Financial frustrations

We’ve been on a bit of a hiatus with Ethel’s as my time has mostly been taken up dealing with mortgage companies.  We’ve hit a snag – our current residential lender has decided it won’t port the mortgage after all.

Truth be told, I’m not terribly surprised.  They’ve been closed for new business for years, have a dwindling number of mortgages on their book, but still have to maintain a staff to deal with us.  When I rang them up to go through the process, they kept having to put me on hold to find someone who could clarify points, because it was so rare that they ever had to do this.  To cut a very long story short, they put all the numbers into their computer, crunched it about a bit and announced that we couldn’t port the mortgage because their system said we couldn’t afford it.

Now, I know things changed in the mortgage market in 2014, but we were on a combined income of about £50,000 when we moved up here and they were completely happy for us to borrow £145,000 interest only, with a monthly payment of £737 because our deal of base rate + 1.1% worked out at about 5.5% at the time.  We’re now on a combined income of about £80,000 plus the estimated rental income (call it £20k after expenses) and they’ve told us that we definitely can’t afford the £115,000 outstanding – in fact, the most they’d be prepared to lend us if we ported the mortgage was….

….wait for it….

£32,500!!!!!!  (And no, I haven’t missed a digit off the front of that!)

It’s down to the credit cards, apparently.  They did say that they’d be happy to lend us the full amount if we would let them take 80% of the value of Ethel’s as security as well, but obviously that doesn’t have a title yet, so nothing they could secure against.

I’m now talking to the lender who’ll be doing the holiday let mortgage to see if their residential arm will take on our residential mortgage, as their commercial arm is happy with the credit card situation, but I fear that we may be stumped until Ethel’s is mortgageable.  I just hope someone doesn’t come along and snap up the other house in the meantime.

Full steam ahead!

I got a call back from the area rep last Tuesday saying she could come up and visit today, so the last week has been a flurry of decluttering and cleaning!  I will come clean at this point and say that the house we are trying to get the holiday let mortgage on is the one we currently live in – our existing residential mortgage will port to the house we want to buy, but we need to raise the money to pay for it against this house as Ethel’s won’t be mortgageable until the title is created.  So the visit was to assess not only Ethel’s but also our house, which is a 3-bed croft house, the same as Ethel’s, but with a separate 1-bed annexe.

I will confess, I was nervous.  The house is not currently up to standard for holiday letting, we’ve been concentrating on putting money into outbuildings, fields and fencing, so we still have the carpet and in some case the decor of the previous owner, who’d not lived here for two years before we bought it nine years ago.  But I was able to walk through the house and explain exactly what we’d do in each room, and a couple of rooms we have done over, like the dining room and the bathroom, so she could see what our idea of a finished room was like.  Then we went down the road to Ethel’s, where she exclaimed over the views and approved of all our plans for down there as well.

We had some lunch and she went through how their pricing and booking system works and I was able to pick her brains about all sorts of useful things (note to self: turn the annexe bathroom into a wet room, buy leather sofas rather than loose covers for ease of cleaning if we’re going to accept dogs, which we will).  Then it came to the crunch time – what rental estimation would I get?  The magic number we needed on our house and the annexe was £9,600 between them, after the agency fees.

‘Remember, these are conservative estimates,’ she warned me, as she took three computer printouts from her clipboard.  ‘They’re based on the location of the properties, what we get for similar properties in the area, and it’s based on a mix of high, mid and low-season weeks.  I’ve based it on 25-27 weeks a year, but we’re achieving 35-40 in this area at the moment, thanks to the North Coast 500.  I’ve done them based on you getting a 4* Visit Scotland rating, which from the sound of everything you’ve told me, you will.’

So what were the scores on the doors?  After agency fees and VAT, it came out as follows:

  • One-bed annexe – £8,893 a year
  • Our house – £11,967 a year
  • Ethel’s house – £13,344 a year

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I nearly fell off my chair!!  More than double what we needed on our home to go ahead!  So now it’s full steam ahead with the mortgage application for the holiday let mortgage and getting approval to port our mortgage to the new house, and back to the plastering so we can get Ethel’s up for rent ASAP and then start work on home.

Just to put the cherry on the Bakewell, I had an email from a journalist client this morning asking if I could transcribe an interview for her this afternoon so she could get it written up and filed overnight.  I emailed back to say I couldn’t start until around 3pm and explained why.  She wished me luck, so I told her how it went when I returned her file this evening.  She’s offered to pitch a piece on the area to a national newspaper she writes for regularly and mention the houses in it when we’re up and running, which would be absolutely amazing publicity.  I am feeling very, very lucky tonight.

Sit rep

The bad news is that the mortgage company liked us but didn’t like the location of the house; they felt it was too remote to make a good holiday let!  I asked our broker to point out that was kind of the point and he sent them a link to this recent Conde Nast Traveler review of the North Coast 500, saying it “may be the best road trip in the world”, but they decided it wasn’t for them.  At this point, the broker said that if we really didn’t want to do it as a normal buy-to-let, he was out of options, so I spoke to a commercial holiday let specialist broker, who said that his fees on such a small mortgage would be uneconomic, but there was only one mortgage company he knew of which would do a loan of that size against a holiday let in Scotland and I should just ring them directly.

Several phone calls later, they’ve indicated they’re willing to lend subject to us putting in a full application and getting written confirmation from a holiday letting agency that our house will make £9,600 a year in rentals net of agency commission.  Several more phone calls and I’m waiting for the local area rep for one of the UK’s biggest companies (just under 20,000 holiday cottages on their books) to get in touch to arrange a no-obligation visit – I think it’s actually the perfect time for her to come and have a look, because I can ask her to assess Ethel’s house as well, and what she tells me will dictate, to some extent, how much money we invest in the furniture.

I’ve also found a very helpful holiday letting forum, Lay My Hat, which is proving to be a fantastic resource for finding out about where to buy good-quality bed linen and towels without breaking the bank, what to provide in kitchens and so on.

Meanwhile, down the road I’m still chipping away at the plastering and after a good 4.5 hour session today, the downstairs is pretty much done.  Mick will sand it down tomorrow (this is his punishment for accidentally putting a tapered edge piece of plasterboard on an external corner, leaving me with an absolute crater to plaster over!) and then it’s just a case of filling in any little holes with a Go Outdoors loyalty card (nice and flexible!).  I’ve started plastering the small bedroom upstairs, but we need to get a few more sheets of plasterboard so Mick can finish off the gable ends in the other two bedrooms before I can do them.  He’ll give Rembrand a ring next week and fingers crossed they’ll be coming west and can bring them out.

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!