the big unpack begins

the big unpack begins

All looking very calm and orderly. But out of shot, it's a very different story...

All looking very calm and orderly. But out of shot, it’s a very different story…

After two days of drowning in boxes and bubblewrap, we finally carved out a tiny corner of normality in the living room – unpacking and putting together our sofa was a joy, as was having some cosy candlelight. This may look very lovely (above), but careful photographing did hide the scenes of utter chaos out of shot. Still, being able to put our feet up has never felt so good.

It didn’t seem like it at the time (and it is only five weeks ago), but we did actually manage to make things pretty ship-shape fairly quickly. It’ll take a lot longer to get everything just right, especially as we have building work planned, but at least we can sort of live quite normally at the moment. Here’s a little retrospective of how things have come on…

3rd March 2017 : Pre power-wash…

3rd March 2017 : Pre power-wash…

3rd March 2017 : They made it! The bay trees & bamboos.

3rd March 2017 : They made it! The bay trees & bamboos.

3 March 2017 : Improvised dinner on one electric ring…

3 March 2017 : Improvised dinner on one electric ring…

The 6th March was a very big day – the day we finally got a delivery of logs. Sourcing logs back in England was easy-peasy but we had to work it all out here. Thankfully, we did something right and we were so happy to see the tractor roll up with our logs, suffcient to hopefully see us through to autumn. Our beautiful Dovre stove, however, is still sitting forlornly, uninstalled, in the corner – the flue is proving tricky to source as Croatian stoves are apparently very different to stoves we can buy in the UK. They are generally very traditional here – our builder was genuinely quite baffled and bemused by the design of Dovre. And then he saw the box of Flamers…

A welcome delivery of logs.

A welcome delivery of logs.

After a week of really, really cold temperatures, the house was beginning to thaw as we kept the fire burning and the candles lit – and suddenly we realised that we when we talked we were no longer seeing our breath. A good day!

Logs = Heat

Logs = Heat

Because the house hadn’t been in lived for a long time, it really did need lots of initial TLC – and even though we will be having building work done, we just had to get some rooms to feel like “home”. The small downstairs bathroom had always been earmarked as one to be ripped out, but once we’d scrubbed it down, replaced the showerhead and toilet seat, white washed it all and started to get our belongings in, we quickly realised that this bathroom will be a god-send when we have guests. So, it’s staying, but will be ripped out and completely renovated.

Temporary mini downstairs bathroom makeover begins.

Temporary mini downstairs bathroom makeover begins.

Making what was a grubby bathroom into something we actually wanted to use, has really spurred us on, and we’ve made progress with one of the bedrooms and the bathroom upstairs. The bedroom will become a guest bedroom in time and the bathroom – which is really small and very oddly laid out – will be knocked through to make an en-suite in our room. We’ll then have the main bathroom moved into the third bedroom, meaning guests will hopefully have a much more pleasant bathing experience. More of these changes, though in subsequent blogs.

Outside the house, as spring has definitely arrived, we’ve been digging and planting. We’re complete and utter amateurs compared to the villagers who have been tackling the surrounding fields with gusto, but we do think our potted flowers and lanterns look very pretty…

Campanula : a reminder of Arley Avenue, West Didsbury

Campanula : a reminder of Arley Avenue, West Didsbury

Spring colour

Spring colour

The acquisition of a power washer too, has started to make a huge difference to the front of the house. Previously, the steps were black with dirt and mud – now they blend in with the gorgeous stone walls…

Cleaning up the exterior...

Cleaning up the exterior…

Six weeks in and we feel we’ve made some progress. However, as the days begin to warm up and the sun shines, we have a feeling that this progress, if we’re not careful, may slow up. So, it’s just as well our first visitors arrive a month today. Nothing like a visit to get DIY-ing…

finally moving in

finally moving in

So, three months after we signed all of the legal documents for The House in the solictors’ office in Rijeka, we found ourselves, on 1st March 2017, heading from our stop-over in Zagreb, to the village of Zrenj in Istria. A very good friend of ours had helped us to organise the transportation of all of our belongings – we were working on round about 10th March for everything to arrive, but a text, as we were driving over, confirmed that the lorry had left Manchester and would be with us on Thursday 2nd March. The VERY NEXT DAY! Hurrah! All of our goods were going to be with us much sooner – so we had a house to prepare.

Not having been lived in at all for over 18 months, it was FREEZING. So freezing, we could see our breath when we talked, but after a celebratory drink, we had rooms to clear of cobwebs and accumulated dust before the lorry arrived.

Months of accumulated cobwebs being cleared...

Months of accumulated cobwebs being cleared…

I can honestly say we’ve never been as cold as we were the first few nights in the house. The only heating option we had was an inherited woodburner, but no logs – and no knowledge of where to get them from. As all heaters we owned were on a lorry travelling across Europe, we initially relied on wearing multiple layers, candles and tealights ( I knew you could never have too many) and getting great use out of all of the hygge-style blankets and throws I had been accumulating. Cleaning down such a big house – as had become clear as all of the furniture, save for the bed, had been taken away – definitely kept us warm too.

We had thought that the process of getting all of our belongings out to a small part of north west Croatia would be tricky. Certainly, all of the companies who quoted, who specialise in overseas removals, made it sound that way. However, the way we managed to do it – having a friend who owns a furniture & interiors company and who has guys who do regular trips to the continent – really took out all of the stress. We couldn’t quite believe it, when almost to the exact ETA, the lorry rolled up the road. With our lives in the back…

Literally everything we owned, in the back of that lorry...

Literally everything we owned, was in the back of that lorry…

Offloading...

Offloading…

It’s quite amazing to see absolutely everything you own – apart from what we could carry in luggage – being loaded off in front of your eyes. Everything – including four large bamboo trees and five bay trees, all brought over from West Didsbury.

Amazing to think that those bamboos and bay trees made it across Europe.

Amazing to think that those bamboos and bay trees made it across Europe.

We had the crazy idea that everything would neatly go into its appointed room and that we would unpack in an orderly fashion. How naive! Things were offloaded very quickly and we soon gave up trying place things in the right rooms. It was cold and damp and we all just wanted everything off the lorry as quickly as possible. And pretty soon, the very bare, empty house, started to fill up…

And it all started off in such an orderly fashion...

And it all started off in such an orderly fashion…

Piling the boxes high...

Piling the boxes high…

The guys emptying the lorry - because they were on a tight time schedule - kept those boxes coming, thick and fast...

The guys emptying the lorry – because they were on a tight time schedule – kept those boxes coming, thick and fast…

Three hours later, that was it. The lorry was off and we were left looking at hundreds of packing boxes and wrapped furniture, not quite sure where to begin making sense of it all. Luckily, our new neighbour Marino, was on hand to help lift and shift. We also had a visit from Stella, the new owner of the restaurant literally on our doorstep, with a welcoming bottle of wine – and the even more welcoming news that the restaurant was open, for the first time, that very evening. However, before we could even think about eating, we had the mountain of boxes to tackle and the task of trying to create something resembling a home…

(With heartfelt thanks also to our amazing friend, Paul – without him, we would probably still be awaiting our furniture!)

the move : how we did it…

the move : how we did it…

Fast forward a couple of months from the last blog, and Monday 5th December, saw us sitting in a solicitors’ office in Riejka, with the sellers, signing paperwork & taking possession of the keys to the house…

Just five months after seeing it online for the very first time, the house was ours! The whole process from start to finish was actually quite stress-free – especially when compared to the selling of our house in Didsbury, which was quite another story. The purchase of the house was slightly less complicated than it could have been because we were in the fortunate position of being cash buyers.

We had done lots of research and it seemed that a mortgage was going to be a difficult thing to get quickly, not being Croatian nationals, so we discounted that straight away. We knew that if timing was right, we had sufficient equity in our UK property to make a cash purchase – but the wheels grind very slowly in the UK, and we had to act quickly. Especially as another purchaser had come along and made an offer on our dream property. A bridging loan was secured from some very generous and dear friends and we were on our way! If buying in Croatia is something you might want to investigate, here’s how we’ve done it so far…

  • Our purchase was through private sellers, who were actually based in the UK, the house having been their family holiday home. This helped massively as we were able to communicate directly with them, cutting out any agencies (and subsequent agency fees)
  • Our offer, of the asking price, was accepted immediately – but it was quite soon after Brexit, when the pound was fluctuating. However, we agreed with the sellers that the price accepted would be fixed in sterling – meaning that once we had agreed, it didn’t matter in terms of the house price, what the pound did
  • We paid a 10% deposit to the sellers, backed up by an agreement, written by our UK solicitor, and signed by both parties. If we pulled out, subsequent to signing, we’d forfeit the deposit, if they pulled out, we’d get the deposit back. Again, no fees to any external agencies (except the cost of the agreement)
  • We applied for our Osobni Identifikacijski Broj (OIB), the personal identification numbers needed to do any kind of financial transaction in Croatia. We visited the Ministry of Finance Tax Office in Umag, completed the application forms, presented our passports and within 10 minutes had the very important documents, which would enable us to purchase the house
  • We met with the sellers and solicitors to complete the purchase. We had also employed the services of a legal translator so everything was read in Croatian and English – this is definitely something we would recommend, as we now have all legal documents in both languages. The process was very straightforward – but be aware that in Croatia, cash is often king. Something we were not entirely aware of! The legal fees (approx 2% of the purchase price) were payable on the day and in cash. Yes, even the legal system likes cash over cards!
  • The final piece of the jigsaw was ensuring that the tax office agreed with the price we had paid – documents were sent off on our behalf, and we have just recently been advised that all is in order and that the final tax bill has been approved. In Croatia, this is usually 5% of the purchase price and you have 45 days from the date of approval to pay this sum.

So, all done & dusted – especially now that the sale of our Didsbury house has gone through and all of our belongings are packed up and in storage. We’re currently in a transition phase, living in a friend’s apartment in West Didsbury and getting everything into place for the next trip out to Istria, next week…