Getting down to business

Still no news here on when I’ll complete on the croft purchase.  I can’t even get hold of my solicitor at the moment to find out what the delay is!

In the meantime, if anyone fancies going into business up here on the north coast, there are a couple of opportunities coming up in the auctions.

The Schoolhouse restaurant at John o’Groats has been closed for a while now, but as you can see from old Trip Advisor reviews, it was well-loved.

john o'groats - schoolhouse restaurant

It has a guide price of £80,000, a considerable drop from the offers over £145,000 DM Hall had it listed at when it first came up for sale.  John o’Groats has gone through a lot of changes over the past few years, with Natural Retreats coming in and restoring the main hotel and building eco-lodges, so it could be a good opportunity for someone to revive the restaurant again.

If cooking isn’t your thing, how about a spot of retailing? Two shop units that are usable as one shop with a guide of £55,000.

thurso - shop

I have a funny feeling I may have mentioned this in an auction post before, but hey ho.  This, along with the unit to its right as you look at it, used to be one of those rummage-y shops that did a little bit of everything, though it leaned more towards DIY stuff.  It’s a bit off the main drag, but fine for a destination shop and there’s plenty of free parking nearby.

Right house, wrong place

Sorry for the radio silence this week, but there’s been no news here on the house front – so this post is going to be a bit of a blast from the past.

When I was going through the auction listings last weekend, I noticed a few for sale in Lybster and that reminded me of the house we nearly bought there.  Originally our plan wasn’t to move up straight away, it was to have a project/holiday house that we could work on over the years and then hopefully take early retirement to.  The one we nearly bought was called Kirkstyle House in a small village called Lybster on the east coast of Caithness.

Unfortunately I’ve deleted all the pictures I had of it when we went to view it, back in 2007, but trust me, it didn’t look anywhere near as up-together and well-finished as it does here:
Kirkstyle House

That long room on the end used to be the village bakery and in the main part of the house there are four bedrooms, a good-sized living room and kitchen and a bathroom (I think the current owners have added an en-suite to one of the bedrooms, as I don’t remember being there originally).  It was on the market for £75,000 and we got all the way to putting in a formal offer, subject to mortgage valuation survey.  In the end, the surveyor decided there was an issue over something (I can’t even remember what, it might have been the roof), put a £20k retention on the valuation and we didn’t have enough cash to make up the difference.  Thank goodness.

Because someone did come along and buy it and did it up absolutely beautifully and stuck it back on the market several years ago.  It’s still for sale.  Let me stress here, if the people who own it ever read this – I think they’ve done an amazing job with the house, the interiors are completely unrecognisable from when I saw it.  It’s just that Lybster is an awkward place to live.  It’s about 13 miles south of Wick and I don’t think the bus service is that regular, so you need to drive if you want to commute to work in Wick.  It’s just that bit too far to be a comfortable commute to Thurso, let alone Dounreay, though I think people do.  And while Lybster is a lovely place to have a holiday in (indeed, Kirkstyle is also available as a holiday cottage here), it’s a tricky place to sell a house in, especially when other sellers in the local market are slashing their prices.  Compare £155,000 for Kirkstyle with a guide price of £175,000 for this 8-bed country house nearby:

Reisgill

Or a guide of just £67,000 for a 4-bed end of terrace:

Averon, Lybster

What the village really needs in order to thrive again, in my opinion, is for the hotel to re-open and, after a series of leaseholders opening and closing it, the hotel company has put it on the market for £350,000:

Portland Arms, Lybster

It used to be a really great place to go for lunch and hosted some of the best weddings in the county, hopefully someone will buy it and turn it into a thriving business once again.

UPDATE APRIL 2016:  Kirkstyle sold for the asking price earlier this month and the hotel reopened at the end of March.  Here’s to a bright future for Lybster!

More auction properties

So, with the best part of £100,000 burning a hole in my bank account, it’s probably not the safest time for me to be browsing the Scottish property auctions, but sometimes I like to live dangerously 😉

A bit out of my area, but still in the Highlands, is this 3.5 hectare site with a former military bunker/command centre in Poolewe.

poolewe-bunker

It’s got lapsed planning permission for four villas (Scottish for detached house) and has a guide price of £100,000 – but not one if you don’t like midges, its position on the west coast practically guarantees clouds of them in the right weather!

The Flotta cottage from August is back in, at a slightly increased guide of £20,000, as is the Wick shop with a slightly reduced guide of £36,000.

 

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!

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 feedly.com 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!

Auction browsing

Saturday evening and time to have a look through the Scottish auction websites to see if there’s anything local (by which I mean north of Inverness).

SVA has a Grade B-listed building with permission for conversion to a 1-bed house in Tain:

tain - the red house 1

I do like the look of some of the period features:

tain - the red house 2

Wilsons has a 2-bed house in Castletown with a guide price of £35k against a home report valuation of £50k.  I’d possibly have a look at this if I was buying, but the lack of internal photos makes me slightly wary.

5 Churchill Place, Castletown

Going in the other direction, there’s a very pretty cottage on Flotta in the Orkney Islands with a guide price of just £16,500 at Future Property Auctions:

flotta - orback cottage

However, that looks like a pretty big farm next to it – I’d want to go and see exactly how close it is and what they’re farming (my guess would be cattle with a barn that size).

flotta - orback cottage aerial

They’ve also got a shop for sale in Wick – now this is an interesting one, because I know this shop pretty well. It used to be a craft shop, then got split into upstairs and downstairs units with a children’s clothing shop downstairs and a tack shop upstairs, both of which have now moved into bigger premises. Its problem is its location; it’s tucked away off the high street and although a destination shop will do just fine there, it doesn’t get much passing footfall:

wick - kirk lane

The interiors are nicely done though, and with a guide price of £38,000 I’d definitely be tempted if I wanted to go back into retailing:

wick - kirk lane interior