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Correspondent’s week

This week Robin Marriott, news editor at Property Week

“Don’t f***ing negotiate with a negotiator,” says a property investment agent, as I look into a rumour that his firm is to be bought by US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

In my line of work, there are often deals to be done to get a story but, on this occasion, he is not interested.

His manner reminds me of the time when billionaire retailer Philip Green called me up and bellowed down the phone: “Don’t bull***t me!” He was of the belief that another well-known businessman had fed me information to do him some damage. He was wrong, of course, so I stood my ground.

That is what I like about this job. I spend my time rubbing up against some abrasive but successful people playing for high stakes and big money. I am not playing for big money and it annoys them when I find out what they are doing.

I should be upset about the Goldman Sachs story but I am not. It is most likely that the agent in question bragged to a fellow agent that Goldman Sachs was interested in buying his company. It might be but you would expect the European head of real estate funds to know about it. He doesn’t.

Of more interest is the sale of Centrepoint, the landmark office building off Tottenham Court Road. This tower was famously left empty by developer Harry Hyams. It changed hands a few years ago and is now owned by a trio of investors. Word reaches me that it is being sold to a UK fund for 84m.

This is the bread and butter of a property journalist. Only this is Centrepoint – an office everyone in London knows. I chase this hard as it could be a front page story.

A story like this is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. Some contacts will know a piece of the story, others will have the other pieces. When you put them together, you have the whole picture.

By Wednesday morning – press day – I know the stage of the deal, the price and the party which is to asset manage the property. But who is putting up the cash? The last piece of the jigsaw comes from a man who ought to know. In the Mayfair restaurants, where the property market ticks, there is always somebody who knows the answer. My friend knows but he doesn’t want to say.

So I must guess which UK fund it is. In my experience, you only get three chances, because after that the game gets tedious and the conversation is over. Luckily, I guess right on the third. Call it intuition. “Hmm, but you didn’t hear it from me,” he says.

No one involved wanted to help but I can tell from them that I am right. Usually, people will stop you making a fool of yourself if you tell them what you are writing.

This goes on the front page and we are happy. Now begin two days of coffee meetings and lunches. This is when you get the tips. Thursday night is spent at the Alphabet Bar in Soho with a posse of PR girls until 11pm.

Friday’s lunch is at The Don, St Swithin’s Lane, with a City agent. It is his job to find tenants for offices in the Square Mile and Docklands. A three-course meal and a bottle of Argentinian wine while we chat about the market is a nice way to end the week.

But Monday is a Bank Holiday. One day less to get stories always piles on the pressure on press day. On Tuesday, 13 writers pool their tips at the news meeting. There are some good stories here but, in my experience, a rosy Tuesday doth a black Wednes- day maketh. I won’t sleep easily tonight.


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