Diary of an estate agent

A confused Russian, a clueless banker and a woman with chronic HIP problems tempt a Docklands agent to tattoo instructions on his forehead
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Diary of an estate agent cartoon
© Merrily Harpur


A new week and another new apartment building to visit. These developments seem to materialise on the Canary Wharf skyline on a weekly basis, each offering to be taller, better and more packed full of gizmos than the last.

Fortunately, as a Canadian in London, I am very fond of tall buildings with straight lines that come with furniture packages and an easy maintenance tag: no damp, period charm or subsidence for me, thank you very much. This development at The Landmark certainly ticks all my boxes.


Completion today on what may go down in our office as one of the most painful deals to date. On paper, it shouldn’t have been. No chain on either side of the table, straightforward negotiation and a Russian cash buyer: what could go wrong? Language for one thing.

Our buyer spoke no English and did all of his correspondence through his 10-year-old daughter, whose English was perfect. Her knowledge of the British property system was less good.

The buyer rightfully insisted on every document being translated into Russian (no small feat for a leasehold property). Every new enquiry and each new response to those enquiries needed a fresh translation. Six months later and our client finally has the apartment of his dreams and his daughter has a room with a view of the Thames from where she can contemplate her new-found knowledge of our archaic property rules.


Masters of the Universe they may be, but masters of electrical know-how, they are not. A banker tenant called in a panic to ask why his refrigerator had “gone out” (threatening to ruin his catering for a dinner party that evening).

I ran through some simple steps to see if we could work out the problem together rather than sending out an expensive contractor. Was the fridge plugged in? Check. Was the breaker switch turned on? Check. Was the fridge still cold at all? Yes it was - very. It was the light bulb that had gone and the fact that the motor was still humming happily away might just have been the giveaway.

Then again, I don’t have a PhD, nor the confidence to move billions of dollars around the world on a hunch.


An American client from Texas, who has been good for a buy-to-let purchase every year for three years straight, has not responded to my annual “Happy New Year” (How much do you have to spend this year?) email.

I have convinced myself that he chooses to buy solely through me on the basis of some sort of fraternal bond among Americans and therefore, not wishing to jeopardise our very useful arrangement, I (to my shame) have never really let on that I’m Canadian.

When I finally reached him on the phone he apologised profusely for falling off the radar. It turned out that some US foreclosure investments he made that had seemed “too good to be true”, were indeed just that.


An overseas client rang to enquire as to why her property was not visible on our website yet. I explained (again) that, due to the HIPS legislation, we were unable to market it until the HIP was complete. I have been thinking of having this last line tattooed on my forehead for easier reference.

She seemed to understand but later in the day it became evident that the only part of our conversation she had really grasped was that our website uploads every two hours and her property was still not on it.

I explained again; she asked me to explain the HIP legislation, again, only this time in greater detail. Resisting the urge to scream, I told her that I know a certain Russian 10-year-old who would be able to explain the intricacies far better than me.

Cory Askew is associate director at Chesterton Humberts, in Docklands (020 7510 8310)

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