When buying a house, it is necessary to make contact with those who are willing to sell. This generally involves talking to a real estate agent.
Thats a problem in itself. Why are these people called real estate agents? Are there perhaps some artificial ones somewhere? Or (more likely, I feel) could there be those who only sell artificial estate as opposed to the ones who restrict themselves just to the real kind?
Of course, rather than being real, they might be imaginary instead. Imaginary estate agents always call themselves i (as in "Hello, im Al"). If a male and female imaginary estate agent get together (and the is square up) the result is a completely negative estate agent - sometimes known colloquially as a rastafarian because of their habit of referring to themselves as i and i. Should you attempt to place your property on the market with a negative estate agent, they will shake their heads sadly and say:
"Not much call for this kind of dwelling nowadays, squire." Or maybe:
"Thats a nasty bit of woodworm over there. Dont go a bomb on the death watch beetle ticking in the corner either." Or perhaps:
"When did you last paint this tip then?" And of course the coup de grace:
"You dont seriously expect to sell it for such a grossly inflated price do you?"
If a negative estate agent encounters a real (or positive) estate agent they will annihilate each other with a great flash of light. This is extraordinarily dangerous to all the cats in the area, for besides giving off large quantities of photons, this reaction also emits the deadly mew neutrinos
Feeling decidedly puzzled and more than a little light headed after all these esoteric speculations, I contacted all the real estate agents in Wellington (the artificial and imaginary ones had no listing in the phone book). I met some interesting people, all of them definitely real.
One had been born about twenty miles away from my own birthplace in Yorkshire. He still had a broad North of England twang to his voice, and within ten minutes of meeting him, my own accent was back in all its glory. As we drove around looking at houses we "eeh-ba-gum-trubble-at-mill"-ed to each other, swapped nostalgic stories about the old home county, and congratulated ourselves on how carefully (and properly) we both pronounced the integer that lies between zero and two.
Another agent was a lady with a soft, liquid voice that sent goose bumps running up and down my spine.
"You have a most wonderful voice," I said.
"Thank you," she said, quite sincerely. And then, with a perfectly straight face, she continued, "When I was making a career decision, I was torn between real estate and working on a telephone sex line."
"You made the wrong decision," I said firmly, and we were fast friends.
I explained my requirements to each and every estate agent.
"I want a five bedroom house in the Northern suburbs. I dont want to do any building or renovation and I dont want to spend more than about $200,000."
One and all they sucked air through their teeth, shook their heads sadly and, being negative estate agents, said: "No squire, cant do you anything like that. Nothing like that on the books. Bad time of year, you see. Properties just arent moving at the moment. Nothing available. Oh dear me, no."
I pointed out some adverts I had culled from the weekly property magazine. All of them met my exact specifications.
"What about these?"
"Oh, yes they might do at a pinch. Id forgotten about those "
That was when I began to learn the realities of the language called real-estate-agentese. For it turned out that the agents had been far more honest in their conversation with me than they had been in their adverts; there really was virtually nothing along the lines I was looking for. All the glowing descriptions in the adverts were perfectly true as far as they went; but they didnt mention the off putting aspects. And who can blame them really?
The quiet cul-de-sac had a motorway at the bottom of the hill and you could sit in the lounge and be soothed by the rhythmic rumble rising upwards twenty-four hours a day (extra on Saturdays).
The all day sun did indeed get the sun all day long. This was because the house was right on the top of the tallest mountain in the area. Nothing obscured the sun. And the wind from the Antarctic didnt have anything in its way either except the house, of course.
"This is a nice house," said the agent. And it was. Almost perfect, in fact.
"Doesnt the fault line go through somewhere round about here?" I asked.
"Ah, yes," said the agent. He cleared his throat in embarrassment. "Actually it does. I think the fault line goes right through the middle of the lounge. Thats why the house is such a bargain at the price."
Every night for three interminable weeks I was escorted around drearily unsuitable properties. Dank, damp, dingy, dismal houses appeared to be excessively common in the Northern suburbs. And only a generous soul would have described them as spacious. The ceilings were so low that they brushed against the top of my head, and the five bedroom count had been obtained by dividing a series of very tiny bedrooms into even tinier ones. There was absolutely no possibility of me being able to indulge in my favourite pastime of cat swinging.
Sad wood-burning heaters sagged miserably against dirty walls.
"I think the certificate has expired," said the agent cheerfully. "But that doesnt really matter."
I was shown kitchens covered in fat. Cockroaches scuttled madly in slow motion as they struggled to get traction or sank out of sight into the grease traps where presumably they drowned.
Threadbare lounge carpets exuded urinary odours and thirty year old wallpaper clung desperately to the walls, peeling gently in the corners of the room where nobody would notice except me.
I was shown house after unsuitable house by one particular agent who justified himself by pointing out all the little jobs that needed doing to bring the premises up to scratch. Putting in a staircase, knocking down a wall, extending the lounge. Very cheap, very quick, very easy.
"All I need is a room to store 6,000 books," I said, "and another one to put 10 computers in. These houses are too small."
One and all, the estate agents looked at me as if I was a raving eccentric. "Are you sure you dont want to buy commercial premises? Is it really a house you are after?"
There was nothing for it. Id have to visit the open homes
"Please take your shoes off. An Asian family lives here and they dont allow shoes in the house."
I took my shoes off but I really dont know why it was required for the house was so filthy that, had I worn them, I think my shoes would have been dirtier when I left than when I arrived. A grotesquely stained toilet bowl lurked in the bathroom beside the mouldy shower stall. Nameless blemishes disfigured the carpet. Each room had a gigantic hole in the wall in which lived an ancient, crumbling night storage heater. Someone had recently painted the window frames (perhaps to disguise the rotten wood). They were no great shakes with a paintbrush, and seem never to have heard of masking tape for half the glass was also covered in smeary white paint.
Another house perched on a sheer hillside and was only reached by climbing up a never ending staircase. Once the prospective visitors had recovered their breath, special treats were in store. There were indeed five bedrooms, just as I had requested. None of the rooms had wallpaper the plaster on the walls was in very good condition and the rooms had been decorated by simply painting the plaster. One room was bright green. The next was bright orange. Then there was the bright blue room and the bright yellow room, and I wont even mention the vivid fire-engine red room. I began to wish Id remembered to pack my sunglasses.
Only the rear wall of the house stood solidly on the earth. The rest of it stuck insouciantly out into thin air supported only by massive piles driven deep into the bedrock. There was lots and lots of nothing underneath each and every room. I could easily imagine the weight of my library collapsing the floorboards, scattering books the length and breadth of the mountain for the edification of the possums. No - bright and cheerful though it was, this place would never do.
A poky looking little house turned out to be almost ideal. Rather like Dr. Whos Tardis it was significantly larger inside than it was outside. The rooms appeared to go on forever and there were lots of them. I was seriously tempted by this house, but it had three enormous drawbacks. It was a semi-detached house and I didnt like the idea of sharing a wall with my neighbours. What if they were too noisy for me? What if I was too noisy for them? Another problem was the tiny little garden with no privacy whatsoever every square inch was overlooked by another house. No nude sunbathing in this garden! The third problem was a very smarmy estate agent who was just too greasy to bear. I made my excuses and left.
The next house sat glumly in its grounds, in a small depression surrounded by a wall that appeared to be there solely and simply to hold a minor mountain in check and prevent it from following its natural inclination to fall over and flatten everything in its path including, of course, the house I was looking at. It was an OK house, nothing exciting. The size was adequate, the state of the rooms was liveable with. However the wall that ran around the garden had a huge crack running top to bottom. It bulged under the weight of an enormous mass of soil and rock that pressed eagerly up against the other side. "Oh thats nothing", said the agent. "Perfectly safe and secure." He thumped it hard and Ill swear it shivered and shook.
The house that I finally bought was the last on the list. I was fed up by now and almost didnt bother with it. But my friends who were driving me around insisted and so we went for a look
I got a shock as soon as I saw it. It was immaculate white and shining in the sun. A brick barbecue stood in the front garden and a well loved vegetable garden sat smugly just outside the fence. The vegetables marched in mathematically perfect rows and the soil was freshly raked and hoed.
Inside the house were a myriad spacious, sparkling rooms nicely decorated and all as clean as an operating theatre. The architecture was somewhat eccentric. The place appeared to have been owned by a person whose hobby was building extensions. Every time he stumbled into a wall, he knocked it down and built a room. It seemed to go on forever. The kitchen was pathetic it only had one power point and no working surfaces at all (obviously nobody in the house cooked) but that could be fixed.
There was a bus stop just outside the fence and a Brethren Church right next door. Transport all laid on and quiet neighbours to boot. Perfect!
I made an offer. One of the Brethren made an identical offer. Bugger!
I increased my offer. So did they, but my final offer was $1000 more than theirs. I won!! God was obviously on my side that day.
My offer was dependant on a builders report. So the next order of business was to arrange for this to be done. I have a friend who has a friend who is a qualified architect and a building inspector.
"He did the report on our house," said Laurie, "and did a superb job. He lives just up the road. Lets go and see him."
We walked up the road a bit. "Its just down these steps," said Laurie. "He designed the whole house himself. Thats why we didnt ask him to design our new kitchen. But he does good building reports."
A deal was struck and two days later the building report arrived. The architect did a thorough job (and he even included a photograph with the report because he has just bought a new digital camera and he likes to play with it). The report found nothing wrong (just a few niggles such as only one power point in the kitchen). I ticked the box and the offer went unconditional.
So Ive got a house. Ill be spending Christmas in Wellington.
My mate Ian pointed out the possibility of imaginary estate agents and some of the possible consequences of their (non-) existence. Hes also toying with the idea of quantum reversibility in realtor land: an estate agent is its own anti-estate-agent. That would explain why every house they take on is a dog, whereas every house they sell is a palace. But estate agents have no branes.