It’s good to have a plan

Sunday May 1, 2005

Our big re-think, forced on us by the loss of the dream house in Northumberland, has come to a gratifying conclusion, leaving us with a plan, an eventual aim and a clear idea of how to get to it. It’s as refreshing to me as a cold shower on a hot, sticky day.

I know the importance of exploring options, looking at a problem every which way, and examining alternative solutions. Actually, I’m quite good at it. That doesn’t mean I enjoy it, and I don’t. Each time we do it I like it less. And each time we do it, somewhere along the way, I lose heart and want nothing more than to curl up in a corner, humming quietly to myself until it’s all over. One day I may do just that, terminally, but not this time.

The problem, plainly stated, is that we do not like living here, in this location, in this situation. What would be a dream set up for most people doesn’t suit us. If we were obliged to stay here it’d be another matter; we’d buckle down and make our situation into something with which we could live happily. But we don’t have to stay here. We don’t have to stay anywhere.

As to the Northumberland house, should the putative sale fall through and it is put back on the market at any point up to exchange of contracts on this and our next house, we’ll drop everything and go for it. Is that likely? I’d give it a fifty-fifty chance, probably less. But it could happen and we’ve no intention of closing our options on what looks to be the perfect home for us.

Our long term aim is to end up in a rose-covered cottage with a beautiful garden in a favourable country situation. Scanning the property pages just now, we don’t have sufficient in our house equity fund to buy one. We’re not so far off that it’s an impossible dream, but we’re not there yet.

We intend to rectify that the only way we know how. We shall sell this house, take the profit and plough it back into another investment opportunity. When we’ve done that place up to our liking, we’ll sell it ready to move on once more. If we achieve a large enough boost in our equity from doing so then we’ll hop into that dream cottage so fast you’ll not see our heels for the dust we kick joyfully into the air. If there is still not enough, we’ll do it over again. And, so long as we have the energy and the will, we’ll keep on doing it. Leaving aside those curl up in the corner and hum moments, we enjoy it and even when we do hit a bad spot, we have every confidence in our ability to weather it out.

So, we’ve decided to look for an appropriate house in Lincoln, our closest city, only an hour’s drive away from here. There are several hundred properties on the market there right now, and experience tells us that we’ll be able to choose one that is ripe for development but sufficiently habitable in its present state for us to be able to live in it happily while we go through the refurbishment process.

I have had a close look at the likely trends and county plans for Lincoln, reaching the conclusion that the general upwards move in property prices will continue there for several years yet.

We’re not going to be looking for a wreck, in need of extensive structural work.

In our experience the best profit is to be made of properties that need no more than the installation of decent kitchen, utility and bathroom facilities, the removal of bad DIY efforts from the past, the installation of modern heating, electrics and plumbing, and a general clean up and redecoration to be followed by a final burst of house doctoring. The same applies to the garden and, in the price range we’re looking at, a good, usable garden is vitally important. Almost all of this is work we can handle without calling on and paying for the services of ‘professionals’, so we need only to find the funds for materials. Given a sensible starting balance in the refurbishment fund, we have always managed to finance the cost of the materials as we’ve gone along, sometimes waiting for the next pay day before making a major purchase but generally keeping ahead of the pace at which we, mostly Graham, can work.

We’re fortunate that, for the foreseeable expenses, we have sufficient cash reserves to avoid the need for credit at any stage of the game. Not needing to pay interest on credit is a major saving and leaves the overheads of selling, buying and refurbishing down to legal and professional fees, selling agent’s fees, taxes, and the cost of hiring a removal team for a day. That’s a known factor and I have already made a spreadsheet so we can keep track of it. We’ve done it twice recently, so I’m pretty confident of my estimates even at this stage. No point in complaining about these outgoings when you move house—there’s nothing sensible to be done about them.

So, that’s the plan. As I say, if the Northumberland house should come back into the picture, we’ll switch over to it. And, while we do not intend actively to look for one, if we were to come across a similar dream house within our means, we’d switch over to that. The most likely thing is that we’ll be moving into a new old house sometime before the end of this summer and pitch into the job of improving it and its garden, to include the immediate installation of a new enclosed paved patio, otherwise known to us and our friends as a catio. Dolly and I need somewhere to sit companionably together in the open air several times a day. Graham likes it, too, for coffee and lunch breaks between bursts of activity on the make-over. We’re reckoning on a two to three-year project this time, giving us time for a bit of a life outside the project.

It’s been suggested that I should, in conjunction with Graham, write a ‘how-to’ book on the subject of making over and building house equity the way we do it. I think that’s a good idea, and shall be gathering material to that end throughout this sale, purchase and make-over process. Most of it will likely be noted here in my online journal as we go along, together with pictures. Lots of pictures. Due mostly to that curl up in a corner and hum instinct, I’ve not been too good at taking and making pictures recently. I need to rectify that.

Speaking of pictures, Graham has now run off a reel of film through the Nikon FM2N camera to record this house in its ‘ready for market’ state, using our newly eBayed Nikon wide-angle lens. I’m looking forward to getting the results, and intend to make another ‘our house’ gallery to add to the two that are already there, hidden away in the mess I’ve made of my web photo galleries. In fact, I may separate those, add the new one, and make it a stand-alone section of the website, linked from the sidebar. Depends on the time I have on my hands over the next few weeks. Meantime I’ll take a few room by room snaps with my digital for inclusion here in the journal.

And that is part, a large part, of what we mean when we say we’re not finished yet. We have a plan. It’s good to have a plan.


Stickford May 1,'05
Living room from doorway


Stickford May 1,'05
Living room from main window


Stickford May 1,'05
Living room from rear



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