The Secret Agent

December 2, 2011 10:03 pm

One man’s Utopia is another’s dystopia

Some effort ultimately brings rewards and instant gratification is just that – ephemeral and unsustainable

Patience and perseverance are qualities to be respected in an age that demands instant gratification. I’m as guilty as the next of restlessness if my desires are not swiftly fulfilled, but then I am part of the MTV generation. We’ve become used to subliminal imagery and corrosive advertising promulgating body fascism thanks to programmes such as The X Factor, which assert that we’re all stars. The ethos of working hard in order to achieve a goal is unfashionable.

We started a search in May for a client who was clear on what he wanted in terms of size, location and budget. Though GG was the lead player it’s something we have been working on together – in fact Boy Wonder had an afternoon of involvement too. Our driver cancelled at the last moment and Boy Wonder stepped metaphorically into the helm and literally into the driving seat of our car. He played the role with suitable insouciance. I suspect the client may have been somewhat suspicious of this preppy looking young driver addressing GG and me quite so informally, at times offering his opinion on the properties.

Four months into the search, on the way to a pitch with GG, I had one of those (thankfully rare) is-anything-going-to-work-out moments and asked her if we’d ever find anything for this client. “Of course,” GG said – just as we noticed the dulcet tones of Gary Barlow emanating from the taxi radio with the lyrics “have a little patience”. We joined the chorus.

Last week, we exchanged on a house. It’s in an area that the client hadn’t originally considered but has come to love, and the property is of a greater square footage than initially required. I’m also pleased to say it is several hundred thousand pounds under budget. In spite of the fact that it was a house he’d initially passed on, I hope and believe he will be very happy in his new home.

We are in the same boat with several clients for whom we seem to be unable to find quite the right thing ... yet. I know it’s achievable but timing, fate and perseverance must unite to steer us in a favourable direction. I conjure lateral thoughts to achieve these clients’ property desires – the possibility of a house-swap appeals for those who are up- and down-sizing, respectively.

While this idea could have legs, I realise my more alternative ones are distractions from reading a dystopian Russian novel – Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, banned by the Communists in 1921. I confess that had I not been obliged to read it I would have given up after page 5, but I’m very pleased that I was and took myself away to the country last Saturday, alone save for the company of this imagined dystopia. It was a challenging but rewarding read and the importance of the work as an inspiration for Orwell’s 1984 was something of which I had been completely ignorant. It confirmed that some effort ultimately brings rewards and instant gratification is just that – ephemeral and unsustainable. It’s the same across-the-board; the casual encounter can give pleasure but most likely not fulfilment.

. . .

The closest house-related equivalent must be the turn-key property. It’s been the fashion for the past few years, particularly in the super-prime areas and among developments that charge upwards of £4,000 per sq ft. Such homes look best on first viewing. They create a mirage of a lifestyle. The truth is, however, that the illusion is created by someone else imagining how people want to live and in the process sucking any individuality out of the place. Ultimately the owner has to live their own life and can’t be subject to someone else’s perceived notions. Turn-key properties are a magnet for the recently rich – if another billionaire lives in the same building, it must be all right, so goes the thinking. Aspiration meets insecurity.

There are of course developers who dress a property without imprinting their brand onto it – they show a home’s flattering curves rather than dictating a uniform look. And many do it well. In the end though, the properties that speak to us are those that are a true reflection of their owners – character kinks and all.

secretagent@ft.com

More columns at www.ft.com/secretagent

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