Oh Ecclefechan!

Back in December, I put up a post about what I’d like under my Christmas tree, and one of the three buildings I picked was Tigh Achenechan (or Tigh Ecclefechan as I keep calling it).

At the time, I thought the asking price of £200k was optimistic and reckoned £150-160k was more realistic.  It disappeared off the market a couple of months ago, but when I drove past it at the weekend the For Sale sign was still outside it and today it popped up in my Facebook feed from the agent.  It’s been repossessed and a new home report has been done.  The new asking price?  Just £129k.  Hopefully someone else will buy it before we finish Ethel’s because I suspect if I go and look round it, heart will want to overrule head!

We’re still inching forward down the road.  No David so far this week; if he hasn’t appeared by the end of next Monday I’ll drop him a text and find out what’s going on.  Mick finished sanding the twin bedroom and landing and painted the landing ceiling while I was lying on the sofa full of cold at the weekend and now I’ve got a base coat on the twin bedroom walls and will start on the woodwork tomorrow.

While I was away, Pete turned up and picked and pointed the little fireplace in the double bedroom and laid a new hearthstone on top of the old one.  He’s done a fabulous job.

I’ll need to stick some dried flowers or something similar in there to make it clear that it’s not for actual fires, but I’m so glad we’ve managed to show off some of the old stone.

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.

David’s back!

And he’s doing a wonderful job 🙂  The kitchen cabinets are finished, though we’ve decided not to glue the upstand in place until Dougie’s installed the extractor fan and we’ve put the splashback in.  The oven’s been slid into place to save space, as David’s brought both his saws inside due to the weather.  Just the knobs to go on the doors now.

He’s also nearly finished the window seat.  I’ll be painting this white and then getting a seat cushion made for each end.

Mick finished the wallpapering.

And Pete came by to put the ridge on the barn roof, so we’re now watertight again – no bad thing, given the weather over the past few days!  He’s coming back tomorrow with a hearthstone for the bedroom fireplace.

Finally, I have to commend the Highland Council’s Council Tax department for their efficiency.  After a few back and forths with them when they kept sending me 200% charge council tax bills and I kept writing back to say the house was still uninhabitable, I sent them this website address and said they could keep an eye on my progress this way if they liked – after which no further bills arrived.  They obviously have been dropping in occasionally, as about 10 days after I put this post up to say we were just about mortgageble, I got a new bill putting me back up to the 200% charge!

Elephant’s breath or elephant’s backside?

Greys are a minefield, aren’t they?  My cousin has the most gorgeous silver-grey living room and it was her house I had in mind when I chose grey for the living room here.  Not the wonderfully-named Farrow & Ball Elephant’s Breath, but a Crown colour called Granite Dust, which I was hoping would come out a soft dove grey.

It looked alright in the can, but the more I put on, the more it looked like I’d flayed an elephant and thrown the skin at the wall.  I decided to stop, let it dry and see how it looked in the morning.  Thankfully it lightened, but you can see from this shot of dry on the left and freshly painted on the right why I was a bit concerned!

Amazingly it only needed one coat, and even more amazingly I just about managed to do the whole room with one can (though I did end up scraping round the can with the brush to finish under the window seat and then going over it with the roller to give it the same texture!).  MIck’s improvised pasting table in the middle of the room!

There are a lot of cliches in the Highland tourist industry.  One of them is tartan carpets, which is not a route I’m going down, but I couldn’t resist a little bit of Highland kitsch with a few stags and a bit of tartan on my feature wall!  Mick is the wallpapering guru in this household, it’s a skill I have yet to even learn the basis of, let alone master (the one time I tried was a total disaster!).

I also got the double bedroom finished, with the teal paint, and I’m pretty happy with it.  The second photo is probably the more accurate representation of the colour.  I still need to put a top coat of Milk White on the inside of the dormer, but wanted to get cracking with the living room in case David turned up this week (we’ve since had confirmation he’ll definitely be here from Wednesday next week).  As we’re due some days of heavy rain over the next week, Pete is trying to get back to me on one of them to pick and point that fireplace.

So that’s five rooms out of eight painted – just the twin room, hall and landing left to go!

Cracking on

So, what does a house need to be mortgageable?  A roof – check.  A working kitchen and bathroom.  Er…

Doing a bit of digging, it seems that the definition of ‘working’ is fairly lax and as long as you’ve got a loo and a sink hooked up in the bathroom and a sink and somewhere to stick a microwave in the kitchen, you’re more or less okay.  Mick donned his Mario overalls and set to work on the plumbing.

New loo – this cost £55 from the local branch of William Wilson.  The seat is absolute rubbish, but the rest of it is absolutely fine and I was always intending to put a wooden seat on it anyway, so not a problem.  We have a small issue in that the pedestal for the sink isn’t deep enough to cover the outlet pipe, but Mick reckons he has a solution to that, though he hasn’t told me what yet!

The kitchen sink is also plumbed in and looking good.  I am SO glad I went for ceramic rather than the composite one, though we were slightly nervous when the time came to whack it with a hammer to knock out the disc for the tap hole!  Fortunately nothing cracked.

There’s some slightly complex pipework underneath – feeds and outflows for the dishwasher to the left and the washing machine to the right.

As for me, I’ve been ploughing on upstairs with the painting.  Second coat of primer on the woodwork today, so the aim is to get the white top coat on the woodwork tomorrow and then paint the wall on Friday, meaning that I mask off the white wood rather than the colour, as it seems less prone to peeling off with the masking tape!

I sent David a text yesterday to find out how he was getting on with his new build, and to my delight he finished last Friday.  He’s off to his sister-in-law’s wedding and then has a lamb sale to go to, but will be back with us after that, so that’s either a week today or two weeks today, depending on whether he’s going to Dingwall or Lairg to sell.  I also messaged Dougie, who is off on holiday for three weeks on Saturday, but will be back with us when he returns.  It does feel like the beginning of the end now!

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.

Nearly finished a room!

Latest mortgage update yesterday, for all those crossing their fingers, is that the forecast is currently being considered by head office.  However, they’ve confirmed that it is the final hurdle, so if it’s approved then we’ll be given a mortgage offer in principle.

I’ve been trying to forget about it and get on with the painting.  It took two and a half hours to get into all the little pockets at the top and bottom of the tongue and groove with a tiny brush.  (Sorry, I am still unable to get WordPress to display portrait photos in portrait – I can go to Edit and Rotate and then they refuse to save.  They’re the correct way up before I upload them!)

And then it still needed another coat, damn it!  But it was worth it – I reckon it looks pretty good.  Colours, while I remember, are Crown – Milk Bottle on the ceiling and woodwork, and Crown Period Collection – Promenade on the wall.  It’s a pretty good Farrow and Ball imitation and while it doesn’t have quite that same depth and warm that F&B does, it makes up for it by being £18 for 2.5l instead of £43.59(!).

Certainly a vast improvement on a year ago!

All that’s left to do in that room now is (a) touch up the spots where the masking tape took the green paint off; (b) Dougie to fit the smoke alarm and TV/phone socket; (c) David to fit the door; (d) get carpet laid and furnish it (including a blind for the Velux).

In other news, one of Mick’s colleagues was selling an oak coffee table, did we want it for £100?  Yes please, especially since the drawer handles match the ones I’m using in the kitchen!  (I know where it came from and I think it cost him closer to £300.)

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 – did we make it?

The week started with David finishing off the kitchen floor.

and then moving through into the hall.  It was a slower job than I’d anticipated, mainly because of the amount of work it took to carefully cut all the edge pieces to fit around the door and the stairs and into the understair cupboard.

On Tuesday, Dougie turned up and he and David loaded the kitchen into the back of David’s van and brought it down the road.  Units started to go in.

and Dougie got the bathroom lights fitted as well.  They’re 18-watt LED lights and are VERY bright!

On Wednesday I added to the growing paint mountain when I realised that (a) I hadn’t bought the colour for the twin bedroom and (b) I’d only got slightly off-white paint for the ceilings, not the woodwork.

On Thursday David got the living room floor down

and got the wall units over the sink up.  We ended up having them about 70mm higher that we’d originally intended, because David thought to check the height of the tap versus the base of the cabinets and realised that you were going to skin your knuckles moving it if we had them as originally planned.

On Thursday night I cleared out and Henry’d the bathroom, all ready for David to lay the floor in there on Friday.

On Friday we hit a snag.  I was mucking out the horses’ field when I realised that David was standing in the garden.  He’d discovered that the wall between the kitchen and the bathroom, which was one of the few we hadn’t done from scratch with the studwork, didn’t have studwork in the right place to hang the wall cabinets from.  My options were (a) he broke open the plasterboard, put some wood in, replasterboarded and then I skimmed, sanded and painted again, or (b) he could go into town and get a hanging rail from Howdens, which is a metal strip that could be screwed into the existing studwork to hang the cabinet on.  We ended up with option (c) – I drove into town to pick everything up and he got on with flooring the bathroom!

I was also under instructions to pick up an upstand for the kitchen worktop.  Because the kitchen/bathroom wall isn’t quite straight, there was a gap of a few mm between the worktop and the wall towards the corner, and David felt that adding an upstand would be a better option than filling it with grout.  So I trundled into town in our ancient pick-up truck, which has a 3-metre lock box on the top of it.  The hanging rail came in 2.4m strips, the upstand was 3m lengths – and was about an inch too long to fit inside!  The Howdens manager had a brainwave and ran back inside for a roll of pallet wrap.  A bit of clingfilming later and I was good to go.

So where did we get to by the time David packed up his van on Friday afternoon?  Well, we had a complete downstairs floor, because he finished the bathroom.

And the kitchen?  Well, we didn’t quite get there, but it was pretty close.

Dougie needs to come and wire in the oven, hob and extractor fan (if you can make out the white-edged rectangle on the left-hand wall, between the cabinets, that’s where David did have to break open the plasterboard to install some studwork for Dougie to attach the extractor to!), Mick needs to plumb in the sink, dishwasher and washing machine, and then we need to make up the two big drawers which will go in next to the four-drawer unit, put the shelf in the corner unit, put the innards in the plate rack unit above the sink and fit the doors and kickboards.  Oh, and that upstand needs attaching to the worktop.

Also still left for David to do – downstairs skirting boards and door frames, fit doors (which we haven’t bought yet), make a cover to hide the pipework in the hall, do the window sills in the living room and kitchen and fit a thin piece of wood around the bottom of the landing bannister spindles to hide the underfloor heating.  He’s going to come to us any days he’s not needed on the new build, but work is going to slow down again now.

I haven’t exactly been sitting on my backside all week, I’ve been painting.  The double and single bedrooms both have their undercoats and the ceiling in the single room has had its first top coat.  I’ve found that I’ve been getting really sore forearms using the roller, so have switched back to a brush.

Sunday I skived off the painting and instead we wrestled the sheep through a footbath (twice) and then I went up to the hill to put my peats up.  Last time we were up there, we were laying them out flat to dry in the sun.  They’ve shrunk somewhat as a result (these were pretty much edge-to-edge).

The idea is to get as little of the peat in contact with the ground as possible.  Some people make mini-Stonehenges out of them, some stand them up on their ends perpendicular to each other for support and some put them up in a herringbone pattern by getting a small chunk of peat to prop up the first one and then laying peats at 90-degree angles to each other.  I went for the herringbone.

I got the long side of the bank done and then my back told me that if I wanted to be able to move today I’d better leave the short side for another day, so I’ll try and get back up there tomorrow and finish them off.