136 sheep, a car service and a funeral

…were just a few of the things that got in the way of progress being made this week!  David sent me a text to say he wouldn’t be with us on Monday or Tuesday as he had a funeral to go to and then would be taking advantage of the dry weather to get his sheep clipped.  And you can see why; it was gorgeous.

So Mick and I cracked on and got the kitchen walls primed.  Because we’re painting straight onto plasterboard, which drinks paint like someone who’s been lost in the Sahara, we decided to put on two base coats of diluted matt white as an undercoat.

Pete turned up as well, hoping David would be there to build the frames for the concrete skews on the byre roof, and ended up lying on his back in the living room fireplace making a template for the register plate that will sit around the flue.  He and Mick went and fetched the stove from the annexe at home and lugged it into place.

The kitchen appliances were delivered on Tuesday and I lost even more space in my office!  (Apologies – sideways pictures again, but it took me six attempts just to get them to upload this evening and it’s nearly 11pm, so I’ll try and fix them in the morning!)

By Wednesday Mick was looking half dead, but had still been talking about cancelling his car service and carrying on working on the house instead.  I put my sternest voice on and packed him off to Inverness, on the grounds that we needed a 45-degree connector from the back of the stove to the flue which he could pick up from the wonderfully-named Bonk & Co while he was down there.

David arrived back after shearing 135 sheep and finished the landing cupboard and the upstairs windowsills.

And finally, on Wednesday afternoon, the first colour started to go on the walls in the kitchen!

(And yes, there was some fairly creative language when my roller slipped and this happened!)

Annoyingly, I ran out half a wall before finishing, so Mick zoomed into town first thing on Thursday morning and picked up another two cans, because it needed a second coat.  It looked pretty good when it was done.

I got going with painting the bathroom and was a bit surprised to open a tin of ‘Platinum’ and find this:

But fortunately it stirred up to the correct colour.  (‘Tin Bath’, the other bathroom colour, is sparkly blue before stirring).

David carried on with windowsills and Velux frames.

And then somehow it was Friday and time for the kitchen floor to take shape.  We took off the thin layer of chipboard that had been protecting the underfloor heating insulation from getting too squashed and had a good vacuum up.  Given we’ve been walking around on this for six months it’s in pretty good shape.

Finally, on Friday afternoon, David was able to get started on the floor, and it looks wonderful.

Also happening this week, Magnus came to give our house a new coat of masonry paint as well as doing all the woodwork for us, and it looks amazing.

We went into Riverside Replicas and ordered the sofas, but there’s been a slight hiccup with the rest of the furniture – the range I’ve chosen for the bedrooms is being discontinued shortly and the manufacturer doesn’t have enough stock to meet my order.  We’re waiting for details of the replacement range, but the bits they’ve seen look very similar.  As long as the headboards on the beds are 115cm or lower, it should be okay.

Today should have been another full-on blitz down the road, but we had a sheep to drop off at the auction mart for tomorrow’s sale (so all of my very observant readers who were wondering why the post title refers to 136 sheep but David only sheared 135 can now relax – here’s the extra one!).  This involved taking our little flock from the field, down the village road to the communal fanks, putting them through the shedder to separate out the one being sold (a shedder is a small gate in a narrow run – a race.  Only one sheep at a time can fit down the race and when the sheep you want to separate comes up, you open the shedder gate, it shoots off into a separate part of the fanks, and then you close it again and the rest of the sheep go through the race as normal.  Timing is everything!) and then taking the others back home and getting the single one into the trailer and driving her the 35 miles to the mart.

It was 2pm by the time we’d got back and had a quick sandwich, so Mick tackled our jungle of a lawn, which had been running riot for a fortnight, and I went back down to give the living room and hall ceilings their top coat of white and put the second coat of colour on the bathroom accent wall.

Note to self: do not leave masking tape on for more than 24 hours 🙁  I got away with it with the rest of the walls, but this one is going to need a lot of touching up tomorrow!

Sun, sea and sanding

It’s been a gorgeous week up here (well, apart from a bit of rain yesterday) – and we’ve been mainly stuck inside with sanding blocks!

So what have we been up to?  David got started with the cupboard on the landing, but Rembrand didn’t have all the wood he needed to finish it, so he had to order some of it for delivery on Thursday, and then Rembrand’s lorry broke down, so we didn’t get delivery until Friday, when he wasn’t here.  In some ways that’s not a bad thing, as what we didn’t realise is that the heating manifold does generate a fair bit of warmth and the first set of doors he’s made have warped – so that’s his first issue to sort out when he’s back next week.  The size is perfect though, I was worried it was going to make the landing too cramped, but I don’t even notice it’s there when I’m walking through.

The skirting boards and dado rails are all on and I can’t believe what a huge difference it’s made to the bedrooms in terms of them looking closer to being finished.

Door surrounds are going on.

David’s attention to detail is wonderful.  Like these little blocks the door frames are sitting on (photo makes it look wonky, it isn’t!) and the way the return for the fireplace has been cut to follow the outline of the stone.

While David’s been doing wonderful things with wood, Mick and I have been turning ourselves into a pair of gargoyles sanding and skimming the plastering.

I’ve also attacked the stairs again.  I think I’m on my 6th sheet for the big orbital sander now, but the wood is slowly coming through.  I love the wear on the top of the newel post from all the years of hands on it.

I gritted my teeth today and plastered the landing.  I’d been putting it off because the coombed ceiling means that I have to lean forwards or backwards slightly to get my head under the sloped bit.  That means leaning over the stairs and my legs start shaking because I don’t do heights!  So Mick put the platform he’d used to get the plasterboard up back together and knowing that was there to stop me taking the express route to the bottom of the stairs if I lost my balance meant I could do the rest of it fine.

However, there was one join that needed doing over the stairs themselves.  I had it all set up ready to go and then Mick called up the stairs, ‘Remember, step off sideways, not forwards or back!’ and my nerve went and I wimped out!!  He’s going to do it tomorrow.

Why didn’t he do it straight away?  Because he was PAINTING!  Yes, we finally have some paint on the kitchen wall.  Only a diluted undercoat (the plasterboard soaks up a lot, so the first layer is 50:50 paint and water), but it feels like we’ve finally moved onto a new stage.  While Mick got busy with the roller, I took the leaflets I’d been given by Riverside Replicas when I was in there looking at furniture on Wednesday, plus a pile of newspapers and magazines, and started to lay out the furniture sizes on the floor.  It quickly became apparent that of the two ranges I liked, only one was going to work for the bedrooms, as the headboards for the beds on the other were too tall to go against the wall on the coombed sides!

Double bedroom – the ‘bed’ is a bit off-centre here, but I couldn’t be bothered to move it all again.  5’0 double bed and two bedside tables, small wardrobe on the fireplace wall, 2-over-3 chest of drawers by the door, mirror will probably go on the wall opposite the fireplace.

Single room – 3’0 single bed, bedside table, 2-over-3 chest of drawers, mirror on end wall by door.  I’ve checked and an average-sized adult should be able to get out of bed without banging their head.  I’ve messed up a bit here, I should have put the power socket and TV/ethernet connection on the other side so I could put the bed under the coomb.  However, it’s likely to be a child sleeping in here when it’s used.

Twin room – this is the one where I was really worried about it all fitting in, but I think I’ve managed it.  Two 3’0 beds, two bedside tables, small wardrobe, 3-drawer chest of drawers and a full-length cheval mirror will go where the black bag is.  (Must take that toilet to the tip – we’ve decided to start fresh).

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!!

New team member

We’ve been away for the weekend, as Mick turned 50 on Friday.  About the only thing I miss about being 15 minutes on the train to Gatwick is the ability to hop over to Europe for the weekend – doing it from here involves a 3-hour drive to Inverness airport and then either going to Amsterdam or getting a flight to London or Manchester to connect.  So instead I decided to take him somewhere local enough that we didn’t have hours of travelling, but not so local that we couldn’t switch off properly and we ended up at Inver Lodge Hotel.

Do you think I can write it off as a business expense on the grounds that I learned what a 5* bedroom should look like??

Gorgeous hotel, amazing staff, wonderful food, thoroughly recommend it!  Anyway, we got home late morning and I wanted to have a good clean-up down the road, because David had sent me a text on Friday to say he’d be back with us on Monday.  I’d picked up our new team member when I saw him on offer in Homebase, so it was time to assemble him and put him to work.  Say hello to Henry:

Why am I not using my own vacuum cleaner?  Well, about 12 years ago, way before we moved here, I had the living room of my flat replastered after a badly leaking chimney had been repaired.  The plasterer asked to use my vacuum cleaner as his wasn’t working – and basically killed it.  It was a Dyson Animal, so not cheap, but it never worked quite the same afterwards and lasted about another 6 months before there was a horrible burning smell and it went to the household appliance graveyard at the recycling centre.  As I currently have a very powerful Miele Cat & Dog from before the change in the law about maximum wattage, I suspected that plaster dust would clog the filters in five minutes flat and didn’t want to risk it.  The Henry is supposed to be virtually indestructable even under commercial and/or builder use, so we’ll see how it does.  It certainly sucked up everything over both floors of the house without even half-filling a bag, so I’m very happy with it so far.

One of the benefits of today’s clean-up was discovering that even 16 months on the house hadn’t quite given up all its secrets.  While I was doing the little cupboard under the stairs where John Angie used to keep all his fishing stuff, I found this.  Very rusted, but I’d like to see if I can clean it up and get it working.

 

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)

Another week bites the dust

Despite it being busy again work-wise, I have started plastering the final bedroom!!  I’ve nearly caught up with Mick, who still hasn’t finished plasterboarding the dormer window in that room, but we had a more urgent job today – finishing off the fencing for the garden so it was clear where the boundary was when the surveyor comes to measure it tomorrow.  Graeme and his team had done two sides of it, but I’d asked them to leave the third, because it was going to be formed from us rebuilding the old wooden fanks (sheep handling system) which had collapsed.

The remaining rails were hammered back into place and new fenceposts put in where needed.

Et voila!  We still need to re-do the rest of it.  The sheep will come in through the gate at the front of the picture and there’ll be another gate at the far end of this and possibly a gate in the middle so it can be split in two if needed.  There’s a gate into the enclosed pen to the left and that will be narrowed so it tapers to one sheep’s width (a race) for dosing/treating/injecting them one at a time.  There’ll be a guillotine gate at the end of that, operated by a rope, so one person can keep sheep flowing through the race without having to move, and then we’ll make another holding pen at the other end of the race, so sheep can go through it in either direction.

Reverse angle.

Everything’s got a bit overgrown around the front as well.

However, a few neighbours wandered past and decided to give us a hand!  (Not sure where they came from, there shouldn’t be any sheep loose in the village at the moment, but grateful for the chomping.)

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.

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.