That’s the way to do it

Every year my mother, my cousin and I go away for a week together somewhere in the UK and stay in a holiday let cottage.  This year it’s been a particularly interesting experience for me, because Mum booked a 4* cottage through the agency I’m going to be using – Dove Cottage in Nairn.

I have to say, it’s gorgeous.  A period cottage in Nairn’s Fishertown, a short walk from the beach, and not expensive.  The living room has given me serious fireplace envy:

And the kitchen looks very familiar – I spy another Howdens afficionado!

The bedrooms are set up as two doubles and a twin, with one of the doubles being downstairs off the living room.

The bathrooms are neutral with a big walk-in shower upstairs and a bath downstairs.  (I need to try and track down those loo roll holders!)

And outside there’s a small courtyard space.

A few points that I need to learn from:

  1. Although the cottage takes dogs, and judging by the visitors’ book many guests do bring them, you wouldn’t have known.  It was spotlessly clean.
  2. One small grumble in the visitors’ book about the beds being too soft.  We’ve found them softer than we’re all used to, but absolutely fine.  However, I think I’ll go for mattresses in the medium-firm range.
  3. The Belfast sink in the kitchen is beautiful, but there’s no draining board for things we’re washing up by hand and as that’s a real wood worktop, we don’t want to put wet stuff on it and leave rings.
  4. I need to think about mirror placement in relation to power sockets – I don’t ever use a hairdryer, but Mum does and though she chose the twin room as it’s nearest the bathroom, she’s been using mine to dry her hair in as it’s got a big mirror near a plug.

One bonus of being a tourist so close to my home patch is that we went to the big sheep sale at Lairg on Tuesday and I bumped into David, who was selling there.  I got a little confused, but I think he’ll be back either next week or the week after to get the jobs list finished.  Can’t wait to get back to work down the road and get it finished now!

Mortgage affordability rules

Interesting article from the FT about the Bank of England’s overhaul of mortgage affordability rules.

Basically instead of stress-testing applications to 3% above bank rate, lenders must now stress-test applications to 3% above their reversion rate, i.e. their standard variable rate.  For me that means my lender will now have to judge my application against a rate of 7.24% for the residential and 7.99% for the commercial.  I’ve run the numbers myself this evening and we’re definitely okay on the commercial side.  The residential – I don’t know.  I think we’re okay; they told me when I first applied that they’d lend us something like £168,500 maximum (that was taking into account the 0% card payments), but we were capped to £135,000 because of loan-to-value, so I hope that’s enough wiggle room to deal with the extra.

It occurred to me this week that I never rang back the holiday letting agency after they came for their visit last month, and as we get closer to decorating, I thought it might be a good idea to see if they had any tips for me, so I dropped them an email and the rep who’d come out to see me rang me back a couple of hours later to say how delighted she was to be taking on the houses and to have a chat.  Basically there is no fixed checklist to getting a 4* rating (which is what I’m going for) and the house doesn’t have to be completely 4* throughout, a few 3* items, as long as they’re not major items, will not lower us a grade.  Basically for a 3* think ‘Good’, for a 4* think ‘Very Good’.  Tesco crockery is fine as long as it’s Tesco Finest not Tesco Value, as it were.

It does mean I have to rethink my furnishing budget, as my plan of upcycling secondhand stuff is very likely not going to be acceptable.  I’m going to need two leather sofas, a king-sized bed, three 3ft single beds, 3 chests of drawers, 5 bedside tables, 2 wardrobes and a kitchen table and chairs (already have an oak coffee table), along with all the other stuff you expect to find in a comfortable holiday cottage, like a decent television, soft Egyptian cotton bed linen, fluffy towels, pictures on the walls for rooms that don’t have a feature wall (apparently this gets you extra points towards 4*) and everything you might expect to find in your kitchen at home.

First on the very big shopping list though is the kitchen appliances.  I sent Dougie a text the other day, as we passed him on the road and gave him a wave, to check that I was correct in my assumption that I needed to get David to lay the floor downstairs and then I needed him and David on site together for a day along with all the kitchen appliances so that they could talk layout and wiring before David starts installing the kitchen units (and I cannot WAIT for that to happen because they’ve been taking up 80% of my study since October!)

In the meantime, I am plastering on (I’ve nearly caught up with Mick now, just one more wall to go until I’m at a stop because he hasn’t finished the plasterboarding!) and after nearly three months of managing not to plaster my face, the final bedroom ceiling got me!

(The headphones are because I’ve been listening to Rob Dix’s excellent property podcast while I work – check out his website at propertygeek.net)

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.

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.

She’s making a list, she’s checking it twice…

…and she found she’d left the electrician off it!

Yes, we’ve reached the planning stage.  This is a list (not quite in the right order) of all the stuff we think we have to do to Ethel’s House.

  1. Treat woodworm.
  2. Strip all rooms back to walls.
  3. Repair kitchen ceiling.
  4. Re-wire house.
  5. Enlarge fireplace in living room to take woodburner.
  6. Replace windows.
  7. Replace front door.
  8. Replace roof and all rainwater goods.
  9. Repair chimney.
  10. Enlarge two existing roof lights and add two more.
  11. Insulate all rooms and roof.
  12. Install underfloor heating in kitchen and bathroom.
  13. Install new kitchen.
  14. Install new shower.
  15. Lay solid wood flooring throughout ground floor.
  16. Carpet up the stairs and throughout upstairs landing and bedrooms.
  17. Install woodburner in living room.
  18. Decorate throughout.
  19. Furnish.

Just a bit of work to do, then…  We are really dependent on the electrician and the roofer, as a lot of the rest can’t be done until they’ve finished.  By the time we’ve got it furnished, hopefully the decrofting of the house site will have come through and I’ll be able to get it revalued and apply for a small mortgage to pay off all the money I’ll be borrowing to pay for the list above.  At the moment I have a home report that says it’s worth £77,500.  Compared to other 3-bed near-identical houses in the village currently for sale, that’s very, very low – although all those came to market after the home report was done.  Given there’s a 2-bed bungalow with no land 200 yards up the road that’s been valued at £125,000, I think we should do okay when it comes to getting a good low loan-to-value.