Money, money, money…

ABBA had it right; it ain’t funny, especially when you’re trying to raise it against an unmortgageable property.


I will hold my hands up here and say that I’ve been EXCEPTIONALLY lucky and am borrowing the money to buy the croft from family, although I’ll be paying interest on it at base rate plus 3%.  That covers the purchase price and my savings will cover the solicitors’ fees and some of the work that needs doing, but by no means all of it.

So what am I doing about the rest?  Well, it’s a bit of a risk and could all go horribly wrong, but I have a clean credit record and four credit cards with high limits that keep sending me 0% cash and balance transfer offers.  So I’m planning to put the work on the cards and hope that I can get it done up and the issue that prevents the house being mortgageable sorted before the 0% period runs out, then apply for a mortgage to pay back the cards and the bulk of the family loan (although the family is happy to let the loan run for a while if mortgage rates start doing silly things).

As it happens, I had a bit of luck last week regarding finances.  I’m self-employed and one of the companies I freelance for offered me a guaranteed 20 hours a week.  Initially I was going to turn it down, as it’s less money than I usually charge per hour and they wanted me to work 6am until 10am every weekday.  Then I thought about it, decided that I was being a totally spoilt princess and if the universe was going to drop over half of what I need to earn each month into my lap in return for the alarm clock going off half an hour earlier than it does anyway for my husband to get up, it would be extremely ungracious of me to turn it down.  Guaranteed income means less time spent drumming up new business and these guys pay promptly and never need chasing.  The rest of what I need to earn each month will be easily covered by my other regular clients and shouldn’t take up more than 8-10 hours a week, meaning I’ll be able to block out periods of time to work on the house. I start tomorrow, wish me luck!

The first project – Ethel’s House

Missives aren’t concluded, but there’s now a formal written acceptance of my offer on my solicitor’s desk, so unless something goes horribly wrong, I’ve bought a house!  It’s not actually called Ethel’s House, it’s number 156, but like so many houses in this village, it’s generally known by the name of its longest resident in living memory, so Ethel’s House it is.  From the agent’s blurb:

This traditional 1 and ½ storey croft house which requires internal restoration is set in an area of true space and openness. The house was built in approximately 1920 and has panoramic sea views. On the ground floor is an entrance hallway, a living room, kitchen and bathroom and on the upper floor a landing and three bedrooms thus making it an ideal family home or fabulous holiday retreat. The house is mostly double glazed  and has the original v lining through the whole of the upstairs. There are stone built outbuildings which were formerly barns and stables also included in the sale and these offer various conversion options. There are areas of garden ground to the front, rear and side of the house. The house is heated with oil fired radiators and there is also an open fire in the living room.

The agents took the picture of it straight on and full frame (it’s on one of these rotating image things and even looking at the page source, I can’t track down the url for the original image, sadly), so it looks rather grey and sad.  I prefer this picture of it from the day the Google Street View car came past (yes, I can’t believe they made it this far north either!), because it shows a little of the amazing views the house has:

156 Armadale

What I’m buying, technically, is the croft tenancy with all its improvements, one of which is the house.  The field on the right belongs to someone else; the house comes with three fields behind it, one down on the point (not down the track in the picture, there’s another track about 15 yards to the right) and then another croft at the other end of the village, next door but one to my house (I live in the white one in the picture below):

166 Armadale

As you can see, there are the remains of an old house on it (there’s actually another one on the other side as well if you look really closely) and we’re hoping that one day we’ll be able to build our dream house here – a few years of planning and saving to do first though.  This field is 5 acres and runs all the way down to beach level.

So, step one in this project (once I get the keys, obviously): get Ethel’s House sorted out and ready to be lived in again.

More auction browsing

So I’m still waiting to hear whether I’m actually buying this croft or not (I’m sure everything will go through fine, I just get twitchy when everything goes quiet!).  In an effort to distract myself, I’ve found another Scottish auction catalogue to browse through.  This time it’s Auction House Scotland, with everything below going under the hammer on 8th October.

This first one is out of my area, being down in Argyll & Bute, but I’ve lusted after it before in an auction catalogue, so I’m going to include it here anyway.

dalmally - badnaiska house

8 bedrooms on the banks of Loch Awe, though if you look at the additional pictures on S1homes, there’s a road between it and the water.  Just the kind of thing I’d really love to get my teeth into – I hope whoever buys it restores it rather than pulling it down.  Guide price £140,000-£160,000.

This next one is also out of area, but I was intrigued by the idea of buying a car-parking space.

paisley - car park

It’s in Paisley and from reading the blurb the idea seems to be that it’s not for personal use (although you can), but is more like a buy-to-let in that the car park management lease it out for you.  Guide price of £12,000 for a five-year lease.

Finally, one a bit more local to me (‘local’ being only 70 miles away).  One feature of Highland addresses is that addresses can be a little misleading – for example, the official second line of my address is ‘Thurso’, which I always change to ‘Near Thurso’, on the grounds that if you drive to Thurso to try and find my house, you’re 26 miles away and in a different county.  In the same vein, Wester Achnahanat Cottage is not that near Ardgay, it’s about equidistant between Bonar Bridge and Lairg, which means it has some cracking views.

ardgay - wester achnahanat cottage

Guide price of £50,000-£60,000, but I’m guessing it’ll need a lot of work!

Two-speed housing market

I’m back at home now and although I wasn’t best pleased at the hour’s delay to my flight back to Inverness, meaning I didn’t get home to the north coast until 2am, it did at least give me a chance to look at the property pages in the Evening Standard while I was waiting and it rammed home just how disconnected the housing market up here is compared to London.

One small snippet that caught my eye was a piece about the effects of the CrossRail project on housing prices – analysts reckon that property prices in the Canary Wharf area are going to rise by up to 43% between now and 2020 as a result of the project.


Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of some of the new-build apartment blocks going up in London at the moment; I think many of them are fantastic pieces of architecture.  But the cheapest one-bedroom apartment I could find in Canary Wharf on Right Move (excluding shared ownership options) was £330,000.  If the analysts are right, in 2020 that’ll cost £471,900.

In contrast, 661 miles away from Canary Wharf’s gleaming towers, I’m buying a three-bedroom detached house with stunning views, outbuildings and just under 10 acres for £95,000.  It really does make you wonder which end of the country is more out of kilter.

Holiday let – half home, half hotel

I’m writing this lying on the sofa in a hotel suite in Vienna (my husband’s been working out here, so we were able to access a corporate rate that made it less expensive than a tiny hotel room in London) which is my home from home for a few days and it’s got me thinking about what I can learn in terms of furnishing my holiday let from how this four-star hotel has decked out one of its best rooms.

Firstly, the shower.  I LOVE it.  It’s a combination shower with a fixed waterfall head and a separate hosed shower, a bit like this:

shower riser

(that one’s on sale at Victoria Plum at the moment).  Since I don’t have much space to play with in the bathroom and I’m not a fan of over-bath showers, I think this is a fab idea – we only have a rainfall head in our shower at home and it makes it a pain in the behind to (a) clean and (b) wash the dog!

In fact, the bathroom in general has been done beautifully – not quite enough space for his & hers sinks, sadly, but they’ve provided top-of-the-range toiletries and flannels for us, enormous white fluffy towels, enormous white fluffy bathrobes and there’s a separate loo.

They also score points for having HD Samsung TVs in both the living room and the bedroom and the pod-system coffee machine is a nice touch too (not that I drink it, but my husband is enjoying a morning caffeine jolt each day!).  The sofas are comfortable, there’s air conditioning and there’s a small balcony with a table and two chairs on it with stunning views over Vienna.  All things I can take and use (well, I can’t magic up views of Vienna, but I can manage stunning sea views instead).

What don’t I like?  Some of the furniture positioning is a little strange.  For example, there’s an enormous desk in the bedroom, but the wardrobe is in the living room – I’d have swapped those around.  Also, no mirror in the bedroom, the bed is two singles pushed together rather than a double/king (with two single duvets on it) and I’d have liked a sound bar/music system I could dock my MP3 player into.

Talking of beds, I stayed in a Travelodge in London on my way out here and got one of the new beds – they’re not kidding, they really are incredibly comfortable, though the edges of the mattress are quite hard and I caught my leg on it more than once walking past the bed to the bathroom!  I’m prepared to overlook that, given that I didn’t wake up with my normal stiff back (I tend to fall asleep on my side and over-curve my lower back – or, in less posh terms, I sleep with my bottom sticking out!).  Apparently you can buy them – I’ve just had a look and mattress-only is £399 for a standard double, so they’re definitely going on my list.

The waiting game

This is the bit I like least about buying a house.  You’ve found the place, arranged the finance, had your offer accepted – and then everything grinds to a halt while the solicitors do their thing.

Matters haven’t been helped by my solicitor coming back from holiday today and me going away tomorrow morning.  Thank goodness for email, at least if anyone comes up while I’m away I’ll be able to reply to it immediately.

In the meantime I shall just have to be patient a little longer.  There’s the most amazing display of the northern lights up here tonight; clearly visible to the naked eye.  Watching them dance from the study window makes my fretting about delays seem pretty insignificant really 🙂

Rental reforms in Scotland

An interesting entry on PropertyHawk’s blog this morning about changes to the private rented sector tenancy system in Scotland.  Full details of what the Scottish Parliament is proposing can be found here, but in summary:

  • No more ‘no-fault’ repossessions, i.e. you can’t simply ask a tenant to leave because their tenancy has ended.
  • Tenancies will not roll over.  At the moment, when a Short Assured Tenancy expires, the tenancy simply continues on a month-to-month basis if a new one isn’t signed.
  • Notice to Quit will be 4 weeks if the tenant has been in the property fewer than six months, 12 weeks if more than six months (changed from 28-40 days currently).  Notice to Quit on the tenant’s side is also 4 weeks up to six months, but only 8 weeks for longer.

They’re also planning to introduce a model tenancy agreement.


Rents up here aren’t hugely expensive, but one thing that snuck into Nicola Sturgeon’s speech on this yesterday that will probably send a shiver down the spine of landlords further south in Scotland was:  “I can also announce today that the Bill will include provisions for rent controls in rent pressure areas.

It’ll be interesting to see what the eventual legislation looks like and how it affects the rental market across the country.

Finding a house

House-hunting works a little bit differently up here in Scotland. For starters, we have fewer dedicated estate agents.  Most properties up here are sold via solicitors, most of which will have a dedicated estate agent in their office.

Up here on the north coast, I have a list of sites that I check on a regular basis for possible interesting new additions.

  1.  Rightmove
    Who doesn’t know Rightmove?  The problem here is that most local solicitors don’t use it.  However, for the ones that do, it has two very useful little tricks – firstly, I’ve got an RSS feed set up so that every time a new house within 40 miles of my postcode is listed on Rightmove, it pops up in my daily blog feed.  Secondly, I’ve installed Property Bee.  If you’ve not come across Property Bee, it’s an add-on for Firefox that tracks changes to listings on Rightmove and a few other sites.  So when I look at Rightmove search results, this is what I see:Property Bee screenshot
    It shows me the date a Property Bee user first saw it and any changes to the listing or the price subsequently.  VERY useful!
  2. Caithness Solicitors Property Centre
    Or CSPC, to give it its shorter name.  Most areas of Scotland have one of these group websites, so there’s ASPC for Aberdeenshire, ESPC for Edinburgh, GSPC for Glasgow and so on.  However, CSPC is only used by two of the solicitors covering Caithness and Sutherland – Young Robertson and Georgesons.
  3. Highland Solicitors Property Centre
    HSPC covers the whole of the Highlands, including the Western Isles and Northern Isles.  It tends to be where solicitors outwith Caithness list properties they’re selling within the county and also shows anything the Highland Council is selling (which saves me a separate trip to the council website).
  4. Individual solicitors
    There are four other solicitors’ websites I check on a regular basis – Drever & Heddle, Pollards, Inksters and the local Re-max (okay, technically not a solicitor).
  5. Auctions
    I love auction catalogues!  There’ll usually be a handful of lots for sale up here each month.  I check SVA Property Auctions, Wilsons Auctions, Future Property Auctions and Auction House Scotland.

Are you in the process of finding a house in the Highlands?  Anywhere else I should be checking?  Let me know!