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.

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