Dealing with estate agents in a posh city: a report from the Labyrinthine Marshlands of Death

My boyfriend and I have been flat-hunting for a little while, and I don’t know if we’ve been especially unlucky with real estate agents or if that’s how it usually happens, but we’re starting to have quite a collection of interesting experiences. Here are some of the best quotes from the past weeks:

“Yes, there’s a little noise from the motorway because it’s winter, but in the summer when the leaves grow back on the trees, you won’t hear a thing.”

“So, is this your first purchase? Let’s see. I have to close my car first. [pushes a button on his remote control and lets the car roof slide back into place, while grinning at us] That’s a nice car, eh? My wife calls it my toy. My grandson loves it. Is it locked? Good thing we’re in a safe neighbourhood, I can leave my car outside. Wouldn’t want anybody to steal it. We all need our toys, don’t we?” (a little while later) “I can get you a great deal on that flat. It’s €220K, but you could get it for €215K!” (that’s when we learnt that people who are likely to be awed at your nice car are also not supposed to see that a 2% discount is not such a great deal)

Me: “Okay, we’ll meet you in front of the house. Could you remind us of the street name, so we can localise it on the map?”
Agent: “Er… I don’t know, I don’t have my computer with me right now, can I call you back?”
(And that’s the sort of work this person could get a €15,000 cut for…)

Me: “We’re looking for something anywhere in Aix except in the Western part of the city—” (the West is known for being unsafe, noisy, and tucked between motorways)
Agent: “Okay, I’ve got a great flat, and it’s in the West, but it’s cheap, you should definitely see it. Great deal.”
(seems that estate agents distinguish two kinds of people: those who can afford to choose where to live, and those who can’t)

“You want a flat for €200K? Look, Miss, these days everybody wants a flat for €200K. But Aix is an expensive place. And you don’t want to go to the West part? Because for that price you’ll find something in the West, but if you’re looking for a palace with a huge terrace in the city centre, you just have to come back to reality.” (that was right after I’d looked at about sixty different ads for flats in our price range, in all sorts of districts. Needless to say, I didn’t call her back.)

Agent (right after a visit): “So what have you visited so far?”
Me: “Places in Beauregard, mainly. We rather like it, and the prices are great…”
Agent: “Beauregard? You know, some people avoid that place! This flat here is good, but Beauregard, well, it’s just not the same kind of, you know, population!”
(translate: not always ethnically French…)

Me: “I’ll have to discuss that with my partner. The monthly fees are quite expensive.”
Agent: “Ah, yes, of course. It’s a place of some class.”

The list could go on… What feels a bit frightening is to realise the power that estate agents (not always the most considerate or professional of people, as you can see) hold over our society. They can do their very best to kick up the prices and frighten people out of trying to find a place to live in the most reputed areas. They can, and will, do their utmost to convince you that with limited financial means, you only “deserve” certain areas, never mind if they’re not your first choice or if you feel downright unsafe there. They will enforce spatial segregation while charging exorbitant fees for a ridiculously small amount of work (and I don’t care that some of them don’t earn money beside the cuts they take from the sales; if the system pressures them into selling overpriced estate as fast as they can, the system has to be changed). In short, they have power over space, which is a tremendous power to have. And many of them don’t seem to be the best people to wield it.

Never mind, on with our search!


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