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.

 

What’s on the radar

I might not be in a position to buy any more houses at the moment, but I never stop keeping an eye on the local market.  When I was at the local sheep auction a couple of weeks ago, I got chatting with with a gentleman down the Strath who was cutting down numbers with his sheep because he’d reached an age where he wanted to take things a bit easier, and he mentioned he’d decided to sell his old house as well.  My ears pricked up, especially when he said he thought it was an old wreck of a place, but the estate agent said someone would buy it as a holiday home.

It seems that we’re getting a bit of a reputation amongst our friends, because the moment it appeared on the estate agent’s Facebook page, someone tagged Mick in a comment!  I happened to be down that way a few days later, so I stopped off to have a look.

A lot of house for £50,000, but in such a state that it didn’t require a home report and, in all honesty, not suitable as a holiday let.  While the house itself is almost identical to Ethel’s (a couple of extra windows, a little bit bigger and it has a small kitchen extension on the back), it’s 7 miles away from the coast, the Strath is midge heaven, and those outbuildings just wouldn’t get used.  If I was looking for something to do as a normal rental to someone who wanted to live in the countryside and keep a few chickens (the back garden is a chunk of field and is huge), then it would be perfect, but this one’s not for us.  Good thing, as less than two weeks after coming on the market, it’s already under offer 🙂

This next one has been put on the market in the past couple of days and I think it may also go quickly.  From the outside, it doesn’t look like anything too special.

But look in the opposite direction, and this is your view.

For a little house, it packs in a lot of rooms – there are four bedrooms in the square bit and then kitchen, bathroom and living room in the extension.  Upstairs it’s got two ‘loft rooms’ and a small room for the hot water tank.  So why is it only £75,000?  Well, it’s a 1965 pre-fab and the whole thing is asbestos, though the original structure has been built round with blocks and then harled.  For a quick ‘get it up and running’ you’d probably want to turn the third bedroom into an en-suite for bedroom two and stick a cinema/games room in the loft rooms if there’s sufficient headroom, but I suspect someone will buy this, demolish it and start from scratch – if they can find anyone up here to handle the asbestos.

The final one I’ve had a sneaky look at recently isn’t actually for sale, but the estate that owns it has sold four buildings off recently, so it’s not out of the question that this might one day hit the market.

It’s an old fishing net store with a flat up above it, and it sits on a harbour, looking back at the main beach.  If you climb that very old set of steps at the far end of the building, there’s a little private beach at the back.  The flat has a separate entrance from a track that goes around the back.

It’s Grade A listed, but the Highland Council is remarkably sympathetic about conversions of these – this is an almost-identical Grade A building at Keiss Harbour, which is run as a holiday let – and I don’t think that middle row of windows was there originally.

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What I’d like under the tree tomorrow

Earlier this week I was in Thurso for the day while my car was being serviced and MOT’d (or, more accurately, not being serviced and MOT’d, because the power steering went on the way in and we decided that was a bigger issue!).  I’d hoped to use the time to have a play with my new camera, but sadly it shipped to me with a faulty battery, so I had some time to kill – and that’s dangerous, because I start walking round the solicitors’ windows and because Thurso is a small place, it’s only a 10-minute walk to go and scope out anything I like the look of in town.  So if I could have a set of front door keys for Christmas tomorrow, one of these three (and the funds to sort it out!) would be more than acceptable 🙂

Candidate number 1 is a bit of a faded grand old lady.  The house has been used as a social club, which closed about a year ago, and so is classed as commercial and there’s no home report.  The price has already been dropped by £30,000 to reflect the amount of work the roof needs and the club hasn’t had the funds to perform much maintenance in recent years, but like many of the late 1800s houses here, she has good bones, and is listed as a result.

Lovely as it would be to put it back to a family home, with my business head on, the only way to make it just about break even would be to do it as four flats.  I’ve not been inside it, but looking at the floor plan, as long as it’s possible to knock through under the fire escape from the billiards room to the function room, you’ve got a fairly easy split into second floor, first floor, ground floor left and ground floor right.

Candidate number 2 is an old drill hall.  I saw this come up for sale a few years ago and I can’t remember what the asking price was back then, but I think in the region of £120,000-£140,000.  Again, a lovely building that needs a little bit of TLC.

This is being sold privately, it’s just a sheet of paper and a phone number in the window, which I haven’t rung (yet…), so I’ve no idea what they’re asking or even what the layout is inside, but it seems that there’s a fairly natural split vertically, making three small houses each with its own big arched entrance door.

Candidate number 3 is a bit of a cheat, because I didn’t actually see the house, I just saw it advertised in the window, but apparently it’s been on the market since August and I somehow missed it.  This is in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere – literally – and is a four bedroom detatched house with large garden grounds and absolutely stunning views over miles and miles of open moorland to the mountains.

The home report is a shocker – partially collapsed ceiling, suspected decayed roof timbers, crumbling plaster, woodworm, damage to the chimneys, damp, corroded window frames, ancient electrics – in short, pretty much everything we’ve found down the road at Ethel’s house, so that doesn’t scare me.  What does is the price.  Bearing in mind that the survey recommends a retention of £25,000 until the ‘water ingress’ (i.e. leaking roof), defective plasterwork, damp, woodworm, electrics and water supply (private supply) is sorted, I think £200,000 in its current state is ambitious.  It sold in 2005 for £203,750 and despite Zoopla giving it a current estimated value of £289,000, I can’t see it going for more than £240,000 in top notch condition.  The roof on its own would be £30,000 to replace (that’s a Pete estimate!) and electrics would be another £8,000 or so.

That said, it’s a very pretty house in a stunning setting, albeit very remote, and I’ll be keeping my eye on it to see if the price comes down once we’ve finished with Ethel’s.  It’s an executor sale, so it’s toss of a coin whether they want fast cash or best price, but I wouldn’t want to pay more than £150,000-£160,000 for it, I don’t think, and I’d probably want to alter the layout a bit.

tigh_achanechan_floorplan

Downstairs I’d leave alone, but upstairs I’d be strongly tempted to make bedroom one, the bathroom and the cupboard into a big master suite with en-suite and dressing room, and then turn bedroom three into a second bathroom, or alternatively, if I wanted to keep it as four bedrooms, carve a bit off the left-hand side of bedroom four and turn that into an en-suite, bringing the plumbing up from the WC/utility below it, though if you went the full length of the room it would unbalance the bay window.

Merry Christmas to everyone reading this and I hope you all get what you want in your stockings tomorrow morning 🙂