Wednesday 22 November 2017

Reality bites for car sales team


DOCUMENTARIES about the property market are a hard sell at the best of times, let alone the worst of times. The Reality Bites film The Auction House, which followed Merlin Cars as it made the switch from shifting used motors to shifting distressed properties, could have been transmitted at any time during the last few years and would have seemed ill-judged and ill-timed.

Screening the film at a time when the only things moving in the property market -- when anything is moving at all -- are houses being sold at knock-down prices, largely because their owners can no longer afford to keep them, seemed wilfully perverse.

It didn't help that the protagonists, Merlin Cars MD Dave and his best mate and so-called "wingman" Ed, the company's sales director, are the kind of brash, mouthy, go-for-it types who typified the nauseating side of the Celtic Tiger boom.

"It's going to be huge, you know" enthused Dave, exuding confidence about Merlin's bold new venture. "Look at the level of idle properties, look at the level of default that's out there, the level of residential properties that need to be sold, the level of ghost estates that need to be finished."

Thanks, Dave. I think most of us have noticed. Ed was similarly unaffected by all the doom and gloom in the air. "Negative comments on TV, they shouldn't exist," he said.

The Merlin car auctions are apparently noted for their laddish, knockabout sales pitch -- Top Gear meets top dollar -- but selling houses is a different business to selling used Toyotas, so Dave and Ed, neither of whom have any experience in property, decided they needed "a third musketeer", as Caroline Morahan's vapidly cheery narration put it.

Enter Ed's big sister Lisa, a seasoned property pro who's every inch the high-heeled high flyer, juggling a career with raising children. While Lisa was busy organising property viewings, Dave and Ed jetted to London to see how one of the big auction houses, Saville's, does it.

Visibly bored by the solemnity, Dave was unimpressed at the "lack of energy" in the room. "I anticipate that our sale would be a little bit more exciting," he said.

Come the big day, Dave had decided that the blokey style he used in car auctions wouldn't work here and hired in a veteran property auctioneer with 20 years' experience to run the show. It didn't prevent it being a damp squib.

Merlin had just 10 properties to auction and the bidding was slow. Four of them sold outright on the day but only one, a maisonette family home in Dublin's East Wall, reached its reserve price of €65,000. Undeterred, Dave vowed to do it all over again in three months' time.

Despite the film's upbeat tone, which was jarringly at odds with what's happening around us every day, there was a sense in this Reality Bites that reality had indeed bitten -- but it had bitten someone on the a**e.

There's another killer on the loose in Whitechapel. This time, however, tall, posh DI Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones) and short, pugnacious DS Miles (Phil Davis) are not chasing a Jack the Ripper copycat, like they were in the first series, or a pair of Kray Twin clones, as in the second, but a murderer who can apparently enter and depart locked rooms, as well as clamber around the ceiling like a spider.

This time out, the dynamic duo are assisted by Buchan, the morbid Ripperologist played by Steve Pemberton, who's issuing dire warnings about how the current case -- the gruesome murder of four tailors -- mirrors one from the 1800s, while the frightened locals are babbling about demons stalking the streets.

Whitechapel's format has changed from a three-part mystery to three two-part ones, but it's still wonderfully barmy stuff and, as ever, ridiculously entertaining.


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