We’re on countdown

We’ve had David for 2.5 days this week and he has finished pretty much everything he can do on the list – the remaining items need someone else to do something first.  However, he broke the news that he’s going to America for a couple of weeks at the beginning of December, which means in all likelihood if I don’t nab him for those jobs before he goes, I’m not likely to get him back until January.

Since there’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind, Mick and I have agreed to put our collective feet to the floor and try and get the house completely finished by the end of November.  We’ve pushed on pretty well, with David’s help, and bits of it are now starting to look like a home rather than a project.

Painting the woodwork in the twin room while Ophelia lashes the windows.  The slate roof barely made a sound.

David has an incredible knack of taking my rather garbled description of something and making me exactly what I had in my head.  This little build-out hides where the underfloor heating pipes go into the wall and will be a useful shelf for keys etc.

The kitchen became a workshop while the weather was so vile!

One thing Mick wanted David to do was a piece of wood putting into the top of the dormers – there was a thin piece sticking down between the plasterboard, which I’d tried painting, and it just looked awful.  This is much neater and will be painted white.

It’s amazing how much more finished the house looks with all the skirting boards and door surrounds in place.  We had a big tidy-up downstairs this morning.

Also done by David but not photographed – a bead around the landing ceiling and the loft hatch, a thin piece of wood planed down and slipped in behind the bannisters to hide the underfloor heating insulation, and the top three stairs shimmed so that there isn’t quite so much of a difference with the top step, again because of the underfloor heating insulation.

We took a deep breath and ordered the furniture yesterday.  The shopping list consisted of:

  • 2 wardrobes
  • 5 bedside tables
  • 1 3-drawer chest
  • 2 2-over-3-drawer chest
  • 1 floor-standing cheval mirror
  • 2 small wall mirrors
  • 3 3ft beds
  • 1 5ft bed
  • 3 3ft pocket sprung mattresses
  • 1 5ft pocket sprung mattress
  • 2 upholstered dining chairs (these are going in the dormer windows in the two larger bedrooms)
  • 1 corner TV unit
  • 1 lamp table
  • 1 extending kitchen table
  • 5 cross-backed dining chairs with padded seats

All of the furniture is solid wood and I had a feeling that I was probably going to have to shut my eyes when I handed my card over, but the total, after a very generous £297 discount, came to £5,200, so thank you Riverside Interiors!  We also spent £3,050 with them on the two leather sofas and a friend of Mick’s was selling a coffee table in the same range of furniture we’ve picked for £100, so that makes our total furniture spend to date £8,350.  Looking at our original budget, we’re £300 over on the wooden furniture and £1,950 over on the sofas, but we’d originally budgeted for fabric, not leather, before we were advised by the agency that leather would be better if we were accepting dogs.

We had a visit today from Alex, who’d come over to have a look at the area in front of the house and the garden so he could quote for sorting it out.  We need the whole area in front of the house scraping back, a weedproof membrane laying and then covering in gravel, bar a long strip about a metre wide to the right of the gate, which will stay as grass.  At the back, we’re having a gravel path put in along the back of the house and then the rest of the garden will have the top layer scraped off.  As we know from our own house, the problem with making a garden out of a field is that it’s always trying to turn itself back into a field.  In theory, if we scrape back deep enough, we should hoick out all the docks, thistles and other unwanted field pests.  Unfortunately we’ll have to fork out for some turf rather than waiting for grass seed to take, otherwise the photos are going to look a bit weird when it’s advertised, but at least it’s the right time of year for laying it.

Lots for me to do next week, and I have a list that would probably choke all three of my horses, but tomorrow’s first job is to try and give my sheep a contagious disease!  About a third of them have come down with something called pinkeye, a mild conjunctivitis, and I’ve been advised that it’s best to try and get them all to develop it and get it out of the way, as it normally clears up by itself in 6-10 days and after having it they build up an immunity to it.  So I shall be down the road in the morning to fetch the feed troughs and then holding the sheep equivalent of a chicken pox party!

One door closes, another opens

Very sadly the house we’ve been in the process of trying to buy for the past 5 months has fallen through, so bang goes the idea of our current house becoming holiday lets two and three.  However, in that weird way the universe has of sometimes saying, ‘Don’t give up,’ the same day that I found out it definitely wouldn’t be going ahead, I also got given a new opportunity.  A friend of mine has a house she lets to tenants, who moved out last week.  She’s had a couple of hassles with various sets of tenants in the past and is so busy at the moment that she doesn’t really want to have the headache of finding new ones and settling them in.  She’d really like short-term holiday let tenants, but definitely doesn’t have the time to sort that.

Well, I can recognise a ball lobbed in my direction occasionally 😉 so I asked if she would be interested in giving me a 5-year commercial lease to run it as a holiday let.  She’s going to discuss it with her other half and then we’ll have a proper talk through the idea when I’m back from a week away with my mother and I can have a look inside, though if it’s anything like her other properties it’ll be immaculate.  The cottage itself is in a spectacular location, on its own on a headland, overlooking the sea, but from memory it doesn’t have an enclosed garden and I suspect she wouldn’t want dogs in the house anyway, which will limit income.

I think steps forward with this are, assuming friend is still interested in pursuing the idea after talking with her husband:

  1. Have a look inside.
  2. Make notes of what I think might need changing based on what I learned from the holiday cottage rep (e.g. I’m pretty certain it’s set up as two twin rooms, so one would need changing to a double)
  3. Ask holiday cottage rep for income estimation
  4. Crunch numbers

My very rough back-of-an-envelope calculations give an average monthly profit of £150-£250, which I was a bit sniffy about, because I was comparing it to Ethel’s, but then I thought about it and if someone offered me £200 a month for about 16 hours’ work I’d take it.

I’ve stalled a bit down the road, as David’s vanished again.  He asked me a week ago Friday if I minded if he did some work in his neighbour’s kitchen on Monday, but he’d be back, and I haven’t seen him since!  Dougie is back from Borneo, but I don’t feel I can chase him up until I’ve got the last two ceilings finished.  The twin bedroom and the landing are now mostly sanded down, just a few bits to go over where we touched up some sunken plaster, but I’m not sure I’ll have time to get them painted before I go away.

I also had a visit from Jeff this week.  Jeff’s a semi-retired heating engineer from Birmingham and a genius with boilers, but Ethel’s nearly defeated him on Monday.  The hot water wasn’t working, so Jeff dismantled various bits of the system and found that the paddle switch was working as it should be and the pressure switch was activating the pump correctly, but for some reason the boiler itself wasn’t firing up to provide heat.  There was a considerable amount of head-scratching going on until he took the casing off the circuit board and the mystery was solved.  Because John and Ethel had always run their hot water from the old Rayburn in the kitchen, the people who installed the boiler had completely removed the switching on the circuit board for it!  It can be sorted, but Jeff has been honest and said it’s way outside his comfort zone and he’d be happier if Dougie did it, so that’s another one for his list when he’s next here.  Once that’s up and running again, Jeff will come and service the boiler, because he reckons it hasn’t ever been done since it was installed.

David did manage to get a fair bit done in the three days he was with us.  The finished kitchen window seat – I was in town today and called in at the local haberdasher, who say they’ll be able to make me seat cushions for this if I make them a template for each end.

Knobs and handles fitted in the kitchen.  That blue isn’t quite so in your face with the units toning it down, so I think we might keep it.

Fireplace surround complete and skirting board started.

We did it!

Firstly, apologies to anyone who’s been checking back for an update since Monday, but I was on the point of tearing my hair out – I managed to hold on until 12.30 that day before I caved in and emailed the mortgage consultant at the building society.  I got a reply immediately.  ‘Thank you for your email.  I am out of the office until 4th September.  This email address is not being monitored.  Please contact the branch on [phone number].’

There was language.

I have spent the last four days phoning the branch and leaving my details with the promise of ‘someone will call you back’.  They finally did today, in a most apologetic manner, but they’re currently down 2/5ths of their mortgage consultants due to holidays and illness, so they’re a bit stretched.  The upshot is that the underwriters have agreed a figure for my income to go into the affordability calculations, the mortgage consultant has re-run the affordability calculation and we still pass, so they are happy to offer us the residential mortgage subject to the house being valued by a surveyor from their panel.  However, since my mortgage consultant is away and the deal is slightly complex thanks to the linked commercial mortgage, they’re going to double-check with the commercial side that they’re happy before getting in touch with the valuers and instructing them to make contact.

Fortuitously, the sellers of the house we’re buying were around today and so I was able to go and break the good news in person.  I now have a to-do list as long as both my arms, but it looks like we’re finally moving forwards again.

Frustrations

Guess what?  The income statement turned out NOT to be the final hurdle.  They decided they wanted to see my 16/17 accounts as well, so my very patient accountant prepared them for me and I sent them off at the beginning of the week – after first checking that this time they’d be happy to have it as produced by my accountant’s software, because HMRC is stopping doing printed SA302s for mortgage applications as of 1st September and there’s a 2-week delay between your tax return being uploaded and them being able to send you one, so I’d fall outside the cut-off date.  The building society passed it direct to the underwriters on Wednesday, who scheduled Saturday for a review of the whole application, but I was told I likely wouldn’t hear from them until Monday.

So I’ve been a bit twitchy this weekend.  The double bedroom has had its second undercoat and the ceiling has had two top coats.  I’m currently about half way round the first base coat on the woodwork – I’m going to give it two coats of primer this time and hope that means I only need one coat of the final Milk Bottle. I also think I might have to re-paint the kitchen a different colour.  It was originally intended to be something close to Farrow & Ball’s Cooking Apple Green, but when the paint in the Crown kitchen range I was looking at online turned out to be much, much lighter on the tester, I panicked and grabbed that Island Blue instead.  But I like the muted dark green so much upstairs that I’m considering trying to find something close to Cooking Apple which will stand up to kitchen wear and tear – or maybe even splashing out on a can of F&B Modern Emulsion.

Cross your fingers

Today could be D-Day for the mortgage application.  Looking back, I can’t see if I mentioned it on here or not, but a few weeks back I got a call from the lender (residential side) to say that they were no longer doing mortgages on properties outside their geographical area, but as we were so far through the process, if I paid the reservation fee we’d be allowed to continue.  So I rang them up and paid the £199 and got on with chasing up my SA302s from HMRC and Mick’s employment reference, both of which were duly sent off.

Then they rang to say that head office couldn’t work out whether my income was on track to be similar to previous years.  Could my accountant please write a letter confirming that it would be, as they were a little concerned by the drop in income between the two years of self-assessment paperwork they’d asked for.  Well, no, she couldn’t, because the sum total of involvement my accountant has with my business dealings is getting a multi-tab spreadsheet around the end of May listing out all the invoices I’ve issued and received for the various pies I have a thumb stuck in.  In all honesty, I didn’t even put her in the position of having to say no – I did a year of KPMG’s graduate programme before deciding accountancy wasn’t for me, and I wouldn’t have done it, or if I had it would have been so heavily caveated as to be basically worthless.

In the end I suggested that I draw up a 5-year income forecast, send it to my accountant along with my data sources and assumptions, make any changes she recommended and then she would write a covering letter saying she agreed my forecast was a reasonable estimate of future income.  My mortgage adviser thought head office would find that satisfactory, so I spent last week working out things that sounded like bad GCSE maths problems:

If you put 42 ewes to the tup in November, how many lambs and ewes do you sell the following year and what is your wool clip price?  Assume 50% of ewes have twins, 50% of all lambs are male, 5% of lambs die between conception and sale, 5% of ewe lambs do not make the grade for retaining as breeding stock, you wish to retain a maximum of 30 ewe lambs, your 5-year-old ewes are drafted out and you get approximately 2.25kg of wool per sheep at £1 a kg.

My brain has not had to work that hard for some time, but I got through it, my accountant made a couple of minor changes and then very kindly wrote me a letter saying she agreed with my forecast income of £22,296.50 for the next 12 months, rising to £46,972.79 in five years’ time!  (These figures are gross income less the holiday let agency fees+VAT, but no other costs have been taken out, as the building society’s number crunchers decided to factor the running costs of all three houses into their affordability calculations, and the other two income source have very little in the way of expenses – my actual take-home will be a lot less than that and I’m going to have to remember to put a lot more aside for tax!)

With all the number crunching it was a nice break to get down the road to do some painting.  Some colour’s gone on the wall in the single bedroom and it’s turned out to be exactly the same shade as my father’s old study in the house I grew up in!

I’ve now got that woodwork primed and hopefully will get paint on it today, which means I’ll have the first room DONE!  (Well, apart from getting the smoke alarm fitted, putting some carpet down and hanging a door, but none of those are my jobs!)

In the meantime, we’re gearing back up for haymaking, although the weather isn’t currently giving me much cause to hope we’ll get it in.  I might have to get someone in to do big round bales and wrap them for haylage instead, especially considering Mick’s having an issue with his hip and won’t be able to spend all day in a hay field carting small bales back up to the barn.  He has, however, made me an impressive new swath board for the mower.  This pushes the cut grass over by about a foot so that the tractor has a line of bare field for its wheel, the stick on top knocks over any grass that’s thick enough to go over the top of the board.  At the moment, the long-range forecast is showing a dry spell 18th-24th August, but it keeps coming and going, so please cross your fingers on the other hand for that!

Kitchen or bust!

Great news – we didn’t just have David for today, we’ve got him for THREE WHOLE WEEKS (excluding this Friday when he has to go and do something else) and that hasn’t involved either shackling him to the old tying-up rings in the cow byre or bribery with baking!  The bad news is that come the 24th, he will be tied up on a new-build house for at least 6 weeks, so we’ve agreed that we’re all going hell for leather to get the floor down, the kitchen in, the window and door surrounds done, the dado rail installed round the top of the panelling upstairs, the window seats topped off, the fireplace surrounds done and the landing cupboards built.  He’s kindly said he’s happy to come over on a Saturday when he’s working on the new-build if we need him, but I’m hoping that three weeks will be enough to get us mostly sorted.

So July is definitely going to be a very, very spendy month.  David went into Thurso with a big shopping list of wood, so I have to go into Rembrand and pay for that on Wednesday, and this evening I’ve been researching kitchen appliances.  Looking at my rather neglected original budget, I had in £2,000 for all appliances, and I am very proud to say that I’ve come in at £2008.96 including free delivery to the Highlands.  That’s an oven, hob, extractor fan, dishwasher, washer-dryer and fridge freezer, all of them given favourable Which? reviews.  I used Currys PC World via Quidco* (2% cashback!) and they had some on-site discount codes as well, which took £160 off the total.  Very pleasantly surprised that they offered free delivery to my postcode, which generally gets lumped in with Orkney as it starts with KW (Kirkwall) even though it’s on the mainland.

Everything should be turning up on Tuesday 11th.  The plan is that this week David works on the upstairs rooms while Mick and I get downstairs prepped and painted.  Next week David will move downstairs, making sure the floor is laid in the kitchen by the end of the week.  The third week we’ll try and get Dougie in on the Monday for the joint visit and that will be kitchen installation week.  Wish us luck – we’re going to need it!!

Mortgage affordability rules

Interesting article from the FT about the Bank of England’s overhaul of mortgage affordability rules.

Basically instead of stress-testing applications to 3% above bank rate, lenders must now stress-test applications to 3% above their reversion rate, i.e. their standard variable rate.  For me that means my lender will now have to judge my application against a rate of 7.24% for the residential and 7.99% for the commercial.  I’ve run the numbers myself this evening and we’re definitely okay on the commercial side.  The residential – I don’t know.  I think we’re okay; they told me when I first applied that they’d lend us something like £168,500 maximum (that was taking into account the 0% card payments), but we were capped to £135,000 because of loan-to-value, so I hope that’s enough wiggle room to deal with the extra.

It occurred to me this week that I never rang back the holiday letting agency after they came for their visit last month, and as we get closer to decorating, I thought it might be a good idea to see if they had any tips for me, so I dropped them an email and the rep who’d come out to see me rang me back a couple of hours later to say how delighted she was to be taking on the houses and to have a chat.  Basically there is no fixed checklist to getting a 4* rating (which is what I’m going for) and the house doesn’t have to be completely 4* throughout, a few 3* items, as long as they’re not major items, will not lower us a grade.  Basically for a 3* think ‘Good’, for a 4* think ‘Very Good’.  Tesco crockery is fine as long as it’s Tesco Finest not Tesco Value, as it were.

It does mean I have to rethink my furnishing budget, as my plan of upcycling secondhand stuff is very likely not going to be acceptable.  I’m going to need two leather sofas, a king-sized bed, three 3ft single beds, 3 chests of drawers, 5 bedside tables, 2 wardrobes and a kitchen table and chairs (already have an oak coffee table), along with all the other stuff you expect to find in a comfortable holiday cottage, like a decent television, soft Egyptian cotton bed linen, fluffy towels, pictures on the walls for rooms that don’t have a feature wall (apparently this gets you extra points towards 4*) and everything you might expect to find in your kitchen at home.

First on the very big shopping list though is the kitchen appliances.  I sent Dougie a text the other day, as we passed him on the road and gave him a wave, to check that I was correct in my assumption that I needed to get David to lay the floor downstairs and then I needed him and David on site together for a day along with all the kitchen appliances so that they could talk layout and wiring before David starts installing the kitchen units (and I cannot WAIT for that to happen because they’ve been taking up 80% of my study since October!)

In the meantime, I am plastering on (I’ve nearly caught up with Mick now, just one more wall to go until I’m at a stop because he hasn’t finished the plasterboarding!) and after nearly three months of managing not to plaster my face, the final bedroom ceiling got me!

(The headphones are because I’ve been listening to Rob Dix’s excellent property podcast while I work – check out his website at propertygeek.net)

A tale of two sanders

I took a break from the plastering today and decided to work on the staircase instead, which meant getting these two out.

And putting the dodgy-looking mask on.

I have no idea what John Angie painted the paneling with, but it’s vaguely rubbery when heated and really doesn’t want to come off.  It’s taken me two sheets of 60 grit on the big sander to get this far.  I was going to paint the whole thing a matt chalk white, but thinking about it, this is the hall, and our doggy guests are going to walk straight in here and have a good shake if it’s raining – so I think I’ll paint the vertical boards and the inside panel of the stair side green to match the front door, then the bannisters and the frame around the stair side panel can be white.  Should show up splatter marks less, and I’ll make sure I do the front wall and inside the front door with kitchen and bathroom paint, so it’s wipeable!

You can see where the woodworm have had a good old munch under the paint.  No active ones, thank goodness.  This will take a little bit of wood filler to smooth out.

In other news, I finished plastering the north bedroom yesterday.  Those little dormer windows that I was insistent we opened up so you could stand in them, have 13 separate joints to plaster alone!

Finances-wise, there’s good news and bad news.  The good news is that the mortgage lender says we can have the mortgage.  The bad news is that we can only do it if we take the commercial holiday one on the same day and use the cash released to pay off the 0% cards immediately?  Why?  Well, when their underwriters looked at the residential application they realised that we were going to own three houses, but neither of the two holiday lets were currently bringing in any income.  They use set figures for each category on their affordability calculator and they took the decision to triple the lines for council tax and utilities (which I could argue is mildly unfair because two of them will be empty, but there you go) and that brought us down on the unaffordable side again while we still have the credit cards.

Of course, Ethel’s isn’t mortgageable yet because (a) it’s still sitting on croft land and (b) it doesn’t have a kitchen or bathroom.  Brian at SGRPID tells me that I should work on three to six months for the sale of the land to complete, and Mick’s taking the first two weeks of July off work so we can blitz the house ready for David to come back and lay the floor and install the kitchen, but the seller is now very nervous about timescales because her decrofting took 14 months and she understandably doesn’t want to wait that long.  I’ve spent the past few days talking to bridging loan companies and brokers, but of the ones that will consider Scotland at all, absolutely none of them will consider a house this far north, so I’m just going to have to cross my fingers and keep hassling the various solicitors.

The other solution would be to pay the cards off, which we could do from savings, but then we wouldn’t have a deposit without mortgaging Ethel’s, so we’re in the same fix.  I did vaguely think about trying to crowdfund paying off the cards by advance selling weeks, but given our quote from the agency was under £15,000 for Ethel’s and we need nearly £50,000, it’s a bit of a non-starter – and I don’t think the agency would be very pleased if I told them all the prime weeks for the next two years were sold!

Finally, we’ve been keeping up with our crofting duties.  Stuart has been up on the hill and cut our peats for us – they look like very ancient library books!

And there are a lot of them.

They’re all laid flat for drying one side now, and when we’ve had a few weeks of sun and wind, we’ll go back up and put them all into a herringbone pattern or stand them up into Stonehenge-type formation to get the other side dry.  They’re pretty big – each slab is about 3 inches thick and just under A3 paper-size.  And they’re HEAVY!

The night before last we got the first big weather-dependent job of the summer done and now have some much cooler ladies 🙂  Just haymaking to go and then I can stop worrying about the forecast for another year.

Inching towards the finishing line

I’ve been tied up with a big project in my day job, so once again work has ground to a halt, but two bits of encouraging news on the financial front:

  1. The residential lender has been in touch to say the credit reports are back, but because I provided the version of an SA302 my accountant’s tax submission software spits out rather than a proper HMRC one, there’s a slight problem with verifying my income.  I can either write to HMRC and request they produce official ones for me (I can’t just print them off the website because that option isn’t available when your self-assessment gets submitted via accountants’ software) or they can forward my application to their head office for one of the senior lending staff to look at it, and they recommend I take the latter option because “referral route may be quicker on the basis that my head office would be happy to agree” – which sounds promising!  They also sent me a list of valuers on their panel to choose from, so fingers crossed we’re nearly there with this.
  2. SGRPID got in touch to say that the Drawings Office would be visiting on 26th June to survey the house site and garden at Ethel’s in order to prepare the sale plans.  This is amazing news because originally I was told it would be about six months, i.e. October/November.  It may actually now turn out that that side of it is ready before I’ve finished the house.

Anyway, all good incentives to carve out some time to get my overalls back on, and the upside of working flat out on something for the past week (to the extent of starting at 6.15am and closing the laptop at nearly midnight for the last two days) is that the invoice covers a very large chunk of what I need to make from the day job each month, so I don’t need to go chasing around for other work too hard for the next three weeks.

Back on track

Good news! After a lengthy conversation with the residential arm of the company doing the commercial mortgage, we have a conditional agreement to lend us £135,000 to buy the new house. I have to send them Mick’s payslips, my tax returns and 3 months of statements for all our current accounts, and they want a valuation done because the seller’s surveyor isn’t on their panel, but if we get through that, we’re in the clear. Even better, their 5-year fix rate dropped by 0.1% last week.

With that back on track, I’ve turned my attention back to the plastering, which it seems I’ve now been doing for 2 months. Lesson learned – next time we get one we have to go back to bare walls with, I’m taking £500 out of the budget for lost earnings and blitzing it full-time for 2 or 3 weeks.  I’m working in the north bedroom at the moment and that gable end that gave us problems with leaking is all sealed up.

Pretty hot working up there on Friday morning though!

Glorious day.

And this is definitely a room with a view (pic may be temporarily sideways, but I’m in Glasgow writing this on my phone and can’t fix it until I get home!)  EDIT:  Home and it’s showing as the right way up in the source, but not in the post – weird!

Pete and James have been back to start putting the tin on the barn roof and it’s looking great.