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.

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.

Sit rep

The bad news is that the mortgage company liked us but didn’t like the location of the house; they felt it was too remote to make a good holiday let!  I asked our broker to point out that was kind of the point and he sent them a link to this recent Conde Nast Traveler review of the North Coast 500, saying it “may be the best road trip in the world”, but they decided it wasn’t for them.  At this point, the broker said that if we really didn’t want to do it as a normal buy-to-let, he was out of options, so I spoke to a commercial holiday let specialist broker, who said that his fees on such a small mortgage would be uneconomic, but there was only one mortgage company he knew of which would do a loan of that size against a holiday let in Scotland and I should just ring them directly.

Several phone calls later, they’ve indicated they’re willing to lend subject to us putting in a full application and getting written confirmation from a holiday letting agency that our house will make £9,600 a year in rentals net of agency commission.  Several more phone calls and I’m waiting for the local area rep for one of the UK’s biggest companies (just under 20,000 holiday cottages on their books) to get in touch to arrange a no-obligation visit – I think it’s actually the perfect time for her to come and have a look, because I can ask her to assess Ethel’s house as well, and what she tells me will dictate, to some extent, how much money we invest in the furniture.

I’ve also found a very helpful holiday letting forum, Lay My Hat, which is proving to be a fantastic resource for finding out about where to buy good-quality bed linen and towels without breaking the bank, what to provide in kitchens and so on.

Meanwhile, down the road I’m still chipping away at the plastering and after a good 4.5 hour session today, the downstairs is pretty much done.  Mick will sand it down tomorrow (this is his punishment for accidentally putting a tapered edge piece of plasterboard on an external corner, leaving me with an absolute crater to plaster over!) and then it’s just a case of filling in any little holes with a Go Outdoors loyalty card (nice and flexible!).  I’ve started plastering the small bedroom upstairs, but we need to get a few more sheets of plasterboard so Mick can finish off the gable ends in the other two bedrooms before I can do them.  He’ll give Rembrand a ring next week and fingers crossed they’ll be coming west and can bring them out.

Traditional Easter

Easter weekend and DIY – as British a tradition as toast and Marmite 🙂  We have been no exception, although I had to bow out gracefully today because I’ve pulled a muscle in my back.  We’ve made progress though.

Mick has plasterboarded one of the dormers upstairs.  Originally this was just a flat ceiling, but I wanted it opened up and I’m glad we have, though it’s going to be a git to plaster.

Talking of which, I’ve nearly finished plastering the kitchen – just the sides of the chimney breast and the window to go.  Mick started to sand down the dried stuff, but his lovely new random orbital sander worked for about 15 minutes and then the motor burned out, so that’s going to be a phone call to the place he bought it tomorrow!

While I’ve been plastering, Mick has been plumbing and the shower mixer is now plumbed in and plasterboarded over.  We thought we could hear a drip, but when Mick took the right-hand sheet of plasterboard off, everything was bone dry and we couldn’t hear it any more, which is a bit strange.  We’ve left the plasterboard off for now and will investigate properly next weekend.

Spoils of my last shopping trip – black slate to tile the shower with, a mosaic tile for a border, teal paint for the double bedroom, grey for the living room, platinum for the bathroom (which will have one dark grey feature wall opposite the shower) and sage green for the single bedroom.

Pete’s done an amazing job with the fireplace.  The mortar has faded as it’s dried (the close-up was taken on Friday, the wider angle today) and all he has left to do is clean the stone up and then he can fit the stove.  I’ll be asking David to finish it off by doing a return back to the stone and then a simple wood frame around it, painted white.

I heard back from my friendly mortgage broker on Thursday.  He wants to approach two different lenders and asked me to fill out a chunky form with all our financial information and send it to him, together with Mick’s payslips, my tax returns and copies of our credit reports.  I’ve pulled it all together over the weekend and emailed it over today, so all I can do now is cross my fingers.

Unexpected roofer in the living room area

There was a van parked in front of the house when I went down to feed the sheep this morning, so I went in and found Pete cheerfully sweeping out the living room chimney.  Despite Calum taking several full buckets of soot out of it when he swept it for me last year, there was about another bucket’s-worth sitting in the hearth after Pete’s efforts.

I hadn’t seen him for a while, so we had a good catch-up.  He’s been popping back every so often to keep an eye on the leak in the north chimney and had been up into the roof and tanked the chimney breast up there as well.  Today, after 48 hours of wind and rain, there was a small patch of water about the size of a 50p and since now the house is warm and we have an air gap between the outer wall and the insulation, he’s not worried about that and says we can plasterboard the gable end up.  He’s also going to put a coat of a different, thicker sealing gel onto the chimney, which he reckons should be the final step in getting it completely watertight.

His plan for the day was to clean the living room and bedroom chimneys and then go in search of some nice stone to dress the bits that had been patched over before returning tomorrow to take delivery of the new roof trusses for the barn, so I’ll catch up with progress when I feed the sheep tomorrow.

Dancing on the ceiling

Or at least that’s what it’s felt like at times today!  While Mick spent the day cutting and fitting insulation and plasterboard around and over the wall in the hallway where the heating pipework runs up to the manifold, I got my overalls on and set to working taping and skimming the gaps between plasterboard sheets.  We need to get the ceilings done first so that we can get some paint on and then Dougie can come back and fit the lights and smoke alarms.

Starting off with the scrim tape in the bathroom – we’re having dinner plate-sized lights in there.

Since we weren’t doing anything dusty, we had a couple of helpers.  Jura approves of underfloor heating!

It’s been about 10 years since I last did any plastering, but Mick came in to inspect my work and pulled that sort of surprised/approving face you make when you were expecting a mess and it actually turned out to be okay.  This will get a light sand down tomorrow and then a second skim to smooth out any last holes.

The upstairs ceilings are all done apart from the landing (we need to set up our over-the-stairs platform again) and the downstairs are all taped apart from the kitchen (Mick was working in there) and the hall (no ceiling!).  I might be able to get a fairly neat finish on the ceiling, but am less tidy when it comes to me…thank goodness for overalls!

 

The heat is ON!

As anticipated, the heating system was successfully switched on on Thursday afternoon, but there was just one small problem left to solve – Derek had checked the tank and found that what I thought was 4-5″ of oil was actually 2-3″ of oil and about 2″ of water.  The system had been off for so long that condensation had been slowly topping the tank up.  So Mick went down the road armed with a can of WD40 and a determined expression and managed to get the lock off the main filling cap and then Steve came back on Friday morning, syphoned off three very large cannisters of water, bled the system again and said I was good to go, but please to get oil delivered ASAP!  One quick phone call to Simpsons later and I have a delivery scheduled for early next week.

Dougie had left all the thermostats set to 21C and as a result the house had warmed up amazingly over 24 hours and was showing 18C or 19C in all rooms.  We’ve turned them down to 16C to eke out the remaining oil a bit and also because it’s just going to be too hot for us to work in there as it is at the moment.  It’s fascinating to watch the the little motors open or close the valves as the temperature setting changes.

I sent David a text to see if he could come and lay floors for us during the first week of April.  He’s going to schedule us in a couple of days, but is a bit distracted building a timber-framed house for someone at the moment, so I suspect we’re going to have to use our time with him carefully as he’s expecting it to take at least 12 weeks full-time.

Mick and I have both taken next week off work and we’re planning to blitz the house in terms of taping, jointing, skimming, sanding and, hopefully, painting, so that by the time David arrives to put the engineered oak floor down, we’ve got as much of the downstairs messy stuff done as possible.  Wish us luck!

Well, well, well…

Progress!  Not one, not two, but three pieces of good news to report.

Firstly, I had a recorded delivery letter from the Crofting Commission to say that my application to decroft the house and garden site has been granted.  I am chuffed to bits that (a) it’s gone through in about six weeks (it can take up to four months) and (b) it’s gone through first time.  Reading through the order, which is signed and stamped with a very official-looking red seal, it doesn’t come into effect until I’ve actually bought the land from my landlord, after which I send a form back to the Commission to say it’s been done and then the property gets entered onto the Registers of Scotland as freehold and becomes mortgageable.  I’ve emailed SGRPID, as the representatives of my landlord (the Scottish Ministers) and they’ve forwarded my enquiry to the correct person, so now I just have to wait for them to get back to me on what I do next.

Secondly, Derek and Dougie have both been on site today and we NEARLY have a central heating system.  It would have been up and running today but for two things – Derek wanted to double-check what we were doing with the drain for the shower and the flue plate has dropped off the boiler and needs welding back on.  So he’ll be back tomorrow with a welder he knows and, fingers crossed, we should have a big switch-on tomorrow at some point.  It’s looking good though.

Sitting room heating layed and covered for walking on.

One of the individual room thermostats.  These can all be set to different temperatures and are programmable.

The manifold is nearly full and Dougie has fitted a master control panel.  David’s going to build us a slim cupboard the length of the landing to hide all this – I was hoping to use the rest of it for spare bed linen, but I don’t think there’s going to be any spare space!!

Last but not least, the land is slowly being renovated as well.  When we were making hay in the summer, John Angie told me that there was a natural well on the slope down to the little cove, but a landslip had covered it a few years back.  He showed me roughly where it was, but I didn’t get round to having a proper look.  Then a neighbour mentioned it again last night, so yesterday I climbed down and went in search of it.

I could hear the water running and soon found what looked like a shallow muddy puddle in the right place.  I kicked a bit of the silt out with my boot and it filled itself up again – bingo.

So this morning I strapped a spade to the back of the quad bike and after I’d fed the sheep, I dug away until I hit rock, using the silt to make a dam at the front – John said he had a piece of stone at the front, but it got taken out by the landslip, although I think I’ve found a corner of it sticking out of the ground a couple of metres below the well and may be able to dig it out.

I left it to fill and when I went back down to the sheep this evening it had topped itself up.  Add one old saucepan and that’s an end to the problems of filling water buckets all the way out on the point 🙂

Things you don’t expect to hear from your electrician

“Do you have a small make-up mirror I could borrow?”

I’m quite used to Dougie phoning me from down the road to answer queries, but that one threw me a bit, not least because I’m not really a make-up kind of girl.  However, one rummage through the dark recesses of the bathroom cupboard and I turned up a Clinique blusher compact with a mirror in it (bought for my wedding in 2011 and used about twice since!) and took it down to the house to find out what he needed it for.

As it turned out, he wasn’t planning to restage Priscilla, Queen of the Desert Armadale-style, but had left his own small mirror behind and wanted to check the position of some wiring from underneath the new fuse box.  All was well and we now have sockets upstairs with power to all of them.  The smaller white fuse box in the middle is a breakover switch – this gives us the ability to switch the house onto a generator if there’s a power cut.

Dougie has very carefully covered all the new sockets in protective film and taped around the edges, so they don’t get covered in paint when I’m decorating.

The heating manifold is beginning to fill up, though I’m still trying to get hold of Derek to find out when he’s going to come and finish off downstairs and switch the system on.  The reason I’m getting a bit angsty about it is that we need the heating on for two weeks to warm the wood flooring up so it expands before it’s laid.  David will be doing the laying and then installing the kitchen on top of it, but he has sheep and we’re getting perilously close to the beginning of lambing season!

And I’ve been working away at my bannister – my new specialist sanding tool arrived yesterday, so I hope to have a play with it tomorrow, but I did manage to get most of the upstairs hand rail done with what we had.

Sunday was sheep-moving day.  There was so little grass left on the fields around the house that we decided to move them out to the hay field on the point, which hadn’t been grazed since it was baled in August.  To get onto the track down to the point (Reismeave, to give it its proper name), you can either come out of the front gate, turn left on the road and then turn left again just before the next house, or you can go out of the back gate and through a little gap between the corners of two fields which has been deliberately left for sheep to hop through, dropping straight onto the track and avoiding the road altogether.

Well, the latter option seemed like the most sensible one to us, so Mick set off in that direction rattling a bucket of sheep nuts with 14 hungry sheep following him and Jack and I blocking the escape route to the road.  Unfortunately although the gap is large enough for a normal-sized North Country Cheviot hill ewe, which tend to be on the skinny side, our lead sheep, Bella, hasn’t had a lamb for several years and is therefore a somewhat portly lady.  Bless her, she tried her best, but even with Jack barking encouragement from behind, she was not going to fit through that gap!!

So we went the longer way round and managed not to (a) lose any of our sheep or (b) pick up any belonging to anyone else and the ladies are delighted to have some thick grass between their toes instead of mud.  It’s not a bad view for them either.

Treading water

Last weekend Mick levelled the bathroom floor:

So we’re ready for Derek and his team to come back and put the rest of the heating in, but they’re tied up on a job up the road in Bettyhill at the moment – however, they’re hoping to finish it on Thursday and then will be back 🙂

We’re expecting a bit of a breeze on Wednesday (this is Highland for up to 70mph), so Mick has come up with a clever way to keep the remaining part of the corrugated iron roof in place until Pete has time to replace it.  (Plus this picture is proof for my accountant that the two haynets I bought yesterday are a legitimate property expense – the other one is on the other side!)

For now, though, it’s sunny and mild, so what better day to get the tractor out of the shed after its winter lay-up?  It started first time and Mick has had a happy morning raising the clutch a bit and chugging around with a big grin on his face.

So fingers crossed Derek and team can make it to us next week and then we can start the final push.  I was on a smallholding forum this morning and found a post from someone wanting a croft to do some filming on at the beginning of May, so I’ve replied to see if Ethel’s would be suitable – with a warning that it might not be finished by then if they want to shoot interiors!