Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It's been a while

It’s been a while. So… a lightening catch-up before you’ve had time to eat and digest any food vended to you in weak moment by Burger King:

  • AAAAAAAAAAAAAAArgh. This is management speak for ‘busy’.
  • New people include a French accountant who, we’ve just realized, hardly speaks Dutch or English (and as I speak no French, I’m left wondering if he speaks French).
  • Other new people include a consultant for Amsterdam who appears to have flown to a flying start and a second consultant for The Hague operation. This will help manage the client pressure there but, alas, will not help George spell better.
  • Reshuffle in Amsterdam sees the role of Commercial Assistant launched. Great things are expected of this role but we’ve not really defined it in detail yet so it could all go horribly wrong.
  • Sparrow has been warned for lack of output. Now, amazingly, he is the top scorer in June. When asked to what does he attribute his change in fortunes he really has no idea. Still unclear if we can really build on this guy.
  • Frank is keenly watching costs which is nice as for five years we’ve not had the tools to do this. Bit irritating that his suggestions regarding process efficiency are either “(s)he should work faster or longer; or (s)he should let someone else do that stuff.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

They come and they go

One of the property managers just quit. Not Eddie - the other one. Just had it "up to hear." At least, that's what his eyes said. His mouth said something like "I've had a great time, learnt a lot, personally developed and (deep in my heart) it's really tough to leave this paradise all behind."

Frank must learn the ancient art of disguise and, if not full on disguise, at least the noble, if not ancient, art of pretending. In this case, Frank should have pretended to be heart-broken about the loss of the property manager (not Eddie) – at least to the property manager concerned in person to his face and so on. That fact, though, is that Frank and I have been wrestling for weeks with how to get rid of this guy (not Eddie) without having to pay him a large pot of gold as stipulated in Dutch employment law. Frank’s heart soared with the announcement and he appeared unusually upbeat throughout most of the afternoon before retreating into his morose seriousness indicating that his post-vacation glow was gone (and within the day and after a two week Spanish rest).

Interviews for consultants and someone for the financial assistant role continued today and will continue to continue for the rest of the week. Not a bad consultant interview this afternoon until that is I asked her to ‘sell me’ on a property. After twenty minutes she had detailed ad nausea the proximity to the highway, trams and the quiet evenings during which birds could often be heard. Under pressure, she conceded that the entrance hall had been retiled and that light was well reflected from the new and white ceramic – still no actual mention of the apartment. Despite not remembering to remember to talk about our core offering, she made a good impression which demonstrates that we really need to interview better candidates.

As for the financial role, the first candidate was a disaster as he prefers to work alone, with minimal supervision and not to interact with colleagues. The other one seemed a great personal fit although his experience in financial administration was limited. Actually, that’s just not fair. He had zero experience.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Out of control

May is out of control. More deals than ever, more turnover than ever. It goes without saying that we've more costs than ever and, naturally, May is the month when the entire crew (with exception of the shareholders) get an additional month's vacation pay. The most prudent way to handle a surge in sales is to ignore it knowing, with certainty, that a catostrophic month (or months) lie smirking around the corner and, in the end, it will all average out following to the letter the immutable law of averaging. I wish I'd kept this in mind before ordering that custom TVR.

Next week is full of interviews. New consults and additional financial support person. Quality of applications has been mixed ranging from good to shambolic. At the shambolic end for example, one candidate had listed the following in the qualifications section:
Prepared and gave a speech to 200 people at the funeral of my brother-in-law.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Quitting time

One of the things you need to do as Sales Manager is talk people out of quitting (or into quitting if they are truly awful and getting them to jump of their own accord is far cheaper than incurring the wrath of the bias laws protecting the weak, faint-hearted and lazy in the workplace). Anyway, Klaas traveled to The Hague today to talk George out of quitting. Not that she's the best consultant since the word consult was first coined the 1940s or anything - it's just that there is no one else working in the office there. It's a big credibility ask when a client turns up unannounced, finds no one from Ideal Housing, has to make his own coffee, arrange his own viewing conduct his own negotiation and check-in. Naturally, should this ever happen, a commission discount would be reasonable. George lists her grievances:
  • I cannot print
  • Most of the time, should printing seem to work, the print comes out on one of the printers in Amsterdam.
  • I have not been paid any expenses.
  • I have not been paid a penny of commission.
  • My emails to head office are ignored.
  • The finance guy speaks funny and I cannot understand a word his says.
  • People want to know where I am (IF I AM OUT, LIVE WITH IT!)
  • My rusty heap of a car is not representative.
  • Access to the database is intermittent.
  • Outbound calling is sporadic.
The outcome of the meeting is that I have to speak with her. I'm unclear if she's on the team or not. I'll call tonight.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

On the theme of personnel

On the theme of personnel, I have the following to report with some trepidation:

  • The MT is looking to push through a revised commission schedule that may seem, if one were skeptical, that the consultants might earn less.
  • We’ve invented a new role – commercial assistant – with the goal of giving the consulting team more time on the street with their rental clients meaning (am I sounding unrealistically optimistic?) that more turnover will be generated.
  • We’ve taken on a work experience student in the office in Den Hague. Never met the guy but we’ve spoken on the phone – not sure which language is his first language but it ain’t one that I speak.
  • Timmy is looking increasingly like a moose in the headlights. Causes for concern include staring for prolonged periods at blank screens, not doing any deals, and wearing a cheap, synthetic, luminous orange sweater.
  • Hamid’s chronic illness problems have taken a wicked wend for the worse. Worse, Marcus stumbled across the fact that our break-even financial performance for the first quarter seems to have excluded a number of costs that should have been booked in the accounting system but were missed. Hamid is undergoing pain reduction treatment at a medical facility of choice paid by his insurance company because… well, that’s how it works over here. Treatment having no noticeable effect thus far, aside from the his increasing number of sick days.
  • Interview for additional consultants continue. Nothing really sparkley as yet. Three more candidates next week.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Up and to the right

Unsure ground. We’re having an excellent month despite the loss of Ginny, our super saleswoman. Theories abound:

  1. Luck: May may be fine. Thereafter, it will inevitably not be fine.
  2. Redistribution: Everyone is getting a bit of what would normally have been grabbed by Ginny.
  3. Increased confidence: A couple of good deals with clients that would otherwise have gone Ginnywards raises ones confidence and creates a smiley, optimistic, effervescence that washes over clients and makes them disposed to sign.
  4. Economy: It’s on the up so every agency is doing more business.
  5. Luck.: More luck around and it will run out.

A couple of months of post-Ginny stats are required to do anything more than ponder. I will report ad hocly with musings and evidence on this topic.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Treacle

The purchase of my new apartment is crawling thicker than treacle. There are seven mortgage applications running of which one – the one I presented to the bank myself instead of using a mortgage broker in the na├»ve hope that I’d not only avoid paying a brokerage 1% fee but would earn it myself – was rejected by a man with a deep voice.

The deep voice explained that for reasons that seemed to have very little to do with my case, my application to borrow a mountain of cash was rejected by the credit committee. When I asked for clarification, he patiently ran through the rationale but I began to wonder, part way through his tale of rejection, if we were both talking about the same property and mortgage application.

“I assure you, Mrs. Jansen, that I know what I’m talking about.”

Maybe – but not who you are talking to.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Being baffled

Frank is away for two weeks. Two weeks of doing nearly nothing on a Spanish island. Unlike me when on vacation, Frank is able to completely suppress the urge to check work email or to wonder if all is running smoothly. I, on the other hand, check email several times a day when on holiday and, if there's nothing to wonder about, call the office just in case.

During Frank's absence I am left with the dubious task of keeping an eye on areas of the business that he normally runs in detail. In particular, property management will receive my ad hoc care and attention following the school of management that advises totally freedom of action until the slightest thing goes the little bittiest bit wrong and then coming down on the perpetrator like a lump of iron.


Frank has been away for a whole day - no incident worthy of note thus far. Having said that, Marijke is still having rental clients and owners sign contracts that have never been checked, and arranging check-ins where no monies have been received. I look at her, baffled (me not her) and she looks baffled back. I love that word - baffled.

It is even possible to explain more simply that we simply cannot pay lawyers four thousand Euros per month to settle claims based on inaccurate contracts? She looks baffled.

Way to much coffee drunk today. Must take it easy tomorrow.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Ginny is really gone

Ginny’s farewell drink was last night. It started orderly enough downstairs in a grotto - a throwback-bar that somehow beamed itself from 1977 to 2007. By the time I arrived at seven o’clock, the entire team were tanked and rolling. As the music volume increased, so did the difficulty of hearing the various speeches lauding Ginny while, in a parallel and brutally truthful way, pointing out that she was a one-off and “none of you other consultant losers will ever come close”.

A man dressed in black asked us to leave. We did, only to find ourselves in upstairs cocktail bar of the same establishment. The difference between downstairs and upstairs being the increased music volume, the availability of high-price and poor quality cocktails, and four tubby balding blokes dressed in white suits. Purple and pink lighting fuelled the expectation that a porn shoot was about to get underway.

Four hours and five hundred Euros worth of liquid later, I close the tab, settle up and the party is over (at least the party on company expense). Realising this, the entire crew make their collective way to a cheaper bar on the Noordemarkt.

Something horribly wrong happens with Brenda’s ability to steer and she and her bicycle clatter into a parked VW station wagon. I bail and make my way home.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Have you seen her?

We try our level best not to be slovenly, to look at detail, and treat our clients with care and consideration. Contrast this to the email received yesterday from one of our serviced apartments competitors:

  • Dear Ideal Housing - last week one of our guests, a 95 year old wheelchair bound invalid from Omaha named Mrs. Ziegler, rolled herself out of one of our apartments and disappeared along with her 85 year old carer. The family is concerned for Mrs. Zielger's safety (nice, after a week's abscence) and remain concerned that she may not have gone of her own accord (they don't know where her will is). She is under medication (easier to influence) and her jewelry has also gone missing (read: the old biddy is a gold mine and is on the run). If you see her, please give us a call.

Jimmy is keeping his eyes peeled as his suspects that there is a considerable reward.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Kepeing my finger on the pulse

Away on vacation for a week in England. Tension is building. Not tension in that the vacation is too short or tension in that the weather is not just tippity-top, but more tension relating to not taking a peek at my work email when I know I can. Finally, I denial myself the denial of not logging in a taking a peek. As I trawl through the mail headers and read the details, I quickly conclude that the stream of trivia left behind on my departure, continues unabated in my absence. Mails about checking out keys properly, parking fines (the game is to fervently deny you were the offender and then meekly concede on the production of the police photo showing you driving at 140 KMH, naked, in a built up area), the whoever-has-finished-my-milk rant, and so it flows ever on. I swear we will bring the Internet to its knees with the weight of nothingness. Once more, I feel connected.

Off to pub tonight for warm beer.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The cost of it all

We are reviewing our cost structure. Surprisingly, early indications are that are costs are *not* too low. That's right. On the other hand, we've no definitive information to hand as our bookkeeper still needs to get all the numbers bashed into the accounting package from which financial reports are generated.

Frank is impatient. He demands - strong lanaugage indeed - that Hamid produce a profit-and-loss statement on the spot based on the data that has in fact been entered. Hamid diplomatically points out that such a report is totally without value until all the relevant data has been entered. Frank pulls rank, "I want it on my desk in five minutes."

Seven minutes later, Frank and I are alone in the conference room. Frank is greatly irked by the report that says we lost Euro 56K in February alone. "Maybe," I point out, "it's because all the costs have been entered into the accounting system but not all the revenues."

Frank won't be fooled with such remarks that are clearly intended to throw him off track. He leaves to investigate how we formally need to file for bankruptcy.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The day in brief

  • Got up earlier than everyone else to buy muffins for weekly breakfast meeting.
  • Muffins consumed in silence. No thanks. Crumbs left on floor.
  • Last minute deal-sheets appear on my desk in the scramble to get commission this month (and not let it slide into next month).
  • Strong talk with Jimmy as he revenue numbers suck loudly, he's been on holiday, he's sick on his return, he requested more holiday.
  • Askance looks at bookkeeper.
  • Bookkeeper looks askance back.
  • Meet with Chuck to discuss real-estate brokerage arm of business.
  • Chuck feels like he's being gypped.
  • Reviews numbers. Feels less like he's being gypped (but cannot admit it).
  • Marcus is editing a picture of bathroom - trying to remove the mold.
  • More salary admin.
  • Pay taxes to tax guys.
  • More salary admin.
  • Read 23 page purchase document in Dutch for property I want to buy (11.00 at night now).
  • Crash.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ants

The Dutch have this great term ‘miereneuker’ that is used to describe someone who unreasonably focuses on irrelevant details. The term is English is approximated to ‘a person who likes to have sexual relations with an ant.’

In my day-to-day muddling in everyone’s business at Ideal Housing – the prerogative of the Managing Partner –, I’m abstracted out of the hue-and-cry of negotiating prices, extra beds, the removal of lamps and the painting of scuffed walls and, in general, escape having to kowtow to mireneukers that are, in fact, our rental clients.

Yesterday evening something surprising and depressing occurred. My offer was accepted on the purchase of a monster apartment on a canal in the Jordaan. From that instant – the nanosecond between being a contender and winning the bid – I found myself transformed form a well-balanced, easy going and pleasant individual into a person who likes to have sexual relations with an ant. I’ve already called the seller fifty times asking if this or that is included, was that scratch on the wall when I last viewed the place, the gate seems creaky, the intercom crackles, there’s a leaf on the roof, it looks like rain and the temperature has dropped from warm to chilly.

The owner has this tone that yells ‘ant boy!’

I have a new understand that verges on sympathy for these insect-loving clients and have promised not to swear at them (at least not when they are within earshot).

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Igenious, these scam people

The scan runs something like this:
  • We get a booking from an 'intermediary' on behalf of their client.
  • The 'intermediary' pays with the client's credit card information.
  • The funds clear on our account for a three week stay in one of our apartments.
  • At the last minute, the 'intermediary' contacts us saying his client has cancelled.
  • We are requested to refund the payment not back to the credit card but to another bank account.
  • The client never shows.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Concentrating hard

I worked at home today (management speak for 'skived off') in the hope that I could concentrate on my spreadsheet and remain out of sight and out of mind of the consultants that their inane claims on my time.

My hope was still born. As I was nowhere to be seen, their inane remarks and questions couldn't possibly wait, resulting in a series of calls to my cell phone.
Brenda: "Can I edit the contracts myself?"

Marijke:"Really? What? You mean someone has to
check the contracts and invoices before the get signed and money
paid?

Jimmy:"Am I disturbing...

Yes, very.

Jimmy: "... only I was wondering about my free days carried over from last
year."

Naturally, none of this can wait until I am back in the office.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The news in brief

One of our owners has rented his apartment to two female prostitutes from Thailand and has asked for an appendix to the rental agreement in which states that no ‘personal activities’ (aka brothel) may take place in his apartment. Right – like that’s really gonna ensure this won’t happen. “Come on… come back to my place. Oh no – I’ve just re-read the rental agreement and you’re not allowed to.”

One of our rental clients has attempted suicide by jumping from a third-floor balcony. The first we heard of this was when the owner called making a poor show of concern for the health of said individual, followed by a poor show of feigning disinterest in the probability of threat to his rental income stream.

Another of our rental clients – actually a large party – has tried to sneak in an extra 10 people into a group of apartments for which there is a price agreement on a per-person, per-night basis. The ‘sneak’ factor was weak (verging on pathetic) resulting in us spotting this feeble attempt at deception within five minutes. The upshot is that we can invoice for another Euro 14.500. Not a bad return for ‘seeing something obvious’.

This is the end of the news in brief.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Big bag of money

It gives me no pleasure at all to be right. In fact, there’s a certain pressure that is created from being the source of all human correctness. Sometimes I deliberately make mistakes so that others see I’m ‘just like them.’ For example, this morning I intentionally mis-added some large numbers that were to appear on an invoice in the certain knowledge that one of our better consultants would spot the mistake and pull me up on it. Instead, he immediately approved the calculation (that’s my job by the way), instructed finance to create the invoice (that’s my job by the way), asked the other managing partner – Frank – to give the payment a ‘go’ (also my job) in doing so insisted that all was just fine because I had added up the original figures. The client, on receiving an invoice for way too much calls us – fuming – like we’re total morons and all fingers point at me.

That the official last time that I play dumb. That’s right – official.

The circus guys are checking in tonight. That was the planning, at least. There is the minor issue however of them not having paid a penny of sixty-five thousand Euro. A big ol’ bag of loot. No problem, says the head circus guy (I have an image of him dressed as a clown) – we’ll bring the entire payment in cash. Hamid – our finance guy – has the challenging double task of counting the notes and not keeping any of them.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A great week...

... tired. Too many deals...sleeply.... sl...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Investors and impressions

The investors were back in this morning. I want to make an impression and it began with “Can I get anyone some coffee?” – I sound like Charlotte but the idea is to demonstrate that I’m a human being too. “Coffee” they parrot in unison like they’ve been practicing.

An impression was made but not the one intended. On opening the kitchen door that adjoins the conference room where the investors were all seated, I stumble over Brenda’s stout legs. The rest of her is slumped, out cold atop the counter. Drowsily, she raises her head – it’s swollen, it's beaten, it's got the pattern of her sweat-shirt sleeve embossed in her right cheek. A piece of croissant clings doggedly to her hair.

Klaas is livid and sends her home. It’s not that he has a problem with anyone pissing away an evening but it should have zero (ZERO) effect on performance the following day. In the States – apparently – this is a fireable offence.


"Didn’t you notice? You must have!" His palms are raised heavenwards.
"Er… Klaas… investors. Duh!" I stomp off for a detailed review of my junk mail.

Brenda manages a brief and unconvincing apology before taking herself off for the day. Sadly, she still tops the turnover league for April thus far.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Meetings

Meetings are getting longer and there are more of them. This morning we had our weekly 10.00 management team meeting that started promptly at 11.05. Frank is the reason that this meeting (and all others come to think of it) never starts on time. A start of two-hours after the scheduled kick-off is not uncommon. Why? A last phone call followed by a final email and capped with a very last email and one more email. The great thing about Frank is that he never, ever apologies for being late. He simply enters the gathering with supreme confidence causing those irritated by what, until that very moment, they believed to be the cause of the late start – namely Frank – to wonder weather they’ve really understood what is going on. Was it really a 10.00 start?

Anyway, at 11.05 we sat for the MT. At 11.06, we’re all in the kitchen fixing coffee. The coffee machine is partially broken and so no longer dispenses two cups at once. Just one cup at once which compounds irritation if you are the type prone to it. At 11.15 we’re seated once more and the door is closed. Charlotte pops her head around the door, “Coffee?”. Of course. 11.30 beckons.

Feeling smug that we’ve cobbled together a punchy little agenda by 11.40, we start with the first item – the august body known as the Rent Commission (Huurcommissie in Dutch) and another case that could have dire consequences for us and, if not dire, then at least very expensive. Frank runs through the highlights that seem to amount to an unfathomable series of lapses on our side and, frankly Frank, we deserve all we get. Me, Frank, Klaas and Marcus fall silent. So depressed are we by the prospect of sorting out this case (it resembles a pile of spaghetti dropped from a tall building onto a flock of flamingos coming into land) that we cannot think of anything – encouraging or not – to say about, well, anything. We sip brews in monastic contemplation. 12.05 – Charlotte brings more coffee. Finally, Marcus retrieves the offending deal’s dossier from the archive and takes a peek. Still a depressing tale of woe but less awful that feared and we cheer up a bit. No time for other agenda items. Meeting abandoned in favour of an early lunch.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Raw mode

Ashen, puffy faced, unkempt – the Ideal Housing crew struggle in late after last night’s bash at Restaurant Harkema in the Nes (theatre district). Although only twelve bottles of wine were consumed between the twenty of us, the fact that a small but determined alcoholic minority consumed most of the grog explains the wilder behaviour towards the end of the evening. In the normal run of the day, we all know Jimmy as well-meant, chubby, ineffective and basically harmless. Pour a little truth-drug into him however, then better take a step back. Loud – OK, who wasn’t. Very loud – border line OK, he wasn’t the only one. Screaming at top of voice for entire restaurant to “Shut-up. Everyone – shut-up” – not OK. Then, when a thousand eyes were boring into Jimmy’s swaying frame atop the dining table, he points to Eddie and says, “Eddie, the floor is yours.”

Marcus captured a terabyte of material on his top-of-the-range expensive camera. “I had the thing in ‘raw’ mode – got it all” – which, on reviewing some of the excruciating digital detail this morning added new meaning to “all.” As far as I could tell, there were range ranging wine-fuelled confessions whispered in confidence between courses but the action stopped short of impromptu snogging and, fortunately, there was no photocopier available for anyone to consider sitting on.

A former colleague – Vlad – had also managed to crash the gig claiming that Klaas had invited him. Vlad left a couple of months back to work in advertising. I wish he’d just come straight out with it and pitched me a “Can I do your new house style – by God, you need one.” Instead, he followed me around like a puppy, hoping for a quiet moment to sell his wares. I thought I’d dodged him but a wave of synchronous restroom breaks left me sitting alone under a halogen spot offering Vlad his moment.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The problem with having the best month ever...

The problem with having the best month ever - March - is that unless you have another better month (hopefully the following one) - it's all down hill. And as that lofty peak disappears into the distance, it is increasingly mentioned only in passing rather than in the 'I was there and did my bit sense' and only then with a tone that implies that you're not sure the turnover was really that high anyway.

April has a not untypical slow start. Rental deals could go either way. Stomping and splashing around in the rain a month back delivering fliers to the most sought after areas has resulted in a rush of quality properties to add to our portfolio. Googling - those guys are criminals and we pay them Euro 4000 per month - has delivered a solid flow of clients with budgets taking our average ever upwards. Good signs, thus.

But (or should I say 'butt'), Ginny is leaving in May and is already winding down. Our youngest consultant has returned from a week slumming it with friends in New York and, as is always the case when one is stupid enough to take vacation, his portfolio of rental clients in cooler than an arctic fox's tail, he's still jet-spaced, and just can't shake that holiday happiness making it hard from him to focus and hard for the rest of us to bear. Brenda has crashed. After a flying start as neweling two months ago when a couple of lucky deals created the impression that it was all so trivial and easy, reality has set in. Pissing up is fine, Brenda, but be sharp and make your numbers. Klaas took Brenda for lunch and had a deep and meaningful yet subtle and insightful conversation with her along the following lines, "Brenda - don't get boozed up so often. Make more deals. Ying. Yang. But make more deals."

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Owning up

Every day an unexpected, critical issues rises from the deep requiring hours of concentrated management team debate followed, without hesitation, by one or more key decisions. Yesterday, this issue was the pitiful state of the kitchen - a wasteland of abandoned cups, left-overs, an empty-but-still-beeping microwave smelling of dog, and ten tea bags alone and sagging on the counter top like old ladies camped on a park bench gossiping about absent friends. That was yesterday.

Today the strategic management issue claiming the time I always reserve for such occasions was fines. More precisely, fines associated with speeding or parking offenses. So that we both know what we're talking about: speeding means driving faster than the law allows (clues: things go blurry, the roof-rack blows off, air rushes by so swiftly that you can't hear the radio) and parking offenses means leaving your vehicle stationary in a manner not accepted by people whose lives are brightened by wearing police uniforms and police hats (clues: a wounded dog is stuck to your front right wheel, you are upside down in a garden, looking around you seem to be in a department store and your seat-belt is still fastened).

Yes - rental consultant person - you are driving on work time. But - rental consultant - you still need to obey the law. Drive too fast, then own up to it. Kill a kitten while attempting to reverse into tiny space, then accept the consequences. Fines come in centrally to the office with time and place and date of the offense stipulated. The name of the consultant is not stated, naturally, as the crime is frequently recorded by camera and the camera cannot not quite capture the name and address printed in tiny letters on your driving license.

One of Charlotte's many thankless tasks as office manager is to quiz everyone on receiving a another traffic fine by post (in official envelop) from the local authority. Blank looks. Denial. Finger pointing. Checking the car-reservation agenda has little value as consultants deliberately scribble unreadable junk in there - enough to claim the car if in dispute, but just too little to be able to deny having used it if there is a fine to be paid.

If there's a doubt, then fair enough. It's natural not to want to pay a fine if you only 'probably' are guilty. But if confronted with incontrovertible evidence - even where the colleague who was sitting next to you shops you - then raised eye-brows and mock shock make my blood bubble.

My blood is bubbling.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Communication

Much of weekend spent on monster memo intended for investors with whom we meet again tomorrow. Despite the length and depth of this latest missive – one of many by the way – we seem to be talking an unknown dialect of a nearly extinct language. Blank looks punctuated by raised eyebrows and pen-tapping expletives. Somehow, we arrived at the notion of meeting minutes during our last session of last week. We trade small-font, single-spaced written exchanges in which each party summarizes what they believe was discussed. It’s sort of working. At least the wildly different points of view are on the table instead of being wrapped in optimistic assumption that we’re all hopefully on the same page.

March has officially closed. Record month. Not just a record March but a record in the true meaning of the word – the best month ever. With respect to the month profile, we defied that final week rush of rental deals and frenetic shouting to cram it all in before midnight on the last working day. Instead, the deals were scattered beautifully allowing administration to remain on low boil and allowing tempers to remain jacketed.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The role of psychology

The problem with Ginny is that she's too good. Annoying, yes. But still good. On balance, her sales figures are enough to dampen my chronic irritation with her considerable noise levels, her unannounced and unnecessary claims on my time, and her utter disregard for her colleagues deals-in-process which she takes a perverse pleasure in disrupting by stealing the properties for her own clients at the last minute or hiding information about new apartments until Ginny's own clients match.

In an average month, if her performance is above the median (which is usually is), then Ginny might account for 30% of the monthly turnover. In short, we feel exposed to her over-performance and doubly so as she's been gabbing for the last year about moving to Suriname for a new life (and by the way, her aunt lives there). With a view to binding her into the team here and building a career for the next few years in Amsterdam, Klaas and I have been offering her (OK, begging her) different roles.
"Come on", says Klaas in his most encouraging voice, "make a decision - stay! What's Suriname got to offer if you're not a pensioner or tax exile?"
Pause.
"OK - I quit."
The lesson here is that while psychology has a role to play in persuading someone to stay, go or do something, education also has a role to play in ensuring that the would-be psychologist knows what the heck he is doing. Challenging Ginny was just not the right tactic. Money is her motivator. We should have attempted to buy her. Something like,
"Here's ten thousand Euro - please stay until Christmas."
Does this sound too much like groveling?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Weekly IT update

On asking Marcus – who works one day a week offsite on very tricky IT stuff – for his weekly update, I received the following. After reading it, I wonder which plant he’s from and if he visits very often:

"Well - had some very strange emails in my inbox this morning, which were sent a couple of weeks ago, but I only received today. How's this for a weird chain of events?

The new database functionality sends this to the role/email address “property.manager@...". I tested it yesterday before rolling it out. Turns out I forgot to create that address! No problem, that's why I'm testing, right?

Since there was no such address, it was sent to the Catchall account I set up a week or so ago. I had intended the catchall to be forwarded to it@..., but that wasn't set up. So the catchall account filled up. Since it was full, I received this morning an error that my test mail couldn't be delivered, so I looked into it, and discovered all this. I set up the forward to the it@... address, and now the queue is dumping all the stuff it was holding. Ugh.

End result: more junk mail for me to process... Don't know how to handle better without a new system. We only have 50 email accounts, so I can't leave ex-colleagues active with a "reject" rule....

Hold on, I just figured it out! Create one "Reject" address, and add all ex-employee addresses to that account as aliases. (After a certain time, of course, so that client emails still get to Klaas.) That way bad stuff gets rejected, but "Gelmer" still gets through for processing. Should work.

I've got to do something soon: I've received 50+ such emails already this morning...

-Marcus"

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Payroll administration

Great relief yesterday to have administered the payroll. For those on zero variable – like the office manager – there is nothing to do other than check that they are still breathing. It can irk to pay an employee who, had a closer inspection been undertaken, would have been declared officially deceased and a salary check saved. In the case of Charlotte, I need not check her pulse as, surely, she must be alive in order to chat online with MSN Messenger for five of her eight hours per day. The three other hours interspersed with cigarette breaks, coffee breaks, and a long lunch break.

The end of the month payroll for the rental consultants is their recurring opportunity to attempt to persuade me that incomplete, poorly administered deals should be added to their variable remuneration. Sad as this may be, there is nothing to make the heart soar like a neat and complete dossier comprising signed contracts (by both lessee and lessor), passport copies, copy of employment contract, a signed inventory and inspection report...

Why we cannot agree that, if it’s not complete, the variable commission with slide to next month (assuming the deal is then complete)? At least this would be an honest system and I’d respect the consultants the more for being up front. What really bugs me is when, say, Jimmy, presents a handful of deal sheets with canyon-wide holes in them, AWOL documents, incomplete payments, missing signatures and accompanies his pitiful submission with a poorly structured, dreadfully articulated fairy tale in an embarrassing attempt to convince me that:

  • Actually, the deals are all complete but that he’s a bit behind on getting the process steps signed off by the relevant party (contracts, finance…); and/or
  • OK – fair enough – they are not complete but they will be by two o’clock (mmm… the deadline is 12.00 – same as last month); and/or
  • The dossier was complete but someone has removed documents and just wait until he finds out which son-of-a …

Depressed that the consultants think I’m either very stupid or naively nice, I finally manage to get the salary numbers to our book keeper. Cycling home I feel pretty good about the fact that, once again, we are supporting the livelihoods and families of twenty people who, were they not working for me and Frank, would be sleeping under bridges.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Alone

Somehow I survived Friday evidenced by a Saturday-fatigue that dogs me like a shadow. End of the day yesterday was good and bad and only three additional mugs of coffee could prop me up until the pub welcomed me into it’s smoky embrace at 19.00. Several large deals had been scored, several more cooking, all of which needed contracts and invoices but the problem was that I was the only soul in the back office able to do this as everyone else had the day free. No contracts people, no property managers, no receptionist (weep). We’ve talked for years about how to avoid all ‘key’ people being out at once yet fail predictably to prevent this. At least this was only one day but, with depressing certainly, two-week long vacation plans will overlap in the late summer, lengthening days and shortening tempers.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Your moped is (nearly) on fire

The jury is still out and so is Jimmy. It's midday. He’s viewing something somewhere with someone. Breathless, he crashes through the door around 12.30. It went well. Very well. Couldn't have been weller. Excellent - a deal then? No. They may be moving as late as March 2008 and are not sure of their budget... or preferred location. One hopes we're talking the Netherlands here.

This morning, the moped scooted me workwards. It is the habit of the police and me to cordially ignore each other - the mutual respect of one skilled-road user to another speaking volumes.

At a red light, I stop. It's the law. Next to me, a police van pulls up in the other lane. The driver looks at my newly tuned and serviced machine and begins to lower his window. I wonder if he'll have time to deliver his compliment before the lights turn green. He does. He says, "there is petrol gushing from a fuel-line onto your engine. You are in danger of blowing yourself up." Looking down, my shoes, the engine, and the road are soaked. I see he is right. Looking up, I see he is gone. Long gone. Not wanting to have fragments of exploded engine parts sticking out of your body is a powerful motivator.

Abandoning the moped at the side of the road for later collection by the repair shop, I jog to the office for my 9.00 meeting. At 9.20 I learn it's cancelled and the clue to this cancellation is that nobody showed up.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!

That feels much better.

After an uplifting start to the week on Monday we are plunged by the roller coaster on which we unexpectedly find ourselves to a new low and, now that I think about it for a moment, one of the carriage wheels appears to be loose and a 6G bend approaches.

For those of you wondering what the difference is between ‘normal’ force and G-force, Wikipedia provides for the following: Unlike simple acceleration, 'g-force’ is a measure of the magnitude of the acceleration relative to the local
gravitational acceleration vector, rather than being compared to an inertial reference frame.

A while back we stepped into a big project as a minority investor. The owner of the project is a complex man who habitually pretends to be a simple man in order to thwart any attempts at debate whenever a discussion point comes to the fore. Instead of ‘talking stuff over’ he feigns lack of comprehension and, later and only following serious study, communicates with us via his ‘messenger’ – a sixty-five year old grump with whom empathy is difficult. The arrangement – as least from our perspective – is that he would build the thing and we’d exploit the thing (‘exploit’ in our world means ‘rent the sucker’).

An incongruence of perspective doesn’t quite do justice to the contrasting positions that have materialised following the investor’s letter (via the grump). On the one hand, the investor feels strongly that he has bought, renovated, and furnished the property and we should exploit the apartments and be happy with remuneration in the share-holding alone. On the other hand, running the exploitation is costly and, not having even close the same financial resources as the investor, we feel that asking us absorb all operational costs is not only unrealistic but, plainly said, would cause bankruptcy.

We ponder a response.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Super start to the week

At the end of a long Monday, a happy update from our big fashion retailer to whom we pitched last week. A green light. Yes, green. Somewhere between traffic light green and Kermit green. As sales manager, Klaas was a little too willing Friday to concede to their demands for a massive discount on our standard commission of one month. In the end – by keeping our leg stiff as the Dutch are fond of saying (usually amongst themselves) – we gave away just enough allowing both parties to feel satisfied with the negotiation process.

Our deals in The Hague are causing mind-bending grief. Our consultant there – George – is very strong with clients who like her at once thereby increasing the likelihood of a deal just by being vivacious. Problems invariably start when the administration kicks in. Contracts and invoices depend on data. Wrong data equals incorrect unusable and documents. It DOES matter that the start date is correct. Yes, George, the specific address is important and Single 200 is NOT the same as Single 200-iii. Oh and, by the way, please at least try to SPELL the client’s name correctly – a small point but it can niggle.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Wave anaology

The week ahead builds like a wave - a big wave atop which surfers cut and swerve while a crowd of wide-eyed onlookers gawp and clap. In the first scenario, I am up there with the best of them and confidently ride this crest, paddle ashore and am greeted with smiles, slaps on the back, and a beer so cold that the glass sweats. In the second scenario, I fall from a great height, get clattered in the teeth by my board before twenty tonnes of salty brine crashes down and breaks three ribs.

The week ahead in CliffsNotes: Our very expensive lawyer has drafted a very long letter that we’ll submit Monday to Dienst Wonen who, in their ‘wisdom’ (forgive the quotes), are on the brink of withdrawing our permit to broker rental properties. Their ‘case’ (excuse the quotes) is built on flimsy, balsa-wood straws and involves ‘findings’ (sorry about the quotes) that wouldn’t even stand up to the scrutiny of the guy taking my order at the drive through Burger King last week who… never mind.
Tomorrow is also the day that we submit our full proposal to a large fashion retailer to handle their gargantuan volume of housing requests over the next several years. Our two previous meetings went swimmingly and only became tetchy on their suggestion that we work for fifty percent of our normal rates. Discount are fine but, really, we have to pay the rent (get it?).

A proposal made last week to a big (in the biggest sense of this small word) consumer electronics retailer should, we hope, come back with news. Not totally comfortable that we’re in with a realistic shout so have crossed many things and am praying daily to all the gods I can find on Google.

Another quality rental client lead...

From: delivarance ministries [mailto: revpastoreze_dmtries@yahoo.com ] Sent: Saturday...

Dear most honoured 3irs -

How are you today?

I received your mail,please could you put me through clearly as i did not understand fully what the contents of your mail is saying,but i read that you are doing a survey on my request.

In case you did not explicitly undertand my proposal,let me explain to you again.

I am the General overseer of the Victorious Deliverance Ministry by name Rev Pastor Philip Eze,I solicit that you help me procure a sizeable proportion of land or a building where i can establish a branch of my ministry in your country,together with a living house for me and my family.

So as soon as you are through with your survey which i faithfully believe that will be successfull,then i will now inform you on how the money for the project will be sent to you,only be faithfull and kind to me and the church,as the God almighty will not disappoint you in all your endeavours.

Remain Blessed.

Regards,
Rev Pastors Eze Philip.
Feed overseer,
World Wide Victorious Deliverance ministries (WWVDM).

Friday, March 16, 2007

Hi,

Hi,

I wanted to let you know about a situation which happened last evening, aprox. 2:00 a.m. My girlfriend and I were returning to the apartment and I stopped for pizza while she returned home as she needed to use the bathroom and we were 1 block from the apartment. While walking home she was followed by a male who eventually exposed himself to her while she was trying to get in the front door, she managed to get in the door but he tried to force his way in, while he did that he ejaculated and through it all over the door just inside the building. We are uncertain what to do about this and if we should report this to the police? I also noticed you have a camera system so possibly this has been captured on film? We will be back at the apartment around 5pm if you need to stop by, also the semen is still all over the door. I will be on the computer for another 20 minutes.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What’s the point?

We need to count points these days. That’s just the way it is. The more points your property has, the more you rent you can ask – legally, that is. Points are awarded for:
  • Obvious things like number of square meters, balcony or roof terrace, separate toilet.
  • Less obvious things like the number of separate wash basins there are in the bathroom.
  • Things not at all obvious such as the type of wall-cavity insulation (only verifiable by drilling a dirty big hole in the wall).
This over-focus on the points is driving some of the charm and impulse out of the game. Instead of schmoozing your client and securing a deal on the promise of a cold beer later and maybe a bite of dinner, consultants now have to explain a complex points system, make sure the official count of these precious pointlings is in (ludicrous and inflated claims by owners of their points are no longer acceptable), ask about the clients income and in many cases secure a woonvergunning (permission to rent) from the local authority.

If these seemingly arbitrary steps are not taken in the right order and accompanied by the correct bits of official paper then bad things can (and will) happen. I refer here to the tenant complaining to the rental commission that the rent is higher than points permit (often based on the inflated point counts of desperate, disparate owners looking to recover their renovation investments) resulting in the various pointing of fingers. Invariably, the fingers all end up pointing at Ideal Housing as we, as experts and as the largest thing to point at, have not only ripped off the client but have poorly advised the owner – this at least is the owner’s refrain when up before the rental commission – even, ironically, when the owner’s points tally was the base from which to start.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

That's your job

There are only three property managers and I don't wish to name names, point fingers, imply incompetence, idiocy or plain old brain damage but what the heck does Edwin think his job actually involves?

I feel like saying, "Get the owner to sign the management agreement and enter his details into the database. That's it. That is your job."

Instead, it ends up like this, "Edwin - do you have a few minutes?" We step into the conference room and park ourselves in uncomfortable but matching blue chairs, resting our coffee mugs on the imitation veneer table. There's a bunch of dieing tulips in a new vase perched at the far end of this fine piece of a furniture - Edwin looks a bit nervous.

  • "Eddie, I say, you've entered another owner but his details are wrong."
  • "Wrong? No? Wrong?"
  • "OK, OK - let's not use the word 'wrong'. Let's say 'inaccurate' just to get the conversation going."
  • "Inaccurate? No? Inaccurate?"
  • "Listen, I'm trying to bring this gently but 'inaccurate' is not capturing the essence here: 'wrong' captures this much better."

Edwin lowers his eye brows and his forehead follows.

  • "For example, I want to make contracts for a new deal but there is no owner address."

Edwin's frown is frozen like he's been injected with too much botox.

  • "There is some bank information like the account number but the account name, IBAN number, and SWIFT code are all missing. And... by the way, the bank is 'ABN Amro Bank NV' and not 'abnarmobank'"

He nods like he's hearing this information for the first time instead of the 50th time. I smile like I've got tooth ache but, in reality, I have a headache.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

We have been reported

Clive is on my mind again. He remains a puzzle and a concern. Minutes after sending the following email:
  • "OK, the deposit should have been given to me as soon as i checked out or given to my ppeople, you have no right turning up to my offices, i have informes the authorities about this invasion of privacy and the drug squad to ginny, this person should be stopped from doing business on drugs and high, i have sent a copy of this email to the police and the consulate and the newspapers too which i am connected to , goin g to my office was a very bad mistake , without giving me my deposit back so i expect this in cash like i gave it on wednesday morning."

he sends a follow up:

  • "ps.. thanks for your help in this seems like nobody else in your company has any humanity"

The owner of the property in question swings wildly from asserting his rights to deduct lost rent, cleaning, and Internet costs from the Euro 2100 deposit to insisting that Ideal Housing are the sole interface to the client and that he wants nothing to do with him. Worse (or better depending on if you are the owner or us), the owner has fired Clive off a final mail implying that further direct contact with Clive is bordering on the illegal and that all contact must run via Ideal Housing. We are being put squarely in the middle which I understand up to a point as we did deliver the client in the first place but, Mr. Owner, if you want to talk tough then you have to remember that hiding behind a housing agency is just a bit chicken.

Our lawyer - you know the type: posh office, big-buck tariffs, and 200g letter paper - has drafted his first missive. We are retaining his services to contest the pseudo-finds of the rental regulator - Dienst Wonen. Dienst Wonen is on the cusp of suspending our license to be a rental agency based shallow research and spurious conclusions.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Up to your ankles in it

How would you deal with the following? Marijke – one of our rental consultants – rents a fine property to a fine couple for a fair price: € 2000 per month. Everyone’s happy with the deal, the client takes up residence and two blissful weeks drift by during which the client settles in, finds shops, figures out how to get the kids to school – life stuff. The owner of said property – the property for those familiar with Amsterdam is in the Old South (lovely) – lives in London which is not very handy given that the following happened.

The local authority is conducting routine sewer maintenance: digging up roads, holding up traffic, spending tax revenue with the utmost of care. Suddenly BINGO – the mother load. They have come across an illegal connection to the main sewer system. “Well now, what have we here?” mutters the foreman. The crew of eight gathers round to gawp into the muddy hole occupied by Jan who always seems to do a bit more with the spade than the rest of them. It is indeed an illegal connection.

The foreman considers the usual options that encompass calling the regional inspector, or knocking on the door to which the offending pipe is connected and demanding explanation or proof of planning permission, or… but he never fully forms that final thought as, half-complete, his concentration is broken by the arc of Jan’s pick-axe and the splintering crack as it’s dull blade severs the illegal pipe at its join to the main system. Jan cries out “Take that!” or something similar.

Thinking quickly and not wishing to seem reluctant, the foreman thanks Jan for his clear, if somewhat impulsive, action and lights a cigarette. The rest of the crew congratulates Jan on his rapid response on encountering a breach of the law. Lunch?

Back at Ideal Housing, the phone rings and Charlotte puts the call through to Marijke. It’s the client and the client is up to his knees in the stink and shit not only from his own family’s bodily functions but from the four apartments above whose collective waste now has no outlet. They are literally splashing around in the kitchen as raw sewage is spewing in through the dishwasher overflow.

Marijke calls the owner who swears and curses and immediately calls the previous owner of the property as, clearly, this was a hidden defect. The previous owner says that he told his broker at the time and the current owner should call the selling agent. Marijke points out that the client’s kitchen floor is covered in crap.

Marijke calls the local authority and, after hanging on the line for quite a long time, gets put through with the foreman. He is an instrument of the law and, if not the law exactly, then definitely of the local authority’s planning department. He recommends calling the regional inspector – when he returns from skiing that is.

Marijke calls the owner’s maintenance company and demands immediate action and gets it. The action they promise is to call her back within the hour. They call back four hours later. “It’s four hours later – you do realize that my client is standing in poop?” The man from the maintenance company is very thorough at many things including explaining why they can’t do a thing. “We just can’t reconnect an illegal property – we’d loose our license.” Marijke blinks. “We’ll bring it up at the next meeting with the regional inspector – when he’s back from skiing.”

Marijke calls the client. There is much shouting at Marijke who turns pale and leaves.

Reasons followed by claims

It was a strange day now that I think about it. Friday, last week - that’s when it all started. Ideal Housing does not collect rent. We broker a deal, collect our commission and then leave the tenant and owner to figure their relationship out themselves. Friday last, then, an owner calls the office for the umpteenth time – his rent has not been received. Ginny calls the client as a service to the owner and a reminder to the client – let’s call him Clive (that’s right, Clive the client). Hardly able to get a word in edgeways, she is forced to listen to a long list of reasons detailing why the rent is not where it should be. These reasons include “family reasons” and “financial reasons” and progress from the land of reason to the land of claims which includes the claim that “the money has already left our account in New York” to the claim that the “owner is a liar and must already have the money” and finally the claim that Ginny is a “cocaine addict, an alcoholic and a whore who has insulted my family and I will get her and don’t think I won’t because I know people and I know where you live.” She calls me in tears.

Putting on my best and smoothest voice, I called the Clive on the Friday and arranged to do a check-out Monday – that is today. Midday roles around, the sun beats down on the five of us waiting for Clive. The five of us being myself, one of our portfolio managers, the owner and two ‘cleaners’ both of whom are scary looking and unnaturally muscled. Clive does not show despite his earlier mail confirming that he’d be there. I wander a few buildings down the Keizersgracht to where is office is located in a sort of business center. There’s a woman at the shared service desk who, claims (another claim) to know him and assures me that they are good friends. He’s in the US for “business reasons.” I repeat “Business reasons?” but receive only a sage nodding of the head in response.

She’d be only too happy to look after his bags pending his return later this week. Meantime, we complete the checkout without Clive and leave the property. Back at the office there’s an email waiting from the US from Clive. He’s livid that we’ve entered his office – not true; livid that he’s not received his deposit – never provided at check-out anyway; livid that… well, what does it matter, he’s just livid.

Friday, March 9, 2007

The month that was

The month of March - beware - displays the same alarming turnover profile as most other months. Namely,

  • A couple of early deals in the first couple of days create the false, hollow, and deceptive impression that a trend has set in that will take us to the moon.
  • Drought. Sweat, tears, but no deals. Concern is swallowed by consternation.
  • Mid-month (or thereabouts) an event either catastrophic for the forecast or suspicioulsy positive. This month it's the positive variant as the horse-people deal got a verbal go yesterday.
  • The last weeks of month, a depression from the east descends like a blanket of cloud - a cloud of acid vapour. Tempers fray, dispositions realign, the timid become monsters, and the monsters become bigger and louder. Accusations start to wing their way between members of the consulting team.

Cut to:

  • Ginny: You stole my property. I was about to make a deal on the Singel. You knew that!
  • Jimmy: But your viewing isn't until Monday. My client viewed and said yes this morning.
  • Ginny: Client thief.
  • Jimmy: Property thief.

Klaas pretends to be so engrossed in an email that he doesn't register this acrid interchange. He's secretly wishing he wasn't the sales manager.

  • Ginny: Anyway, you sweat a lot and I'll still be the top consultant.

Klass draws a slow breath.

  • Klaas: Will you two either shut up or take your pathetic little discussion into the conference room?

Cut back:

  • The last few days of the month and the flood gates crash open as new deals wash in. Finance curses because invoices need making; back office curses because contracts need making; property manages curse because property owners need chasing for their full details to go into contracts.

And that is the month that was.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

What IT people do

The characters: Marcus is our IT guy; Suzy is coordinating guest-related logistics; Mary is a free-lancer doing check-ins and check-outs.

  • Suzy: Mary is going to bring her laptop in for you to install Outlook.
  • Marcus: I told you that that isn't necessary, or possible.
  • Suzy: But she needs to get her email.
  • Marcus: She gets her mail on her gmail account...
  • Suzy: Well I get mine on Outlook.
  • Marcus: But you are on our system/network. She isn't. She can't be.
  • Suzy: How can I send her calendar information?
  • Marcus: You can't.
  • Suzy: Why didn't you tell me that?
  • Marcus: I told you I was going to forward mail to her gmail and you said that was ok.
  • Suzy: Well, what's the point then?
  • Marcus: I dunno, but it would have been handy to know this was a requirement before.
  • Suzy: Well, uh, buuuh...
Marcus looks pensive, tries to think of solution
  • Suzy: TALK TO ME MARCUS, geez... SAY SOMETHING!!!
  • Marcus: I'm THINKING. I think better if I'm NOT talking.

Suzy, fascinated with this novel concept, wanders off muttering.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Trust us, we're a rental agency

The horse people deal is galloping ever nearer but – apologies for the metaphor – there is still a large fence to hurdle. From our perspective, it’s all about the payment conditions and the deposit. She – the Canadian women – says it’s all about trust. That is, the lack of trust she has in our agency and owner with whom they have zero experience. Therefore and ergo, they’d like to pay a bit less (we’ve agreed) and withhold a chunk of payment (not agreed) until nearly the end of the contracted period. I point out the following:

  • You don’t know Ideal Housing and conversely, Ideal Housing does not know you and your horse act. Trust, therefore, is mutually weak/strong and/or present/absent and/or ying/yang as neither of us knows each other.
  • Your proposal to withhold a not very small chunk of change until the last fortnight of the deal creates an uncomfortable feeling. Should you decide not to pay and run (or canter) over the curve of the earth and head into the sunset, then the deposit would be too meager to cover the missing rental payment and compensate for possible damages.

“But we do not plan to do damages.” I breathe deep, “That’s why they are *potential* damages and not *planned* damages.” There is a silence on the line. Have I made my point? No. “But in Canada we paid and owners did not stop the noises.” I briefly wonder what ‘noises’ are being referred and, just, stop myself from asking. The irresolvable gap in perspective is apparent. I repeat my point of view several times, she repeats hers. We both agree to think it over and wish each other a fine day.

Monday, March 5, 2007

The obligation

Too many people in the office – loud voices, powerful, forceful, agressive, in closing mode. Niceties have been and gone and now it’s about the money. "I done my thing Mr. Big Shot, now you do yours and rent the goddamn place for the price I’ve spent hours negotiating towarrs with an unreasonsble, reluctant, and unpleasant owner (and, yes, I did arrange the second bed, replacement of the carpet in the hall, additional lamp in the living room, repainting of the front door and you may keep a small dog)."

It’s the start of another month and thrills and spills of the short, little February are gone in the ether. It’s about the here the now and the day of reckoning that looms small, but increasingly larger, when somewhere close to the end of March (or earlier if he gets to it) the sales manager – Klaas – confronts the consultants with the output of their endeavors. And when Klaas confronts them his jolly, sociable, verging on matey demeanor develops a gritty edge – a reminder that although drinking a beer with them on Friday’s is just great, they still need to make their numbers.

Outside, the hum of traffic is peppered with flashes of white light from the secret camera placed by the traffic cops. The glare from the flare makes me squint as, even after nearly two years, I wobble on the brink of epilepsy as my retina burns away with each snap of their hidden lens. The speed sensor triggers the photo only when there is a speeding offence in progress. I asked recently how often the device goes off: 200 times an hour. The average speeding fine is around Euro 45 – nice business.

Klaas’s impressive girth reminds me of the obligation I have to my body to go to the gym. I’m leaving.

Friday, March 2, 2007

The naked eyes

Yesterday, after a stay of a couple of months, we checked-out an alternative circus troop who pitch up in Amsterdam once a year or so. They jiggle, they juggle, one of the guys has a red nose and big shoes. The really cool thing though is, is that people are paying Euro 65 per seat (dinner thrown in) and making a night of it. On talking to the show’s management, their stay in Amsterdam has been a success. It would be pedantic to point out that they’ll not be making use of their option to extend their stay based on insufficient ticket sales to sustain another month.

The politics of housing these guys is a tale of bitter rivalry, hierarchy, and power. Obviously the show's management doesn't doss down with the performers. Can you imagine an acrobat sharing a room with the food and beverages manager? How about the clown and the fat man rooming together - don't make me laugh. Star performers - that is, named on the bill, performing a solo, or pictured on posters - have first dibs on apartments and personal relationships with the accommodation coordinator can give a Polish tight-rope walker considerable pull over, say, one of the midgets. Marlo - a fearsome magician - has very specific requirements that include an international DVD player and a ground floor entrance. No one wants to live next to the bendy boy.

We move on from quirky circus performers to large sweaty horses. Vince has the client in his eager grip and is looking to rent not to the 60 Canadian horses that form the core of the show but to as many of the 120 staff and performers that ride these mighty beasts. I have the feeling that these horses – galloping full belt, prancing on three legs, jogging sideways, and rearing upwards – feel themselves to warrant star status but, alas, top billing goes to the jockeys. The steeds get carrots. The accommodation manager, a Canadian woman with a pronounced French accent she claims is natural but which must surely be the result of hours of cruel practice, felt compelled to provide background. The horses are highly strung, highly strong, only eat grass imported from Canada, and trot on a special type of sand that is kind to hooves and reflects the finale’s light-show lasers just right.

She’s worried though, this Canadian woman. Bugs are on her mind. As we’re checking-out the circus people and wishing them luck with the next tour venue, the horse people are viewing. They exchange glances in the lobby. The horse people represented by the worried Canadian stomp behind Vince to the first apartment in the complex. Her fingers knowingly prod the mattress and gingerly lift the sheets. “Bugs”, she says. Vince studies the square centimeter of laundered sheet that her index finger is pointing to. There are no bugs. He says, “There are no bugs” to which she says, “They are microscopique, you cannot see them with the naked eyes.”

Despite the critters… no. Despite the concerns about possible critters invisible to the naked eyes but not her naked eyes, it seems as though we have genuine interest. The trouble, though, is that there is a weekend’s worth of thinking that often spoils what otherwise would be a beautiful story. Nearly five o’clock. Pub looms. We’ll get back to it Monday.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Spreading it equally

The rental business in Amsterdam is regulated and regulations, as a concept, are fine providing they are clear and equally applied. It can be tough suppressing the feeling that you’re being screwed by the agency enforcing the rules but it can be a tonic if you’re sure everyone else in your profession is also suffering the same oppression meted out with the same gusto.

A bit off the point but anyway… the Dutch tax authority is universally feared, collectively cursed, yet reluctantly accepted and even applauded when, now and again, they return some of the money they’ve stolen in a rebate that feels like a present. Their TV ad promoting electronic tax filing goes something like this: “We can’t make it nicer, but we can make it easier.” We grumble but we all know more or less where we are.

The rental business police – officially named “Dienst Wonen” and part of the local government apparatus – are often mentioned in conversation along with terms like professional, experienced, reasonable, approachable… or are they blinkered, prejudiced, dogmatic and vindictive? On reflection, the latter. Ideal Housing – the good guys – stand accused of doing things the wrong way. “What is the right way?” we cry. Dienst Wonen respond with “It’s not for us who are right to tell us to tell you who are wrong what is right but, rather, it’s for us who are right to insist that you – who are wrong – do it right in the future.” The civil servant delivers this twisted piece of logic with a smirk, sits back in his chair with his gut wedged against the table, and folds his arms across his paunch.

And just what is the Kafkaesque case we are being hauled over the coals about? I’ll tell you. An Israeli couple engages us to find them a rental property. We find one and draft contracts. They receive the draft contracts and use the owner’s contact information (provided on trust) to contact him directly and negotiate a lower price, sign documents without our input and avoid our agency fees. Two years later – that’s right, two years – they complain to rental police that they are paying more than the legally permitted rent. And they are! But they wouldn’t have done if they had completed the process with Ideal Housing that they’d started. Dienst Wonen have taken the position that

  • We have brokered an illegal deal (we didn’t because the client did a runner before the deal was complete).
  • We have seriously endangered our permit to act as a rental agency and they are considering whether to renew it or not.
  • We have to repay the amount of rent paid by this Israeli couple back-dated to the start of the contract. It’s quite a sum.

Reasoning with these gentlemen has no use. We have engaged a lawyer.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A short, little month

You blink, it's gone. That’s just the way it is with February. I’m looking at the turnover numbers for this short, little month and cursing the shortness and littleness of it. The payroll looms like an ice-berg on this final day and the recurring fixed extravagance (some call it getting paid) needs servicing in order to stave off rental consultant tantrums, mutiny, and tantrums. I realise that ‘tantrum’ has been used twice but it’s always worth additional consideration when you have a Ginny on your staff. I’ll do nearly anything to avoid a Ginny meltdown, blow-up, hissing fit, bout of mournful weeping, or primal rage interwoven with entire body-convulsing spasms.

The fact of the thing is this: you need to pay them or they walk. January was fine and March will be fine but now, as I beam my fixed smile and exude just enough conviction to sustain the impression that we have enough funds to finance this month, my stomach does a flip.

Rental clients (you just can’t help hating more of them than you’d imagine) drift in and out of our business as butterflies in a gale. Several blow in unannounced with requirements that would be fine if they were looking for a studio in Lapland but which are laughable in Amsterdam. And yes, we do laugh a lot. Other clients, those with appointments, don’t show or they might show but with other requirements and this really can be galling but what is really, really galling is this: we assign a rental consultant, Jimmy for example, and he does his thing. The thing I refer to where Jimmy chats over requirements with the client, arranges appointments all over town to view, drives the client hither and thither and throws in a sandwich as a deal looks all but done. The client – let’s call him Nobby from England – accepts the lunch, orders a dessert, downs three double espressos and finally, after a final espresso and OK, one for the road then, says he’ll take the apartment.

Back at the office, Jimmy then calls the owner of the property to confirm the deal, draws up preliminary contracts and an invoice. Nobby, eventually located in the kitchen standing very close to our receptionist Charlotte, saunters back to Jimmy’s desk clutching another double espresso (in my cup). He looks at the invoice and says, “Commission? I’m not paying your commission.”

Tomorrow is March. I like March.