Luxury two-bedroom maisonette with French windows and space-saving spiral staircase. Unfurnished, but white goods included. Previous tenant stayed for two years, and the boiler was recently replaced.
It’s unusual, for sure, to prefer the smell of long-gone student sweat to country air, but it takes all sorts. It really does. And I meet all of them, students and immigrants and fourth sons and divorcees, all with one foot hanging above the escalator. Taking a deep breath before I step back out into the June breeze, I stroll out onto the pavement to my phone bleeping again.
Second-floor apartment with one bedroom, one bathroom, and a shared kitchen. Service charges £1,294 (subject to change). Homeless man visible from rear window. Balcony complete with recently-purchased twin deck chairs. Now, I’m not supposed to be telling you this, but this landlord is a lovely bloke. Has more than 120 properties, so he’s experienced and a deft hand at repairs.
I’m walking to the next property now. This starched collar chafes. My heat rash has started early this year, spreading up to my thigh. I am two stone heavier than a man my age should be, but I get a lot of exercise on my feet all day. I have the lungs of a 53-year-old. An average 53-year-old, you assume. I assume. A lot, actually. I assume you will want to see the two-bedroom semi-detached on Warburn Road. I assume you aren’t concerned about variable ground rent. I assume a flat is more valuable if it has been decorated by a gay man.
Sensational studio apartment, wheelchair accessible. Bathroom to the rear, no windows but fully-ventilated. Building records indicate this basement level was divided into three flats in 2002. This part of the building has 12 tenants split across 8 flats. The same landlord handles each, and he can be contacted at your convenience on this number at any time of day. In the 1970s, a couple each aged 27 bought this building using three years of income.
My mum still rings once a day; she thinks she’s going to die. There are thirty-seven thousand pounds in a Nationwide One-Year Triple-Access ISA in her name. I tell her she’s not going to die, and that we knew Dad was going to die first, and that she will be looked after and not put in a cheap home. I hang up knowing there’s no such thing as a cheap home.
Stunning four-bedroom detached property with a view of the local park, the postbox, and the 97 properties on the other side of the street. Rent variable, subject to annual review. Electricity rates are particularly variable. You know, what with the war. Council tax band B; call 0117 358798 for more details. 5G reception variable.
When I walk past the greasy spoon where I ate breakfast, my forehead looks bigger in the reflection. I am in my 33rd year, which sounds old until you consider that I am an assistant manager at the estate agency. I often think about that scene in Fight Club where The Narrator turns to Marla Singer and says, “You met me at a very strange time in my life.” I think being 32 is a strange time in my life. It is difficult to convey. I read a Spiked article which said that Fight Club had been cancelled by Gen Z for promoting toxic masculinity. Friends of mine would care. Old friends of mine would laugh it off. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I couldn’t care. I just don’t know how.
Last flat today. I get to the flat five minutes early, lock the door from the inside, take off my shirt and rinse my upper body in the shower, drying with the crusty towel left behind on the rail. I know something’s wrong as soon as I hear the voices in the stairwell. Posh. Home counties at the very least, if not North London. This is a magnificent one-bedroom apartment with shared laundry space and garden view, and as such I should be hearing regional accents only. That, and there are too many footsteps. Something’s wrong.
They step through the doorway, one after another. Four of them in total. They’re wearing suits, but like no suits I’ve ever seen: theirs are roughspun, dense, matted. Is that horsehair?
They line up in front of me. I can tell they wanted to stand in a line, but the last does not have enough room in these spacious living/bedroom quarters, so he shuffles behind the third. And then when they speak, they speak as one.
G R A H A M.
Graham is my name. If I had met you, I would have told you that sooner, with a firm handshake.
T H E T I M E H A S C O M E.
I’m not one to get flustered in tense situations. Not one to get hot under the collar. Figuratively speaking. But something about their speech in unison, coupled with the fact they are levitating an inch off the ground — it throws me. I open my mouth, not knowing what I’m going to say. I hear myself saying:
Good afternoon, I hope you managed to find the place without too much trouble. Lots of parking options around here, anyway. Now this is one of the most popular areas we cover, and properties often get snapped up within the first two weeks, so if you like what you’re seeing, I would encourage you to
W E A R E N O T H E R E T O B A R G A I N.
That’s fortunate, because the nature of the market at the moment means demand is high enough that landlords are firmly in the driver’s seat. Now, I’m not supposed to be telling you this, but this managing company is lovely. They manage more than four million properties, so they’re experienced and competent at repairs. If you want any
W E A R E T H E M A N A G I N G C O M P A N Y. W E C O M E W I T H I N S T R U C T I O N S. Y O U M U S T R A I S E M O N T H L Y R E N T S.
My collar is chafing again — I shouldn’t have put the shirt back on straight after the shower. My back prickles, but I do what I’ve been trained to do, and I find my voice.
We’ve already set this flat higher than our anticipated final rent in order to inflate rents in our other properties in the area. Our analysts are already concerned that the property bubble will burst amongst rising costs of living. There’s a possibility that raising it still further could have a domino effect on the market, pushing our more high-end properties out of reach for the average sheikh on the street.
F O O L. T H E R E W I L L A L W A Y S B E M O R E B U Y E R S.
Admit it — the gang of four have a point. So far, the logic that we can simply keep increasing prices and rents until the vast majority of the country simply don’t own a place to live while still making exorbitant profits — well, that logic has proved remarkably sound. But every bubble bursts, and all false valuations reveal themselves eventually. Woe betide us if we are responsible.
Y O U D A R E T O D E F Y U S ?
Not defy, no, of course. As a respected member of my profession, it is my duty to protect your interests against the threat of low rents and mass home ownership. But I feel it’s also my duty to liaise with the managerial team before making a third price hike this month, and
F O O L !
Their sirensong voices surge to an unbearable pitch, and I’m forced to protect my ears. Cowering now, I feel my collar tighten and tighten until electric shocks thrill across my vision. The shirt my mother ironed this morning strains as I am pulled, physically pulled, into the air, my feet lifting from the carpet like the feet of the four men before me, my body only rising six inches or so because the ceiling in this apartment is so low, and the last thing I recall before my vision goes black is the pungence of horsehair.
I wake knowing only carpet. The same carpet, blue stained with black, unchanged from the last four tenants. Then, more strangely, the sound of a child’s voice. I turn over, groaning, to see her, four years old and adorable, and behind her, a younger brother. They giggle and prod my tattered shirt.
I roll onto my front, a mass of aches. Getting to my feet doesn’t seem like an option, so I get to my knees and stare, dumb, at the children. There are four of them in total, surrounded by piles of boxes, a scattering of toys, a disassembled IKEA bed.
The door opens. It’s a woman, early 40s, pretty, the sort I would normally try it with, but right now I can’t stand, so it will have to wait.
She notices me. You must be the lodger. The landlords mentioned that. Eileen, nice to meet you. Kids, this is Graham. Now —
She leans closer.
–Graham, we’ve been told the managing company are raising the rent, and it would be great if you could help.