Settling in

Our first three sets of guests couldn’t have been nicer, they’ve all left us lovely comments in the guest book, one has left us 10 out of 10 on Reevoo, which is the feedback service Cottages.com uses for its properties, and they’ve been very patient with the little teething troubles we’ve had.  I was away when the second guests checked out, so Mick popped his head in to make sure all was okay and turn the heating back down.  He reported all was fine, they’d very kindly stripped the bed and left used towels in the bathroom.  ‘Perfect,’ I thought, ‘Don’t need to do much before the next lot arrive on Saturday.’  On the Saturday morning I waved Mick off to London for work and went down to clean.  Picked up the towels from the shower tray and found they were all soaking.

You can insert your own Scooby-Doo ‘Ruh-roh’ noise here.

Yes, there was a massive leak in the back corner of the shower where the glass screen met the wall.  Neither Jeff nor Pete were picking up, but Pete’s was going straight to voicemail which indicated he might actually be using it, so I sent him a text to see if there was any chance he was free to come and rescue me and then got on with sorting out the rest of the house.  Three hours later, when I’d finished everything else that needed doing, I went home, watched a few YouTube videos on how to use a silicone gun, thought it didn’t look that difficult and was just marching back up the drive with it tucked under one arm and a knife in my pocket, when Pete screeched to a halt at the top of the drive.  He’d actually been in the village when I was trying to call him, but his phone had no signal, and he’d got all the way home to Reay before my message had got through.  He tried to call me back, but my phone had no signal here either, so he’d rummaged in his shed for some silicone, jumped in his van and come all the way back.  On a Saturday.  Megastar!

I left the guests a note asking them to try and avoid spraying that area of the shower too heavily that evening and asked them to let me know if there were any further problems.  On Tuesday they let me know there was a bit of a leak from another bit of the shower and the basin was leaking like mad.  This time I really did need to summon up Jeff.  I went down while they were out on Wednesday afternoon and managed to fix the shower myself (proud DIY moment!) and then Jeff and I took the basin to pieces on Thursday morning.  His theory is that there are too many joints in the U-bend waste pipe and the angle it goes into the wall is putting pressure on them and loosening them.  He tightened everything up, stuffed a towel into the back of it to catch drips and is coming back tomorrow with a bottle trap waste, which he reckons should solve the problem.

The next guests are due on the 14th and if we’re very lucky with the weather next week (this week is rubbish) we might get the problem chimney harled before they arrive.  Pete has finished the big job he was working on and has been bringing all his scaffolding to our house today (he’s going to replace our roof with proper slate as our old fibre cement slates are completely knackered), so it’s here and ready to go up down the road if we catch a break.

Ethel’s is now removed from the council tax register and onto business rates.  I’ve applied for 100% rates relief, which I should get, but it would be about half the normal council tax if I had to pay it in full.  Scottish Water is coming on Monday to survey the house to see if I’ll be better off with a water meter fitted and then I have to find a water provider.  Apparently there are 20 to choose from in Scotland at the moment (list here), so I need to work my way through those later and see if any of them give the remotest hint of what prices might be like.  I only need water supply, the drainage is to a private septic tank, so that’s one fewer bill at least.

The final thing I have to arrange is commercial waste and recycling collections.  The Highland Council has a very easy form to fill in and, even better, lets me split my year into two seasons, so I can have a fortnightly collection from 1st April to the end of October, which is the usual residential cycle, and then from 1st November to the end of the year on 31st March, I can just have an uplift once a month, which helps save me money.  Unfortunately I got an error message submitting the form, so I’ll have to try again tomorrow, but for a normal sized wheelie bin for a self-catering cottage, the current Highland Council price is £5.03+VAT for a rubbish bin and £2.20+VAT for a recycling bin, so not extortionate.

In Coldbackie news, we have all the financing in place, which is absolutely fantastic.  Just a small boundary query for the solicitors to sort out between them and then we should be all systems go.

Holiday letting – council tax or business rates?

Money

No, sorry, I still haven’t bought the house!  I did email my solicitor last Monday to find out if there was a chance of getting the keys before Christmas, but haven’t had a reply yet, so hopefully that’s still a ‘Maybe’ rather than a ‘No’!

However, what I have been doing is looking into some of the things that are going to affect how much I earn from my holiday cottage and one of the main things I was a bit confused about is whether a holiday letting property is subject to council tax or business rates.

Disclaimer – I am not an expert and the below might be wrong!

From what I can figure out, and please remember that I’m looking specifically at the law for Scotland here, it all boils down to how many days the house is available for and how many it’s actually let for.  The Scottish Government website is actually very helpful on the subject if you do a bit of digging.  So, on this page, it says that if my holiday cottage is available to let for 140 days a year or more (which it will be – that’s only 20 weeks), then it will be rated as a self-catering property and liable to business rates.

The next burning question I wanted answered was how much is it going to cost me?  Given that the council tax for our house is £113 a month (which does include water rates), I was pretty sure it was going to be more.  I dug further and discovered that the local assessor will give me a rateable value for the house upon which I then have to pay the poundage rate, which for 2015/16 is 48p in the pound.  At this point I was getting slightly worried – was that related to the value of the house?  Surely they couldn’t be expecting me to fork out tens of thousands a year?

Fortunately not.  I then found this EXTREMELY useful document on how ratable values for self-catering cottages (or castles!) are worked out.  It’s dated 2004, so I’m not sure if the values are still in use, but it gives me some idea and based on the house sleeping 5, done to an H1 standard, and being in a remote (P) location, that would give us a ratable value of £1,025 – and that roughly tallies with the information I found on the SAA website that a 2-bed holiday cottage on the other side of the bay has a rateable value of £800..  So 48p in the pound means £492 a year in business rates, way lower than council tax.  Result!

Then it got even better.  It turns out that the Highland Council has something called the Small Business Bonus Scheme, which, if I understand it correctly, means that businesses with a total ratable value of up to £10,000 get 100% relief from rates – so I will pay nothing at all!

However, business rates don’t include water or refuse collection and I’ve been struggling to find out what I’ll have to pay for those.  I’ve found an old PDF on the Highland Council website which seems to suggest that for a normal domestic 240l wheelie bin collected from household premises in 2010/11, it was £3.43+VAT per collection for a refuse bin and £1.64+VAT per collection for a recycling bin, but I can only see current prices if I apply for a collection. I am completely flummoxed by what happens about the water, I think I’ll have to ring up Scottish Water and ask!  All in all, it does look like I’m going to be better off on business rates.