The Secret Agent

September 16, 2011 10:02 pm

A hedgie turns to me for shelter

I confess to having been in talks with several ‘runners’ as I am on the quest for a number of unusual properties

The yachts on the Mediterranean have come into shore, the schools are back, suntans are beginning to fade and there’s a sense that it is business as usual.

The market still hasn’t quite placed itself, hovering in limbo before it decides what to do. There are tales of mega-sales but no hard evidence. Prices are punchy but there has been no dip in sellers’ expectations despite the stock market tumble.

My business has been infiltrated by tall talkers (or b/s merchants) who are best described as “runners”. They are hard to define but you find them in the flotsam and jetsam of most trades where high commissions are involved. In the property arena they tend to be someone who has access, often via a tangential route, to a property. The possibility of acquiring tens of thousands of pounds in the process is too alluring for them not to talk up their affiliation or friendship with the owner of the said “off-market” property.

It’s impossible to dismiss such operators out of hand as it would be doing my own clients a disservice, but sometimes I do wonder at the veracity of their talk. In some cases no doubt it’s true, but in others it ranges from the improbable to the impossible.

Having said all of the above, however, I confess I have been in talks with several runners as I am on the quest for a number of unusual properties. I’ve given up the search on behalf of the spoilt child seeking reality TV stardom by allowing myself the excuse that I don’t want to appear on camera on a cable network station (it’s not very Financial Times really). In truth, I can’t imagine anyone will pay for this vanity commission of a TV show – but who knows? Television can no doubt sink to lower depths.

The most pressing of the searches is for a hedge funder, his wife and family who want to find a property within a matter of weeks. They require a house in Notting Hill in London – naturally – backing on to communal gardens. The hedge fund wife has a role model in the shape of Gwyneth Paltrow, and Paltrow’s residency in London has made the move from Manhattan more palatable to her. Like GP, she is determined to become more attractive with each biological year that passes and has a body toned to perfection. Life is a workout. Being married to a master of the universe, she needs to remain a mistress of it. Her day is filled with Pilates, pedicures, hair salons, personal training sessions and daily self-improvement classes in French, cooking, singing. It’s tough maintaining perfection. I feel exhausted just hearing about the schedule. Her ascetic health regime is enviable: only the purest of foods and absolutely no alcohol. I take note.

. . .

However, the right house is not on the open market so I am pumping all the runners who may have a lead that leads somewhere. My mistress of the universe is used to instant gratification; her looks combined with her bank balance have given her a sense of unquestionable entitlement.

Patience is not her virtue. We scour Notting Hill during the week, while the mistress of the universe, horrified by London’s weather, spends each weekend on the continent, determined to capture the crest of summer.

She’s nothing if not organised.

It persuades me into my own weekend trip and, with the influence of Mamma Mia in mind, I escape to the Greek island of Paxos. I swim in the sea and attempt to concoct a plot as ludicrous and lucrative as Mamma Mia’s. There’s nothing quite like the crystal-clear waters of the Med and I’m drawn into a trance-like state, unable to leave the sea. This leads to my stepping on some sea urchins, swiftly followed by screeching pain.

I love the cultural differences between our European identities. The doctor challenged with removing the embedded spikes from my weeping foot arrives fresh from a dive wearing swimming trunks and a vest. He could not have been more proficient and while wielding various knives on my foot he was simultaneously carrying out a procedure with a man who had an allergic reaction. When my football knowledge came to a swift halt, the conversation turned to property. It transpired that a charming stone cottage could be bought for next to nothing and I imagined idyllic Septembers writing my musical masterpiece on this enchanting island.

But as the final sting was removed, I accepted the reality that I am tone-deaf and have no musicality whatsoever. Never mind, I thought to myself, I’ll just write the libretto.

secretagent@ft.com

More columns at www.ft.com/secretagent

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