Fingernail-biting time

So we did make an appointment to view inside house number 4, Mick took a half day last Friday and we spent an hour having a really good look around it.  The executor was up visiting friends and family, so showed us round herself, a really lovely lady.  It was her aunt’s house, which she’d bought in 1976 as a kind of insurance policy against being asked to leave her family croft if either of her two older brothers came home and showed an interest in taking it over.  They didn’t and so she stayed on the croft, with the house remaining mostly empty apart from the odd family holiday week and an occasional prayer meeting in the living room.  She eventually moved into it in 2013, when she started to need more regular care visits and the house was more accessible for carers than the croft, which was down an unmade-up track.  After two years there, she was moved to the local care home.  For a house that’s been mainly empty for the past 42 years, it’s in pretty good shape, though it does need a fair bit of work.

We got home, had a good chat through it and decided to go for it.  Cumberland, who does holiday let mortgages, had a look at the details and said that sadly it needed too much work for them to lend on it, but they’d be happy to do so once renovations were complete.  I found a bridging loan company who would lend me up to 60% of the value of Ethel’s plus this one, but it would have been at 1.25% a MONTH and they wanted all the interest and fees taken out up front which (a) totalled over £20,000 for 9 months and (b) wouldn’t have left us with enough to get the renovations done.  After a lot of calculator-bashing I realised that if we did it as a buy-to-let instead of a holiday let, then the Ecology Building Society might be able to help – they specialise in lending on houses with the potential for energy improvements and since the EPC graded it F, there was certainly plenty we could do on that front, so I gave them a ring at the start of the week and then went through things in more detail with a mortgage advisor yesterday morning.

The upshot of that call was that they’re happy to lend me up to £96,000 or 80% of the purchase price, whichever is lower, subject to completing a full application form and providing proof of income for us both.  I’d also been in touch with Cumberland about taking a mortgage on Ethel’s and after a few questions, they also got back to me yesterday afternoon to say we could borrow £100,000 as long as we used some of it to pay off the remaining 0% credit card debt from renovating Ethel’s and could get Scottish Cottages to write us a letter confirming expected income was more than £7,500 net of commission.  At 4.45pm I got through to the selling agent and, after a discussion with them about where to start negotiations, made an offer.

We’ll see what happens, I have a good feeling about this house, and it was 10 years ago on 14th February that our offer on the house we live in was accepted, so I’m hoping this is an auspicious time of year for house-buying for us!  To take my mind off things, I’ve been busying away down the road.  The hall is now completely painted and the knocks on the stair skirting touched up.  Just the cupboard doors to go on, lampshade to fit, sockets to be screwed in and coat rack to be purchased and put up opposite the bottom of the stairs.

I’ve also touched up the scrapes in the kitchen and painted over the plasterboard cut-out round the extractor.  You can tell that something’s been done there (the paint was still wet when I took this) but I think that’s sufficiently disguised not to need anything putting over it.

For comparison:

I painted the new wood frame around the bathroom window bay and, despite being very careful not to press the masking tape down too hard and removing it slowly as soon as the paint was dry to touch, a load of grey paint peeled off, so today’s first job is to sort that out!

David has been making doors for me in his workshop at home, one for the cupboard next to the bathroom and two for the byres outside, so I must drop him a text today and see when he’s coming back to fit them.  Mick has taken next week off so we can have a big blitz and get everything finished.  My to-do list is still looking frighteningly unticked, but I cheered myself up yesterday by realising that more than a third of the items on it simply involve buying something and putting it in the correct room.  I shall crack on with that as soon as my cashback credit card ticks over to a new statement period in the next couple of days!

When the going gets tough, the tough…go shopping!

It was slight panic stations here on Friday, as I woke up to another booking – for 4th March!!  That means four weeks today we have a paying guest arriving and we haven’t finished the shower or the decorating yet.  But the sun was shining and it was the first day of the year with a whiff of spring about it, so I’m afraid instead of picking up my paintbrush, I jumped in the car and headed west to have a drive past a few houses I’d picked out as potential next purchases.  Nothing like a spot of window shopping 🙂

House number one I only really went to look at because I was going within 5 miles of it, I wasn’t really considering it.  At £280,000 it’s by far the most expensive of the four (or was when I set out, read on…), but it’s currently being run as a holiday let and that price includes all the contents and the income from the forward bookings.  It’s got three ensuite bedrooms and has the most stunning view over to Ben Loyal.

Judging by the photos, it needs absolutely nothing doing inside, but I am slightly put off by the proximity of the house next door and that the conservatory is on the end rather than on the front.  Plus £280,000 for up here is a LOT.  At a guess, the house on its own is worth £200,000-£210,000, they’d probably have paid about £25,000 for the contents new and they say a year’s-worth of bookings is worth £25,000, but they’re not fully booked for the year ahead at the moment.

Next on the list was a 2-bed bungalow.  This one interested me, because when I was Googling it, I found a home report for it dated 2009 and the land registry showed no sale since it was built in 1999, so it looks as if they’ve been trying to sell it for a while.  The home report was about as clean as they get, the house was a bit dated, but only really needed decorating and some new doors for the kitchen cabinets, and at £120,000 it was about the right price.  I suspected what might be causing the problem was its location and access.  It’s right on the edge of the carpark for the cafe next door and the only access to it is through that carpark – so if the owner locks the gates, you’re stuck.  That blue sign in the first picture says, in very large letters, no parking for the house, so I suspect there’s a dispute of some sort.

The bungalow does have a big garden with a little summerhouse and deck looking out over a great view (that’s the cafe garden in the second shot, but same view).

Without solving the access problem, it’s a no-go – BUT the cafe is also for sale.  It’s a cafe plus gift shop plus owner’s accommodation plus two en-suite letting rooms.  The owner’s accommodation and letting rooms would turn into a single 3-bed holiday let with no modification needed.  Buy that and the bungalow and bingo, no more access problem, and you have two holiday lets and a small business, which could either be run by a manager or leased to someone else to run.  The problem?  An asking price of £395,000, so £515,000 plus stock at value plus furniture money required to buy it.  I did run the idea past Pete, who I can trust to tell me when I’m living in cloud cuckoo land, and he said it wasn’t idiotic at all, but to look at it on the basis of the income from the holiday letting part of it covering all the costs and treat any income from the cafe and shop as the profit.  It just about stacks up on that basis, but even if I threw Ethel’s into the mix as security, I don’t think any bank in the land is going to lend me £550,000 (about 70% LTV) on previous experience of one renovated house with 4 weeks booked!  If both of them are still on the market when we’ve got a second project done and dusted, then we might take a look.

Number three was a little house I’ve had my eye on for a while and it’s recently come back on the market after a sale fell through.  i know what the matter is with this one, it’s a pre-fab and therefore unmortgageable, hence the asking price of £75,000.  To be honest, the only thing you could really do with this is knock it down, the rooms are absolutely tiny and it’s not in great nick.

But is this a £75,000 view?  Close to it, I think!  One for when we have a lot more working capital.

House number four is another one that has recently come back on the market after a sale fell through.  I have to admit, I like this house a lot, not least because of its stunning view.  It’s on at £130,000.

The roof is fine, albeit in need of a good scrub, and the gutters need clearing.  Those aluminium windows need replacing.

It has a little garage on the side with the oil tank in it.  This needs taking down completely – it’s likely to be asbestos sheeting and it looks as if it’s been built over the neighbour’s boundary line.  Every time I’ve driven past this house there’s been a car pointedly parked in front of the bit of the garage that’s over.

The garden needs clearing and the boundary fence replacing (currently dilapidated post and wire), and there are a couple of trees I’d want removing just to be on the safe side, but once tidied, this would be lovely to sit out in, looking up at the Watch Hill.  Sadly it’s not quite steep enough to get views over the top of the house to the sea!

The main problem with it is that it’s very, very close to the road and this causes problems with parking – the road is single track here, so parking on the road outside the house completely blocks it.  In theory you can put one small car inside the garage and another outside it in front of the garage door and house (there are some slabs down forming a rudimentary parking space).  The car in the below picture is where I think the boundary actually is and is taking up most of the dropped kerb, so I think permission would be needed from the council to drop a further bit of kerb and turn everything past that post into a parking area for the house.

Inside it’s currently laid out as five bedrooms and one downstairs bathroom.  I’d turn one of the upstairs bedrooms into a big family bathroom, remove the downstairs bedroom to make a big kitchen diner and turn the current kitchen into a utility room – like this:

I drove Mick out to have a look at it on Saturday morning and he loved it so much that he was happily making plans for us to move there until I pointed out that there was no land with it, and the back garden was way too small for 3 horses and a flock of sheep!  But with the paperwork for decrofting Ethel’s now submitted to the Land Registry, we can definitely start the search for our next project and so I’ll be speaking to the agents next week to try and arrange a viewing for us.

 

Pay day!

Excuse me while I jump up and down and whoop a bit, because when I checked my business account today I saw that £75 had been deposited yesterday, which is 3 x £25 deposits from our first three bookings 🙂  We get the balance month-end before the stay, so at the end of February I’ll get the balance of the 3-day stay booked for March less the annual property registration fee of £105.  We’ve also had another week booked for September.

I had an answerphone message from BT on Monday telling me that the engineer would be visiting again on Wednesday 31st January and please could I be in from 8am until 1pm?  The line was a bit crackly, so I double-checked with BT’s Live Chat who confirmed the engineer was booked.  I’d picked up some new plaster, so was able to get those last few screw heads and plasterboard joins filled in, but confidently expecting that BT wouldn’t let me down twice in a row, I hadn’t taken down much else to get on with, and I couldn’t carry on painting the hall over wet plaster.  So I made a big snagging list (it runs to three pages):

And I discovered that my phone talks to the TV as they’re both Samsungs.  I can throw my phone screen to the TV or put the TV screen on my phone, and if you put the phone screen on the TV and then switch the camera on, you get this:

(Can you tell I was slightly bored by this stage??)

Anyway, no-one showed up again, so I stomped back down the road, and at 1.12pm an email pinged in saying they were continuing to work on my line installation and would contact me with further information on 5th February – at which point I was so icily polite to Live Chat that they opened a complaint without me asking them to!

Today I’ve been re-doing the screw heads in the plasterboard, because the first lot of plaster shrank a bit, and then decided to have a go at sorting out the hole David had to cut in the plasterboard to put in some stud to attach the extractor hood to.  I mean, plastering a wall around a freshly installed extractor over brand new hob and wood worktop, what could possibly go wrong??  I did the sensible thing and got a sheet and some masking tape.

And amazingly managed not to make too much of a mess!  The nice thing about this paint, annoying as it was to apply, is that all its claims about being washable are true.  Once I’d plastered around the cut-out line and filled in the screw heads, I was able to wipe it over with a J-cloth and take most of the excess plaster off.

(Those three little dots are nail holes, I have no idea how they got there.)  I’m not 100% certain I’m going to be able to cover it up properly, but I’ll sand it tomorrow and then see how well it takes another coat of paint.  I need to get rid of David’s pencil marks as well.  If it doesn’t look good then we’ll go back to the original idea of getting some brushed metal cut to size and attach it to the wall.

Another month gone

I have 31 days left until we’re officially open for business, which is really quite astonishingly scary.  BT was supposed to come this week (although on Wednesday, not Thursday as I wrote in my last post) and even phoned me on Monday to remind me to be at the house for the engineer.  I got there just before 1pm, took the lid off the plaster ready to fill in the remaining plasterboard screw holes in the hall from when David had to make the door into the kitchen smaller, and found that it was (a) solid and (b) mouldy.  So I masked off the front door and the skirting boards and was happily slapping a base coat of white matt emulsion over the walls that didn’t need filling while listening to Judge Rinder and Escape To The Country (I do like having the TV working down there).

Escape To The Country finished, so 4pm and still no engineer.  I’d run out of things to paint, took my overalls off, sat on the sofa and played backgammon on my phone for a bit.  At 5pm I saw headlights, which got my hopes up temporarily, but it was Mick home from work and come to see what was happening.  He went home and let the dogs out and I stayed until 5.55pm when I decided the engineer probably wasn’t coming, went home and got straight onto Live Chat with BT.  They were extremely apologetic – apparently there’s an issue at the exchange which meant my line couldn’t be connected that day and they weren’t expecting an update until 5th February.  They’re going to compensate me for the missed appointment, I didn’t ask them to, it was offered automatically, and I’ve asked them to make sure that I won’t be billed for the line and broadband until it’s actually installed and working, because my first bill is supposed to generate on 3rd February.

Dougie has been back, fitting ethernet and TV sockets in the bedrooms, along with the outside lights and finishing off a few things in the kitchen.  The oven needs an inline 15amp fuse, which isn’t standard and he’s had to order, and when he opened the box for the weatherproof outdoor switch (we have two outside lights which will illuminate the back garden and the sheep fank) it turned out to be a socket, so that has to be changed, but we do now have the under-unit lighting working in the kitchen and it looks great – the spots in there are very bright, but these give the perfect amount of light for eating supper round the table.

Mick has been working in the bathroom all weekend.  For a man who claims to hate tiling, he’s really very good at it.  Shower screen up and shower fitted next weekend, we hope.

Finally, as we’re supplying all logs, peat and kindling for our guests, we thought we’d better get cracking on with our woodpile.  We got it delivered free because it came out of Strathy Forest when they were felling for the windfarm, which is only three miles away, so it’s been lying in the field for a few years while the sap dries.  Now Euan is turning it all into woodburner-sized chunks for us, so we can cart them down the road and stack them in the big barn to finish drying.  Jack is inspecting progress here!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

It’s been a funny sort of week.  I really, truly, honestly was intending to get the hall decorated, but I lost most of Monday having to go into town, Tuesday we had a dumping of snow and I ended up hauling 45kg of sheep lick quarter of a mile down the road on my garden trolley and bringing a couple of bales of hay for the horses on the return trip, which left me rather too knackered to do much else physical,  and on Wednesday I went down to feed the sheep, intending to get started, and found Dougie there, which was a nice surprise.

He came back Thursday and Friday morning as well, so that was the week gone for painting, as I’d have been in his way, but we do have the electrics mostly done and dusted now.  Still outstanding are a special 15amp inline fuse for the oven, which is not standard and he’s had to order, earthing to the pipework in the bathroom, and the outside electrics.  He’s making up a board for the power to the byre, which I’m going to have to clear out next week, as he’s unlikely to be able to get into the first one to fit the board at the moment, from memory there’s rather a lot of junk in there.

Also this week, Colin Chessor’s came out and fitted the satellite dish on Thursday, which meant I had to buy a TV licence finally.  At least no more stern letters from TV Licensing 🙂  BT is coming on Thursday to get the phone line installed, but Openreach asked if they could come this week and do some work, as the original line to the house had been reallocated to someone else and they needed to do some rewiring.  Because of the snow, Jamie couldn’t find the access point nearest the house, but we’re now wired up as far as the corner of Ronald’s field and he’s left my line clearly labelled for the BT engineer to hook up on Thursday.  Hopefully.

I’ve been meaning to get the electricity key meter swapped out for a credit meter as well, because I’d always thought that pre-paid electricity was more expensive, so I rang SSE on Wednesday to arrange it.  They took all my details, asked what the house was used for, ran some calculations, and worked out that I’d be about £55 better off a year by sticking with the key, as the credit tariffs have changed and the key tariff hasn’t.  So I shall just have to add a tick box to my changeover checklist to make sure that there’s at least £50 credit on the meter before each new guest arrives.

Saturday’s job was a bit more of a fun one – head up the hill behind the house and try and take a decent marketing shot of the house in the snow, showing its wider position.  Sadly I missed the blue sky in the morning (we were in town), but Joyce had her drone up taking footage of the village and though it’s mainly her fields and the beach, she’s very kindly given me a USB stick with the raw footage on so that I can edit together a promo video to show that Armadale is just as pretty in winter.  She’s also offered to come and fly the drone over the point and take some specific footage of Ethel’s for me when we have some green grass, blue skies and sunshine again.  In the meantime, this was my best effort!

We have doors!

David arrived on Monday and ended up staying for the whole week, much to my joy.  The doors have been an absolute pain, because we left the original doorframes in and they weren’t quite square, so there’s been a lot of shimming and planing.  But they’re in and they look fabulous.  (Please note how I have accidentally managed to buy a landing lampshade in nearly the exact same colour as the stair wall!)

The living room door has been a particular pain in the behind, because the area of the wall to the left was only half an inch wider than the oak surround David was using.  He suggested that he get some more oak skirting board instead and use that, rather than leave me with a tiny strip to paint.  It’s very slightly lighter, but not too noticeable and I think it looks neater having it flush to the wall.

I have some very careful painting to do on the inside of the door frames where David’s planed them down.  He’s also fitted the upstand and splashback in the kitchen and tidied up the cupboard doors on the landing – the composite board he’d made them out of has shrunk quite badly in the warmth from the heating manifold and there was a big gap between each pair of doors.  He’s carefully fitted a wooden strip to each so that they close flush again.  Not sure whether to paint these or not – they tone in with the carpet and I quite like the contrast.

We’ve had two further bookings, from complete strangers this time – both of them couples and bringing dog(s).  One is for a week in April and the other is three nights in mid-March, so we really have to get sorted now!  Mick has been doing more tiling in the bathroom this afternoon and now there are no more doors or furniture being carried around the place, I can get my overalls back on and paint the hall next week.  So nearly there…

Hello 2018

We’re having an unexpectedly soggy start to it up here – we were forecast a nice dry day with a gentle breeze to the south, so Mick set off down the road this morning intent on clearing out the woodwormy boards from the barn and having a big bonfire.  It was going well until about half an hour ago when the skies opened, but he’s manfully carrying on, as there isn’t that much left to go (we had a big fire on Saturday as well and got rid of all the wood lying out in the field).

I’ve been cramming myself into the corners of the bedrooms with my tripod and camera and think I’ve managed to come up with some photos good enough to go up on Scottish Cottages.  They accepted the exterior ones anyway, which is good, so I’ve sent five shots of the bedrooms over and tomorrow I’ll get Mick to help me load the coffee table into the car and then I can stage the living room and photograph that as well.

In very exciting news, we have our first booking!!!  Cheating a bit, because it’s a friend, but she emailed me the other day to say she’d booked a week in the summer and was looking forward to seeing us 🙂  Neither she nor I have had a confirmation email through yet, but I’m assuming that’s because everything’s shut down for the holidays and the agency won’t confirm until the deposit has cleared through their payment system.

As far as I can tell at the moment, the start of 2018 for us is going to look something like this:

January & February: finish Ethel’s.  We have 59 days until we could potentially have a guest, as it’s available from 1st March.
March:  Hopefully welcome first guests (it’s an early Easter this year).  Get house-cleaning routine thoroughly documented so it can be handed over to Clean Bees if necessary.
April:  Get to grips with social media promotion before lambs start arriving for cute photo ops!

What we’ll do post-Ethel, we’re still not 100% sure.  Our options are:

  1. Buy another holiday let
  2. Buy another project to renovate into a holiday let
  3. Buy a plot and build a holiday let
  4. Build a house and agricultural shed on a big field we already own in the village (I need to get planning through for the shed this year, as I need to apply for a crofting grant for it before Brexit happens – it needs full planning rather than prior notification because the site is less than 25m from the road, so we might as well put a house on the same application)
  5. Renovate the house we live in which is, to put it politely, looking a bit tired

One thing’s for sure, it’s not going to be boring 🙂

It’s a Christmas miracle!

Or that’s what I thought yesterday morning, anyway, when I was feeding the horses and looked up to see David’s van coming down the road!  He spent yesterday trimming doors and is in town this morning picking up some more wood and some different hinges, as he thinks the ones he got originally will look too heavy for the smaller upstairs doors.

Even better, we’re now up and running on the agency’s website!  I’ve been taking some exterior photos this morning, which are so huge that my email provider refused to send them, so they’re going via WeTransfer and I hope one or two will be good enough to use.  I keep forgetting to check the fitting on the bottle lamps, but between Christmas and New Year I’ll get some lightbulbs and then start taking some interiors.

Caroline causes chaos

Well, that didn’t quite go as planned.  Storm Caroline arrived earlier than expected, and after I got pinned against the field gate with two buckets of horse feed until the gusts dropped sufficiently for me to open it, we decided to abandon the idea of trying to get the coffee table into the car on health and safety grounds.  The electricals were loaded up and we went down the road, only to find that the power was off at that end of the village.

This was a problem, because (a) I still needed to hoover and (b) the sky was so grey that there wasn’t enough natural light to take interiors.  So we zoomed back home, rang SSE to report the fault (who, I have to say, have been absolutely excellent at getting it sorted and keeping me informed of progress) and then rang Annie, the Scottish Cottages area representative, to see if she still wanted to come up or whether it would be better for her to turn back.  She said since she was only 20 minutes away she might as well come on up and we could at least get all the paperwork done and do the grading.

So the upshot is that we’re all signed up, Ethel’s House will be going live on their website in about a fortnight (if I can take good enough pictures myself) and will be available for guests from 1st March next year (which gives me a chance to get a few friends to stay in it and tell me what I’ve missed), and I am the proud owner of a 4* (and apparently a high 4*) holiday cottage 🙂

Stick a fork in it, it’s done (nearly!)

Weather permitting (we’re due 70mph here with snow), Scottish Cottages will be here in the morning to take photographs and thankfully, after a long stint this evening hanging pictures and making beds, we have something for them to photograph.

The landscapers turned up yesterday and have made really good progress.  They’ll be back first thing with one final load of gravel and then we can put the old flagstone path to the front door back down.

That’s Dougie’s van in the first picture, he’s been here all day and as a result the final light is up in the living room, all the sockets are in, all the pendant lights are in and all the smoke alarms and CO2 alarm are installed and tested.

I’ve shopped like no-one’s business over the past couple of days.  Yesterday I went into town, paid for the carpets, spent £550 on plates, glasses, cutlery and kitchen equipment in Tesco, £370 at CLB (Caithness Livestock Breeders, our local agricultural store, who have a wonderful homeware and clothing section as well) on four wool rugs and four pictures, and a final £85 at Serendipity (local ironmonger/garden centre/homewares) on a log basket, fire irons and a doormat.  Today I picked up all my lampshades and cushions from Just Wright Crafts to add to my wonderful gin bottle lamp bases I found on Etsy and finally I think I can say we’re looking close to finished.

Still to do in the morning – take the coffee table, TV, microwave, kettle and toaster down the road, along with a selection of books for the shelf on the landing, bake cookies, stick some logs in the log basket, put the crockery on the kitchen shelves, touch up any really obvious bits of paintwork, hoover throughout and clean the downstairs windows.