. Then, she responded that “I had two months and 3 days before I serve notice” and not surprisingly, I just threw the whole incident to /dev/null.
After only 10 days, same story. I told her again that I didn’t have a clue and I quoted her answer about my deadline in order to easily get away with it. She insisted one day after, requesting “an answer from us very shortly”.
Well, this forced me to answer back in a really laconic way.
We are going to vacate the property when our contract ends.
After that, I did not receive any email from Her Donkeyness. I received though, an email from my landlord, kind of “begging” us to stay and also willing to reduce our rent. If you think about it, we are very nice tenants. We always pay on time, we cut the grass, we fix things that break etc. I gave him a sincere feedback and thanked him for being OK with us. After all, he is not the one responsible for this nuisance.
Step Two – Marketing the property (At least this is what SHE said)
Well, the fact that we were going to move, initiated another chain of emails and phone calls with the agents that are marketing the company – different than the ones that are responsible for the payments etc – requesting for dates and times that we are available for viewings and pictures. I kindly asked them why they need any pictures, as me myself only a year ago, found the property with nice pictures of the empty house on the internet. I never got a reply. I also told them that if they want to schedule a viewing, they can send an email one day before in order for me to arrange it.
Then, one day, all of a sudden, out of the blue, somebody is knocking on the door. I wasn’t expecting anybody so, I opened the door, while being slightly suspicious. Then, I see in front of me a short, round, well dressed laddie, a bit intimidated. I asked him how I could be useful to him and he answered that he came to see and “remember” the property, it turned out that he worked for the agents that were marketing it.
I told him that he could come in if he wished to do so, but I also expressed my observation that his company was probably being extremely inefficient, as they were marketing the property one year ago. It is an agent’s job description to “remember properties”, by using any means to achieve this target.
In the end, he didn’t take any pictures, he just saw the house and asked if he could show the house to a client in the next 10 minutes. I replied in a “live tongue-in-cheek” tone, that in the end he will really piss me off by being indecisive and I would just never reply again to emails, telephones and I would never open the door again. He seemed quite scared, so I stopped there and said that this time he is free to show the house to the candidate tenant while I keep my mouth shut.
After this one, there were a couple more viewings, but I was not at home, so nothing interesting after the first one.
Step Three – Looking for a new property (realising that some people make a living by simply wasting your time)
At first, we were looking for a house with a basement or a big cellar. Don’t ask why, otherwise I am going to give you the same answer as I did with the agents:
“I like wine and I want to store it there. Also I keep my computers there, so that they can perform better.”
None of the above may be characterised as true, but it is none of the agent’s business the reason I want a basement. I already knew that it was against the odds finding a house with a basement in London (there aren’t a lot of them, at least nowadays), but this was what I asked for as the ideal house. I was offering up to 1500 pounds per calendar month (pcm) for a house with a basement.
My alternative search was a ground floor converted house with a ceiling rent up to 1300 pounds pcm, in west London. How difficult can this be?
Let’s think of a parallelisation, in order to construct an example.
Imagine me entering a restaurant and asking for a blowfish soup, offering 200 pounds for it. But if there is no blowfish soup, I would like a steak with chips for 100 pounds.
Every time that I think of what they did instead, I smile for their incompetence.
It is simple. In the end, most of them offered me a steak with chips for 200 pounds. Which means, they offered me a converted house with a 1500 pcm budget. The funny part is they were calling me every now and then to tell me the fantastic news about the fantastic property which was in a fantastic location with fantastic transport links… NOT!
Whenever I was in a good mood, I was just letting them waste their time and then answered that I was not interested but thanks anyway.
Whenever I was in a bad mood, I was just ranting at them, breaking down my requirements again as well as being sarcastic about their analytical skills, education and general intelligence.
Step Four – There is also the internet nowadays / The statistical outlier agent
As one can imagine, I was convinced that these guys cannot find me a proper doghouse, let alone a house that humans can live in.
Then, my flatmate started looking for houses “on the internets“. Just for you to know, most of the houses you see on the internet have already been let, but they tend to be bargains, so that the agents can get your info and register you in order to annoy you.
We were so frustrated with the situation, that it actually crossed our minds that we will not be able to find a reasonable place even if we would search for it for months.
After me shouting and ranting on the phone, after miserable viewings and viewings that the agents didn’t even show up, viewings that the agent didn’t seem interested in us overpaying for a ridiculous rathouse in Harrow etc etc, we hit the jackpot.
Then, there was this ad about an amazing and spacious semi-detached house in Park Royal – Hanger Lane area, west London. I called and I was ready to cross it out like the other ones, but it was different this time.
A kind Japanese lad was on the line, talking to me with in a Japanese accent and intonation, being very honest with me. He also asked me if I had a vehicle, and I replied negatively. He then said “ah, ok because there is private parking space in front of the property”. Then I said, “ha, ok, I’ll get my Kawasaki in London then”.
So, suddenly, a smile was drawn upon my face. A slight one. After I spelled him my surname 3 times and told him that it should be a usual surname around here, I hung up.
I received an SMS with the full address of the property and the time of the rendez-vous for the viewing, the next day. Signed by: “Suzuki“.
Along with my flatmate, I couldn’t stop laughing about the fact that I told him that I’ll get my Kawasaki and his name was Suzuki. But then I realised that both of these surnames must be very typical in Japan as mine is in Wales, England and the US.
My flatmate had a Suzuki GSXR before he moved in London, so we agreed that we both had an instinct about this house.
The other day we saw it and we were very amazed with it. We also discussed with Suzuki if he liked bikes and he confessed that he likes Kawasaki more than Suzuki, so the joke became even funnier.
We placed an offer and kept our fingers crossed in order to live in this house. And in the end, it happened.
Step Five – Comparison of the outlier agent with the statistical mass of agents
The first time I was trying to get a house, the agent kept on asking every day for a different paper, without giving us a clear picture on when this will be over. Probably it wasn’t clear for the agent either. We ended up paying not one, not two, but three months rent in advance, along with the deposit. Which is a shitload of money when we have to do with a house in London, dare I say. Also, no help was provided in order to sort out the current energy suppliers of the house.
Don’t easily tell me that this is my responsibility, because indeed it is, but I cannot switch if I don’t know what was the last supplier and I don’t want to end up trapped with fees and penalties. Also, it seems that the previous tenant had outstanding debts almost for everything, and there was a sketchy debt collector knocking my door one morning. Thank god it wasn’t him.
This was not the case for our Japanese fellow agent. He explained to us the whole procedure, he was clear from the beginning on the papers he will need and also offered us alternative solutions if we couldn’t have paper A but we could have paper B. I am not going to go any further with these things as they are the definition of bureaucracy and boredom, and you must finish with them ASAP.
I will note here that all of the utility bills were transferred to my name by the agent and I didn’t have to lift a finger in order to take care of them. Also, instead of paying three rents in advance, I just paid one rent (the current one) along with the standard amount for the deposit.
Step Six – Conclusion
I am so grateful that right now I am typing these words in my new office, in my new bedroom, in my new house.
If someone is interested in finding this mysterious Japanese agent, I will publicly advertise him for free, as he made my life a bit easier, like every agent should. He works for the Japan Letting Agency in Acton. And don’t rush to draw a conclusion because of the very basic and simple website etc. It means that they don’t really need a website with bells and whistles to get more customers that they can actually handle.
They are Japanese and Japanese people are not full of shit. They have character and they are always straightforward, because at the end of the day, this is how you are effective and you get things done.
Every other agency I came across with was an atrocity. And I am talking about ALL of the big names in London. Whoever lives in London, knows them. So do prefer the local small ones.
I hope this helps somebody, sometime. For me I am just glad that it is over.