The first weekend we were here we spent a lovely afternoon with our friends Jan and Dylan who moved to Sydney whilst we were living in Australia the first time, nine years ago. They are Brits at heart but have lived in Australia long enough to be fully versed in Australian culture. Over some rather scrummy prawns and a delicious bottle of Australian wine, Dylan told us some stories about work which made us laugh and simultaneously shake our heads in disbelief.
One of the stories Dylan told us was very funny but we assumed was full of hyperbole for the sake of comedy (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, it’s my stock-in-trade!). Now we have lived here for six weeks, and been on the receiving end of some unbelievably bad customer service, we now find the stories very believable.
The receptionist at Dylan’s office is contracted to start work at 7:30am. She always arrives early and is sitting at her desk by 7am but she will not do any work of any description before the stroke of 7:30am! She will not answer the phone and she will not press a button right in front of her to open the main gates to let deliveries in or out. Dylan has called her from his office several times to ask if she would be kind enough to open the gate to let in a visitor he is expecting and she always says no because she hasn’t started work yet. If it is before 7:30am he now doesn’t waste his time calling her to ask, he leaves what he is doing and walks to her desk and presses the button himself!
Last Thursday, I dropped the boys at afterschool club (no school yet so afterschool club is a good way to give us a break from each other and to get the boys meeting and playing with other boys of the same age). Richard was with the two little ones so I thought I would seize the rare opportunity of being child-free (my first 10 minutes of child-free time in 5 weeks!) and buy a freshly squeezed juice that I wouldn’t have to share with 4 hungry mouths leaving me with just the scuzzy foam at the bottom of the cup as usual! I walked into the juice bar next to after school club at 3:15pm; it closes at 5pm.
“Can I have a juice please?” I asked politely.
“No. I have just cleaned the machine,” came the brusque reply leaving no provision to argue that it was still one hour and forty five minutes until closing time.
At six o’clock that same day I went to collect Matthew and Ben from after school club. They go on Thursdays because one of the activities is an hour of Spanish which the boys and the Spanish teacher know they are supposed to attend. When I arrived, Matthew showed me the great worksheets he had completed in Spanish class. Ben rather sheepishly said he hadn’t been to Spanish, “I forgot,” he said. (I think his memory was impeded by the five-a-side soccer game that was going on at the same time!) No problem. I found the Spanish teacher, a really nice lady from Chile, and I said (I think very reasonably given that she knows Ben is supposed to be in her class but she made no attempt to find him): “Can I have a copy of the worksheets for Ben and I will do them at home with him”.
“No. I have just put them away.”
I do not intimidate easily (see the earlier post about the Chinese restaurant if you need convincing!) but there is something in the way that these replies are given that makes you feel it would be pointless to pursue the matter further!
I was queuing to buy hot water bottles at K-Mart and was behind a lady who had just bought a DVD. It was in one of those boxes that has a store security lock on it and the sales assistant swiped it a couple of times over the unlocking device at the till.
Here is the conversation I overhead between the sales assistant and the purchaser:
S.A: The locking thing is supposed to turn green when I swipe it. It’s still red. If you can’t open it when you get home just brings it back.
P: Are you able to open it now?
SA: No. If you can’t open it when you get home just bring it back and we’ll exchange it.
P: Can I try to open it now. I don’t want to get all the way home and have to come back.
P – (she tried to open it and couldn’t) It’s still locked.
SA: Yes, if you can’t open it when you get home just bring it back and we’ll exchange it.
P – I can’t open it now. It’s unlikely I will be able to open it when I get home. It is still locked. Can I exchange it now?
The sales assistant look quite perplexed and replied; “I don’t know. I’ll have to get a supervisor to authorise an exchange.”
But I have saved my favourite examples of non-customer service until last as they involve estate agents, possibly my least favourite species of all animal and plant life on the planet. Having worked briefly as one , and having bought, sold and been a landlord of several properties over the years I feel very well qualified to hold a very low opinion of all estate agents but the Australian ones are proving to be in a class all of their own.
Now that Richard has been granted the elusive 457 temporary resident’s visa and offered a permanent position by Vodafone (very exciting and a real testament to Rich’s all round amazing-ness – his brain is still huge and in full working order despite spending most of last year in repose in his hammock, painting and drinking beer!) we have some serious shopping to do. Our list is something like this:
4) Things required to equip a house for six people including beds and teaspoons and all things in between.
To prove positive the theory that “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” Rich and I have divided the “shopping list” between us, according to what we feel is the priority. Rich is sourcing a car and I am looking for a school, a house and furniture!
The first time I went into one of our local estate agents, I was practically shooed out of the door. It was a bit like that scene from “Pretty Woman” when Julia Roberts goes into the fancy stores on Rodeo Drive and wants to buy clothes but nobody will help her. “We have nothing for you here”, they say. Basically estate agents here won’t get out of their chair unless you want to spend $5million on a waterfront apartment. We are looking to spend up to $4,000 a month on rent (yes you have read that right $4,000 a month on rent) and that will get us a modest three bedroom place in a reasonable neighbourhood. In my world that is a fortune to spend on rent and estate agents should be handing out balloons and throwing rose petals in my path when I go into their office, but alas no, they won’t even look up from their iPads!
The second time I went into an estate agent I was slightly more prepared (although sadly I did not have Richard Gere and his credit card by my side to really influence things in my favour!) and my expectations were lower. I filled in an application form but quickly realized it was going straight in the bin and nobody was going to call me or send my any property details – the form did not even ask which area I was looking in and when I asked the receptionist if I should add it as a footnote she said not to bother!
They had one small three bedroom apartment for rent which was within our budget so I asked her where it was. She told me the area and I hadn’t heard of it so I asked if she had a map. She said no and told me to look on the internet!
Estate agents with no maps to show potential customers where properties are, what a novel approach.
Every question I asked was given the same reply – “You will have to look on the internet.”
I would like to sound a cautionary note here to any organisation which has the word “agent” in its title. The nature of your business is to bring two interested parties together and broker a deal, ideally creating a “win-win” situation for both parties and skimming off a nice fat fee for yourself for making the introduction and facilitating the transaction. That is exactly the service the internet now provides, extremely well – for free! So “agents” beware, the last place you should be directing potential customers is to the internet; your days are numbered and you will only accelerate your own demise if you constantly send people to the internet to find information. The only benefit you can possibly offer above and beyond the internet is the human touch, a little customer service, going the extra mile etc. etc. If your answer to everything is basically “I can’t be bothered to help you because all the information in on the internet” then that is where we will go and you will soon be closing your doors – for good.
Left with no alternative, we looked on the internet and found a couple of possible properties but nothing great. Rich convinced me to give the agents one more try, certain that the key to our success would lie in the little nougat of information still held tightly by one individual in an estate agents office. (The human touch, remember that?) . “Go on”, he encouraged,”See if you can win one over with a little Bradshaw charm.” How could I resist the challenge?
For what I hoped would be the final time, I galvanised myself for some more “Julia Roberts without Richard Gere” treatment and set off to the first agent on my list of five, just a few minutes from our house. Let’s call them Shore Properties (as that is their name) and it is here where I met “good estate agent” and “bad estate agent”. Let’s call them Michael and Nick (their real names, they deserve to be exposed for bringing a disreputable industry into further disrepute).
Bear in mind that I had found Shore Properties on the internet and had added them to my list because
a) They offered a rental service and
b) They had properties for rent within our budget
Here is an account of my bizarre experience with Shore Properties, Yeo Street, Neutral Bay:
Michael (Bad Estate Agent) got up from his chair as I entered. Good start I thought, no other agents have stood up to greet me before. It soon became obvious he was not trying to help me or be polite but actually trying to block my path so I couldn’t get too far inside!
Me: I’d like to register with you for properties to rent. I’m looking for three bedrooms at around $4000 per month.
Michael: We have nothing like that.
Me: Can I give you my details in case anything comes up or if you get the chance to take something on which you will know you have a ready, pre-qualified tenant for (remember I have worked as the loathsome being that is an estate agent so I know how the industry works)
Michael: No. It’s not worth it. I don’t get paid enough to bother with things like that. There are too many timewasters
Me: But you have 3 bedroom properties for rent for less than $4000 per month showing on your web site, what do you mean the business in not worth your while, it’s the business you are in.
Michael: Not really. I’m just telling you how it is. There are too many time wasters looking for rentals they change their minds too quickly it’s just not worth it. Estate agents won’t help you we don’t get paid enough.
Me: If I was a potential landlord or vendor and that is your attitude and sales pitch why would I bother using an estate and paying your fee. You are basically saying you won’t work on behalf of your landlords because potential customers are a waste of time!
Michael: (spouted loads of **** about his inside knowledge of the property market and superior negotiating skills and ability to put amazing deals together that lesser mortals such as myself are incapable of comprehending.)
Me:(flabbergasted) Yes, deals that need customers of which I am one. I’m not a time waster. I have 3 weeks before I have to leave the place I’m in. I have small children so I cannot be homeless. I know what I want, how much I can spend and where I want it. How am I a timewaster? Plus in the real world to most people $4000 is an awful lot of money for rent. How can this business not be worth your while? Where is the customer service here and why are you in the renting property business if it’s not worth while helping people who want to rent property?
Enter Nick, Michael’s son and “good estate agent”
Nick: I agree, $4000 is a lot of money. Customer service is important. I will help you.
So Nick and I sat round his desk and pored over his computer. Shore Properties had nothing I was interested in but Nick helped my look at all the other agents in the area and gave me a few useful tips on how the market works here. All for nothing – no fee, no potential fee, just a bit of good old fashioned customer service.
As I left, Michael tried to be nice. I don’t think he went as far as apologising for being a rude and arrogant SOB who doesn’t deserve to be in business but he did try to tell me he was only trying to be helpful by telling me neither he nor any other agent in town would be helpful!
I couldn’t face anymore of the agents on my list. It was raining and I had children to collect from the library. I wanted to go home (whilst I still had one!)
This happened last Thursday. The local property paper comes out on Friday night.I read it cover to cover and could not belief my eyes: Shore Properties were advertising a 3 bedroom apartment in a perfect location for $2,800 per month. At 8am on Saturday I phoned Nick’s number…but Michael answered. “Nick doesn’t work on Saturdays, it’s just me today.” (Saturday is the busiest day of the week in the world of estate agents; of course you would have fifty per cent of your workforce absent!) “Oh yippee, “I thought. “It’s just me and Mr Chuckles”.
Me: I want to see the property on Stanton Road that you are advertising in the paper and on your website. (I didn’t waste my breath asking why they hadn’t mentioned this one on Thursday when I had been in the office)
Michael: I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know what the viewing arrangements are. I don’t think you can see it. Nick must have taken it on. Phone back on Monday. (I later found out that Michael OWNS the agency and they only have four properties on their books at the moment but he cannot be bothered to find out the details of 25% of his stock!)
Me: Right, you are advertising a property that I want to see today. Please phone Nick and find out what the viewing arrangements are for today and call me back.
Michael: (surprisingly he agreed) OK
He called me back a few minutes later and said he had key s and the property was empty.
Me: Where are you now?
Michael: In my office.
Me: It is 8am. I will be at your office in 10 minutes and you can take me there. We will view the property and then you can come back and be at your desk by opening time at 8:30am.
Me: I hung up the phone before he could object.
Michael took me to see the property in his brand new Mercedes 350 SLK convertible which was so sleek and low to the floor that two after eight mints would have had trouble fitting in. Fortunately I had not had breakfast and Michael is built like a seven year old so we managed to both get in. He clearly has an interesting definition of “Not being paid enough”.
The apartment was a great. Old lady scary wall paper and bathroom tiles but clean and reasonably spacious. What the advert had failed to reveal, which I only found out when I arrived, was it has a large communal garden with swimming pool, a balcony with a sea view and is a two minute walk from the most gorgeous, kid friendly beaches on the North Shore. I couldn’t believe I had found such a gem and tried hard to keep my poker face – places like this are this area are usually advertised at $6000 a month.
Me: I like it. Is there any reason why children couldn’t live here? No covenants on the lease or anything.
On the journey on the way to the property I had tried to befriend Michael a little and I think he must have had his Prozac as he was much more reasonable and jovial that day.
Michael: No, of course not. This is Australia. We love children; it would be perfect for kids. It has a pool and is close to the beach.
I arranged to meet Michael at the apartment later that day so Richard could see it but I knew he would love it too. We know what you can get for your money around here and it not usually anything like this so I knew he would say it was perfect.
Rich saw it, loved it and we filled in the application for there and then. I told Michael he needn’t bother showing it to anyone else (music to his ears I imagined, clearly he is not the hardworking type!) we would definitely take it at the full rent, no haggling. We arranged for Rich to go to the office on Monday with all our paperwork – passports, visas , references, bank statements, proof of income, proof of residence, you name it. Rich was in the office by 8am on Monday and gave all the information to Nick.
We received this email from Michael on Tuesday: “Thank you for getting all the paperwork together for us. Unfortunately you are not able to be considered as the landlord has some reservations regarding children.” I had asked Michael categorically about this before I took Rich and the children to see the apartment and he has assured me it wouldn’t be a problem. Can’t believe he had the nerve to suggest I was a time waster!
If this was a pair of shoes I was looking for I would have walked out of the shoe shop the first time I met Michael and not given the company a second thought. I would have bought my shoes elsewhere. But property is a different matter. If you see a property you want to rent or buy you have no choice but to deal with the agent appointed by the seller/landlord.
After I had calmed down from my initial outrage at Michael’s email I decided I still wanted the property and wasn’t going to take no for an answer the first time. This decision meant I would have to deal with the unprofessional and incompetent numbskulls (there are other more suitable adjectives and nouns but this is a family blog!) at Shore Properties but I prepared my strategy and knew they would have no choice but to try again for me, or at least give the appearance of.
I called the office and Michael answered. I told him that it was now time to use the superior negotiating skills that he had told me only estate agents possessed and to try to create the elusive “win win” situation for both of us by influencing the landlord that we would be excellent tenats. . Shore Properties can get this property off the books without having to show it to any more “timewasters” and I can rent the apartment my family and I want to live in. All you have to do is convince the landlord that children will not be a problem (at school all day, away every weekend) that we are reliable tenants who can afford the rent and have a good payment history (references from work, other landlords, our bank) and that if he is worried about extra wear and tear we are prepared to pay a higher deposit or even a higher rent.
Michael: But why should he listen to me?
Me: I have no idea, I think you are a complete moron with the intellect of a small cabbage but bearing in mind the only thing that stands between me and my apartment is Michael, so I have more tongue-biting to do and out loud I said:
“Because you have excellent powers of persuasion and you are the agent that he has appointed to represent his interests in this transaction so clearly he trusts your judgement and respects your opinion.”
Michael: OK I’ll try to persudade him and call you back.
Three days have passed and of course the phone hasn’t rung!
Rich has fared rather better with his shopping list than I have and we have purchased a car. Well, actually it’s a tank. After we had handed over the $20,000 for school fees (not for a fancy private school, just the local public school which temporary residents must pay to attend) there were not many pennies left in the piggy bank to buy a car . We are now the proud owners of a Toyota Land Cruiser that seats 8 (perfect for when Rich’s parents visit next year) but it is so old and done so many miles I think it is what Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went to the moon in the first time.
It is enormous, weighs several tons, is high off the road and has kangaroo bars on the front. I took it out for the first time yesterday, racing Ben to hospital with suspected appendicitis. (False alarm fortunately). I stopped at traffic lights behind a Mercedes 350 SLK being driven by a seven year old with the registration plate: “SHORE 1”. It was Michael’s car! I revved the 4 litre 8 cylinder engine menacingly behind him; a veil of red mist fell over my eyes. “I CAN CRUSH YOU”, I thought and it would have been so easy for me to drive straight over the top of his car. But then Ben screamed in pain and said “Mummy, please don’t go over any more bumps, it hurts so much” and I remembered I am not Bruce Willis and my life is not a Die Hard film so we drove sedately on to the hospital, avoiding as many bumps and Mercedes as possible.
But Michael Chant beware when you are driving around the streets of Neutral Bay, I might not be so reasonable next time!