Last week I was looking at the adverts in the window of the local newsagents, when I noticed a one bedroom flat for sale for £399,000. As I've been thinking for the last 20 years about buying a property as an investment, on impulse I rang the number.
The estate agent's answerphone message gave every emergency number you'd ever need to call if you had a fire, flood, electrical problems or needed emergency medical or dental care.
If your teeth caught fire while your house was being flooded in the middle of the night this was definitely the number to call.
After 5 minutes of waiting for the bleep to leave my number, and just as they were just about to give the emergency 24 hour 'problems with pigeons' number, a tall, very skinny young man squeezed into the shop window and started sticking up new For Sale ads.
I put my head round the shop door. " Are you from the estate agents? This is unbelievable - I'm on the phone to you right now! By the way, your message is way too long. It's ridiculous!"
" I'm Mark." he said.
" How is the property market Mark?"
"Yes, it's going absolutely mad!"
"I suppose I'd better get in quickly then."
"I would if I were you", he said.
At that moment I glanced at the window and saw that the advert I'd been looking at now read '£377,000'
" Mark, I've got some news for you. The market has just collapsed. 30 seconds ago that flat was £399,000. Now it's £377,000! At this rate if I stand here for another hour you'll be paying me to take it off your hands."
He looked at the advert. " I just changed it", he said sheepishly.
He gave me his card.
I went to the cafe next door. At the next table a man was discussing with his property agent the trials (literally ) and tribulations of being an absentee landlord: "Of course, now that the trial's out of the way the relationship should improve, and hopefully we should be able to get back in the flat before Christmas".
I was just about to lean over and ask whether becoming a landlord was the right choice for someone who likes a quiet, stress free life, when the little old lady in the squashed hat and coat that has seen better days walked over.
She looks and talks like a Duchess in distress, and every day works the neighbourhood asking for 10p or asking to use a phone. Recently she's added a request for a back rub. If she thinks she's on a roll she goes for the triple. By the time all the customers had finished lending her their phones, giving her money and rubbing her back, the property magnate at the next table had disappeared.
Back home, I emailed my details to Mark the skinny estate agent. It bounced back: 'Undeliverable: address unknown.'
Something tells me I'm not destined for a career in property.