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I think an offer of £22m will certainly gain their attention.” So said one of London’s top agents to me regarding a house we were selling. She had the buyer. I recounted this to GG later that day and she offered me a wry smile knowing that tens of millions did not motivate this particular seller into a swift response.
This was a few days before Christmas and their intention was to wrap the deal up before 2012 began. My contact is not with the principal but with his aide de camp, an urbane and charming gentleman who flicks from Dutch to English, Arabic to French with the fluency of a native-born speaker and then orders lunch in perfect Italian. I’ve chased him across continents and time zones as he travels and holidays in London, Paris, Aspen and Beirut. Most recently I caught him heading to St Barts and there’s still no concrete answer three weeks on – just an indication that the principal is difficult to tie down. All the while I’m struggling with mobile phone reception, at first in a Cotswold valley where dog walkers look on surprised as I shout millions into my Blackberry and latterly on the Argentine Pampas where I only have cows and horses to impress with such figures as I find the one corner of the estancia that has reception.
At each stage I’m explaining myself to the agent who has introduced the buyer – who, incidentally, is a cash purchaser. I like this fellow agent and respect her so it’s with further embarrassment that I can only offer increasingly hollow procrastinations. At this point a simple “no” would be welcomed. We play a little jig of “my client is richer than yours” which is futile really as both have such stratospheric wealth that it’s hard to even quantify. According to the last Forbes list I saw (admittedly this was some years ago), there are only 43 people in the world richer than my client but maybe her client numbers among these 43. The super-prime market in London is fuelled by such enormous wealth and mind-boggling prices that it wouldn’t surprise me. The £22m addition to the principal’s bank account represents the equivalent outlay of a friend buying me a cappuccino – that’s the degree of absurdity I’m dealing with, coupled with the fact that the nine-bedroom property in question has remained empty from the day of its purchase four years ago.
These frustrations take on a surreal quality in such a distant place as the Pampas, and absence doesn’t have me yearn to be back in the office. GG returned 10 days ago from the pistes and is more than capable – in fact, probably better – at running the show until things hot up towards the end of January and we’re both needed. This period is when school settles and people are knuckling down to the New Year with the requisite resolve. The focus on property and moving doesn’t really come to life for a few weeks yet and historically the big resurgence comes during the spring which is, of course, nature’s time for change.
. . .
We’re all thinking of resolutions. Have we maintained those ones we made with such ardour just two weeks ago? And if not, which of those are we allowing ourselves to slacken and which others will we hold staunchly to? I decided to keep mine both simple and wide-ranging – I didn’t want to bog myself down in specifics.
The general resolve is “discipline” and that is to cover all areas of my life – work, exercise, time to write and an absolute refusal to allow the television to go on after I’ve returned from supper out. I have a habit of wasting precious sleep time on mindless drivel and that will stop or the television goes.
Here on the Pampas there’s hardly a working phone line, let alone TV. WiFi is unimaginable despite certain comic scenes of a guest performing what we christened “the dongle dance” to try and locate reception. It’s a relief being detached from a stream of repetitive information.
More columns at www.ft.com/secretagent
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