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.

 

Please Do Your Homework…

Please Do Your Homework…

If there’s one thing we do in this whole process of attempting to sell our renovated home in Istria, it’s provide information – LOTS OF IT – so that anyone who is potentially interested in it, can make an informed decision about whether it’s right for them, very early on.

Initially, we didn’t really refer to a swimming pool on our website and in other places, other than to state we don’t have one. Because, you know, we don’t have one. But, it became increasingly clear we were going to have to be a whole lot more blatant, because when viewings commenced after travel restrictions were eased, we found we were often being met with puzzlement. Because, there was no pool. So, we made it clearer on our website etc that although there is the space to install a small pool or a plunge pool, there isn’t one currently. We found we were almost having to justify why we didn’t have one, and this really started to irritate as it should have been so obvious a pool wouldn’t magically appear. Thankfully, we seem to have got this particular message across – and if asked, we do now politely suggest that should the viewers proceed to buying the property, they might want to consider installing one.

But something new has reared its head – something we’d not even considered.

Our house & gardens (front & rear) would be perfect for someone looking for a holiday home, with *manageable* outdoor space. We do not own any additional land/fields – as we are sometimes asked, even though we make it VERY clear on our website what do actually own, externally. We’re really quite surprised by the number of people who enquire – and often subsequently view – our home, who have on their list of requirements either “land” or a “field”. We can only assume they pay scant regard to the images and textual information as there is NO reference to either, and this does make us wonder what goes on in some people’s heads. These people who enquire – and sometimes take it as far as viewing before revealing this nugget – haven’t come from the next village. They’ve often travelled quite a distance, and usually from another European country. I think I’d want to be pretty certain that what I was putting in an awful lot of effort to view, at least ticked my main boxes so that I didn’t waste my time, and potentially build up the hopes of the people selling.

Most viewings are for the house to be used as a holiday home/let or a second home. And, for us, this kind of begs the question – would you really want to buy a holiday home & also take on the responsibility of more land/fields?

Who’d look after it in your absence? Things grow very quickly here, so you might find you’d be starting your holiday tackling an overgrown field ? Or, you’d have to find someone local, who could look after the land on your behalf, especially if you were letting the house out to visitors. I can’t imagine anyone would appreciate rocking up on holiday and finding they had no view as they couldn’t see beyond the overgrown field.

What would you actually do with it? Soil here is rich, thick, red clay – without a lot of additional work, it’s difficult to imagine doing anything other than growing crops. And, as lovely as this idea is, who’d look after your field of crops in your absence? Who’d treat the crops & harvest them? Who’d actually eat all of the produce? Would they be just left to wither and rot, if you weren’t here full time?

And, finally, if your thinking is to buy a house with a field/additional land attached or nearby, to build on or install a pool, we’ll save your time right now. You’ve NO CHANCE. Land here, which is designated as arable, can’t be built on. There may be ways for locals to get around this, but as someone coming in & planning to develop their property, you really would be wasting your time.

But, if you still think you definitely want a field, I think we can say, quite categorically, our home is absolutely not for you.You’d be wasting your time coming to view it. You might be viewing a number of different properties in the area, and decide to view ours too, as it looks nice and a bit unusual, but with no intention of taking things any further. A bit of a filler for you, on a day of viewings, perhaps. Please don’t do this. It’s cruel. With every single viewing, we ensure that our home is in the best state possible and this takes up a lot of our time. We emotionally invest in every single viewing, as it could THE ONE. We care about our home and who it might be owned by next, so it’s always a bit of a blow to find out that someone really hasn’t done their homework.

We know that the next custodians of our home are out there, and they will most probably be people who we’ll really like, because if they go as far as purchasing, we’re pretty sure they’ll have left no stone un-turned. They won’t have unrealistic expectations as they will know we don’t have a pool, but won’t be fazed at the idea of actually rolling up their sleeves and having one installed. They won’t have the pipe-dream of a “field” because they recognise all of the above points if they are purchasing the house as second home or holiday let. And they will probably be super happy that our (very large) front garden is incredibly low maintenance, so they can get on pretty quickly with putting their feet up and relaxing, in their new Istrian holiday home…

 

kitchen reno : update 8

kitchen reno : update 8

The kitchen was the first room in our Istrian stone house to receive the full renovation treatment. The units we had inherited were ripped out, the flooring taken out, the ceiling taken down, a new window installed, brand new units and appliances fitted and under floor heating put in beneath new flooring. It’s quite a small room, but is a light room and we decided to go bold with the colour. On a trip back to England we brought back 10 litres of Farrow and Ball Hague Blue paint and to the dismay of our builder/decorator – who thought it was the vilest colour he had ever seen – we went ahead and painted all of the walls ceiling.

This colour is a bold one, especially as the kitchen isn’t huge. But, with two windows, and light coming in from the Well Room, we felt it could take this deep shade. For over four years, we’ve loved it, and would happily have left it this colour. But a couple of things made us have a re-think. Firstly, with all of the comings and goings in the kitchen, the walls were due a lick of paint and to get the same one, we’d have had to have gone to the nearest Farrow & Ball showroom, which is in Treviso. Not a bad trip, but a bit out of the way for a tin of paint. We could also have had the colour mixed, which we’ve done before, but we’ve never achieved the exact shade. Also, as our house is now for sale, we felt that the time was right to introduce a new colour.

We know that if people are seriously interested in a property, they will look beyond what is it is like currently, and see its potential. However, the kitchen was maybe a bit too “out there”, in terms of selling and with such a strong colour, we felt that for some people it might be a step too far. So, the decision was made to tone it down and introduce a more neutral colour scheme. We love our greys – various shades of grey appear around the house, because it’s such an easy colour to work with, and so we opted for a soft, smokey grey for the kitchen. Thinking that the coverage would be an issue, we bought three tins of it – completely unnecessary as it was a dream to apply and covered the dark cover really well. In fact, we had so much left over, that we also decided to paint over the dark wall in the Well Room. And, voila! A house very ready for the lighter days of spring and summer…

The newly painted wall in the Well Room, does now look so much better, in its lighter softer colour, making the room seem larger and more spacious. Although we don’t keep the door to the downstairs shower room open, when you do open it, the big, grey concrete tiles seems to sit so much better against the new colour outside…

It does feel that spring might have finally arrived, after a long winter, and the house now reflects so much more the lighter, brighter days outside. If our home is something you might be interested in, as aholiday home, perhaps, do take a look at our website. We’d love to hear from you…

 

secret garden reno : update 2

secret garden reno : update 2

Whilst we’ve spent the best part of the last four and a half years, fully renovating our Istrian stone-house and creating beautiful gardens to the front and side of the property, the rear has been woefully neglected. We’ve tried to titivate it up, but it’s never really been the kind of place where we want to spend any time. When people are viewing our house for sale, I always internally shudder when we take them to the back of the house. I know that when you are buying property, you are often buying the potential, but we just felt that the time had come to tackle this much neglected part of our home. So, let us take you right back to the beginning, and what this area was like when we saw its potential…

Yep, this is what we saw when we viewed the house for the first time. A very, very sorry state – and don’t even get us onto the shutters! But, when you can see through the current state of things and have a clear vision, that’s what drives you on. Fast forward a couple of years, and we were given the opportunity to buy the little abandoned house from one of our neighbours. Although we were knee deep in renovations, we knew that other people had expressed interest in this property and we felt that if we didn’t secure it, we could have someone else purchasing it from under our noses. It’s very close to our main house and we were concerned with a) the potential proximity of another house and b) building works – out of our control – going on under our windows for goodness knows how long. So, the decision was made to purchase the house and land.This took quite a long time to complete on – much longer, in fact, than the purchase of the main house – but eventually everything was signed off and we finally owned it, meaning that no-one could build close our house. We were also at this time, in the very early stages of considering our next renovation property and toying with the idea of selling the house. Owning this smaller dwelling and surrounding land, with all boundaries legally established, therefore became even more important.

So, for the last couple of years, all we’ve really done is tidy things up, gradually. All of the building materials and the trailer, as per the contract our solicitor negotiated, had to be removed by our neighbour and the area generally cleared, prior to completion. This enabled us to begin assessing what we might eventually do with the land. We decided early on that the house would stay, especially if were selling up. Although it would need to be demolished, we felt that new owners should decide its eventual fate, and we knew that whilst we were still living here, it could be the backdrop for something very pretty. So, very slowly, when we had the time, we started to tackle this overgrown mess…

We think that originally, the small house would have been for the animals, as probably evidenced by the stone trough, below. It was in a bit of a state, with stones beginning to come loose and to be honest, hadn’t really been put together very well, so we decided to take it down. It did give us quite a bit more garden space – but, in an unexpected turn, it’s recently been rebuilt, using the same stones. This time, though, it’s not a drinking trough. It’s going to be the home for our gorgeous new olive tree…

Once the ground had been cleared of weeds and vines and ivy and stones, sheeting was laid and we marked out our boundary with flagstones, before infilling with bark chippings. (The quite strange shape of the boundary is due to the fact we agreed to give our neighbour access to another of his properties, which he plans to renovate, opposite the small house).

Starting to look better, but still a long way off finished! However, ideas were beginning to form. The table and chairs and the lone bamboo looked a bit lost, and we knew we most definitely wouldn’t be sitting out here for quite some time to come, as we still felt very exposed. Plus, the nearest property to us, beyond the little house, was an abandoned, tumble-down property which had recently been demolished and building work had started to create a new stone cottage. We were still focusing on the main house and moving on with the securing of our new renovation project, so things stalled a little at the rear of the house, but we did what we could to create a little bit more privacy.

To the other side of the little house, we also cleared the ground and started the process of laying flagstones, to create a pathway, and more of the bark chippings.

As summer ’21 progressed, we started to get more enquiries about our house for sale, and had a number of speculative visits, as people passing would see the A-board by the road and often just turn up in the garden. And this made us realise that once and for all, we had to properly tackle the rear of the house. However much we had improved it since we moved in, it all still looked far too ramshackle and not what we wanted visitors to see. So, Project Secret Garden commenced at the end of the summer, the intention being to have our builder construct a wall, all along the boundary. This became complicated as the land is on a slight incline and we didn’t relish the prospect of getting in a digger for excavation works. A wooden fence, supported by posts sunken into concrete was decided upon – and then abandoned when this too became problematic, for a variety of reasons. So, we took things into our own hands, and got creative.

And, although it looks as if we’re kind of back to where we started, much progress has been made over the last two weeks. We hope that the final pieces of the jigsaw will all come together this week, and that we will eventually have a beautiful secluded space, which is completely private. Which screens us off from the comings and goings in the village and means that come next spring, either us, or new owners, will be able to enjoy our secret suntrap – and no-one will know we are there…

Coming up – how we developed The Secret Garden…

 

 

 

 

garden reno : update 10

garden reno : update 10

So, the exterior renovation of our house for sale, continues apace. We’ve largely completed the interior renovation – but we never say never – and so our attention has been turned to the garden area around the main house and the little abandoned house to the rear. We’ve been working away on the piece of land next to our neighbour’s field and this is steadily being sown with seeds and planted up with bulbs, so that we will have ongoing colour over the summer, rather than one hit. But today, we’ve decided to begin on another area, just for a change of scene.

This was the very first photo we ever took of this particular piece of land. To the right is the corner of our house and then we have the abandoned property, which was owned by a neighbour. It was held together by the vines and the ivy, part of the roof having collapsed in on itself. The land around was unkempt – full of stones and rubble and strong vines growing underground, as well as weeds. It was a mess. But we had other priorities four years ago…

We completed on the purchase of the small house in March 2020, with the land to the other side. The land above, to the left of the property, does not belong to us – it is like a lot of land in Istria. Multiple owners, scattered far and wide, and no-one assuming any responsibility for its upkeep. We were initially very reticent to do anything with any land around the house which did not belong to us, but we have gradually come to realise, if we are prepared to do the work, no-one will raise an eyebrow. And why would they when they have someone else, keeping their land tidy and in good order? We’re sure that many people will think we are bonkers for doing this, but things out here are very different to back in the UK. If nothing is done with land here, it is literally left. It is overgrown. Uncared for. And with pieces of land like this, unless you have the patience of a saint, it’s unlikely it’ll sell as all owners need to agree to the sale. But we didn’t want to have a beautiful house internally and then be surrounded by a scruffy exterior – so when we purchased the small house, the improvements just evolved.

Our first foray into sorting this area was done with our first Workaway guests – Mariuz and Julie, from France. With a head for heights, Mariuz was up the ladder and chopping away at the unruly vines, which in time, would have pulled down the house. It took days to do this, but gave us our first taste of what things could be like and so motivated us to continue.

For the past few months, we’ve made do with the ground being weeded and covered in plastic sheeting to prevent regrowth, and covered in bark chippings. We also bought three fruit trees – two apple and one cherry – and these are potted up. The whole area has looked a lot more cheery, since we added some lights, a few decorative balls and a chiminera. But it still wasn’t quite as lovely as we wanted it to be, without spending a lot of money. We’re not that daft 😉

But today – a lovely, sunny March day, quite warm when in the sun – has signalled the start of the next phase of the renovation of this area of the garden. The piece of land just outside of the bark chippings has been dug over and the clumps of grass taken out. The soil has been turned over and levelled out. Before Christmas we laid a bit of a wonky path of flagstones as the grassy ground would just get muddy when it rained – it was done quickly and wasn’t ever right, so that’s now been tackled today. We now have a straight path that runs along side the house and to the rear, so no more getting wet, muddy feet in the rain. A channel has been left between the flagstones and the raised bed under the well room windows (currently bursting with spring bulbs) so that we can sow wild flower seeds, and have a burst of colour in the summer. But, the best bit, has been the inspired laying of a double arc of flagstones – not my idea! – providing a pathway AND a lovely area for sowing more flower seeds, as well as a palette that wasn’t being used, which will now be utilised for potted bulbs.

Our potted fern has always been in the shade, so she’s now been moved centre stage and will benefit from full sun, until early afternoon so may well fare a lot better. The dead fronds need to be tidied up, but we think that the sunshine will do her good. And, our white wrought iron table and chairs, which seem to have been positioned everywhere, now do seem to have found a new home until we get the time to renovate these. Tomorrow, seeds will be sown around the big concrete pot and between the two lines of flagstones, and spring bulbs potted up for the palette platform. Then, it’s onto the other side as we create a natural trellis for honeysuckles, made from thick branches and garden twine, to finally mark out the boundary of our land to the rear, meaning we can bring the potted bamboos to this side of the little house, to thicken out the screen at the top of the piece of land, beyond the vintage garden furniture.

So, it’s coming together, but it’s taking – as ever – a whole lot longer than we anticipated. But at least, we’ve largely finished inside the house and so can concentrate exclusively on the exterior. Oh…apart from the new renovation in Oprtalj, which will hopefully become our one level, open plan, dream home.