A woman with a few rental properties once told me she was careful never to give tenants the impression that she was well-off as they might not pay their rent. “Never collect their rent in the Mercedes, dahling,” she told me, “and always wear your shabbiest clothes.”
Frankly, most of my clothes are shabby but I think it’s best to scrub up when meeting tenants, to try to look at least a bit businesslike. I mean, if you meet two solicitors, one smart and one dressed like a tramp, which one are you going to hire?
However, I regretted not taking some other advice she gave me, about not getting too friendly with tenants, the day I offered to give one a lift to buy a new bookcase. The tenant selected the biggest bookcase in the shop — to be fair, I did tell her I had a very big boot — and we wrestled it on to a trolley and across the car park to my car. It was one of those estate cars with fold-away seats in the boot and I soon realised that I had no idea how to collapse them.
“It can’t be that hard — my 10-year-old can do it,” I thought. So we fiddled for a while with levers and handles until we realised that the mechanism might have been designed to be operated by children but certainly not by adults.
We tried to get the bookcase in over the top of the seats, pushed and shoved as far as it would go, but it still stuck out of the back. It was no use — I’d have to go home and get my son to do it. Heaving the bookcase back out of the car, I turned to plonk it back on the trolley, but the trolley had gone. “What the …!” I yelled. “Who stole my trolley?”
A man pushing his own trolley past me pointed across the car park. “I think you’ll find it’s in that Porsche over there.” I wheeled round to follow his finger and, to my horror, saw that my trolley had rolled into the back of the sports car. Why couldn’t it have hit an old wreck?
The tenant and I rushed over, checked for damage and pushed the bookcase back into the store. We agreed with the security man on the door that we’d leave it in the entrance and return for it in half an hour. I told my tenant to go back to her place and I’d meet her there later.
Having got the seats unlocked by the 10-year-old, I returned to the store to retrieve the bookcase. It was a new security guard. He stretched his arm across the exit. “I’ll need to see the receipt for that,” he said. I told him to contact his colleague — he told me again to show him the receipt.
I was starting to feel like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, but without the baseball bat. I reached in my pocket but then remembered the tenant had the receipt. Realising I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown (I was starting to hyperventilate) he eventually let me have the bookcase.
The moral of the tale is: don’t ever offer your tenants lifts in a Mercedes — or any other car, come to that.
Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London