Sun, sea and sanding

It’s been a gorgeous week up here (well, apart from a bit of rain yesterday) – and we’ve been mainly stuck inside with sanding blocks!

So what have we been up to?  David got started with the cupboard on the landing, but Rembrand didn’t have all the wood he needed to finish it, so he had to order some of it for delivery on Thursday, and then Rembrand’s lorry broke down, so we didn’t get delivery until Friday, when he wasn’t here.  In some ways that’s not a bad thing, as what we didn’t realise is that the heating manifold does generate a fair bit of warmth and the first set of doors he’s made have warped – so that’s his first issue to sort out when he’s back next week.  The size is perfect though, I was worried it was going to make the landing too cramped, but I don’t even notice it’s there when I’m walking through.

The skirting boards and dado rails are all on and I can’t believe what a huge difference it’s made to the bedrooms in terms of them looking closer to being finished.

Door surrounds are going on.

David’s attention to detail is wonderful.  Like these little blocks the door frames are sitting on (photo makes it look wonky, it isn’t!) and the way the return for the fireplace has been cut to follow the outline of the stone.

While David’s been doing wonderful things with wood, Mick and I have been turning ourselves into a pair of gargoyles sanding and skimming the plastering.

I’ve also attacked the stairs again.  I think I’m on my 6th sheet for the big orbital sander now, but the wood is slowly coming through.  I love the wear on the top of the newel post from all the years of hands on it.

I gritted my teeth today and plastered the landing.  I’d been putting it off because the coombed ceiling means that I have to lean forwards or backwards slightly to get my head under the sloped bit.  That means leaning over the stairs and my legs start shaking because I don’t do heights!  So Mick put the platform he’d used to get the plasterboard up back together and knowing that was there to stop me taking the express route to the bottom of the stairs if I lost my balance meant I could do the rest of it fine.

However, there was one join that needed doing over the stairs themselves.  I had it all set up ready to go and then Mick called up the stairs, ‘Remember, step off sideways, not forwards or back!’ and my nerve went and I wimped out!!  He’s going to do it tomorrow.

Why didn’t he do it straight away?  Because he was PAINTING!  Yes, we finally have some paint on the kitchen wall.  Only a diluted undercoat (the plasterboard soaks up a lot, so the first layer is 50:50 paint and water), but it feels like we’ve finally moved onto a new stage.  While Mick got busy with the roller, I took the leaflets I’d been given by Riverside Replicas when I was in there looking at furniture on Wednesday, plus a pile of newspapers and magazines, and started to lay out the furniture sizes on the floor.  It quickly became apparent that of the two ranges I liked, only one was going to work for the bedrooms, as the headboards for the beds on the other were too tall to go against the wall on the coombed sides!

Double bedroom – the ‘bed’ is a bit off-centre here, but I couldn’t be bothered to move it all again.  5’0 double bed and two bedside tables, small wardrobe on the fireplace wall, 2-over-3 chest of drawers by the door, mirror will probably go on the wall opposite the fireplace.

Single room – 3’0 single bed, bedside table, 2-over-3 chest of drawers, mirror on end wall by door.  I’ve checked and an average-sized adult should be able to get out of bed without banging their head.  I’ve messed up a bit here, I should have put the power socket and TV/ethernet connection on the other side so I could put the bed under the coomb.  However, it’s likely to be a child sleeping in here when it’s used.

Twin room – this is the one where I was really worried about it all fitting in, but I think I’ve managed it.  Two 3’0 beds, two bedside tables, small wardrobe, 3-drawer chest of drawers and a full-length cheval mirror will go where the black bag is.  (Must take that toilet to the tip – we’ve decided to start fresh).

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)

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.

Not ready

David sent me a text this evening to say he’d be over in the morning to start laying the floor and I have had to confess that we’re not ready.  I’ve asked him to come anyway and do the woodwork round the windows and doors upstairs, but we had such a busy week last week that we didn’t manage to get anything done, and we didn’t get as far as we’d hoped the week before.

It’s not all doom and gloom, we have made progress and I’ve discovered that a girl’s best friends are definitely these:

I’ve learned how to fill quite large gaps between plasterboard sheets in a ceiling

I’ve done taped joins so smoothly that Mick’s only comment has been, ‘Bloody hell, you’re doing all the plastering from now on!’

And today I had my first go at corners and they didn’t turn out too badly either.

Dougie was in while we were working down there the week before last and we now have light switches and some lights in.  He’ll fit them all properly once we’ve painted.

I’ve also bought the wall lights for the living room, which are these – bad picture, they’re actually burnished silver and although most of the light goes upwards, the bottom of the dish is transparent, so there’s a small glow downwards as well.

Finally, Mick needed to know how thick the tiles were going to be in the bathroom, so he could buy the correct attachment for holding the rainfall shower head in place, so after failing to get to the tile shop in Inverness after my return flight from London was delayed just under three hours, I hit up Homebase in Wick and came back with 7 square metres of black slate tiles, two black and silver mosaic squares to cut into a slim border, and most of the rest of the paint.  Now we just have to apply it all to the house…

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!

 

Game over on the fireplace

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Well, I was right.  When Pete called in for the key this morning, he said the absolute best prices he could get from his insurers and from the people who’d provide the steel to support it would price the job at £2,200.  Now, spending that on opening up a single fireplace would be fine if we were doing a cottage in, say, Oxfordshire, which was going to be worth in the region of £500,000 when finished, but for house prices up here, it just doesn’t make sense.  Plus Mick would be forever worrying it was going to collapse with guests in situ and, as he pointed out, it might be horrible behind all that stuff anyway.  So it will be swept out (must ring Calum the sweep next week…) and hidden behind plasterboard and be a little secret for someone else to uncover the next time someone decides to strip it back to bare walls in another 100 years’ time 🙂  And in the meantime we’ll lavish a bit of extra care and attention on the two perfectly nice fireplaces we’ve got at the other end of the house.

As you can see, Pete and Connor have been busy today, cutting out the kitchen floor and plastering up the wall ready for spraying with bitumen on Monday.  Under 4cm of concrete, they found some of the original flagstones set into the bare earth.

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And the deliveries have started!  A big Travis Perkins lorry came down the village this afternoon, dropping off a load of stuff for Pete and the replacement Velux windows – we’ve gone for the conservation-style ones with the bar down the middle, so they’ll look a little similar to the original roof lights.