six years on…

six years on…

Looking back over photos taken when we came out to view the house in Istria, and stay over as guests of the owners, has been a real experience. I can remember, obviously, what condition the house and garden was in – pretty awful, to be fair! – but as we live in the house full time, and have therefore lived through the whole renovation project, it’s sometimes easy to forget what we have actually achieved. So, this week I’ve been recreating the original photos, so that I have a visual record of what six years on looks like…

We had a vision for the stone house we viewed, for the second time, in October 2016, and this helped us to see through the condition it was in. We knew that this was a fantastic opportunity to take on a new challenge and a new direction, and so we went for it. We think that we have really brought this house back to life – but there’s still more we want to do. And that’s the challenge for the coming months. As much as we’re delighted with what we’ve achieved so far, if we can accomplish our latest vision, this house will really become something else…

 

an anniversary…

an anniversary…

Sunday 16th October 2016 saw us meeting up with the couple who we were buying our Istrian home from, and staying over in the house. With hindsight, all a bit bizarre. But then, not much about this adventure has been normal, so I guess we started off as we were meant to go on. It was a bright early autumn day, still warm us for us to initially meet up for lunch in Novigrad, and sit outside the restaurant, eating fresh fish, overlooking the Adriatic. It was also the day of the Chestnut Festival in Oprtalj – our hosts took us there, but to our amazement, this medieval hilltop town, which we are now so familiar with, was so packed we literally could not get a parking space. So, we headed off to the house.

Yesterday, six years later, the weather was exactly the same. And the Chestnut Festival was happening again, in Oprtalj. This time though, we didn’t even bother setting off for the festival as we knew how busy it would be, and unlike six years ago, our living room was just too far too comfy to even contemplate leaving. And, for avoidance of doubt, the “Before” is on the left…

Remembering that I took a lot of photos of the house on 16th October, I’ve spent part of today re-photographing the exact shots. I have thousands of photos of the house, but thought it might be quite nice to see the actual shots, juxtaposed against the “now” photos. Especially as there’s every chance we’re about to embark on the next round of renovation. So, the full Then & Now coming up soon…

a change of direction…

a change of direction…

If the last couple of weeks have taught us anything, it’s that you need to be adaptable and always be prepared to change your direction. There’s absolutely no point in just ploughing on, when literally everything is telling you to stop and rethink. We’ve had a summer full of house viewings, one even going so far as contracts of sale being prepared. But, looking back, we realise now that without exception, literally everyone who viewed, was at best, a time-waster. Let’s not consider what they were at worst.

So, as summer comes to an end, it seems the right time to take stock. And finally admit to ourselves that our long held onto dream of The Printworks, may be over. Finished.

With our current, beautifully renovated home still not sold, we can’t go on forever, clinging onto the hope that the next viewers may be the ones. If they are, all fine and dandy, but it’s time to take things back under our control. So, a big change of direction is about to be implemented, which may or not involve our house being sold. Which may or not involve us taking on additional renovation work. Which may or not involve a radical move.

All we know is, we are back in charge again. We’re not dependent on the whims of people who love our house, build up our hopes and then dash them. It’s ALL now down to us. And we cannot wait for what may be about to happen.

 

 

volta gin & wine bar : oprtalj : istria

volta gin & wine bar : oprtalj : istria

Anyone who’s been to stay with us, will know that, as beautiful as Oprtalj is, it could be described as a “sleepy” little town. We have a restaurant, a gorgeous loggia, numerous festivals throughout the year, a mini-market, a post office, a cash point, a gift/interiors shop, an antique shop, a primary school and a boutique hotel. Plus, views to die for, across to the Adriatic. But, it’s definitely not Party Central. We did have a second restaurant and pre-Covid, a wine bar was just beginning to establish itself. The second restaurant is no longer and the original wine bar closed, as the owners decided to focus on their expanding olive oil business. So, when I spotted on Instagram a new account, describing itself as a Gin & Wine bar – in Oprtalj, no less – they got an immediate follow! Contact was established with the owner, and it was confirmed that this new venture would be opening where the original wine bar used to be located. Countdown was on to summer opening…

The owners, a couple from Zagreb, clearly have a long term plan. They know that everything won’t happen overnight, especially as they have only opened towards the end of the summer season. But with apartments they now run, above the bar, already fully booked for the remainder of the summer, they’ve clearly decided not to put all of their eggs in one basket. We recently visited quite late after eating in the local restaurant, but could see that they had had a steady stream of customers, which was a good sign. Food – probably along the lines of the traditional Istrian charcuterie boards – will be added at a later date, but the drinks menu was extensive, and with some unusual offerings, included a range of beers and ales from an independent craft brewery  – BruMan – in nearby Buzet. Wines ranged from the extremely reasonable to quite expensive, if you wanted to push out the boat, and a good range of cocktails are also available.

By a twist of fate, the bar is called Volta. For those of you familiar with West Didsbury, you’ll know we have a huge fondness for a bar of the very same name, run by our old friends, Luke & Justin, from way back when we were at Manchester Polytechnic and flat sharing. So, Volta in Oprtalj was always going to be a winner for us…

 

 

 

 

picking ourselves up…

picking ourselves up…

It’s fair to say that the last two and a bit weeks have been one big roller-coaster of emotions. We are selling our renovated stone house in Istria, to enable us to finance the renovation of another building, not too far away. With hindsight – which is obviously a wonderful thing – we put it on the market at the worst time possible. The summer of 2020. Lockdown. Maybe we should have just stopped marketing the house and sat it out until slightly better times arrived. But, we didn’t and so we feel that the house has been on the market forever. Of course it hasn’t and looking at things realistically, whilst we were having no viewings, much, much worse things were happening across the world as a result of Covid. As things started to look a little more optimistic in summer 2021, we took the decision to list with an estate agency. Viewings did happen, but again, with hindsight, we see now that serious buyers were still not really even dipping their toes into the water, as people visiting Istria were still well down on previous years. We took comfort from the many enquiries which came in via our listing on Rightmove Overseas, perhaps deliberately ignoring that most enquiries were never going to go anywhere. Most were quite brusque, even rude. Rarely did we get a reply to the quite extensive information we’d send out. And then when we did, it usually became apparent that the interest wasn’t actually that great – or realistic – at all. We recently took our listing down.

But earlier this year we had a breakthrough. We ditched the initial estate agents and listed instead with a new, vibrant agency, who absolutely understood how to market a property. We have had a lot of exposure via their own website and social media channels and have subsequently had increased viewings by people who seem genuinely motivated to purchase a property in Istria. They are working hard on our behalf – and yes, you could say, “Well they would, wouldn’t they?” because if they sell, they get a fee – but so be it. If a sale comes as a result of their work, then fine. We feel confident that they will find our buyer, and so we are still very happy with them. Their work with us has been a breakthrough and we feel we are in good hands.

So, why the need to pick ourselves up?

Because our world has been turned pretty much upside down, after a series of events the last two weeks. To cut a long story short, we had a walk in viewing a couple of weekends ago. The person viewing was pretty much bowled over by the house and its decor and its surroundings. She had been trying to find a house in Istria for some months, and having just viewed a property close by which was unsuitable, saw our “For Sale” sign and asked to view. We decided that after lots of walk-ins, which have amounted to absolute zilch, we would not just immediately agree to show people around. We wanted to gauge their level of interest, so we advised that there & then was not convenient, and could she and her husband return later. Which, to be fair, they did – and after viewing, made a verbal offer of the asking price. She was keen. Boy, was she keen! She was very concerned that someone else might view and make an offer and she wanted to pay a deposit asap, offering us her official documents – we’re not sure why at this stage and could only assume as some kind of assurance that she was serious. We agreed that once the deposit was paid, we’d cease all marketing of the property.

I contacted our solicitor the next day who advised me he was on holiday but would still begin to draw up the pre-contract (a standard procedure here), the next day, so as to facilitate her request to get things moving. This was communicated to the buyer – a tiny ring of an alarm bell was set off, when rather than acknowledging that our solicitor was prepared to work whilst on holiday, and very quickly, she hoped that there would be “no dragging of feet”. However, this little ring was put right at the back of mind, as we were now getting to a very momentous point in the long journey of our house sale.

Our buyer returned to Germany, and as expected, she had lots of questions. These were all welcomed, as we have absolutely nothing to hide. Our own website is extensive in terms of information. We have an Instagram account which is a truthful record of our journey in the house from Day 1. Our blog details even further all aspects of our move and the full renovation. She requested more photographs, so rather than send images via email, I gave her links to all of our platforms. Possibly, in hindsight, I should have just sent a few photos…

As I would do, she trawled through everything I sent her. I expected her to do this – after all, buying a home (and it would be her new full time home) is not a small purchase and you need to be as fully informed as possible. However, I would also be a little bit circumspect and realise that a photo or a blog post, captures a moment in time. And this is where I started to feel that things weren’t perhaps going as positively as they had been when she viewed.

She had concerns about where the shadows fell in the garden. We had discussed this as we walked around the property, and maybe I hadn’t grasped how she would become fixated by shadows, but I also emailed, in depth, explaining what the garden was like at various times of the year. I also tried to explain, that when you have a property, and there are structures near it – ie our green wall and our stone cottage – shadows will be cast at certain times. Thankfully, she seemed reassured and advised me that she was happy and all was still going ahead. But this didn’t last long – a flurry of emails came in, all based on photographs she’d seen on our Instagram feed or a blog she’d read, some going back two or three years. When she viewed, we explained that we did not have air con – our home is warm and cosy in the winter, and in the summer, we use fans when necessary, and as it was not installed initially, we’ve not wanted the disruption of having it put in. However, she’d found a blog – and believe you me, I’ve tried to find it to ascertain exactly what I wrote, but can’t – where I alluded to the fact that at times, air con could be a “bonus”. I can’t have it both ways, apparently and she intimated that I had not been honest with her. She referred to a photo I had posted of a screenshot of my Iphone weather app. This showed, in February last year, that the lowest point the temperature could reach, in the middle of the night was -7. This apparently was more evidence of me not being truthful, as I had told her that in general, winters here are quite mild but can get chilly, and that every year we have been here, we have had snow, but it is fleeting. I also explained to her how to interpret the “temperatures” on such an app, as I felt that things were now being picked up on and perhaps starting to be used as a get-out. I also explained that had the temperature actually fallen to -7, I would probably have recalled it as it would have been cold!

However, she once again reassured me, and urged that the pre-contract be delivered as she wanted to press on and transfer the deposit payment. Just over a week after her initial viewing, the pre-contract was indeed drafted by our solicitor, whilst still on holiday. It was at this stage, she decided she wanted it in German. Absolutely fine, but it had been drafted according to Croatian law, with one version in Croatian and a second, in the accepted common language of English. Had she requested a German version sooner, this could have been put into place, but a delay was now created whilst our solicitor – still trying to enjoy his vacation – arranged for a court interpreter to organise a German copy. What a waste of time this was, as she decided later that day, she didn’t need it in German, after all. Much rolling of eyes ensued…

The contract was sent to her and she emailed to say “all going ahead”, and we waited on tenterhooks for her signed copy to be returned. Only, it wasn’t returned. I got an email that afternoon, which ended with the phrase, “I will not buy it!!” Two exclamation marks also included. Gutted doesn’t come into it, but now that we have reflected and calmed down, the reasons she gave have made us realise that this was probably never meant to be, and that we have probably avoided a much more complicated situation. She had decided against it, as in her words, “…there were too many restrictions on the property…” This was refuted immediately and forcefully by our solicitor as we have ALL documentation to prove ownership and boundaries, and there is nothing to suggest any kind of restriction on any part of our home/land. The shadows made a return appearance, making us realise that whatever we said, her mind was made up. And, because we had chosen to have a potted garden, rather than dig up concrete to plant permanently, we had, in her words, “dodged everything”. Make of that what you will.

So, here we are. Back to Square One. House still for sale. Feelings swinging between anger and sadness. But, as the saying goes, everything happens for a reason, and this is the only way we can look at it. We think, being realistic, The Printworks dream is over as the pre-contract we entered into has ended and the seller has intimidated he is now looking for more money. On balance, we think we’ll now walk away and start to look in a different direction. A very different direction. And hopefully, in time, our brush with the ultimate time-waster, will become a very distant memory.