I went to the same estate agent with whom I had registered nine months earlier, in the hope that he might actually find me a place to live this time. Got to his office, where the old boy sat beaming across the table at me, like an eagle eyeing its prey. In a corner, like carrion, his assistant slept faced down at her desk.
Estate Agents in Accra are usually a bunch of hustlers. Young men standing on street corners, typically, hoping for the best of what the wind may blow. Each is competing to let a property a landlord may or may not have available to rent. Only one of them generally has the keys to arrange a public viewing, but he’s put the word out to others. All the boys are looking out on his behalf to get a share of the spoils. The sole keyholder is bobbing around town himself. So, getting inside to see these premises when you get to the addresses is often a challenge in itself.
There are too many stories of rental and real estate scams going around in town at any one time to keep count. But you really do need to be extra vigilant, and very cautious, about to whom you hand your money when conducting business in Ghana. Some landlords demand up to three years’ rent in advance on residential lettings in Accra. Others see fit to request ten years’ payment upfront on commercial leases. You stand to lose a tidy sum if you hand your money to the wrong people. Check and double-check. And the police won’t help you.
I settled on using this old man as an estate agent last year because he actually had an office. His place of business was a one-room shopfront with two tables for desks, a dusty filing cabinet, and three chairs aligned against a back wall. Not much to write home about, perhaps, but a viable office in the right hands. A real street address with a telephone where I could find him, whenever necessary.
Once I’d explained what I wanted, again, he said, I’d needed to pay a new registration fee for him to look for accommodation on my behalf. And I needed to pay him a further registration fee — the third so far in less than 12-months — for him to look at selling my land for me if that’s what I wanted to do. Well, the moment he said all that, he promptly lost my business. There was no swaying him from the multiple registration fees option. And I would not budge either. This was my usual default response to the way some people do business in Ghana. Vote with your feet, Boy. Keep walking.
I had come back to his office, again, after our first near-disastrous meeting. But this time, giving myself a clear sixteen weeks to find somewhere new to live. I hoped he would take the challenge. But this short-sighted little man would rather focus on collecting the small “chop money” he makes from charging multiple registration fees than to try to do an honest day’s business. Once he chopped your money, he sits on his backside doing next to nothing to help you find accommodation.
You’d think he’d want to close the deals, bank his 5–10% commission, and take great pride in getting a good job done, but no, he’s playing a boy’s game. That’s what the young street boys do. They collect registration fees and run the expats around in a merry game. You never see or hear from them again. If you don’t find a place on that day, each new day on the streets there’s always someone new for them to scam for fifty cedis a pop.
I know this from experience. This is the same old man who wanted me to pay for a taxi to go look at each property on ‘his books’ last year, while he parked his car outside his office. He even had the gall to suggest that I send him back to his place of business in a taxi. Also, at my expense. I told him to find his own way back. I had to ask him, “what exactly are your overheads? You’re supposed to be here running a business?”
I wouldn’t have minded so much if he had exclusive rights to the properties he showed. But the same low-end rentals were being offered by every other cowboy estate agent. Half the ones we visited, we had to pick up two or three hustlers en route, in search of the elusive keys to ‘vacant beauties’ we could never get in to see. It cost me a fortune in taxi fares.
I shouldn’t have come back to this place to patronise this old man’s business. I shouldn’t have given the fellow a second chance. I knew what he was like. But I had paid my registration fee. Each new registration he asked of me now was still only 50 Ghana cedis. Less than £10 each, but it wasn’t the cost of the multiple fees that offended me. It was the principle of them, his whole mind-set, and this oddly accepted, deceitful way of doing business.
In the end, I had to tell him “to go to hell!” I wasn’t about to pay him for doing nothing, again. I would probably never find a new house to move into at this rate. Just as I haven’t found a new home to move into now for three years in a row. But so be it! If push came to shove, I told him, I was about ready to leave out of this place for good! That’s what I said.
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