The pandemic has affected different people in very different ways. Sectors such as hospitality have been hit incredibly hard and many thousands of people have lost everything they own through not fault of their own. Other sectors including estate agents, letting agents and indeed business transfer agents, have continued to trade very well and those of us who work in these sectors should give thanks for our good fortune. However, this does not mean that we have been unaffected by COVID-19. The problem for many people is that we can’t do so many of the things that give us joy.
The dispute was no longer about the lawnmower – it was a battle of the egos…
This problem has been compounded by the fact that if we do not plan exciting things to do with our leisure time, then work has an awful tendency to expand to fill the void.
A great many people are working from a desk in their sitting room or bedroom and when your workplace is always within view, it is all too tempting to keep on answering emails long after the time that we used to go home and many agents have been extremely busy dealing with the sudden and unexpected boom in the housing market that followed the first lockdown.
The stress of the deal
I have certainly felt all these things in my own business. Since Christmas, we have been extraordinarily busy dealing with clients who wanted to sell their business before the Budget, due to fears about a rise in Capital Gains Tax. Business sales are stressful to deal with and the last week or so before the sale completes is particularly difficult to manage.
As completion day approaches things can get quite heated and after the big issues have been resolved, it is all too common to see both buyers and sellers getting caught up in minutia. Most estate agents have lost a house sale due to an argument over a pair of curtains or a manky old carpet and business sales are just the same.
I dealt with an issue like this on the night before the Budget. The buyer and the seller had been arguing all day about the completion accounts and the seller was getting very petty. At 10pm, he demanded an extra £10,000 as payment for the office furniture – on a sale at over a million pounds. I rang the buyer fearing that we would hit deadlock over this but instead he told me this wonderful story.
He said, “This situation reminds me of a house sale that I dealt with several years ago. The price agreed was several million pounds and somehow on the day before exchange of contracts, the buyer and the seller got into an argument about an old ride-on lawnmower. The buyer insisted that it should be included in the sale but the seller would not have it. Discussions got so heated that I feared we would lose the sale so in desperation I offered to buy a brand new lawnmower for the purchaser out of our commission. The purchaser’s response to this generous offer was that he didn’t want a new lawnmower, he wanted the lawnmower that was there already. The dispute was clearly no longer about the lawnmower, it had become a battle of the egos.
I went back to the seller and offered to buy him a brand-new lawnmower but I got the same response. ‘I don’t want a new lawnmower,’ he said, ‘I want the one that I’ve had for the last ten years.’ I asked him to consider if it was really worth losing the house sale over an old lawnmower and left him to calm down for an hour. Fortunately, he saw sense and I thought that the matter was closed.
Contracts were exchanged and four weeks later, the buyer arrived at his new house. The first thing that he saw as he pulled into the drive was the lawnmower. The seller had driven it into the garden pond with just the seat sticking up above the waterline!”
I don’t know if it was just the stress of my pre-Budget workload but I laughed so much at this story that my sides hurt. Then I tried to repeat the story to the business seller but I got such a bad attack of the giggles that I couldn’t get my words out. I therefore had to email the story to him. Fortunately, the story did the trick and the sale completed at the price agreed with all the furniture included in the sale price.
In these awful times, a good laugh can be a truly wonderful way to release stress and lift our mood so let me ask all of you a favour. If you have your own funny story like this one to tell, please can you write in and share it with us? It really could make someone’s day.
Please send to: [email protected] co.uk and every published contribution will receive a free ticket to The Negotiator Conference & Expo in November.
Adam Walker is a management consultant and business transfer agent who has specialised in the property sector for more than thirty years.