Wednesday, January 20, 2021

My Life In ... Homes (2 of 2)

The ninth (part 2a Places to Rent and 2b Homes to Holiday) in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

We have failed to grasp the basic principle of sell one house when you buy the next. In this way our property empire has snowballed.

Homes 2a of 2: Places to rent out.

New readers start here:

I’ve been very lucky with my homes. I have always bought my home from the heart not because it’s a good investment (buy-to-let purchases not included). As it turns out the bounty of the universe has provided and the homes have doubled in value on average every eight years starting with £25k (yes, that little) in 1980 and finishing up at just under 1.1 million in 2017. The last downsize freed up enough capital to make retirement an easier decision.

Starting with one flat for me to live in we now have three homes to live in (two in the UK, one in Italy), four apartments to rent (three buy-to-let flats in the UK and an AirBnB apartment in Italy) plus a garage and a timeshare. 

Thinking about how we acquired the homes, I realised that there has been a great deal of serendipity involved and those tales I want to tell. That makes for a long post so I am splitting it into three: Homes to live in, Buy-to-Let apartments to rent out and Holiday homes abroad.

I think (hope) we have peaked and are now planning a gradual winding down of the portfolio!



Flat 28 Fairfield Court, Wandsworth. 2002 - present. A 20th century, third floor, two bedroom, ex-council flat in Wandsworth built in 1938. We bought this as a pied-à-terre because we were either working in London or flying out from one of the London airports. We converted it to a buy-to-let in 2005 when we decided to move three doors down the street to house 28 Fairfield Street and it was not a good time to sell. We thus become accidental landlords and kickstarted our rental portfolio.


Living room from where we used to watch the planes on the descent path to Heathrow.


8 Bolting House, Wandsworth. 2010 - present. A purpose built third floor, three bedroom, one reception apartment in Wandsworth, another purchase on the one-way system. Our second buy-to-let investment and the first made intentionally.


It was a repossession and came complete with nearly new furniture from Ikea, "the landlords' friend".


36 Fairfield Court, Wandsworth. 2014 - present. A two bedroom apartment directly above Flat 28. Our third and final investment property. 


We wanted to invest in another buy-to-let property as part of our pension plan. Flat 28 had worked out well so we kept an eye out for other properties in the block. There are 38 flats in total but it had to be one of the two-bedroom flats and at the back which ruled out more than half the flats. Mary was working at home when the email alert came in. Straight onto the estate agent, viewing half an hour later, offer made and property off the market by the end of the afternoon. No messing about!

Homes 2b of 2: Places to holiday in.

Trullo Azzurro, Locorotondo, Italy. 2004–2018. A historic four bedroom, three reception, two kitchen, two bathroom ex-farm building out in the country. As far as we can guess, at least part of it dating to the 16th century. 


We had been thinking about a holiday home in Italy on the western fringes of Tuscany, "chiantishire" in the centre being too expensive. Meanwhile a friend, Anne, had bought a place in Puglia and Mary went there with her in February for a break and to help with buying furniture, etc. Anne extolled the virtues of the property prices and longer summers due to the southern latitude so Mary scouted out some properties. 

A couple of months later we went down together and were taken by the estate agent to see some very disappointing properties. Many were what I nicknamed trulli-in-a-box; yes they had a cone or two but all surrounded by concrete cubes. Our requirements were walking distance from a town, at least two bedrooms and didn't need a lot of work. What we saw lacked any of the charm we were hoping for so to cheer us up Mary took me to see a reject from her first visit. By some miracle she managed to navigate to this farmhouse in the wilds. I instantly fell in love with it. It was so unspoilt, un-mucked about with. OK, it fitted none of our requirements. It was 6km from town, took two and a half years to do up and ended up as four bedroom, two kitchen and two bathrooms but it was worth it.

Our Italian holiday home featuring trulli, the pointed cone buildings unique to Puglia, was named Trullo Azzurro because of the blue doors and blue skies. We used to live in one half and rent out the other half. Read more elsewhere on this blog: "Trulli"

One of the living areas after restoration.


We eventually sold as we did not really need three properties in Italy and renting this one out was becoming more hassle than the income was worth. The proceeds were used to buy, and do up, 6A Benson Row (see "My Life In ... Homes (1 of 2)").

Hermanus Beach Club. 2008–2014. A two bedroom, one reception apartment in a modern holiday complex. A completely unplanned detour into a South African holiday home ownership following our "first trip of a lifetime" to SA.


After the first leg of our trip, a safari, we went to Hermanus. By this time we had already fallen in love with South Africa. Our first full day in Hermanus was a Sunday so all we could do was window shop including estate agents, saw this property and by the time we left four days later had the purchase arranged! Towards the end of our ownership we were not getting to visit as often as we had hoped nor generating much rental income between times so decided to sell up.

Living space. From the window we could see whales in the bay.
Quaysiders Club, Ambleside, England. 2011-present. A two bedroom, one reception (kitchen / dining / living) room, timeshare apartment for Christmas week in the Lake District. 


A minor purchase by comparison with the rest, recommended by Mary's uncle who owned another timeshare in the same complex. Handy for walking holidays in the Lakes - not so much now we live up here so it is up for sale.


The apartment can either be used for a Christmas break or traded in for a week elsewhere at another time.

Via Manzoni 15, Cisternino, Puglia aka Sotto Le Stelle. 2012 - present. A studio apartment on the outskirts of Cisternino old town. The first step in our relocation from Trullo Azzurro into the town of Cisternino. 


We were in Italy to celebrate my 60th birthday with friends. Once they had all left we revisited our desire for a property in town and got our friendly estate agent to give a tour of available properties that evening. We saw five in an hour and this one was head and shoulders above the rest. 

As we sat in Bar FOD with an aperitif after the viewings I informed Mary that now I was 60 I could raid my pension funds for a 25% tax free lump sum. The total was almost exactly the asking price for the flat. I had hardly uttered the words when Mary was on the phone to Pierdonato saying "we'll buy it and be in the office tomorrow to sign the paperwork"!

This one took a year to restore. It has beautiful stone vaulted ceilings and an amazing terrace so we called it "Sotto Le Stelle" (under the stars). Full story of the renovation on the blog: SottoLeStelle.



Corso Umberto, 108, Cisternino. 2016-present. A two bedroom, two reception apartment in the historic town centre of Cisternino. 

Our retirement meant that we could now spend half of the year in Italy. Sotto Le Stelle was fine for six weeks but now we needed more space for six months so we up-sized. Researching the market for some friends we found and bought a larger apartment less that five minutes walk from Sotto Le Stelle on the other side of the old town. This also need work but less so it was completed in six months. 

Living room:


Kitchen / Dining Room:


Terrace:


Loving Sotto Le Stelle we decided to keep it and it has become a very successful AirBnB let. For more on the Corso Umberto restoration see "The Other Place"

That is it for now. The next step is to incrementally sell off our property portfolio to fund our retirement.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

My Life In ... Homes (1 of 2)

The ninth (part 1) in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

How to make a £1 million? Buy a flat for £25k and wait 35 years! My parents moved 7 times before I bought my first home. I guess I followed in their footsteps.

Homes 1 of 3: Places to live in.

New readers start here:

I’ve been very lucky with my homes. I have always bought my home from the heart not because it’s a good investment (buy-to-let purchases not included). As it turns out the bounty of the universe has provided and the homes have doubled in value on average every eight years starting with £25k (yes, that little) in 1980 and finishing up at just under 1.1 million in 2017. The last downsize freed up enough capital to make retirement an easier decision.

Starting with one flat for me to live in we now have three homes to live in (two in the UK, one in Italy), four apartments to rent (three buy-to-let flats in the UK and an AirBnB apartment in Italy) plus a garage and a timeshare. 

Thinking about how we acquired the homes, I realised that there has been a great deal of serendipity involved and those tales I want to tell. That makes for a long post so I am splitting it into three: Homes to live in, Buy-to-Let apartments to rent out and Holiday homes abroad.

I think (hope) we have peaked and are now planning a gradual winding down of the portfolio!



21a Montague Road, Wimbledon. 1981–1987. The first home that I owned. An Edwardian three bedroom, two reception, first floor maisonette built in 1910 that I bought with an ex-girlfriend. We had split up five years earlier but remained friends. Back then mortgages were hard to find and expensive to service. Joining forces to get two lots of mortgage tax relief was the only way to make first time buying viable. It had a small garden accessed via an internal secondary staircase from the kitchen. It got me onto the property ladder. Part way through I bought my friend out so she could move on and buy a home with her boyfriend.


Recent interior courtesy of Zoopla.


The lease term on Montague Road was running very low and I wanted to own the land on which I stood. So I sold up and moved just over a kilometre to the cheaper end of SW19 near the football stadium and the dog track. 

Due to poor communication along the chain of buyers and sellers by the estate agent, my solicitor exchanged on my sale of Montague Road but not my purchase of Garfield Road which then hit a delay. I was legally bound to vacate on completion date, 31st December, cast out into the street on New Year's Eve with nowhere to live. I put all my belongings into storage and went to house sit a friend's place for a month while she was fortuitously out of the county.

76 Garfield Road, South Wimbledon. 1987–1994. A Victorian three bedroom, two reception, mid-terrace house built 1889. I lived there with an assortment of lodgers until I met Mary. 


Avon Cottage, Ibsley, Hampshire. 1994–2007. A mediaeval three-bedroom, timber frame thatched cottage dating to the mid 15th century. Following our marriage we moved out of London and bought a house together. It was by accident we bought this cottage through an extremely convoluted chain of events. 


English Heritage Listing: Cottage. Late C15 & C17, altered C18 & C20. Cruck timber-frame with painted brick infill, thatch roof. 1½ storey, 3 bay and smoke bay, added hip bay.

We were looking for a house with a cellar for our growing wine collection, initially around Kingston and Surbiton. We had planned a weekend in the Cotswolds courtesy of a free voucher I got for completing a customer survey. The Cotswold hotels were full so we changed location and booked into the Watersplash Hotel in the New Forest. There we saw a brochure for a Roman fort in Fordingbridge so off we went. Unfortunately the fort was closed so we parked up and went for a pub lunch. On the way we passed an estate agents window featuring Avon Cottage. We had previously discussed the possibility of a second, holiday home and called into the estate agent to enquire about cottages with cellars. "Only that one in the window". "Too large and expensive, that would have to be a main home!" 

We were both travelling a lot for work so we didn't have to live in London provided we could get to the airports in a reasonable amount of time. We had a chat over lunch and afterwards went back to the estate agents and said that if they could arrange a viewing the next day we would be interested. The owner dashed back from her daughter's to do the viewing, we saw the cottage on the Sunday, made an offer on the Monday and it was accepted on the Wednesday.

Avon Cottage was home for us and several cats over the next 13 years. I have many happy memories from there and was sad to see it go. You don't really own a house this old, you are only custodians. In the words of William Morris "we protect our ancient buildings, and hand them down instructive and venerable to those that come after us". I believe we left it in a better state than we found it. Read more elsewhere on this blog: "Avon Cottage"

Inglenook fireplace with room for four to sit inside.


28 Fairfield Street, Wandsworth. 2005–2015. A lovely Georgian style, semi-detached house built around 1856 with four bedrooms, three reception rooms and with font and back gardens back plus, most importantly, a cellar.


Planning ahead we intended, in 5 years time, to move from Avon Cottage back into London. Mary went online to suss out the market with ridiculously specific requirements: in the Tonsleys in Wandsworth (1 km square area), at least 3 bedrooms, separate living and dining rooms (not knocked into one), downstairs loo, cellar, garden and costing less than £500,000. Blow me down if the exact property popped up 10 days later - 5 years ahead of schedule! At the time it was the cheapest four bedroom house in the whole of SW18 because of its location on the Wandsworth one-way system.  

It was so unique and so perfect we just had to snap it up regardless of the consequences. That is how we came to own two main homes concurrently for a year and a half. It had lovely high ceilings that spoiled us for modern properties.


Our retirement plan included downsizing from 28 Fairfield Street. Seriously, do two people need a four bedroom, three reception property? And it was stuffed full at that. So we put our house on the market and went flat hunting, finding this next gem. 

41 Heathfield Square, Wandsworth. 2015-present. A mid Victorian two bedroom, ground floor flat directly behind Wandsworth prison, built around 1870 as Officers' Quarters for the prison guards. It looks out onto a communal green the size of a football pitch.



Our buyer messed us about a bit, more from incompetence than malice, which meant the sale and purchase were out of sync. Removals were booked and non-cancellable, financials all set up, etc. We learned about "Licence to Occupy" which enabled us to break the chain and move in a few days before completion.

The estate agent's photo. That red feature wall was first on the decorating hit list!


Garage 50, Strickland Row, Wandsworth. 2017-present. A garage. We used to rent a garage from Wandsworth Borough Council behind the Fairfield Court flats but when we moved to Heathfield Square we really needed closer storage facilities. This garage is literally at the end of our street.

6A Benson Row, Penrith. 2019 - present. A three bedroom, two reception room, mid terrace 1850’s house in Penrith. 

Intended initially as a third holiday home this time in the Lake District and eventual second retirement home . We used the proceeds from the sale of Trullo Azzurro to fund this purchase. However since Covid lockdown it has become our main home ahead of schedule.

Originally three back-to-back, one-up one-down houses they are now all knocked into one larger property. Nicknamed "The Money Pit" because of the silly amounts of money we have spent doing it up. Now a very cosy and comfortable place to live. Read more elsewhere on this blog: "Penrith".


The living room:



That is it for now. The next step is to incrementally sell off our property portfolio to fund our retirement.

Friday, January 08, 2021

Benson Row - 20

Penrith, Cumbria. December-2020.

We are declaring victory on the Money Pit. We no longer have an Oubliette just inside the front door and all works are complete. Well not strictly true, we still have to choose a hearth stone and there is some minor decoration to be done but the works are, in essence, complete. Break out the champagne!

It has been a long old slog. We started the buying process in November 2018 but did not complete on the purchase until March 2019. Then the work began:

2019

  • March: purchase completion
  • April: furniture buying
  • May/June: kitchen design and the fateful decision to knock through into a kitchen / diner
  • July: destruction of the wall, staircase and landing
  • August: construction of the new staircase and landing
  • September: new boiler, underfloor heating in kitchen, beam strengthening, wall reinforcing
  • October: bathroom / front bedroom restructuring, shower installation, cellar expansion
  • November: decorating, completion of shower, the saga of matching the paint colour
  • December: more decorating, carpet fitting 

2020

  • January: decorating
  • February: kitchen installation starts
  • March: lockdown with kitchen worktop fitted in the nick of time
  • April/May: Mary destroys anaglypta in living room
  • June: Mary destroys false wall in living room to expose fireplace
  • July: Mark repairs and redecorates living room
  • August: front room flooring starts and stops
  • September: rectification work on joists, new front door
  • October: chimney removal, we have a hole in the living room floor
  • November we no longer have a hole in the floor, chipboard is down
  • December: we have floorboards, yeah!

We could then move back into our living room and retrieve the furniture and possessions that were previously scattered throughout the rest of the house and in a friend's garage; normality has been restored. We are pleased with how it has turned out:

Living room. 


Kitchen end of Kitchen / Diner.


Dining end of Kitchen / Diner.


Downstairs toilet and shower room under the new stairs.


Upstairs bathroom.


Back Bedroom - Ours.


Middle bedroom - bunk beds suitable for children or adults.


Front bedroom - guest bedroom.


When the rest of the world returns to normality we will be open for visitors. Come visit the lovely North Lakes!

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Parkrun Tourism Part 04 - 2020

All over the place. 2020.

Parkrun tourism continued while we could with another 6 locations added in the first three months of 2020 (showing location, date, my time and number of participants) bringing the total to 26 unique locations. 

Then Covid hit and that put the kybosh on our plans. We ended up in Penrith, Cumbria so when parkrun resumes in 2021 (hopefully) we should be able to tick off some northern and Scottish events.

Eastleigh. 01/01/2020. 31:00 [155 / 300]

We spent New Year’s Eve in The New Forest with our friends Bob and Lynn. Last time we were down there we did Moors Valley parkrun but they were not doing a New Year’s Day run. Instead we went to Eastleigh which is conveniently on our route home and didn’t take place till 10:30. Given the New Year celebrations that was probably a good thing.


I was surprised at the number of people who were doing a New Year’s Day double. The course is one of the hillier ones and is entirely on grass which, given the recent rains, meant it was horribly boggy and slippery. Here I really don't look like I'm having fun.


Parkrun tourism done we headed off home to Wandsworth.


Skegness. 18/01/2020. 28:40 [79 / 226]

Attending the Great British Rock and Blues Festival at Butlins for the third year, we were overjoyed to see that Skegness had started a parkrun. The previous two years we would have had to drive 45 minutes to Boston. That would have meant getting up early, missing breakfast, and by the time we got back breakfast would have finished. Instead we had a leisurely start and a very short drive down to the Boating lake.


It’s a nice course by the shore, only two laps, all on tarmac paths and pretty flat apart from a couple of small inclines. Friendly event with lots of very cheerful volunteers.


Letchworth. 18/01/2020. 31:38 [43 / 86]

On our way back from Skegness we stopped over with friends in Letchworth. If I thought Eastleigh was muddy it was because I hadn't met Letchworth! Not so much parkrun as cross-country run. Some of the course was along bridleways and then through fields where one gateway was a quagmire and there was no way round it.


Unsurprisingly it was my worst ever parkrun time. Chatting to the guy with the stopwatch while waiting for Mary, he confided that most people's time is 10% slower, but apparently it is lovely in summer.


Poolbeg. 15/02/2020. 29:53 [169 / 204]

Mary was on a mission to do her 50th Parkrun on the 29th February. That meant she was committed to doing a parkrun every Saturday in 2020 without fail even if she had to hobble round on crutches. We were in Dublin for Valentine's day so we had to do a Dublin parkrun despite being battered by Storm Dennis. It was down on Dublin Bay along the coast and horribly wet, cold and windy. But it had to be done!


The Poolbeg Stacks, the thermal station chimneys sticking out of Mary's head, are among the tallest structures in Ireland and are visible from most of Dublin.


Bushey Park. 15/02/2020. 29:28 [563 / 1029]

When Mary realised that February 29th 2020 was the first ever Leap Day parkrun since it began and the last until 2048 she was super keen to complete her 50th parkrun at her home location of Salento on that day.

We had booked the flights, the car hire and, as a treat, a Gatwick hotel for the way back because of the late landing. Coronavirus put the mockers on that. With two ageing mothers and a weekend cottage booked with a group of friends we could not take the faintest risk of transmitting the infection nor having to self-isolate on our return. So we binned the flights and cancelled the car and hotel.

That left the question of where to do Mary's 50th if not her home event. After some discussion we decided it really had to be the "mother ship" at Bushy Park. We absolutely could not risk missing the 9 o'clock start so rather than use public transport we Uber'ed our way over.

Sporting her Italian "Arriva un parkrunner" T-shirt she power-walked her way round in a respectable 44:12.


The obligatory photo frame shot.


The course is one giant hourglass-shaped circuit.


Achievement unlocked! Red 50 T-shirt earned. Mary was then counting the Saturdays to see when she can get to her 100th.

Tyne Green. 14/03/2020. 29:07 [105 / 196]

Mary had planned a weekend away near Hadrian's Wall with friends to celebrate her birthday - originally booked for January but rescheduled to March. Not too far from our home in Penrith but far enough to make a another parkrun venue possible. Carlisle was too close to home, we could do that any time, so Tyne Green was the obvious choice.


We left our guests snoring and headed off to Tyne Green. It is a single lap, out-and-back course along the banks of the River Tyne. At one point the narrow path is sandwiched between the river and the railway line which meant we got to wave to the train driver as he passed.


Then Covid lockdown hit and that put an end to parkrun tourism for the year. Here's to a better 2021.