Promising news

Visitors who rent self-catering properties are thought to be worth almost £300m to the Scottish economy.

An interesting article on the BBC website.  The research only covers properties assessed for business rates as self-catering lets, not people doing Airbnb or renting out houses still assessed under council tax.

Some key numbers:

  • 23% of visitors to Scotland rented a self-catering property for at least part of their visit.
  • 32% came from England, with the north-west being the largest regional contributor and London the smallest.
  • Scots renting self-catering properties in Scotland accounted for 30% of the total, while the other 27 EU nations represented only 4%.
  • Most groups were made up only of adults, with children included in 30% of rentals.
  • The average spend on accommodation was reckoned to be £643 per group, totalling £313m.
  • They spent, on average, £245 on travel to and from the property.

That’s not the only promising news today – we have passed the initial affordability checks for the mortgage we need and have now proceeded to a full application for a decision in principle.  If we get that, then things are looking good – as long as they agree with the valuation.  We’ve got a little bit of wiggle room cash-wise, but not a huge amount.

I’ve also heard back regarding buying the land Ethel’s House sits on and the Agreement in Principle should be with me on Monday, but the gist is that I’ll need to pay them £150 for the actual land, plus £280+VAT to their solicitor for preparing and issuing the formal offer of sale, plus £300+VAT to the Drawing Office for them to send a surveyor up to prepare plans to be attached to the offer of sale.  Then I’ll have my solicitor costs on top of that, so it’ll work out about six times the cost of the land for all the paperwork!!  However, this gives the house title deeds and puts it on the Registers of Scotland, making it suitable security for a mortgage, so it’s well worth doing.

Traditional Easter

Easter weekend and DIY – as British a tradition as toast and Marmite 🙂  We have been no exception, although I had to bow out gracefully today because I’ve pulled a muscle in my back.  We’ve made progress though.

Mick has plasterboarded one of the dormers upstairs.  Originally this was just a flat ceiling, but I wanted it opened up and I’m glad we have, though it’s going to be a git to plaster.

Talking of which, I’ve nearly finished plastering the kitchen – just the sides of the chimney breast and the window to go.  Mick started to sand down the dried stuff, but his lovely new random orbital sander worked for about 15 minutes and then the motor burned out, so that’s going to be a phone call to the place he bought it tomorrow!

While I’ve been plastering, Mick has been plumbing and the shower mixer is now plumbed in and plasterboarded over.  We thought we could hear a drip, but when Mick took the right-hand sheet of plasterboard off, everything was bone dry and we couldn’t hear it any more, which is a bit strange.  We’ve left the plasterboard off for now and will investigate properly next weekend.

Spoils of my last shopping trip – black slate to tile the shower with, a mosaic tile for a border, teal paint for the double bedroom, grey for the living room, platinum for the bathroom (which will have one dark grey feature wall opposite the shower) and sage green for the single bedroom.

Pete’s done an amazing job with the fireplace.  The mortar has faded as it’s dried (the close-up was taken on Friday, the wider angle today) and all he has left to do is clean the stone up and then he can fit the stove.  I’ll be asking David to finish it off by doing a return back to the stone and then a simple wood frame around it, painted white.

I heard back from my friendly mortgage broker on Thursday.  He wants to approach two different lenders and asked me to fill out a chunky form with all our financial information and send it to him, together with Mick’s payslips, my tax returns and copies of our credit reports.  I’ve pulled it all together over the weekend and emailed it over today, so all I can do now is cross my fingers.

Unexpected roofer in the living room area

There was a van parked in front of the house when I went down to feed the sheep this morning, so I went in and found Pete cheerfully sweeping out the living room chimney.  Despite Calum taking several full buckets of soot out of it when he swept it for me last year, there was about another bucket’s-worth sitting in the hearth after Pete’s efforts.

I hadn’t seen him for a while, so we had a good catch-up.  He’s been popping back every so often to keep an eye on the leak in the north chimney and had been up into the roof and tanked the chimney breast up there as well.  Today, after 48 hours of wind and rain, there was a small patch of water about the size of a 50p and since now the house is warm and we have an air gap between the outer wall and the insulation, he’s not worried about that and says we can plasterboard the gable end up.  He’s also going to put a coat of a different, thicker sealing gel onto the chimney, which he reckons should be the final step in getting it completely watertight.

His plan for the day was to clean the living room and bedroom chimneys and then go in search of some nice stone to dress the bits that had been patched over before returning tomorrow to take delivery of the new roof trusses for the barn, so I’ll catch up with progress when I feed the sheep tomorrow.

Under starter’s orders

My father used to say that buying a house was like the Grand National in terms of how many fences one had to jump to reach the finish line.  It appears that we only have three in our personal Grand National, but they’re all pretty much Becher’s Brook-sized.

Those of you going, ‘Eh?  What?  Buying a house??’ haven’t missed anything – this time last week we weren’t even considering buying a house, but then an opportunity came up that we knew we would absolutely kick ourselves for missing out on if we didn’t try and take it, and so after a telephone call with my mortgage broker this morning to clarify some points on both sides, we are going for it.

More details of the house once it’s sewn up, but our three fences are:

  1. Can we raise £127,000 on a buy-to-let mortgage?
  2. Can we get a market rental valuation of £650 a month?
  3. Can we borrow back the mortgage reserve on our current mortgage?

I spoke to our lenders this morning as well, and the answer to 3 seems to be a cautious yes.  They’re closed to new business, so need to double-check with the higher-ups that it can be released and also the full amount will need to be within the original lending criteria in terms of LTV, although we should be okay on the latter point – we’re currently under 60% LTV.

So watch this space and please cross your fingers!

Going back to my father – he would have been 84 yesterday, so he was on my mind, and with the Grand National being run last Saturday, I was thinking about a letter he wrote me when I was at university and he and Mum had put in an offer on a beautiful Grade II-listed house in Somerset, with the plan of my grandmother going to live with them there as well.  It only took me a few minutes to find it, despite the current state of my office (it still has an entire Howdens kitchen crammed into it!), and I realised from the date that it was the last letter he ever wrote to me before he died – he was in a serious car accident seven days later.  So in a post about my Grand National fences, here are Dad’s, from 23 years ago, together with the fountain pen he used to write them which I still use every day.

Surf’s up

One of my target markets for Ethel’s house is the family with surfing teenagers who are finding Cornwall a bit overcrowded and old-hat.  My friends at Melvich Hotel shared a video on Facebook today which I want to save here for future use.  If you’ve got five minutes, have a look at why the north coast of Scotland is a pilgrimage spot for surfers in the know.  The main wave you see them surfing is Thurso East, where the O’Neill Coldwater Classic used to be held, bringing surfers from all over the world up here to compete.

Not ready

David sent me a text this evening to say he’d be over in the morning to start laying the floor and I have had to confess that we’re not ready.  I’ve asked him to come anyway and do the woodwork round the windows and doors upstairs, but we had such a busy week last week that we didn’t manage to get anything done, and we didn’t get as far as we’d hoped the week before.

It’s not all doom and gloom, we have made progress and I’ve discovered that a girl’s best friends are definitely these:

I’ve learned how to fill quite large gaps between plasterboard sheets in a ceiling

I’ve done taped joins so smoothly that Mick’s only comment has been, ‘Bloody hell, you’re doing all the plastering from now on!’

And today I had my first go at corners and they didn’t turn out too badly either.

Dougie was in while we were working down there the week before last and we now have light switches and some lights in.  He’ll fit them all properly once we’ve painted.

I’ve also bought the wall lights for the living room, which are these – bad picture, they’re actually burnished silver and although most of the light goes upwards, the bottom of the dish is transparent, so there’s a small glow downwards as well.

Finally, Mick needed to know how thick the tiles were going to be in the bathroom, so he could buy the correct attachment for holding the rainfall shower head in place, so after failing to get to the tile shop in Inverness after my return flight from London was delayed just under three hours, I hit up Homebase in Wick and came back with 7 square metres of black slate tiles, two black and silver mosaic squares to cut into a slim border, and most of the rest of the paint.  Now we just have to apply it all to the house…

Dancing on the ceiling

Or at least that’s what it’s felt like at times today!  While Mick spent the day cutting and fitting insulation and plasterboard around and over the wall in the hallway where the heating pipework runs up to the manifold, I got my overalls on and set to working taping and skimming the gaps between plasterboard sheets.  We need to get the ceilings done first so that we can get some paint on and then Dougie can come back and fit the lights and smoke alarms.

Starting off with the scrim tape in the bathroom – we’re having dinner plate-sized lights in there.

Since we weren’t doing anything dusty, we had a couple of helpers.  Jura approves of underfloor heating!

It’s been about 10 years since I last did any plastering, but Mick came in to inspect my work and pulled that sort of surprised/approving face you make when you were expecting a mess and it actually turned out to be okay.  This will get a light sand down tomorrow and then a second skim to smooth out any last holes.

The upstairs ceilings are all done apart from the landing (we need to set up our over-the-stairs platform again) and the downstairs are all taped apart from the kitchen (Mick was working in there) and the hall (no ceiling!).  I might be able to get a fairly neat finish on the ceiling, but am less tidy when it comes to me…thank goodness for overalls!

 

The heat is ON!

As anticipated, the heating system was successfully switched on on Thursday afternoon, but there was just one small problem left to solve – Derek had checked the tank and found that what I thought was 4-5″ of oil was actually 2-3″ of oil and about 2″ of water.  The system had been off for so long that condensation had been slowly topping the tank up.  So Mick went down the road armed with a can of WD40 and a determined expression and managed to get the lock off the main filling cap and then Steve came back on Friday morning, syphoned off three very large cannisters of water, bled the system again and said I was good to go, but please to get oil delivered ASAP!  One quick phone call to Simpsons later and I have a delivery scheduled for early next week.

Dougie had left all the thermostats set to 21C and as a result the house had warmed up amazingly over 24 hours and was showing 18C or 19C in all rooms.  We’ve turned them down to 16C to eke out the remaining oil a bit and also because it’s just going to be too hot for us to work in there as it is at the moment.  It’s fascinating to watch the the little motors open or close the valves as the temperature setting changes.

I sent David a text to see if he could come and lay floors for us during the first week of April.  He’s going to schedule us in a couple of days, but is a bit distracted building a timber-framed house for someone at the moment, so I suspect we’re going to have to use our time with him carefully as he’s expecting it to take at least 12 weeks full-time.

Mick and I have both taken next week off work and we’re planning to blitz the house in terms of taping, jointing, skimming, sanding and, hopefully, painting, so that by the time David arrives to put the engineered oak floor down, we’ve got as much of the downstairs messy stuff done as possible.  Wish us luck!

Well, well, well…

Progress!  Not one, not two, but three pieces of good news to report.

Firstly, I had a recorded delivery letter from the Crofting Commission to say that my application to decroft the house and garden site has been granted.  I am chuffed to bits that (a) it’s gone through in about six weeks (it can take up to four months) and (b) it’s gone through first time.  Reading through the order, which is signed and stamped with a very official-looking red seal, it doesn’t come into effect until I’ve actually bought the land from my landlord, after which I send a form back to the Commission to say it’s been done and then the property gets entered onto the Registers of Scotland as freehold and becomes mortgageable.  I’ve emailed SGRPID, as the representatives of my landlord (the Scottish Ministers) and they’ve forwarded my enquiry to the correct person, so now I just have to wait for them to get back to me on what I do next.

Secondly, Derek and Dougie have both been on site today and we NEARLY have a central heating system.  It would have been up and running today but for two things – Derek wanted to double-check what we were doing with the drain for the shower and the flue plate has dropped off the boiler and needs welding back on.  So he’ll be back tomorrow with a welder he knows and, fingers crossed, we should have a big switch-on tomorrow at some point.  It’s looking good though.

Sitting room heating layed and covered for walking on.

One of the individual room thermostats.  These can all be set to different temperatures and are programmable.

The manifold is nearly full and Dougie has fitted a master control panel.  David’s going to build us a slim cupboard the length of the landing to hide all this – I was hoping to use the rest of it for spare bed linen, but I don’t think there’s going to be any spare space!!

Last but not least, the land is slowly being renovated as well.  When we were making hay in the summer, John Angie told me that there was a natural well on the slope down to the little cove, but a landslip had covered it a few years back.  He showed me roughly where it was, but I didn’t get round to having a proper look.  Then a neighbour mentioned it again last night, so yesterday I climbed down and went in search of it.

I could hear the water running and soon found what looked like a shallow muddy puddle in the right place.  I kicked a bit of the silt out with my boot and it filled itself up again – bingo.

So this morning I strapped a spade to the back of the quad bike and after I’d fed the sheep, I dug away until I hit rock, using the silt to make a dam at the front – John said he had a piece of stone at the front, but it got taken out by the landslip, although I think I’ve found a corner of it sticking out of the ground a couple of metres below the well and may be able to dig it out.

I left it to fill and when I went back down to the sheep this evening it had topped itself up.  Add one old saucepan and that’s an end to the problems of filling water buckets all the way out on the point 🙂

One year on

Unbelievably, it’s exactly a year today that we got the keys to Ethel’s.  That was the day we confidently expected to be welcoming our first guests when we got back from holiday in October – how wrong can you get??  Right now, I’m crossing everything very hard that we might just get our first visitors this summer!

Mick has spent most of the day down there putting up the kitchen ceiling, so Dougie can now fit the ceiling lights in the kitchen and bathroom, and Derek has said he’ll be here on Wednesday to finish installing the heating.  Assuming he does get it all done in one day, I can then ask David to reserve us a few days in a fortnight’s time to get the downstairs floor laid and install the kitchen.

Once Mick was back to dog-sit (our young collie is going through a phase of eating things he shouldn’t when left unsupervised during the day), I went down the road to get to grips with my new toy.

Appropriate gear was donned (this is SUCH a good look for me….)

After a couple of false starts before I worked out I could turn the speed down a bit (I’m sure the small chunks it took out of the rail will buff out), I got to grips with it.  The sanding reel seems best for the spindles, but the little flapper disc has done a great job on the groove in the bannister.  Unlike the random orbital sander I was using before, I do have to remember to sand with the grain using this.

With potential heating next week, I also needed to check we had some heating oil.  No glass level on the tank, so I found a stick and we appear to have about 4 inches left.  I should be okay to leave ordering until April.  One annoying thing is that the main filling hole is padlocked and none of the keys we have seem to fit it – either that or it’s rusted shut.  I think the tankers can fill it using the smaller one, but they’re not keen on doing it because it slows them down.  The little spike thing with the wire appears to be some sort of wireless level-checking device, called a Watchman, made by Kingspan Environmental.  I’ll contact them and see if it’s possible to get it working, as I’m guessing Ethel and John never used it.

The final job down there for the day was to feed the ladies, who were most unimpressed at me being late.

It was a beautiful evening – dare we hope that there’s a touch of spring in the air?  This was taken on the way back up towards Ethel’s from the sheep field on the point.