We’re on countdown

We’ve had David for 2.5 days this week and he has finished pretty much everything he can do on the list – the remaining items need someone else to do something first.  However, he broke the news that he’s going to America for a couple of weeks at the beginning of December, which means in all likelihood if I don’t nab him for those jobs before he goes, I’m not likely to get him back until January.

Since there’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind, Mick and I have agreed to put our collective feet to the floor and try and get the house completely finished by the end of November.  We’ve pushed on pretty well, with David’s help, and bits of it are now starting to look like a home rather than a project.

Painting the woodwork in the twin room while Ophelia lashes the windows.  The slate roof barely made a sound.

David has an incredible knack of taking my rather garbled description of something and making me exactly what I had in my head.  This little build-out hides where the underfloor heating pipes go into the wall and will be a useful shelf for keys etc.

The kitchen became a workshop while the weather was so vile!

One thing Mick wanted David to do was a piece of wood putting into the top of the dormers – there was a thin piece sticking down between the plasterboard, which I’d tried painting, and it just looked awful.  This is much neater and will be painted white.

It’s amazing how much more finished the house looks with all the skirting boards and door surrounds in place.  We had a big tidy-up downstairs this morning.

Also done by David but not photographed – a bead around the landing ceiling and the loft hatch, a thin piece of wood planed down and slipped in behind the bannisters to hide the underfloor heating insulation, and the top three stairs shimmed so that there isn’t quite so much of a difference with the top step, again because of the underfloor heating insulation.

We took a deep breath and ordered the furniture yesterday.  The shopping list consisted of:

  • 2 wardrobes
  • 5 bedside tables
  • 1 3-drawer chest
  • 2 2-over-3-drawer chest
  • 1 floor-standing cheval mirror
  • 2 small wall mirrors
  • 3 3ft beds
  • 1 5ft bed
  • 3 3ft pocket sprung mattresses
  • 1 5ft pocket sprung mattress
  • 2 upholstered dining chairs (these are going in the dormer windows in the two larger bedrooms)
  • 1 corner TV unit
  • 1 lamp table
  • 1 extending kitchen table
  • 5 cross-backed dining chairs with padded seats

All of the furniture is solid wood and I had a feeling that I was probably going to have to shut my eyes when I handed my card over, but the total, after a very generous £297 discount, came to £5,200, so thank you Riverside Interiors!  We also spent £3,050 with them on the two leather sofas and a friend of Mick’s was selling a coffee table in the same range of furniture we’ve picked for £100, so that makes our total furniture spend to date £8,350.  Looking at our original budget, we’re £300 over on the wooden furniture and £1,950 over on the sofas, but we’d originally budgeted for fabric, not leather, before we were advised by the agency that leather would be better if we were accepting dogs.

We had a visit today from Alex, who’d come over to have a look at the area in front of the house and the garden so he could quote for sorting it out.  We need the whole area in front of the house scraping back, a weedproof membrane laying and then covering in gravel, bar a long strip about a metre wide to the right of the gate, which will stay as grass.  At the back, we’re having a gravel path put in along the back of the house and then the rest of the garden will have the top layer scraped off.  As we know from our own house, the problem with making a garden out of a field is that it’s always trying to turn itself back into a field.  In theory, if we scrape back deep enough, we should hoick out all the docks, thistles and other unwanted field pests.  Unfortunately we’ll have to fork out for some turf rather than waiting for grass seed to take, otherwise the photos are going to look a bit weird when it’s advertised, but at least it’s the right time of year for laying it.

Lots for me to do next week, and I have a list that would probably choke all three of my horses, but tomorrow’s first job is to try and give my sheep a contagious disease!  About a third of them have come down with something called pinkeye, a mild conjunctivitis, and I’ve been advised that it’s best to try and get them all to develop it and get it out of the way, as it normally clears up by itself in 6-10 days and after having it they build up an immunity to it.  So I shall be down the road in the morning to fetch the feed troughs and then holding the sheep equivalent of a chicken pox party!

Oh Ecclefechan!

Back in December, I put up a post about what I’d like under my Christmas tree, and one of the three buildings I picked was Tigh Achenechan (or Tigh Ecclefechan as I keep calling it).

At the time, I thought the asking price of £200k was optimistic and reckoned £150-160k was more realistic.  It disappeared off the market a couple of months ago, but when I drove past it at the weekend the For Sale sign was still outside it and today it popped up in my Facebook feed from the agent.  It’s been repossessed and a new home report has been done.  The new asking price?  Just £129k.  Hopefully someone else will buy it before we finish Ethel’s because I suspect if I go and look round it, heart will want to overrule head!

We’re still inching forward down the road.  No David so far this week; if he hasn’t appeared by the end of next Monday I’ll drop him a text and find out what’s going on.  Mick finished sanding the twin bedroom and landing and painted the landing ceiling while I was lying on the sofa full of cold at the weekend and now I’ve got a base coat on the twin bedroom walls and will start on the woodwork tomorrow.

While I was away, Pete turned up and picked and pointed the little fireplace in the double bedroom and laid a new hearthstone on top of the old one.  He’s done a fabulous job.

I’ll need to stick some dried flowers or something similar in there to make it clear that it’s not for actual fires, but I’m so glad we’ve managed to show off some of the old stone.

That’s the way to do it

Every year my mother, my cousin and I go away for a week together somewhere in the UK and stay in a holiday let cottage.  This year it’s been a particularly interesting experience for me, because Mum booked a 4* cottage through the agency I’m going to be using – Dove Cottage in Nairn.

I have to say, it’s gorgeous.  A period cottage in Nairn’s Fishertown, a short walk from the beach, and not expensive.  The living room has given me serious fireplace envy:

And the kitchen looks very familiar – I spy another Howdens afficionado!

The bedrooms are set up as two doubles and a twin, with one of the doubles being downstairs off the living room.

The bathrooms are neutral with a big walk-in shower upstairs and a bath downstairs.  (I need to try and track down those loo roll holders!)

And outside there’s a small courtyard space.

A few points that I need to learn from:

  1. Although the cottage takes dogs, and judging by the visitors’ book many guests do bring them, you wouldn’t have known.  It was spotlessly clean.
  2. One small grumble in the visitors’ book about the beds being too soft.  We’ve found them softer than we’re all used to, but absolutely fine.  However, I think I’ll go for mattresses in the medium-firm range.
  3. The Belfast sink in the kitchen is beautiful, but there’s no draining board for things we’re washing up by hand and as that’s a real wood worktop, we don’t want to put wet stuff on it and leave rings.
  4. I need to think about mirror placement in relation to power sockets – I don’t ever use a hairdryer, but Mum does and though she chose the twin room as it’s nearest the bathroom, she’s been using mine to dry her hair in as it’s got a big mirror near a plug.

One bonus of being a tourist so close to my home patch is that we went to the big sheep sale at Lairg on Tuesday and I bumped into David, who was selling there.  I got a little confused, but I think he’ll be back either next week or the week after to get the jobs list finished.  Can’t wait to get back to work down the road and get it finished now!

One door closes, another opens

Very sadly the house we’ve been in the process of trying to buy for the past 5 months has fallen through, so bang goes the idea of our current house becoming holiday lets two and three.  However, in that weird way the universe has of sometimes saying, ‘Don’t give up,’ the same day that I found out it definitely wouldn’t be going ahead, I also got given a new opportunity.  A friend of mine has a house she lets to tenants, who moved out last week.  She’s had a couple of hassles with various sets of tenants in the past and is so busy at the moment that she doesn’t really want to have the headache of finding new ones and settling them in.  She’d really like short-term holiday let tenants, but definitely doesn’t have the time to sort that.

Well, I can recognise a ball lobbed in my direction occasionally 😉 so I asked if she would be interested in giving me a 5-year commercial lease to run it as a holiday let.  She’s going to discuss it with her other half and then we’ll have a proper talk through the idea when I’m back from a week away with my mother and I can have a look inside, though if it’s anything like her other properties it’ll be immaculate.  The cottage itself is in a spectacular location, on its own on a headland, overlooking the sea, but from memory it doesn’t have an enclosed garden and I suspect she wouldn’t want dogs in the house anyway, which will limit income.

I think steps forward with this are, assuming friend is still interested in pursuing the idea after talking with her husband:

  1. Have a look inside.
  2. Make notes of what I think might need changing based on what I learned from the holiday cottage rep (e.g. I’m pretty certain it’s set up as two twin rooms, so one would need changing to a double)
  3. Ask holiday cottage rep for income estimation
  4. Crunch numbers

My very rough back-of-an-envelope calculations give an average monthly profit of £150-£250, which I was a bit sniffy about, because I was comparing it to Ethel’s, but then I thought about it and if someone offered me £200 a month for about 16 hours’ work I’d take it.

I’ve stalled a bit down the road, as David’s vanished again.  He asked me a week ago Friday if I minded if he did some work in his neighbour’s kitchen on Monday, but he’d be back, and I haven’t seen him since!  Dougie is back from Borneo, but I don’t feel I can chase him up until I’ve got the last two ceilings finished.  The twin bedroom and the landing are now mostly sanded down, just a few bits to go over where we touched up some sunken plaster, but I’m not sure I’ll have time to get them painted before I go away.

I also had a visit from Jeff this week.  Jeff’s a semi-retired heating engineer from Birmingham and a genius with boilers, but Ethel’s nearly defeated him on Monday.  The hot water wasn’t working, so Jeff dismantled various bits of the system and found that the paddle switch was working as it should be and the pressure switch was activating the pump correctly, but for some reason the boiler itself wasn’t firing up to provide heat.  There was a considerable amount of head-scratching going on until he took the casing off the circuit board and the mystery was solved.  Because John and Ethel had always run their hot water from the old Rayburn in the kitchen, the people who installed the boiler had completely removed the switching on the circuit board for it!  It can be sorted, but Jeff has been honest and said it’s way outside his comfort zone and he’d be happier if Dougie did it, so that’s another one for his list when he’s next here.  Once that’s up and running again, Jeff will come and service the boiler, because he reckons it hasn’t ever been done since it was installed.

David did manage to get a fair bit done in the three days he was with us.  The finished kitchen window seat – I was in town today and called in at the local haberdasher, who say they’ll be able to make me seat cushions for this if I make them a template for each end.

Knobs and handles fitted in the kitchen.  That blue isn’t quite so in your face with the units toning it down, so I think we might keep it.

Fireplace surround complete and skirting board started.

David’s back!

And he’s doing a wonderful job 🙂  The kitchen cabinets are finished, though we’ve decided not to glue the upstand in place until Dougie’s installed the extractor fan and we’ve put the splashback in.  The oven’s been slid into place to save space, as David’s brought both his saws inside due to the weather.  Just the knobs to go on the doors now.

He’s also nearly finished the window seat.  I’ll be painting this white and then getting a seat cushion made for each end.

Mick finished the wallpapering.

And Pete came by to put the ridge on the barn roof, so we’re now watertight again – no bad thing, given the weather over the past few days!  He’s coming back tomorrow with a hearthstone for the bedroom fireplace.

Finally, I have to commend the Highland Council’s Council Tax department for their efficiency.  After a few back and forths with them when they kept sending me 200% charge council tax bills and I kept writing back to say the house was still uninhabitable, I sent them this website address and said they could keep an eye on my progress this way if they liked – after which no further bills arrived.  They obviously have been dropping in occasionally, as about 10 days after I put this post up to say we were just about mortgageble, I got a new bill putting me back up to the 200% charge!

What’s on the radar

I might not be in a position to buy any more houses at the moment, but I never stop keeping an eye on the local market.  When I was at the local sheep auction a couple of weeks ago, I got chatting with with a gentleman down the Strath who was cutting down numbers with his sheep because he’d reached an age where he wanted to take things a bit easier, and he mentioned he’d decided to sell his old house as well.  My ears pricked up, especially when he said he thought it was an old wreck of a place, but the estate agent said someone would buy it as a holiday home.

It seems that we’re getting a bit of a reputation amongst our friends, because the moment it appeared on the estate agent’s Facebook page, someone tagged Mick in a comment!  I happened to be down that way a few days later, so I stopped off to have a look.

A lot of house for £50,000, but in such a state that it didn’t require a home report and, in all honesty, not suitable as a holiday let.  While the house itself is almost identical to Ethel’s (a couple of extra windows, a little bit bigger and it has a small kitchen extension on the back), it’s 7 miles away from the coast, the Strath is midge heaven, and those outbuildings just wouldn’t get used.  If I was looking for something to do as a normal rental to someone who wanted to live in the countryside and keep a few chickens (the back garden is a chunk of field and is huge), then it would be perfect, but this one’s not for us.  Good thing, as less than two weeks after coming on the market, it’s already under offer 🙂

This next one has been put on the market in the past couple of days and I think it may also go quickly.  From the outside, it doesn’t look like anything too special.

But look in the opposite direction, and this is your view.

For a little house, it packs in a lot of rooms – there are four bedrooms in the square bit and then kitchen, bathroom and living room in the extension.  Upstairs it’s got two ‘loft rooms’ and a small room for the hot water tank.  So why is it only £75,000?  Well, it’s a 1965 pre-fab and the whole thing is asbestos, though the original structure has been built round with blocks and then harled.  For a quick ‘get it up and running’ you’d probably want to turn the third bedroom into an en-suite for bedroom two and stick a cinema/games room in the loft rooms if there’s sufficient headroom, but I suspect someone will buy this, demolish it and start from scratch – if they can find anyone up here to handle the asbestos.

The final one I’ve had a sneaky look at recently isn’t actually for sale, but the estate that owns it has sold four buildings off recently, so it’s not out of the question that this might one day hit the market.

It’s an old fishing net store with a flat up above it, and it sits on a harbour, looking back at the main beach.  If you climb that very old set of steps at the far end of the building, there’s a little private beach at the back.  The flat has a separate entrance from a track that goes around the back.

It’s Grade A listed, but the Highland Council is remarkably sympathetic about conversions of these – this is an almost-identical Grade A building at Keiss Harbour, which is run as a holiday let – and I don’t think that middle row of windows was there originally.

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Elephant’s breath or elephant’s backside?

Greys are a minefield, aren’t they?  My cousin has the most gorgeous silver-grey living room and it was her house I had in mind when I chose grey for the living room here.  Not the wonderfully-named Farrow & Ball Elephant’s Breath, but a Crown colour called Granite Dust, which I was hoping would come out a soft dove grey.

It looked alright in the can, but the more I put on, the more it looked like I’d flayed an elephant and thrown the skin at the wall.  I decided to stop, let it dry and see how it looked in the morning.  Thankfully it lightened, but you can see from this shot of dry on the left and freshly painted on the right why I was a bit concerned!

Amazingly it only needed one coat, and even more amazingly I just about managed to do the whole room with one can (though I did end up scraping round the can with the brush to finish under the window seat and then going over it with the roller to give it the same texture!).  MIck’s improvised pasting table in the middle of the room!

There are a lot of cliches in the Highland tourist industry.  One of them is tartan carpets, which is not a route I’m going down, but I couldn’t resist a little bit of Highland kitsch with a few stags and a bit of tartan on my feature wall!  Mick is the wallpapering guru in this household, it’s a skill I have yet to even learn the basis of, let alone master (the one time I tried was a total disaster!).

I also got the double bedroom finished, with the teal paint, and I’m pretty happy with it.  The second photo is probably the more accurate representation of the colour.  I still need to put a top coat of Milk White on the inside of the dormer, but wanted to get cracking with the living room in case David turned up this week (we’ve since had confirmation he’ll definitely be here from Wednesday next week).  As we’re due some days of heavy rain over the next week, Pete is trying to get back to me on one of them to pick and point that fireplace.

So that’s five rooms out of eight painted – just the twin room, hall and landing left to go!

Cracking on

So, what does a house need to be mortgageable?  A roof – check.  A working kitchen and bathroom.  Er…

Doing a bit of digging, it seems that the definition of ‘working’ is fairly lax and as long as you’ve got a loo and a sink hooked up in the bathroom and a sink and somewhere to stick a microwave in the kitchen, you’re more or less okay.  Mick donned his Mario overalls and set to work on the plumbing.

New loo – this cost £55 from the local branch of William Wilson.  The seat is absolute rubbish, but the rest of it is absolutely fine and I was always intending to put a wooden seat on it anyway, so not a problem.  We have a small issue in that the pedestal for the sink isn’t deep enough to cover the outlet pipe, but Mick reckons he has a solution to that, though he hasn’t told me what yet!

The kitchen sink is also plumbed in and looking good.  I am SO glad I went for ceramic rather than the composite one, though we were slightly nervous when the time came to whack it with a hammer to knock out the disc for the tap hole!  Fortunately nothing cracked.

There’s some slightly complex pipework underneath – feeds and outflows for the dishwasher to the left and the washing machine to the right.

As for me, I’ve been ploughing on upstairs with the painting.  Second coat of primer on the woodwork today, so the aim is to get the white top coat on the woodwork tomorrow and then paint the wall on Friday, meaning that I mask off the white wood rather than the colour, as it seems less prone to peeling off with the masking tape!

I sent David a text yesterday to find out how he was getting on with his new build, and to my delight he finished last Friday.  He’s off to his sister-in-law’s wedding and then has a lamb sale to go to, but will be back with us after that, so that’s either a week today or two weeks today, depending on whether he’s going to Dingwall or Lairg to sell.  I also messaged Dougie, who is off on holiday for three weeks on Saturday, but will be back with us when he returns.  It does feel like the beginning of the end now!

We did it!

Firstly, apologies to anyone who’s been checking back for an update since Monday, but I was on the point of tearing my hair out – I managed to hold on until 12.30 that day before I caved in and emailed the mortgage consultant at the building society.  I got a reply immediately.  ‘Thank you for your email.  I am out of the office until 4th September.  This email address is not being monitored.  Please contact the branch on [phone number].’

There was language.

I have spent the last four days phoning the branch and leaving my details with the promise of ‘someone will call you back’.  They finally did today, in a most apologetic manner, but they’re currently down 2/5ths of their mortgage consultants due to holidays and illness, so they’re a bit stretched.  The upshot is that the underwriters have agreed a figure for my income to go into the affordability calculations, the mortgage consultant has re-run the affordability calculation and we still pass, so they are happy to offer us the residential mortgage subject to the house being valued by a surveyor from their panel.  However, since my mortgage consultant is away and the deal is slightly complex thanks to the linked commercial mortgage, they’re going to double-check with the commercial side that they’re happy before getting in touch with the valuers and instructing them to make contact.

Fortuitously, the sellers of the house we’re buying were around today and so I was able to go and break the good news in person.  I now have a to-do list as long as both my arms, but it looks like we’re finally moving forwards again.

Frustrations

Guess what?  The income statement turned out NOT to be the final hurdle.  They decided they wanted to see my 16/17 accounts as well, so my very patient accountant prepared them for me and I sent them off at the beginning of the week – after first checking that this time they’d be happy to have it as produced by my accountant’s software, because HMRC is stopping doing printed SA302s for mortgage applications as of 1st September and there’s a 2-week delay between your tax return being uploaded and them being able to send you one, so I’d fall outside the cut-off date.  The building society passed it direct to the underwriters on Wednesday, who scheduled Saturday for a review of the whole application, but I was told I likely wouldn’t hear from them until Monday.

So I’ve been a bit twitchy this weekend.  The double bedroom has had its second undercoat and the ceiling has had two top coats.  I’m currently about half way round the first base coat on the woodwork – I’m going to give it two coats of primer this time and hope that means I only need one coat of the final Milk Bottle. I also think I might have to re-paint the kitchen a different colour.  It was originally intended to be something close to Farrow & Ball’s Cooking Apple Green, but when the paint in the Crown kitchen range I was looking at online turned out to be much, much lighter on the tester, I panicked and grabbed that Island Blue instead.  But I like the muted dark green so much upstairs that I’m considering trying to find something close to Cooking Apple which will stand up to kitchen wear and tear – or maybe even splashing out on a can of F&B Modern Emulsion.