Full steam ahead!

I got a call back from the area rep last Tuesday saying she could come up and visit today, so the last week has been a flurry of decluttering and cleaning!  I will come clean at this point and say that the house we are trying to get the holiday let mortgage on is the one we currently live in – our existing residential mortgage will port to the house we want to buy, but we need to raise the money to pay for it against this house as Ethel’s won’t be mortgageable until the title is created.  So the visit was to assess not only Ethel’s but also our house, which is a 3-bed croft house, the same as Ethel’s, but with a separate 1-bed annexe.

I will confess, I was nervous.  The house is not currently up to standard for holiday letting, we’ve been concentrating on putting money into outbuildings, fields and fencing, so we still have the carpet and in some case the decor of the previous owner, who’d not lived here for two years before we bought it nine years ago.  But I was able to walk through the house and explain exactly what we’d do in each room, and a couple of rooms we have done over, like the dining room and the bathroom, so she could see what our idea of a finished room was like.  Then we went down the road to Ethel’s, where she exclaimed over the views and approved of all our plans for down there as well.

We had some lunch and she went through how their pricing and booking system works and I was able to pick her brains about all sorts of useful things (note to self: turn the annexe bathroom into a wet room, buy leather sofas rather than loose covers for ease of cleaning if we’re going to accept dogs, which we will).  Then it came to the crunch time – what rental estimation would I get?  The magic number we needed on our house and the annexe was £9,600 between them, after the agency fees.

‘Remember, these are conservative estimates,’ she warned me, as she took three computer printouts from her clipboard.  ‘They’re based on the location of the properties, what we get for similar properties in the area, and it’s based on a mix of high, mid and low-season weeks.  I’ve based it on 25-27 weeks a year, but we’re achieving 35-40 in this area at the moment, thanks to the North Coast 500.  I’ve done them based on you getting a 4* Visit Scotland rating, which from the sound of everything you’ve told me, you will.’

So what were the scores on the doors?  After agency fees and VAT, it came out as follows:

  • One-bed annexe – £8,893 a year
  • Our house – £11,967 a year
  • Ethel’s house – £13,344 a year

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I nearly fell off my chair!!  More than double what we needed on our home to go ahead!  So now it’s full steam ahead with the mortgage application for the holiday let mortgage and getting approval to port our mortgage to the new house, and back to the plastering so we can get Ethel’s up for rent ASAP and then start work on home.

Just to put the cherry on the Bakewell, I had an email from a journalist client this morning asking if I could transcribe an interview for her this afternoon so she could get it written up and filed overnight.  I emailed back to say I couldn’t start until around 3pm and explained why.  She wished me luck, so I told her how it went when I returned her file this evening.  She’s offered to pitch a piece on the area to a national newspaper she writes for regularly and mention the houses in it when we’re up and running, which would be absolutely amazing publicity.  I am feeling very, very lucky tonight.

Painting the house

Magnus has arrived (and been presented with a lemon cake to fuel him for the week) and the exterior is being totally transformed – it’s been power-washed to take all the dirt and lichen off and now the paint is going on.  I suspect he’s teasing me by leaving the front until last, because I can’t WAIT to see what it looks like finished!  Here are some pictures from Tuesday evening – he’s been back today, but the light was gone by the time I’d finished feeding the sheep.

156-armadale-outside-42 156-armadale-outside-41 156-armadale-outside-40

David called today to see if he could bring the kitchen over tomorrow, so Mick took all the remaining paint down the road this evening and my first job tomorrow morning is to clear as much floor space in our annexe as possible.  We have four base units (one of them a corner unit) and five wall units to fit in, plus a lot of worktop surface, so it’s going to be tight, but there’s a big pile of boxes I should be able to fit upstairs and I hope we’ll get it all in okay.  He’s going to be carrying on with the framing on Monday and Tuesday and says Dougie will try to be there one of those days as well.

Finally,hello to anyone reading from Wreck of the Week where Sue has put up a post about a pair of cottages I spotted that I thought she might like and kindly linked to this blog.  She’s a must-read for anyone looking for their own renovation project!

Now that’s a marketing shot!

So I think I can add another plus point to all the wonderful reasons that a potential holiday-maker might want to visit Ethel’s House when it’s done – I got a tip-off from a friend on Facebook that the Northern Lights were strong tonight (they were apparently amazing last night, but we had cloud), so popped down the road with my camera just on the off chance that I could get a good shot of them with Ethel’s House in the foreground.  I now can’t feel my fingers, but I think it was worth it!

Ethel's House - aurora-March 2016

Note to self: I must take some in June as well, when it’s still light at midnight, although they won’t be anywhere near as spectacular as this one.

The Great Hot Tub Debate

One of the long-running arguments in this house about just how high-spec we’re going to make this holiday cottage has been centred round a hot tub. My husband thinks it’s an absolute essential. I’ve been pointing out that since we’re on the north coast of Scotland it’s likely going to be (a) raining, (b) blowing a gale, (c) freezing, (d) midge city.

seaside-694378_1920

However, today he came home with what might just be a killer blow to my anti-hot-tub sentiments.  A friend of his is looking at buying a holiday cottage further south, in Aviemore, and has found that houses with a hot tub can command a premium of £200-250 a week over ones without.

That’s not a figure to be sniffed at, so I did some research and it does seem that hot tubs are pretty in demand for holiday homes – I was wondering if the extra income would be negated by lower occupancy, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, or at least not significantly so.  I also considered the fact that Aviemore is the hub of winter sports in the Highlands and the tourists it attracts are sporty, outdoor types who would appreciate a soak at the end of a hard day out in the hills, but then thinking about my target market for this house, which is a relatively high-income couple with children looking for somewhere they can surf, walk, mountain bike, play on the beach etc. – it actually describes one of my brothers-in-law’s family to a T and they absolutely adore their hot tub.

I’m guessing ‘watch the Northern Lights from the comfort of our hot tub’ might be a pretty good selling point.  Next time I’m down in Inverness I’ll take a detour to Nairn and go and talk to our local dealers/installers.

Getting down to business

Still no news here on when I’ll complete on the croft purchase.  I can’t even get hold of my solicitor at the moment to find out what the delay is!

In the meantime, if anyone fancies going into business up here on the north coast, there are a couple of opportunities coming up in the auctions.

The Schoolhouse restaurant at John o’Groats has been closed for a while now, but as you can see from old Trip Advisor reviews, it was well-loved.

john o'groats - schoolhouse restaurant

It has a guide price of £80,000, a considerable drop from the offers over £145,000 DM Hall had it listed at when it first came up for sale.  John o’Groats has gone through a lot of changes over the past few years, with Natural Retreats coming in and restoring the main hotel and building eco-lodges, so it could be a good opportunity for someone to revive the restaurant again.

If cooking isn’t your thing, how about a spot of retailing? Two shop units that are usable as one shop with a guide of £55,000.

thurso - shop

I have a funny feeling I may have mentioned this in an auction post before, but hey ho.  This, along with the unit to its right as you look at it, used to be one of those rummage-y shops that did a little bit of everything, though it leaned more towards DIY stuff.  It’s a bit off the main drag, but fine for a destination shop and there’s plenty of free parking nearby.

Two-speed housing market

I’m back at home now and although I wasn’t best pleased at the hour’s delay to my flight back to Inverness, meaning I didn’t get home to the north coast until 2am, it did at least give me a chance to look at the property pages in the Evening Standard while I was waiting and it rammed home just how disconnected the housing market up here is compared to London.

One small snippet that caught my eye was a piece about the effects of the CrossRail project on housing prices – analysts reckon that property prices in the Canary Wharf area are going to rise by up to 43% between now and 2020 as a result of the project.

canary-wharf-421998_1280

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of some of the new-build apartment blocks going up in London at the moment; I think many of them are fantastic pieces of architecture.  But the cheapest one-bedroom apartment I could find in Canary Wharf on Right Move (excluding shared ownership options) was £330,000.  If the analysts are right, in 2020 that’ll cost £471,900.

In contrast, 661 miles away from Canary Wharf’s gleaming towers, I’m buying a three-bedroom detached house with stunning views, outbuildings and just under 10 acres for £95,000.  It really does make you wonder which end of the country is more out of kilter.

Finding a house

House-hunting works a little bit differently up here in Scotland. For starters, we have fewer dedicated estate agents.  Most properties up here are sold via solicitors, most of which will have a dedicated estate agent in their office.

Up here on the north coast, I have a list of sites that I check on a regular basis for possible interesting new additions.

  1.  Rightmove
    Who doesn’t know Rightmove?  The problem here is that most local solicitors don’t use it.  However, for the ones that do, it has two very useful little tricks – firstly, I’ve got an RSS feed set up so that every time a new house within 40 miles of my postcode is listed on Rightmove, it pops up in my daily feedly.com blog feed.  Secondly, I’ve installed Property Bee.  If you’ve not come across Property Bee, it’s an add-on for Firefox that tracks changes to listings on Rightmove and a few other sites.  So when I look at Rightmove search results, this is what I see:Property Bee screenshot
    It shows me the date a Property Bee user first saw it and any changes to the listing or the price subsequently.  VERY useful!
  2. Caithness Solicitors Property Centre
    Or CSPC, to give it its shorter name.  Most areas of Scotland have one of these group websites, so there’s ASPC for Aberdeenshire, ESPC for Edinburgh, GSPC for Glasgow and so on.  However, CSPC is only used by two of the solicitors covering Caithness and Sutherland – Young Robertson and Georgesons.
  3. Highland Solicitors Property Centre
    HSPC covers the whole of the Highlands, including the Western Isles and Northern Isles.  It tends to be where solicitors outwith Caithness list properties they’re selling within the county and also shows anything the Highland Council is selling (which saves me a separate trip to the council website).
  4. Individual solicitors
    There are four other solicitors’ websites I check on a regular basis – Drever & Heddle, Pollards, Inksters and the local Re-max (okay, technically not a solicitor).
  5. Auctions
    I love auction catalogues!  There’ll usually be a handful of lots for sale up here each month.  I check SVA Property Auctions, Wilsons Auctions, Future Property Auctions and Auction House Scotland.

Are you in the process of finding a house in the Highlands?  Anywhere else I should be checking?  Let me know!

Auction browsing

Saturday evening and time to have a look through the Scottish auction websites to see if there’s anything local (by which I mean north of Inverness).

SVA has a Grade B-listed building with permission for conversion to a 1-bed house in Tain:

tain - the red house 1

I do like the look of some of the period features:

tain - the red house 2

Wilsons has a 2-bed house in Castletown with a guide price of £35k against a home report valuation of £50k.  I’d possibly have a look at this if I was buying, but the lack of internal photos makes me slightly wary.

5 Churchill Place, Castletown

Going in the other direction, there’s a very pretty cottage on Flotta in the Orkney Islands with a guide price of just £16,500 at Future Property Auctions:

flotta - orback cottage

However, that looks like a pretty big farm next to it – I’d want to go and see exactly how close it is and what they’re farming (my guess would be cattle with a barn that size).

flotta - orback cottage aerial

They’ve also got a shop for sale in Wick – now this is an interesting one, because I know this shop pretty well. It used to be a craft shop, then got split into upstairs and downstairs units with a children’s clothing shop downstairs and a tack shop upstairs, both of which have now moved into bigger premises. Its problem is its location; it’s tucked away off the high street and although a destination shop will do just fine there, it doesn’t get much passing footfall:

wick - kirk lane

The interiors are nicely done though, and with a guide price of £38,000 I’d definitely be tempted if I wanted to go back into retailing:

wick - kirk lane interior

Diary of a wannabe house hoarder

My name’s Caroline and I’m a house hoarder.

Well, not yet I’m not, as at the moment I only own the one house, but I’ve had an offer verbally accepted on another which means I’m hopefully at the start of a long-held ambition to make a living out of buying, renovating and renting houses.

Of course, this would be significantly more straightforward if I still lived in Bristol (or Reading or Cambridge or Croydon, where I’ve also lived), but no, I had to wait to get cracking with this until I’d moved to one of the more remote places on the UK mainland – I live on the north coast of Scotland, 26 miles from the nearest town, nearly 100 miles from the nearest town with what you might call a normal high street.  Slap bang on the edge of nowhere.

It’s undeniably a wonderful, beautiful, peaceful place to live, but the housing market is slow-moving and flat, the rental market is virtually non-existent and it’s quite common for a house to take one or two years (or even longer) to sell.

So this experiment of mine could quite possibly go horribly, hideously wrong.  Grab some popcorn, get comfy on the sofa and come and join me as I find out whether my long-held dream is going to turn into a nightmare!