Category Archives: houses

Home Ownership

Having bought my house, I’m now enjoying its delights, but I’m also faced with all its problems.  I have a number of projects, some of them within my capabilities, others requiring professional help.  For example,

  • Get properly connected to the ‘net.
  • Build a bike shed in the underground parking area.
  • Install a big fitted wardrobe in the main bedroom.
  • Install wall lights for reading in bed in both bedrooms, and on the beam over the sit-down desk in the office.
  • Install ‘plantation shutters’ in the kitchen (which otherwise has no privacy from passers-by).
  • Replace the door to the balcony, and add fanlight windows suitable for winter ventilation.
  • Replace knackered old boiler.  A water (river) source heat pump would be good, if I could find anyone to install one.  Failing that, a regular combi boiler.

But right now, I’m dealing with a bigger, more urgent and unanticipated problem than any of those.  The bathrooms.

The two small bathrooms are back-to-back between the bedrooms and over the kitchen.  They are separated by a stud wall.  One has a shower, the other a bath; each has a basin and loo.  Great, I mostly take showers, but it’s nice also to have a bath available.

But the bathrooms have two problems.  The shower sometimes leaks into the kitchen below.  And the bathtub is only 150cm long, which is inadequate to take a bath in comfort.  150cm is the full width of the bathroom, and rearranging it wouldn’t be easy.

Until I can get the plumbing fixed around that shower, that’s a daily uncomfortable bath.  Actually it’s less uncomfy with practice: one learns what position works, but it’s certainly no pleasure.

OK, I need the shower repaired: that’s a plumber’s bill.  But can I, at the same time, do something about that bath?  The shower room is the same width as the bathroom, and a shower cubicle doesn’t need 150cm!  There’s room to steal 20cm from a corner of the shower room to make an alcove for the foot end of a new 170cm bath.  If this is to be my home for a fair few years, I bloomin’ well want to enjoy my home comforts!  Extending that thought, let’s have a little extra indulgence while we’re at it: a whirlpool bath!

So I started looking for a plumber to give me a quote.  Easier said than done: the usual story was “no time to take that on until sometime next year”.  Ouch.  Should I drop the ambitious plan and just get someone to fix that shower, so I can make the revamping of the bathrooms a non-urgent longer-term project like redesigning the kitchen?  Grumble.

Finally I found a plumber who could do it on a reasonable timescale (for an arm and a leg, of course).  He’s just done his first day of the job, in which he ripped out the old shower and put up struts for the new/moved stud wall.  The new shower will be a 120cm cubicle, and will stretch wall-to-wall.  That is to say, new wall accommodating bigger bath, to far wall.   TomorrowToday I think he’ll be putting in the wall to make the new shower cubicle.  I’m hazy on the sequencing of events, but the idea is to do as much as possible in the shower room while I still have the bath, so I’m not stuck with neither bath nor shower.

If all goes well, I’ll have him back to replace the boiler soon, and to do the plumbing when I redesign the kitchen sometime later when all the urgent things are done.  But until the job is finished, I’m a bundle of nerves about how my bathrooms will end up.  Ouch!

The other frustrating problem is my ‘net connection.  The 4G connection that did the job from my old place works for the laptop provided I keep the device on the window sill looking out (though even there it intermittently degrades to 2G), but it no longer works for the desktop – which is where I have all my main work stuff, like the toolchains and admin stuff for developing and testing software, and mentoring projects incubating at Apache.

I’m doing what I had in mind for when I bought a house, which is to go upmarket in my choice of ISP, with a view to the possibility of acquiring a couple of raspberry pis and bringing my server out of the cloud and in-house.  But I’ve hit a snag there: whereas in theory I have FTTC broadband, in practice something needs fixing between the house and the cabinet.  It’s now more than two weeks since I was supposed to be up-and-running, and the latest date to be suggested for the fix is November 11th.  Ouch!


I moved house again yesterday (Friday).  I’m now finally a homeowner: no rent to pay, though lots of repairs and improvements to consume what would have been a rent budget.  Over the coming days (or more likely weeks, months, …) I’ll be unpacking, sorting, fixing things, getting up to speed in the new place.  As well as a couple of final visits to the old place, to clean up and leave it in a presentable state, and (weather permitting) gather some fruit from the garden.

The new place has, alas, no garden.  The only outdoor space is the balcony, which hangs over the river.  But that river is a huge attraction: both the living room and the main bedroom above it look out on the river, so I get to sit and relax, as well as sleep, to the immensely soothing sound of rushing water from the weir.

And that weir is itself part of the building’s history.  For this was originally a foundry, and drew its power from the river.  The building was converted to houses in the late 1990s, but retains thick stone walls, wooden beams, and cast iron fittings, all of which are utterly beautiful, as well as giving character to the house.  So while on one level it’s a humble two-up two-down plus attic (which becomes my office), on another it’s most unusual and indeed amazing!

The location also has much to commend it: under ten minutes walk from the town centre shops, market, and activities, but also scarcely more than that to open moorland.  On the downside, it’s on a busier road than I would choose, and the front rooms – the kitchen and the guest bedroom – will get traffic noise.  And due to a high bank and trees on the other side of the road, the house gets little sun, and the north (river-facing) side gets more light than the south!

It was the river above all else that drew me to this house.  I hope I shall enjoy many years in its company.


House auction

Went to a house auction today.  Only a very small local affair held at the Bedford Hotel, but nevertheless an interesting experience.  One of the lots has been on my radar for a while, and I’d’ve been interested in bidding if I had a regular income stream to support a 50%-or-so mortgage on it.

Since I’m not in a position to bid on the interesting house, I was definitely not bidding.  I took a seat in the back row, leaving most people where I could observe them, but standing behind were not just event staff, but also some punters.  The room was stuffy but otherwise pleasant.  The auctioneer was not using a sound system, and I had to listen up to hear him, but his patter was amusing, engaging and reassuring.  As indeed it jolly well should be from someone in his line of work!

Lot 1: a tiny one-bedroom cottage in a lovely (but impractical for someone needing connectivity[1]) –  location, in need of extensive renovation.  Guide price £65-75k, went for £83k in a fairly lively contest.

Lot 2: a much bigger but ugly house in a nondescript location.  Guide price reduced from £175k in my catalogue to range £150-175k.  Bidding again competitive but looked reluctant: the buyer, an elderly gentleman, looked as if he was letting the auctioneer bully him into his £165k winning bid.  I couldn’t even be sure the previous £164k wasn’t “off the wall” – a thought that crossed my mind again at Lot 6.

Lot 3: a nice but not economically useful plot of land.  Two thirds of an acre, so one would’ve thought very little value without planning permission – which it didn’t have.  And within the National Park.  Plus a clawback if buyer sells at a profit within five years.  Guide price £40-50k seemed horrendous, but it fetched £45k.  Evidently someone has high expectations of getting planning permission!

Lot 4: a pretty decent-looking investment property: a big sea-front house divided into three decent-sized flats.  Guide price £160-180k, reduced from 180-190 in the brochure.  Not much interest, and it went at £160k to someone bidding by ‘phone.  Looked like a bargain to me!

Lot 5: the one I was interested in.  A three-bedroom riverside house, formerly a forge building.  Been a long time on the market but overpriced: in the autumn of 2009 I was thinking “if it comes down within offering distance of £175k before the end of the year (and £175k stamp-duty holiday), I’ll definitely take a look“.  Guide price £180-200k, so finally in the ballpark of my target and looking like a bargain if I’d still been on a mortgageable income.  The auctioneer clearly also considered it the star attraction, and said so.  But he and I were both wrong: there were few bidders, and the £175k best bid failed to secure the house.  Evidently a would-be vendor still deluded after over two years failing to sell.  Land registry shows it last sold at £238k in November 2003 so the owner is taking a hit, but given that they don’t actually live there it’s hard to have any sympathy for a speculator losing out.

Finally Lot 6: a former chapel converted to a home.  Looked interesting, and at a £80-100k guide price I might have contemplated bidding if I’d been happy with the location (Okehampton).  Bidding went up to £104k, and the auctioneer tried very hard to cajole the £103k-bidder at the front into raising to £105k.  But unlike Lot 2, this one wasn’t budging, and it ended without selling.  Could the £104k have been “off the wall” on the assumption of £105k, or was this a less-than-honest would-be vendor so blatantly mismatched guide and reserve prices?

All in all, an interesting experience, and I think I could feel more confident now to bid at a future auction.  Though of course that’s subject to caveats about whether I’d hold my calm under the stress of competitive bidding.

[1] there’s no ‘phone signal, no clarity over ADSL, and in a steep valley where even satellite might fall short.

Planning permission

What are the criteria for consulting local people over planning applications?

When there were major works to build a new apartment block (9 apartments) just across the road, we were not even notified, let alone consulted.  On other occasions they’ve gone through the motions but avoided the risk of getting real feedback from the public.  On other occasions, they’ve just pinned up a little notice.

Today I got a real, physical letter from the council.  I’m being consulted, and there’s nothing in there that smells of evasion!

So what is the subject of this consultation?  It’s an application from next-door-but-one to install a dormer window.  About as trivial a change as anyone could ask for!  Perhaps it’s just the major works they avoid asking us about?

Anyway, if the neighbours want a dormer window, that’s fine by me.  I might put in a polite request that their builders not inflict a ghetto-blaster on the neighbourhood, but I think that’s better done by a friendly word with the neighbour than through a bureaucratic planning process.

I had an idea the current government was talking about relaxing some of the red tape on planning.  I hope this kind of nonsense is what they mean!

House hunting again

I’ve just viewed another two houses.  Between them, they seem to sum up a whole lot of what’s wrong in mid-market UK property.

House 1: 1930s (I think) 3 bed semi.  Has potential to be a nice house: decent amount of space, small front garden and larger, very nice back garden, big round bay window in sitting room and front bedroom.  Clearly hadn’t been decorated for some time, with walls quite marked, but the carpets (and glossed-up wood in the sitting room) were in good nick.  But horribly let down by the kitchen and, to a lesser extent, bathroom.  The kitchen was a showstopper: far too small, greasy, smelly, and with a floorboard quite rotted away in the recess where a washing machine should stand.  OK if I were buying and could replace the whole thing, but not to rent.

House 2: modern.  A development called Heritage Park, built around an old foundry which is a beautiful building.  But the greed of the developer glares through this house, which is not part of the old building.  In the pursuit of profits it’s been positioned just a patio’s width from a high wall, and the back rooms on all three floors were very dark (on a bright sunny and amazingly warm day).  No outdoor space in front (just the dark patio behind), and the indoor space is cramped, without even the hallway space for a bike.  Note to developers – if you want to build at that kind of density, build flats not oppressively-cramped houses!  The kitchen and two bathrooms are nice – all that was missing in the other place – but they don’t make up the defects, nor the cheap and tacky feel common to most UK houses built since 1945, or the clouds of flies that emerged when I opened a window.

There are houses that look altogether better than either of those.  They just have a nasty tendency to be in places where broadband connectivity is at best uncertain.  Ho hum.

T**** House

Been house-hunting again today.

Specifically, I went to view an apartment, which is in fact more a wing of a grand old house.  Set down a private drive, on the steep slope down one of our many estuaries, with fantastic views from the grounds and from parts of the house – most importantly the spacious and elegant sitting room.  The house itself includes extravagant luxuries such as classical columns, and much of it is covered in ivy.  A spacious three-bedroom, two-bathroom place (the long bedroom would become my office) in a quiet and beautiful location within comfortable cycling distance of Plymouth: what more could I ask?

Well, there are drawbacks.  Much of it could use redecoration, and the agent tells me the landlord is very particular about how it gets done.  Running costs are going to be very high, with lots of large, single-glazed sash windows (five in the sitting room alone, and excluding the french-style doors on the dining area which is open-plan to it), and no gas supply at all.  But encouragingly, they are in decent condition, and every one I tried opens and closes cleanly and easily.

The agent’s particulars are unclear on the subject of furniture: in one place it says part-furnished, elsewhere it says unfurnished.  Today it looked not very far off fully-furnished, and the agent said they’d prefer a tenant who’ll accept the furniture.  While some of the furniture is nice and I’d be happy to keep it, other items fall a long way short of the quality of the flat itself.  Most importantly, I’d need to get rid of the main bed as seen, though the two singles in my prospective office could stay (in the smaller room) as spare beds.

Most unusual here seems to be the relationship of the landlord, agent and prospective tenants.  Apparently the agent will present a report and recommendation, whereupon I – having expressed my interest – may or may not be invited back for a second visit and to meet the landlord.  Not at all like the usual scenario, where they’ll just take any tenant who’ll pay and who ticks the right boxes!

Overall, it’s the nicest place I’ve seen for some time, and I think I’ll take it if offered.  Unless, like buses, good properties come in batches, and I take somewhere else first!