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!

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.)

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.

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).