At a crossroads

Still in Crofting Commission limbo here, but I thought this house turnaround a few miles away from me was worth a post.

strathy-red house

This house, at the crossroads in Strathy, came up for sale back in May 2013 – don’t know what the asking price was then, Property Bee isn’t telling me (from memory I think it might have been offers over £70,000), but it was dropped to £65,000 in February 2014 and then fixed price £55,000 in December 2014.  It sold the following month, according to the Registers of Scotland, for £45,000 in January 2015.  The original listing can still be seen on Rightmove.

Anyway, they spruced it up and I’m assuming fixed the many, many issues in the home report, and have been running it on AirBNB as a holiday let for the last year, but it’s now for sale again, this time offers in the region of £110,000. I shall watch this one with interest.

Money, money, money…

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

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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!

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.

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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.

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!

Diary of a wannabe house hoarder

My name’s Caroline and I’m a house hoarder.

Well, not yet I’m not, as at the moment I only own the one house, but I’ve had an offer verbally accepted on another which means I’m hopefully at the start of a long-held ambition to make a living out of buying, renovating and renting houses.

Of course, this would be significantly more straightforward if I still lived in Bristol (or Reading or Cambridge or Croydon, where I’ve also lived), but no, I had to wait to get cracking with this until I’d moved to one of the more remote places on the UK mainland – I live on the north coast of Scotland, 26 miles from the nearest town, nearly 100 miles from the nearest town with what you might call a normal high street.  Slap bang on the edge of nowhere.

It’s undeniably a wonderful, beautiful, peaceful place to live, but the housing market is slow-moving and flat, the rental market is virtually non-existent and it’s quite common for a house to take one or two years (or even longer) to sell.

So this experiment of mine could quite possibly go horribly, hideously wrong.  Grab some popcorn, get comfy on the sofa and come and join me as I find out whether my long-held dream is going to turn into a nightmare!