How it all began…

A BREIF HISORTY OF US AND HOW WE GOT HERE.

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Everybody has their limitations. Some people are brave enough to travel the world with nothing but a back pack; this is not me. Some people get a kick out of jumping out of a plane; this is not me.  Some people want to have lots of children at a young age and sacrifice their own dreams and ambitions for the sake of their kids; this is definitely not me.

Some people, are crazy/ambitious/driven/stupid enough to spend all of their savings and borrow up to their eye balls to secure themselves ‘The Dream House’; this is me (and my husband!).

When I say ‘The Dream House’, what I should say is the potential dream house. The reality of buying a house with land for people like us means we really only had 2 options… we either needed to win the lottery, or, find a house and plot with so much wrong with it that every other potential buyer ran a mile!

Our main issue was that we live in one of the most expensive rural areas of the country. Both my husband and I are born and bred in Somerset, and were fortunate enough to grow up in the beautiful surrounding villages of the Blackdown Hills. The only problem with this is it sets your expectations high very early on. We both dreamt of having a large garden where we could keep chickens and grow our own fruit and veg, enough space for a workshop where my husband could run his stained glass restoration business from, and rural enough to be away from the main roads, but still within a small community and close to local amenities (as I said expectations were high!).

I always believed we had used up all of our allotted good luck when buying our first house. When we first got together in 2011 we rented a tiny, run-down terraced cottage in the village we both grew up in. It was single glazed with no heating, and had a horrible, tiny lean-to kitchen on the back. The bathroom was claustrophobic with no windows, and the ceilings so low there was barley room to stand under the shower. It was also situated right next to a busy, fast road; with off-road parking that required stopping in the middle of said road and reversing back into a tight space between the neighbours vehicles. But, we knew the village, we knew the people, and we loved the garden. It had it’s downsides, but it was also cheap at £550 per month! We were the first people of the day to view it, and 3 other couples were queued outside waiting to see it after us. We signed up to a 6 month term there and then.

We spent the next 5 years quite happily there, but always dreaming of buying our own place. We would spend summer evenings in the garden staring back at the house, talking about what we would do to it if it was ours; extending it here, re-configure it there, new windows, underfloor heating etc. We both knew that we were on the same page. We weren’t afraid of hard graft and wanted to buy somewhere we could put our own mark on.

Eventually, we had enough money saved to start seriously looking for somewhere to buy. The only problem was we were not the only ones looking for a rural doer-upper. We would trawl through Rightmove daily, and often spend weekends driving out to the middle of god knows where looking at houses. But reality hit when we attended an open house for a property we’d fallen in love with. Despite getting there early, the amount of other people there brought us down to earth with a stomach wrenching thud. Couples like us, builders, developers, local farmers, and of corse ‘city-folk’ looking for a rural retreat. We were small fish in a very big pond! It went to closed bids and were over £10,000 off the highest. We were gutted, but later found out it was an old school friend in the same boat as us that had got it, so that gave us some hope.

We spent the months after looking at properties, but couldn’t find anywhere that compared. It even got to a point where we so desperate to get on the property ladder that we looked at slightly newer properties, but they had no character or potential and the excitement just wasn’t there. In early 2015, after years of talking about it, we decided we had absolutely nothing to lose by asking our landlord if he would consider selling the cottage we rented. It was in dire need of updating, and if we left he would have no choice but to spend money on it. And, by that point in time, the universe had become perfectly aligned and it turned out that our landlord was thinking about buying another property, so selling to us would free up some cash.

And the rest is history! Well, not exactly… after purchasing the property for an exceptionally low price (Don’t ask me how! Perhaps our landlord wanted to help us. If it had gone on the open market we wouldn’t have stood a chance!), we then spent the next 2 1/2 years doing everything we ever said we would to it. The story of that is a whole blog by itself so perhaps I’ll cover that another day.

So that brings us up to August 2018…

After being engaged for what felt like a life time (and constantly putting off any idea of a wedding because we were always in the middle of renovating the cottage), we knew if we didn’t get married that year we probably never would. The only problem was that by this point we had gone as far with the cottage as we could and were both eager to start a new project, but with an age difference of 11 years I was very determined to find a ‘forever house’. The idea of doing another renovation just to make money and move a rung up the ladder seemed exhausting and time consuming. I wanted to start living the dream life right away. So, we decided to shun a big traditional (and expensive!)wedding and eloped to Gretna Green instead.

Just a few weeks before the wedding, I was trawling through Rightmove (I would actually class this as a hobby of mine from the years 2011-2018), and came across a bungalow situated only a few miles away from us. Based on that one cover photo, and before I had even clicked on the listing or read anything about it, I immediately showed it to my Husband. I just instantly had this feeling, there was something about it. The Bungalow itself was…well…how can I say this…ugly! Bad render, hideous UPVC windows and poorly constructed conservatory. Definitely NOT the ‘Dream House’ and £50,000 over our budget. But I clicked on the listing anyway and read the description. It was vague, not a lot of information, but I could tell from the pictures it has a sizeable garden; big enough for a workshop, veg patch and chickens. 

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It was only when we viewed it on the map we realised it was slap bang in the middle of the Blackdown Hills! My life-long dream! The amount of times we had walked the dog or driven close by and I had said to my husband “This is where I’d want to live if we won the lottery”. We booked a viewing immediately.

Driving there, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It ticked every single box of the imaginary checklist I had created in my head, and then some. It was situated just over the county border in Devon, in a valley down quite a rough narrow road only used by the handful of residents nearby. Perched on the side of a hill, the large garden (and the added bonus of 4 acres of adjoining land!) had views out across it’s very own natural pond and a river running along the field boundary. Being in an area of outstanding natural beauty meant that every neighbouring property was picturesque and the landscape was untouched. It had the makings of a ‘Grand Designs’ project with money-can’t-buy views.

The bungalow itself really was an odd one. The outside clearly needed some work, but the inside looked half finished (even if not to our taste) and was liveable. But on closer inspection it was clear to us that although it appeared like a newly renovated property, there was still some essential, costly and quite major works to be done there. Without causing any offence to the person who renovated it, it was what professionals in the building trade may call a ‘Bodge job’.

There was no water connected (however, the land did have both a well and a half finished bore hole the previous owner had started work on). The electrics were questionable and the remains of a half installed boiler/heating system were noted. And the land, though beautiful, was extremely overgrown, boggy in places, and on a slope. A never-ending list of work and red flags for most potential buyers. In our mind however, this was the opportunity to take on the project of a lifetime (even if it took a lifetime), and a good bargaining tool when negotiating a price.

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To keep this brief over the next few weeks, we put our own house on the market, got an offer, ran away to Gretna Green to get married and spent the following week travelling the North Coast 500 by campervan. When we returned refreshed, we negotiated on a price for the bungalow and finally got an offer accepted. We then spent the next few months (or what felt like a life time), going through the conveyancing process. This was a painful experience and I still haven’t quite got over the stress and anguish it caused us, so I won’t go into detail about that today (again, maybe I’ll save that for another blog and try to offer advice to anybody in the same boat as us!).

But eventually, perseverance and faith paid off and we got it. We collected the keys on December 20th 2018 and moved in that day (yes, without water or heating in an un-insulated bungalow in the middle of no where in December).

It’s now been exactly a week since we moved in and it’s still sinking in. The work to do here is over whelming even to more experienced property developers. We are learning more and more about the property and land everyday and the list of jobs to do just keeps getting longer.

Our end goal is to extend the house and make it beautiful but also energy efficient. I’m talking fully insulated, solar panels, heat recovery systems, rain-water harvesting, wind mills, the whole lot. We also want to establish the gardens and become as self-sufficient as possible growing our own food, including eggs from chickens and maybe even a couple of pigs! Another must is building a workshop so we can move our business here and work from home. We also want to work on the land with a natural conservation approach to encourage even more wildlife (we already have 2 resident swans on our pond, as well as an array of ducks, birds, deer and foxes), and eventually use this stunning location to generate some desperately needed cash (perhaps glamping or courses of some description).

And the list of things to do here grows on! So I plan to keep up with this blog as much as possible, especially when we get stuck into projects (please be patient though, Rome wasn’t built in a day). I hope that we can inspire people like us and reach out to like minded people who are undertaking a similar life-style choice!

Until next time 🌲
ST 

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