The Secret Agent

October 14, 2011 9:59 pm

The age of compromise

It’s interesting to see how people cope with compromise because inevitably we all have to – in property, in work, in love, in life

Is it too jaded to say that the happier life is one of compromise – one that allows us to be content with our lot? Or is it just grown-up? I’ve been thinking about this question in relation to property. Every search we’ve undertaken has involved a compromise of one sort or another; be it a garden that isn’t quite as large as the client would like, a ceiling height that is a little too low, or a location just a street away from the preferred catchment area.

It’s interesting to see how people cope with compromise because inevitably we all have to – in property, in work, in love, in life. I’ve come across the whole range in purchasing London property. The most common thing that clients have to navigate is their initial outrage at the cost. This is followed by their assertion that prices will crumble. The final stage in the process is accepting that prices will continue to rise and to take the plunge.

I had my first summer job working for a London estate agent in 1992. I remember people talking about the bubble bursting and how over-inflated prices were. If those naysayers had bought then they’d be very happy now. Almost 20 years later, those conversations still occur; as with most human characteristics, time moves on but our natures remain the same.

As we earn our commission through the sale of properties, we are in a precarious position involving a gossamer sensitivity. We don’t want to seem as if we’re pushing too hard for a sale as it would only seem self-serving. It’s frustrating at times as, through our experience, we know what the client should do and the inevitable regret that will follow if they don’t buy.

Unfortunately, there is little to tempt our clients at the moment. The dearth of stock means that, despite the world’s tentative financial state, prices remain high in central London. I’m struggling with some clients who have a glorious flat and want to move somewhere similar but in a different location. It will be quite a challenge to match their flat. They were quickly categorised by GG and me in the “dream client” file, so it was with disappointment that I showed them around perfectly decent but bog-standard mansion block flats and maisonettes – for they simply didn’t compare. We’ll get there.

. . .

While we struggle to find the right compromises for most clients, we’ve found two properties without compromise for one. She’s been looking with us for a few months and we have managed to shortlist two properties of similar build. They are solid, early Victorian houses, with gracious (rather than grand) proportions, wide hallways, good natural-light gardens (having south-west aspects) and possessing that feeling of warmth and what my Argentine cousins would call good ondas (vibes). The more expensive of the two is preferred and our client needs to ponder whether she wishes to stretch that far. I offered my own opinion: “If you don’t want to spend that much then the decision is made for you: you buy the cheaper of the two – having financial parameters in place is liberating in many ways because it determines what’s in reach and what isn’t.” Helpful, I hope, if a little directive.

Certain things we can compromise on, others we are helpless over. A friend was in pain this week and it brought up emotions I have often felt in the past when I’ve seen people I love suffering. I wanted to strike a bargain with the higher plane and say, “Let me take some of their pain, my shoulders are broad and I can handle it and I can’t bear to see them suffer.” But we can’t barter out the division of suffering as much as we’d like to. And, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve recently been guilty of inflicting emotional pain. It was not intentional of course, but if you can’t reciprocate feelings for someone else it’s better to say so. I’d rather be the one suffering than causing it but that’s not always possible. So a compromise here and there on a property is a relatively small ask in the grander scheme of things.

secretagent@ft.com

More columns at www.ft.com/secretagent

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