What I’d like under the tree tomorrow

Earlier this week I was in Thurso for the day while my car was being serviced and MOT’d (or, more accurately, not being serviced and MOT’d, because the power steering went on the way in and we decided that was a bigger issue!).  I’d hoped to use the time to have a play with my new camera, but sadly it shipped to me with a faulty battery, so I had some time to kill – and that’s dangerous, because I start walking round the solicitors’ windows and because Thurso is a small place, it’s only a 10-minute walk to go and scope out anything I like the look of in town.  So if I could have a set of front door keys for Christmas tomorrow, one of these three (and the funds to sort it out!) would be more than acceptable 🙂

Candidate number 1 is a bit of a faded grand old lady.  The house has been used as a social club, which closed about a year ago, and so is classed as commercial and there’s no home report.  The price has already been dropped by £30,000 to reflect the amount of work the roof needs and the club hasn’t had the funds to perform much maintenance in recent years, but like many of the late 1800s houses here, she has good bones, and is listed as a result.

Lovely as it would be to put it back to a family home, with my business head on, the only way to make it just about break even would be to do it as four flats.  I’ve not been inside it, but looking at the floor plan, as long as it’s possible to knock through under the fire escape from the billiards room to the function room, you’ve got a fairly easy split into second floor, first floor, ground floor left and ground floor right.

Candidate number 2 is an old drill hall.  I saw this come up for sale a few years ago and I can’t remember what the asking price was back then, but I think in the region of £120,000-£140,000.  Again, a lovely building that needs a little bit of TLC.

This is being sold privately, it’s just a sheet of paper and a phone number in the window, which I haven’t rung (yet…), so I’ve no idea what they’re asking or even what the layout is inside, but it seems that there’s a fairly natural split vertically, making three small houses each with its own big arched entrance door.

Candidate number 3 is a bit of a cheat, because I didn’t actually see the house, I just saw it advertised in the window, but apparently it’s been on the market since August and I somehow missed it.  This is in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere – literally – and is a four bedroom detatched house with large garden grounds and absolutely stunning views over miles and miles of open moorland to the mountains.

The home report is a shocker – partially collapsed ceiling, suspected decayed roof timbers, crumbling plaster, woodworm, damage to the chimneys, damp, corroded window frames, ancient electrics – in short, pretty much everything we’ve found down the road at Ethel’s house, so that doesn’t scare me.  What does is the price.  Bearing in mind that the survey recommends a retention of £25,000 until the ‘water ingress’ (i.e. leaking roof), defective plasterwork, damp, woodworm, electrics and water supply (private supply) is sorted, I think £200,000 in its current state is ambitious.  It sold in 2005 for £203,750 and despite Zoopla giving it a current estimated value of £289,000, I can’t see it going for more than £240,000 in top notch condition.  The roof on its own would be £30,000 to replace (that’s a Pete estimate!) and electrics would be another £8,000 or so.

That said, it’s a very pretty house in a stunning setting, albeit very remote, and I’ll be keeping my eye on it to see if the price comes down once we’ve finished with Ethel’s.  It’s an executor sale, so it’s toss of a coin whether they want fast cash or best price, but I wouldn’t want to pay more than £150,000-£160,000 for it, I don’t think, and I’d probably want to alter the layout a bit.

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Downstairs I’d leave alone, but upstairs I’d be strongly tempted to make bedroom one, the bathroom and the cupboard into a big master suite with en-suite and dressing room, and then turn bedroom three into a second bathroom, or alternatively, if I wanted to keep it as four bedrooms, carve a bit off the left-hand side of bedroom four and turn that into an en-suite, bringing the plumbing up from the WC/utility below it, though if you went the full length of the room it would unbalance the bay window.

Merry Christmas to everyone reading this and I hope you all get what you want in your stockings tomorrow morning 🙂

An expensive day

Last-minute emergency pre-Christmas shopping is supposed to be things like stuffing balls, sprouts and bacon, isn’t it?  Not what I bought today which included:

  • A multifuel stove (plus fitting kit and flexible flue liner)
  • Paint for priming the plasterboard and panelling and some of the colours (we need to have another look at the small bedroom, the living room and the kitchen after the sample pots didn’t quite turn out like the catalogue colours)
  • 17 litres of ready-mixed skim (for me to fill in all the screw heads on the plasterboard and the joins that can’t be taped)
  • More wood for framing

It just struck me the other day that Derek was probably going to want to put the stove in BEFORE he laid the underfloor heating in that room and so I’d better get a shift on and order it.  Fortunately Stovesareus had what I wanted in stock and should be delivering a Stovax Stockton 3 on 5th January.  Small, traditional-looking, and capable of burning peat – perfect for a croft house.

In other news, we had a fairly strong southerly with rain in it overnight, i.e. perfect conditions for testing out the chimney sealant, and I’m happy to say it passed with flying colours – dry as a bone in there this morning 🙂  If it comes through the rest of this week the same way, I think we can safely say we’ve solved the issue.  Fingers crossed.

Edit on Thursday 22nd:  I can add 72 x 4.8m lengths of lining boards to the above list now, as David sent me a text to say he’d picked them up from Rembrand on Monday and would cut them all down to size at home before coming and fitting them for us next week, but I needed to call Rembrand and pay for them.  One swift phone call later and I’m a smidge over £400 lighter, bringing me to about £1,500 in two days – not bad going!!  I think the next two to three weeks are really going to see a huge shift from building site back towards inhabitable house.

Men in brave pants

I was feeding the sheep this morning when the gate rattled open behind me and in drove Pete and James with their ladders.  I was surprised to see them because although they’d said they’d be here this week, it was pretty gusty and expected to get up to 60mph today.  Their thinking was that if they didn’t do it today, it wasn’t going to get done until after Christmas, thanks to storm Barbara, so they thought they’d come along and give it a go.

By the time I’d gone home, fed the dogs, done a bit of work and then decided to go back down to start tidying up anything that might potentially fly through one of my lovely new windows, they’d done the north chimney and were onto the south one.  The sealant they’ve painted on is very, very runny, almost the consistency of water, and Pete said it was running down all the stonework apart from that one problem block we’ve identified, where it was just sucked in straight away.

That was the second coat on anyway (they’d done the first yesterday but I’d been out), and it looks like its effectiveness is going to get a thorough testing over the next few days, as forecasts are now saying that people living on the north coast should prepare for gales of 100mph or more and heavy rain.  I fear Christmas lunch this year may be a pizza cooked on the top of the woodburner by candlelight!

I’ve picked up all the loose bits of wood and guttering and stashed them in the area between the house and the byres, along with the wheelie bins.  The pile of old plasterboard out front now has large breezeblocks holding it down and the cooker, small chest freezer and chest of drawers we turfed out of the hay barn over the summer have all been laid down on their sides.  I may lose my hay crate – I don’t want to lash it to the fence yet, because the sheep are tucking in well, but I’ll tie it down on Thursday, as I suspect the sheep will all hunker down in the gorse bushes.

Anyway, thank you to Pete and James, who definitely had their brave pants on today – I even got them to pose for a picture for the blog for me, though promising to put the Land Rover in it possibly was the deciding factor for James agreeing to do it 😉  Pete on the left, James on the right.

She’s making a list, she’s checking it twice…

…because she has a lot to do before the second week of January and she’s sure she’s going to forget some of it!

The Monday after we went to see the little gatehouse, I had a phone call from Derek the heating engineer.  “Small problem.  The supplier’s having a stock take and wants your system out of the warehouse before it happens.  I don’t suppose I could deliver it on Friday?”  Well, not to the annexe, no, as that’s still full of the Howdens kitchen!  So I said we’d clear out bedroom one for him and it duly turned up – it didn’t take up quite as much space as I’d feared.  Amazing to think there’s a heating system for an entire house packed into those boxes.

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I was going to help Derek unload it, but when he arrived it was to tell me that he’d already done it all and to drop off the invoice for it (which I was expecting, so the £3,840 wasn’t a nasty surprise just before Christmas!).  We talked about timings and he’s free the second week of January, so we agreed to aim for that as an installation date.

Of course, that meant panic mode on.  Before we can get the heating installed we need to:

  1. Fix the leaking chimney
  2. Get the framing for the internal bedroom walls done
  3. Finish all the insulation and plasterboarding
  4. Get all the tongue and groove in place around the upstairs walls

A few texts later and I had Pete on standby for a break in the weather, David booked over Christmas (and he’s said he’ll go into town and collect the tongue and groove so he can pick out good pieces rather than us just getting a banded load) and Dougie made aware of the installation date so he can be on hand for electrics as needed.

Part one is now underway after Pete and James turned up yesterday for further chimney investigations (in James’ rather lovely old flat-bed Land Rover after the van had an unfortunate incident with some black ice and a bus…).  Although they didn’t get the three-hour rain-free gap they needed to paint the sealant onto the chimney stacks, they did cap the two southern ones (they’re big 10″ pots, which isn’t helpful in terms of rainfall collection) and think they’ve discovered the source of the issue in the norther one.  Have a look at this crop from a photo from the summer, taken before the chimneys were picked and pointed.

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See that big patch of mortar on the chimney?  This is what it looked like after Pete had taken it off.

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And when Pete and James went up there on Friday, they had a look at that stone just above the roof, with the notch cut into it, and found that it was so saturated with water that if it had been a sponge you could have wrung several buckets’-worth out of it.  It’s a piece of sandstone, about the size of a shoe box, and it’s very porous, so rain is soaking into it and trickling down into the house.

The problem is that it needs to be dry before it can be sealed and at this time of year that’s just not going to happen, so the new plan is for Pete and James to go up there next week on a dry day with a couple of heat guns and dry out the surface of it enough to get the first coat of sealant on it.  I do love a good creative solution to a problem!

Mick is carrying on with the plasterboarding when he’s not at work and has now got enough done upstairs that David can put the internal bedroom walls back in when he’s here next.

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And finally a very specific tip for anyone who’s having a roof replaced and has sheep – the wooden crates that slates are delivered in make fantastic hay feeders!

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Sensible heads on

Apologies for the radio silence, but it’s been a bit quiet on the house front – so quiet that Mick got itchy DIY fingers and we went to look at another project on Friday!  A seriously cute little gatehouse on the edge of an estate in a gorgeous woodland setting.

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At offers over £50,000 it was within budget, but we knew it would need a LOT of work.  The extension would have to come off for starters – that horizontal crack goes most of the way around it.

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The layout is tricky as well.  There are only two ways I can see to make this work – one is to knock through from bedroom one to between the kitchen and bathroom (which we found out when we viewed wouldn’t work, because that’s the original external wall and the Listed Buildings people tend to take a dim view of you punching holes in original walls where there previously weren’t any), and the other is to re-do the extension, put a matching one on the other side, make them the bedrooms and turn bedroom one into the kitchen – but then it would look like the Millennium Falcon and you’d be spending a LOT, even if you could get permission to do it.  And I’ve no idea what you’d do with that room that was the kitchen and the entrance hall is almost as big as the lounge and the bedroom – awkward.

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The final clincher in our decision not to go for it was when we checked its listing with Historic Scotland.  It was listed back in 1984 with the following description:

Later 19th century, single storey 3-bay gate lodge; coursed rubble, tooled dressings. Projecting canted centre porch in east front with centre door and single windows with lattice pane glazing; chamfered angles; 2 corniced ridge stacks; piended slate roof with deep eaves, gabletted at angles. Gate piers; pair octagonal tooled ashlar gate piers with pyramidal caps linked to similar end piers by low coped quadrants with cast-iron carriage gates.

No mention of an extension, and this doesn’t look very much like lattice pane glazing to me:

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Plus part of the roof has been replaced in asbestos cement tiles:

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So, given that whoever buys it will almost certainly be applying for planning permission and listed buildings consent to work on it, they’ll become liable for the full costs of reinstating the windows and the roof (I assume they’ll want to take down the extension anyway) if the Listed Buildings Officer feels inclined to enforce the rules.  It’s a beautiful little house, but not one for us.

In matters slightly closer to home, we have progress in the form of the hearthstone arriving on Friday!

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That’s the underside of it.  It’s been cut by water jet at 50,000 psi to precision measurements to fit straight into the fireplace over the old stone.  Pete, James and Mick did an amazing job getting it out of the van and into the house, given it weighs (best estimate) about 250-300kg.

What we need now is to get the chimneys sorted so that no more water is coming in – Pete has bumped us up his list now he’s realised that we’re waiting on that.  Once they’re sorted we can finish the plasterboarding and then Derek can put the heating system in and the floor can go down.  Mick has been hard at work today:

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The action shot was taken about 15 minutes before he attempted to fire a screw through his finger and called it a day!  Fortunately it didn’t need stitches…