Friday 4 November 2022

How to find and buy your wreck

This is by way of a holding post. A sign that I've pretty much drifted away from Wreck (as regular readers will have noted) but haven't quite let go of the idea of old-lady-gone houses, neglected beauties, and the dreamscape of space and peace Wreck represents.

So, this is a page to bookmark. Here's the amalgamation of everything I've learned from 12 years of finding amazing, interesting or weirdly wonderful properties to help you in your own search.

1. You're not looking for a "forever home"

It's a nice marketing concept but the reality is that what you need from a home will change over time and the likelihood of finding one property that will work for every change you'll live through is pretty remote. Today you may desperate for a remote, off-grid escape from city living, tomorrow you might mostly want a hip replacement.

Exhibit A: This handsome farmhouse and barns (separated by a road) on the Orkney coastline at Burwick, sent to me by reader Elizabeth. Offers over £125k, details and lots of pictures here

2. Don't buy to your funds limit

Don't spend every penny and max the cards on a do-up, unless the people who will live in it with you are equally committed to living in a caravan/hut and spending every weekend doing the doing-up.

And definitely don't spend your savings and max the cards on a second home or home-to-let do-up. Friend, this is the wrong country at the wrong time right now for that sort of financial risk. 

I've featured many unfinished do-ups over the years and always find myself wondering what that represents; a renovation dream ended but also maybe debt, a broken relationship, homelessness perhaps? The emotional kick that comes from finding you're not quite up to your ambition? 

Basically, you've got the purchase price, plus 20 percent for buying costs, plus the estimated costs of immediate works (the bits that get you to being able to move in), plus 20 percent contingency, plus the longer term works you'll do to make the house comfortable or profitable, plus 20 percent contingency, and another chunk of cash you'll need to hide somewhere to cover the boiler breaking down on Boxing Day or the car conking out on that still muddy access road, or the dog getting sick.

Exhibit B: Three-bedroom farmhouse, barns and almost six acres in the Yorkshire Dales. Sent to me by reader Paula: "I thought this one might be it, within commutable distance.... and also within our budget. But on closer inspection it would take at least double that budget to get it habitable!" On the market with Richard Turner & Son,  more pictures and details here.

3. Look in "wrong" places on the upturn

This is a difficult one. Basically, you need to develop your ability to recognise when an unpopular location may be on the turn towards popular. Start with one big thing - coast, views, space - the  element that would add several hundred thousands to the price if it was commutable from London, and focus on anonymous little towns and villages that offer that big thing.

I'll give you an example. Hubby and I are currently making our third attempt at buying a second home. The other two were on popular holiday locations and had everything we were looking for in terms of size, privacy, weekend driving distance. We got cold feet and pulled out, first time over deed issues, second after the big Ts crashed the economy.

This third house has the same space, privacy and (just about) driving distance, but is also a two-minute walk from the sea - something we couldn't afford in the other two locations. Yet it's £70k cheaper. 

The difference? There are more vape shops than bric-a-brac shops on the high street, and the journey there is awkward, sometimes ugly.

But what this seaside town does have are the three things I look for in a "wrong" place on the turn upwards - anonymity, art, community.  

Anonymity. If no-one you know has heard of that place, that's a good thing. Reputation is a cost, up or down.

Public art investment can change the feel as well as the look of a town. New art on a spruced-up promenade is a signal of local pride and ambition. And if artists move into an area, that always changes that place for the better. Gentrification follows a generation behind them.

I mentioned the vape shops but that was a cheap jibe. What this particular place also has are several community hubs, advice centres, and local charities. A down-at-heel resort that's rich in community - people who are actively trying to help each other get by, is worth a dozen Cornish ghost villages.

And there's a fourth thing I suggest you look for - skips! Active home renovation and improvement means home owners who can afford to invest and who believe in the area enough to want to invest.

Exhibit C: This historic semi in little-known Skelton has wraparound gardens and a wonderful 70s G-Plan vibe. Have a look at the inside pics here. On the market through Harvey Brooks at £240k.

4. If you can't afford to buy space, aim for a view that can't be built on

River, sea, deed-protected playing fields, Duchy land (rarely developed), boggy land, wobbly land or hilly land that's expensive to build on (developers own more than enough easy land to build on).

I prefer to feature detached wrecks with plots of land on Wreck - the dreamier side of property. But that's not something I've ever been able to afford myself - hubby and I work in cities; our children live in cities. So all our homes have been terraces or end-terraces. But with views that feel outside the city. 

5. Take your time, do your research.

Each Wreck post takes me best part of a day to produce (six hours so far on this one). That's because when what you're looking for is a type of property, a property that offers a particular lifestyle rather than one in a specific location or at a set price, you do a LOT of scrolling.

I've written before about how I search and find my Wrecks, and given tips on that process for you here and here, while this page is a (hopefully still) useful round-up of places to find more unusual properties.

But, going back to point 1, allow time for your initial ideas to change. Every time I post, there is at least one property I really, really want to live in. I'll share it with our children; buy a lottery ticket; keep looking at it on my phone until that STC notice is added. 

But, months or years later, I'll spot it again on Wreck and I rarely have that same response. Obviously homes are like band names, they may not seem to suit at first but they grow on you. But my point is that lust isn't love. Take your time to find comfortable. 

Exhibit D: And, if your comfortable is definitely a Scottish wreck, with breathtaking views across the Trossachs, stone steadings and half an acre - go for it! On the market at offers over £250k via Galbraith. More here.

Monday 5 September 2022

Gazprom-free living - two off-grid wrecks to renovate

Hubby and I have always had a bit of a prepper mentality. Not in that scary guns and desert lockers way, but in the sort of way our grans always made sure there were "reserves" salted away in hard-to-reach bedroom cupboards in case of financial bombshells, or an unplanned party.

Nowadays, after every catastrophe that's pummelled the UK in last two (12) years, and having some sense of what's to come, we're having real conversations about moving off grid. The unused solar panels that have followed us through two house moves have been dragged from the back of the shed; our thrifty summer coal buying has doubled in scale; we're buying one, putting two away.

And we're very, very conscious that this "prepping" is a mark of our privilege. This isn't the place for me to talk about how angry I am that 20% of the UK earns between £800 and £1600 a month - before tax - and 45% take home under £400 a week. Most families just can't buy now to save later.

So let's talk off-grid wrecks instead.

Starting here, with this remote and gorgeous cottage in Scotland - no electricity or gas, spring-fed water supply, septic tank and coal-fired heating and cooking. Plus 6.6 acres of land and woodland. Get a chainsaw and you can step away from energy market shenanigans forever...

Pockleaf cottage was sent to me by reader Melanie ages ago but, as per usual me, I've only just got around to taking a good look at it. Which is an issue for you because the closing date on offers is this Friday - September 9th. Sorry!

Described by the agent at a "much-loved family retreat/private holiday home" the cottage has two large bedrooms upstairs, two large reception rooms, plus bathroom, kitchen and larder downstairs. Attached is a stone store/stable, giving scope to extend, and outside is a two-room, large detached stone outbuilding offering more options.

Closest village is the pretty Eskdalemuir. Access is over a mile-long grassy track, leading from the main, shared forestry road. All drivable in the right vehicle.

It's on the market at offers over £150k, which in Scottish buying parlance means expect to offer 20-25% more. On the market through C&D Rural more details and pictures here and here and PDF here.

Further south (and therefore pricier) is this equally remote and largely services-free Dales cottage sent to me by regular reader/property spotter Tim.

On a Three Peaks hiking route, it's perfectly positioned for serious walkers/runners, and the views are pretty damn spectacular -including of the trains that run along the Settle to Carlisle line just in front of this former railway worker cottage. 

There's not much in the way of land (not that you'll want or need it up on Whernside) and there's a weirdness over vehicle access over landowners' land that could stymie any commercial/holiday let mortgage bid. It's a bit of an ugly box (my advice; hack off that damp-trapping concrete render and find a builder who understands extreme weather) and a tad overpriced given the condition of both the property and the market rumblings to come, but the location is pretty awesome. 

On the market through Fisher Hopper at offers over £300k. Details and more pictures here.

Friday 29 July 2022

Three homes with views, and some tears

I found myself weeping in the bedroom of an old-lady gone house last week. I often write about them, but it's less often that I actually find myself actually viewing one. But this particular Weardale cottage (sold now) reduced me to tears.

I lost my mum in January and, if you've been there yourself, you'll know that grief has a habit of barging in and messing up what should have been a perfectly run-of-the-mill moment. It was the super-tidy bedrooms with neatly made-up bedding and a single photo left on a dresser. A daughter had been there, done that.

Anyway, here's to all those house-proud now-gone old ladies. May your homes refill with life and love.

Let's kick off this week's picks with a proper wreck. 

On the gorgeous County Kerry coastline, views of both mountains and water, seafront position (and sort-of access; you'll need to build your steps) an acre of land, plus a great Irish bar and restaurant within staggering distance - all for under £150k. Honestly, I'm spoiling you with this pick ; )

The three-bedroom cottage needs lots of work (including moving that massive downstairs bathroom upstairs) and services are 'minimalist', shall we say (well water, septic tank, open fire heating - but there is electricity, hurrah!). 

And you may mostly find yourself staring out over Kenmare Bay and the Cara mountains rather than getting on with the substantial graft needed to turn this pretty spectacular location into an equally spectacular property. 

On the market via Connor-Scarteen Auctioneers at Euro 175k. Details and more pictures here.

Overend House, below, may be a bit of an ugly box, but it does have plenty of space, a chunk of land and views across the Irish Sea from its coastal town location.

The three-bedroom house is in Whitehaven and some works have already been done (reroofed less than ten years ago; a new kitchen). Although the upstairs rooms need rather more work.

There's an attached two-story garage/store that offers more scope, and the street view shows a pretty private location, on the edge of an estate and backed by a park and fields.

On the market through Mitchells at £230k. Details and more pictures here and here.

So, Ireland, England and now Scotland for my final pick. Also detached, with a chunk of land/garden and set apart from its neighbours, is Drumcrea, in Stanley, around eight miles from Perth.

Pictured at the top of this post and below, the five-bedroom villa is more tired than wrecked. Fiddly rooms that will need some remodelling, not least to add at least one more bathroom and double the size of the kitchen, but SO much scope - and gorgeous original features.

Drumcrea house comes with half an acre of garden and a three acre paddock/field, with sheds and other bits, and views over fields and hills.

On the market via Savills at offers over £375K. Details and more pictures here and here.

Wednesday 22 June 2022

Dorset farm renovation story (and a bonus pick)

It was the lime green gloss kitchen that did it.

Closely followed by those brick and stone stripes - banding - and my first encounter with Dorset's beautifully creative approach to mixing local building materials

Anyway, the upshot was that back in May 2018, I picked Grade II-listed Hayden Farmhouse, in Charminster, as my wreck of the week. 

The five-bedroom house (above) had been empty since Olive Miles, the last of the Miles family's generations of owners, had died at 97, and was up for auction with a guide price of £575k. 

With the house came nine acres of land, a bunch of farm buildings, and a pretty stunning village location. And also, as I noted at the time, Japanese Knotwood.

Obviously it wasn't just me that was charmed by graceful Hayden house. The property attracted a lot of interest and on auction day, 83 bids before the hammer dropped at £848k.

Last week, one of the family who bought Hayden House and has spent the past three years restoring and improving it, talked to me about that renovation work and their mission to put the house back at the heart of the village community.

The renovation work took around two years, interrupted by lockdowns and building shortages alongside the usual challenges: "If you can think of it, it happened!" Sophie, who now manages the house on behalf of her partner's aunt and uncle, told me. There were planning battles, listings concerns, but also a real drive to not change too much.

"The house just has very good bones. It's a very enjoyable and happy house. Juliette [and Dave, the owners] said this really important thing right from the start. She said that she doesn't want to over-develop it, she wants to under-develop it."

Juliette is from a "long line" of antique dealers, alongside her brother, and her nephew - Sophie's partner, Sam (good taste is "in the blood", said Sophie). That taste floods the house, alongside a commitment to buying sustainably and sourcing craftspeople from within a 25-mile radius whenever they could. Here's a couple of before and afters as illustration.

The lime-green paint is long gone...

The original plan had been for Juliette and Dave to develop and live in the house, but things changed. Not least through the pandemic. Sam and Sophie did move to the property, leaving London to run their own businesses from the barn and preparing the house as a large group holiday let, something that finally got going last year. Said Sophie:

"We've 100 percent found it's been a great hub for nana and grandad, their kids and their kids - a real family gathering space. What everyone had on their agenda [after the lockdowns] was to get together as a family in quite a celebratory, quite enjoyable way. There were a lot of champagne bottles added to the hampers!"

The house's position, in walking (and hearing) distance of the village church, with neighbouring fields for marquees and teepees, means the family is now hoping to market it for weddings. They're also trying to build it into community life, with plans to open the gardens and to develop the former diary - the heart of the farm during Olive's time - as artisan studios and crafts shops with local makers. 

"The grand scheme is to create a hub, a community " added Sophie. "Giving back a little or supporting village development. Everyone's been through such horrors over the last two years and this is a lovely space to be enjoyed and used. Not to be 'Lords of the Manor' but be part of the community."

More on Hayden House here.

If you've been inspired by the renovation of Hayden House, how about this seven bedroom, Grade II-listed farmhouse on the edge of the Cumbrian village of Gaisgill, within the Yorkshire Dales.

It comes with seven acres and - like Hayden House - a bunch of farm buildings. No lime-green paint kitchen tho' : )

On the market through JR Hopper with a guide price of £750k. Details and more pictures here.