Hannah McGill: Scrabbling around for a new house

Estate agents should come up with new words to describe properties. Picture: Jane Barlow
Estate agents should come up with new words to describe properties. Picture: Jane Barlow
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I AM looking for a house to buy. While it is, of course, a comparatively comfortable position in which to be, looking for a house to buy makes you go mad. Remember Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg at the end of The Social Network, refreshing his Face­book page over and over again to see if his ex has accepted his friend request? That’s me on ESPC.com, looking for newly added properties within our somewhat restrictive price range.

Supervising our toddlers in the playpark, my partner and I catch each other assessing the climbing frame on its original hardwood floorboards and loft conversion possibilities. Long ago, before the internet was as scary as it is now, I did a certain amount of online dating, and this is worse. There’s the same obsessiveness, the same continual risk of rejection, and the same sense that any passing moment might see one’s destined perfect match cruelly snapped up by someone quicker off the mark – all without even the theoretical possibility of affecting the outcome by means of witty e-mails or well-lit profile pictures. Famously, people lie in their online dating profiles – bundles of nervous tension refer to themselves as “laid-back”, quite small people miraculously extend into willowiness, and so forth.

Property lies are even more bare-faced. Certain terms seem to be agreed upon in their egregious misuse: “charming” means “small”; “ideal first-time buy” means “insanely small”; “in need of some modernisation” means “décor inspired by The Overlook Hotel”. “Vibrant area” means “you may be stabbed here”, while “for those who enjoy the buzz of city living” means “so high are your chances of being stabbed that on buying this property you may as well just stab yourself to remove the element of surprise”.

Then there are terms that just don’t really mean anything. “Spacious” and “sunny” are just syllables, used to take up space when the place is so nondescript that there’s really nothing to say. “Rarely available” seems barely relevant, since I only want to buy the darn thing now – or at least I might if it wasn’t so charming, vibrant and spacious.

If only for the sanity of those of us trawling listings every day, it’s surely time for estate agents to change up their language. We heard in the past week that the Scrabble dictionary has been beefed up with 6,500 new words; people who work in property should take a look! “Dench”, now officially a word for “excellent”, would suit a grand New Town gaff with original period features. “Lotsa” period features, one might say, since that’s also allowed. “New to market” might be trimmed to “Newb”, now counted as a word; and the dreaded “under offer” might be sympathetically accompanied by a “Waah” or “Grr”.

“Emoji” is another newly valid word, and maybe that’s where all this is ultimately headed. Smiley face for a solid home report. Shrug for a shady part of town. Small cat for “limited cat-swinging potential”… Well, at least the wait for the right thing to come along affords plentiful time for Scrabble, with competitive edges sharpened by frustration and rage.

Netting a non-bargain

MANY are the ways in which internet retail can mislead the inattentive. Scale, it seems, is one. A friend recently shared a picture of a laundry basket his wife had bought online, not realising that it was but a tiny novelty item. Someone else confessed to having bought a miniature set of pans. Another spotted a brilliant deal on a pushchair, only to realise it was for a doll. And someone else – all right, this one was me – invested in cardboard packing boxes that turned out to be mouse-sized. Don’t sweat the small stuff, counselled a famous self-help book. More up-to-date advice might specify “but also, don’t accidentally buy it online, thinking it is full-sized stuff”. If you have made this mistake, be comforted: you are not alone. «

There’s some life in the old dog yet

IN THE midst of a slew of disapproving coverage of the gender politics of the Cannes Film Festival (widespread shock as event celebrated for exclusiveness, snobbery and quaint investment in old-style glamour strictly enforces those values! Next week: world appalled as bears foul woodland!), it was nice to note the reunion of two actors whose careers have provided interesting spins on showbiz expectations. Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Dépardieu (above), cast together in Les Valeuses in 1974 and Loulou in 1980, now appear together in the Cannes competition title Valley Of Love, at the ages of 62 and 66 respectively. French cinema may be regarded as one long tribute to female nubility, but Huppert has been one of its biggest stars with no concession to decorative casting or conventional standards of comeliness. Dépardieu, meanwhile, has seen his career fade as he’s aged, and has his ruined looks and (admittedly extreme) antics critiqued as fiercely as any starlet gone to seed. Their reunion also stirs curiosity about just what it’s like to work with someone again after 35 years. Recently matched by Nine To Five stars Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda teaming back up for Grace And Frankie, it’s a gap that makes the wait to see Mulder and Scully back onscreen look brief. How was it for Huppert? “Gerard,” she has confirmed, “is still a mad dog.”