When the fourth series of ultra-glamorous reality show streams on , I’ll be glued to the screen.
I’ve been an estate agent for ten years in an area that is home to stockbrokers, captains of industry and former pop stars.So the crazy world of the Los Angeles-based Oppenheim Group realtors is like bingeing on a fantasy version of my own job in the Home Counties.
Everything in is bigger, bolder and more Botoxed, from the stunning mansions they sell to the eye-watering commissions of up to $1 million [£740,000] on each property.Yet, it’s not so very different from selling Sunningdale, say, or Sevenoaks, Walton-on-Thames or Weybridge. You can take a few zeroes off our salaries, but in several respects, we’re cut from the same designer cloth.
You quickly realise, for example, that as a female sales agent a bit of flirting really does help smooth a sale.It’s a male-dominated industry, so you need to be smart to get on —and if a little twinkle in the eye and a few breathy compliments get the ink on paper and keys handed over, I’m all for it.
Tabitha Green, who has worked as an estate agent in the Home Counties for ten years, revealed the similarities between her role and Netflix’s Selling Sunset (pictured)
Just as in Beverly Hills, selling expensive houses can be a sexual minefield.More than once, clients have come to the door in satin boxers, then asked me to stay for drinks. One said he’d seen me on a dating app and wanted to know if I was interested in a hook up? I diplomatically declined.
Jumping into bed with clients does happen, though obviously it’s not a sales technique I use.
At one posh estate agency, when the husband is out at work, the viewing of the master bedroom can become quite ‘intense’ if conducted by a rather rakish, public school-educated agent I know of.
There’s also huge pressure for agents to look good.Houses I sell are often in the £2-£3 million bracket, so the owners don’t want you to turn up in jeans and a comfy cardi. It’s essential to show them you can represent their ‘brand’ — I have to look immaculate: full make-up, blow-dried hair, designer clothes and the highest of heels.
But this has its downsides when selling a country property. The gardens might be perfect, but I’ve ruined a pair of Manolos in the mud and had my Hermes scarf pulled off by a seller’s drooling dog. The trick is never to let your smile waver.
Most people who move to our area are leaving London to buy their ‘forever house’ and get a slice of their version of idyllic country life.But we get plenty of fake buyers, too.
They get all dressed up, book half a dozen viewings in a day and act as if they’re on Escape To The Country — oohing and aahing over the properties then ghosting you afterwards.
Time-wasters are the bane of our lives, and we do our best to vet buyers in advance.We study their names, listen to their accent, even Google them to try to work out if they’re good for the price due to an inheritance or mega job.
Tabitha said status-driven purchases are common, such as a country estate, an architect-designed barn, an eco-house (file image)
Of course this can backfire, ‘Old Money’ people can dress like tramps but own half the county — and some of the richest people we’ve worked with are sweary plumbers called Darren. You never can quite tell.
Buyers with real money often live in a part of London they call a ‘village’.Walthamstow ‘Village’, Kilburn ‘Village’, even Hackney ‘Village’. These are not actual villages, obviously. They’re really living in inner city London in what is often quite a small house.
By contrast, we sell houses in middle-class Mumsnet territory.These are real villages — and buyers are nervous about what that means. They fear they’re swapping Bollinger-fuelled nights at Soho House for sherry at the WI in the village hall.
This is where I become counsellor, psychologist and tourist board all in one.I listen as they describe their current, usually pretty narrow lifestyle, then open my ‘little black book’ to tell them about the coolest rural boutiques and restaurants locally.
This makes them feel they won’t be chained to an Aga watching sheep all day in the back of beyond.Once they can see themselves dropping into ‘wonderful little Michelin-starred rural restaurants’, the sales process can continue.
The fact is, they don’t really want to move to the countryside at all. They just want a much bigger version of their London house.They want to feel an elite part of a ‘marvellous community’, but it’s actually all about status. What I call status-driven purchases are common: a country estate, an architect-designed barn, an eco-house.
Tabitha said many buyers have a narrow choice because of criteria including wanting a grammar school and train station around the corner from their home (file image)
You should see their must-have lists, too.They don’t just want a grammar school around the corner but an Ofsted-outstanding comp too, in case little Olivia doesn’t make the grade. Plus a good indie — they’re considering private education, natch. Stables are required for the ponies Olivia is sure to want, plus a huge garage for hubby’s classic car.
They don’t want to be overlooked, but don’t want to be too remote either as it’s going to be a big adjustment leaving London. The most they’ll consider is 15 minutes from the station, but oh they are so looking forward to my suggestions for their forever house!
But given all of those criteria, the search is now pretty narrow, so there will be one, sometimes two houses on the market that tick their boxes.And they’re bound not to like them.
When it comes to getting a house onto the books, estate agents need to say one thing while thinking another. Often I’ve found myself looking round a badly decorated house, saying: ‘How charming, I’m sure we’ve got people who will snap this house up!’ While thinking: ‘Oh good God!Who the hell would buy this? I’d better ask a friend to pretend to view it to get the listing!’
We do see some horrors. My particular favourite was what we dubbed the ‘1970s Porn House’, with swinging seats, a round waterbed and gold taps in every bathroom.
Tabitha said more than once she has had to remove the owner’s finest Agent Provocateur underwear from an unmade bed before a last-minute viewing.Pictured: Selling sunset
Single guys can be interesting vendors. Typically, they have interiors painted black, satin sheets on all beds and mirrors everywhere.
Or there’s the opposite extreme: family houses with kids’ fingerprints on every surface, dog hair everywhere else and messy bedrooms.
Sometimes you get a last-minute viewing, and the owner has gone to work so hasn’t tidied.More than once I’ve had to remove the owner’s finest Agent Provocateur underwear from an unmade bed. When you see them again, you pretend you didn’t find it and she pretends she didn’t leave it there!
Apart from fake buyers, the people who irritate me the most are those who have no concept of time.You’ll be at the property, heating on, aromatherapy candles lit, and you get a call. With a baby screaming in the background, you hear the words that make your heart sink: ‘We will be with you in 40 mins. Traffic coming out of London is appalling!’
My other pet peeve is how buyers change behaviour when they love a house.Instead of being demanding and dismissive, they’ll become your best friend, dropping round to see you in the office for a ‘chat’, soooo interested in you and your family.
The charm offensive goes up a gear when a house goes to sealed bids.The buyers buy you drinks, lunch and drop off small gifts — thinking they can get you to reveal the details of the other sealed bids to get an advantage.
They get quite miffed when we politely but firmly say we’re not allowed to tell them the counter offers — no matter what.
Tabitha said rival agents are very close despite the competition, chatting a lot and having access to a lot of personal information
But some people can be lovely.It’s quite common to receive a case of wine, bottle of fizz or lunch as a thank you for sealing a deal. The uber-wealthy are often strangely stingy with their thank-you gifts, though.
One bought a box of six muffins from Tesco to share between the eight of us in the office.
Competition is fierce between estate agents.They will do anything to steal your sale or undermine you. You have to be careful what you do or say in public. You can’t get trollied at a party (or they’ll start a rumour you are an alcoholic); you must always look good (or they’ll say you’re losing it); and you mustn’t miss a call as another agent will swipe the sale.
Despite the competition, rival estate agents are very close.They chat a lot, and have access to a lot of personal information. I’ve been to parties where they’ve swapped stories about which clients are bonkers, who’s getting divorced, who’s having an affair with who, who’s sitting on a stash of cash. Most clients would be horrified.
But my worst fear?Keys. Agents are always losing them. On my first multi-million pound sale, I forgot the keys for the first viewing. Horrified, I climbed in through an open kitchen window, landed in the sink, then limped to the front door, greeting the prospective buyers looking more like a burglar than an estate agent.
We may not have the endless sunshine, but there’s no shortage of drama when Selling Suburbia.