Janice let the couple progress through the hallway, the study and the living room. Soon enough, they had reached the kitchen, the heart of every house. The woman glided her hand over the granite bench top, nodding approvingly. The man gazed up the skylight, then pulled open the German-engineered oven.

‘Good morning,’ Janice said. ‘My name’s Janice. How do you like the house?’

‘It’s nice,’ the man noncommittally. ‘A new paint job in the hallway, I see.’

‘Yes,’ Janice replied. She was glad he had noticed. She had told the Cranfields it was an easy way to add £1500 to the asking price so they had it done three weeks ago. The paint smell was gone in time for house inspections. The Cranfields had also taken their agent’s advice and removed personal photos so that prospective buyers could more easily imagine themselves living here. There were fresh flowers in the house, too. Janice was a good agent. She knew what the punters wanted.

‘I like the natural light,’ the woman buyer said.

‘The skylight really does open up the space, doesn’t it?’ Janice enthused. ‘The owners also installed dimmable halogens. This really is a great lifestyle house. There’s a heated conservatory, and the media room, of course. And it’s close to shops.’ Janice recited this all with the perfect illusion of spontaneity.

‘I’m not sure about the halogens, Dean,’ the woman said, turning to the man. ‘Or the other lights. Halogens use up a lot of energy.’

Dean nodded. ‘Janice, are the lights the energy efficient types? What’s the SAP rating on the house?’

‘SAP rating…’ Janice felt her control of the situation begin to fray at the edges.

‘Yes, the energy rating of the house? The insulation are in the walls? What are the owners spending on energy? Is there a heat recovery system?’

‘Erm.’ Janice started shuffling through the promotional material, scanning for something about the ‘SAP rating’ or heat recovery.

‘Dean, can you ask about the heating controls too? We’ll want to keep the kids’ rooms warmer at night but turn down the temp in the study and guest room.’

Janice was rifling through the brochures a second time. ‘Ah, I’m sorry sir, madam. I don’t seem to have the information here but I’ll call the office now and see if I can get it. Could you hold on?’

The agent darted into the study to use her mobile phone.

‘Troy, what on earth is a SAP rating?… Build regs? You mean people care about that? … Sheesh, I can’t believe it. I’m sure Cass and Jim got asked the same thing last weekend… No, the lifestyle angle isn’t working, you’ll have to send the energy info… That’s three days away! …Oh, fine! Nothing we can do about it now. Bloody marketing. Gotta sell houses like cars these days.’

When Janice returned to the kitchen, the couple had opened up the boiler.

‘Forty kilowatts is a bit excessive for this size house but at least it’s a condensing boiler. More efficient than the electrics. I know this manufacturer, had some warranty issues five years ago but they seem to have sorted it out…’

‘Sorry for making you wait,’ said Janice. ‘We do have the energy information at head office. It’ll be here on Friday. Ah, if you leave me your details, I can post it to you or you could come back…’

The couple exchanged looks. ‘All right. Maybe we come back in a bit. We’ll look around a bit more, see a couple of houses.’

In the face of failure, Janice put on her most genuine smile. ‘Of course! And here’s my card. Give me a call if you think of anything.’

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