One of the things I am asked about the most about, but haven’t actually spoken that much about on the blog, is our property renovation journey. I am often asked how we started out, how many properties we’ve renovated and what are future plans are, but I don’t write about it that much because I started the blog originally to share beautiful imagery of houses, as a distration from the mud, cement, general un-prettiness of life on a building site. I didn’t think that you would want to see pictures and updates of the messy process!
But after lots of questions from you all, I decided last year to start a new series on the blog explaining our journey up to now. I started with a post about the house we built in Mallorca in 2010, but then I fell pregnant and was exhausted (as well as hormonal and disorganised!), so it’s taken until now to write the second post. Mallorca was where our love of property began – prior to this I was a celebrity publicist in London and Patrick was a photographer full-time. We were thrown in the deep end out there, built and sold a house (more info here) and even though it was pretty stressful at the time, we were hooked on the process!
After selling that house in Mallorca (it was part of my family business), we moved back to the UK – we did think about staying in Spain, as Patrick had grown up there and I had loved living there too, but after lots of research we decided that the UK would be the best place for us to continue working with property.
For the first six months after leaving Mallorca, we were based in Dorset and we did research options there, but quickly realised that the best investment at the time would be in London. Our first challenge, and the biggest challenge in generally when it comes to property, was financing a it!
We both had a bit of money saved in the bank, but as our income had been in Spain for the last few years, getting a mortgage in the UK was a real challenge. Now this is something that is fundamental to anyone wanting to renovate properties for a living…unless you are lucky enough to have enough cash, you need make sure you have good borrowing power and are appealing to lenders. This means proving a strong track record with credit, as well as having a reasonable and regular income to show for at least a few years if self-employed and for a few months if you are in full-time employment.
Back in 2012 when we were starting out, we had neither! We hadn’t really used credit cards when living in Mallorca and also had no recent mortgage history. We hadn’t been earning very much over there at all (most of the money went back into the business) and our tax returns had all been in Spain, so we had no record of income or borrowing in the UK.
We were lucky to have a good friend, who was also a mortgage advisor, and between us we managed to put together a strong enough case to get a loan approved to buy a little cottage near the railway tracks in Battersea.
It was in an area called the Shaftesbury Estate, which is made up of little cottages that were built for Victorian railway workers. The cottages are small, but very pretty and sweet and the area is now protected as a conservation area. They all started life as two-bedroom houses with a small kitchen and living room downstairs, bedrooms upstairs and an outside loo. The council now allows people to extend to the rear to create a larger kitchen and also to build a bathroom upstairs and extend into the loft to create a third bedroom with a shower room, which is what we did.
The second most important thing with property developing is having a team of builders that you can trust. For this project we were starting from scratch…a friend had recently renovated a similar cottage in Kensal Rise and recommended a Polish builder that he had worked with. We were doing everything on a budget and couldn’t afford to appoint a building firm, so needed to find a few guys who could multi task and get the job done for us, using our limited funds. We made a plan with the Polish team – we would pay them for their time and we would then source and buy all the materials ourselves.
This worked really well in keeping the costs down, but was quite a challenge for us and we had a lot to learn in terms of both materials and suppliers – it was all very different to the work we had done in Mallorca. But we made it work and after four months the extension was complete. We put the house straight on the market a few weeks before our wedding and an offer came in the morning of our wedding day.
I remember so vividly Patrick and I in the car heading from the church back to Babington House for the reception – I remembered about the offer, so we were discussing it in the car en route from the church, which makes us laugh when we look back now…chatting property on our wedding day and we have talked about it pretty much every day since!
After we had sold that first house for a small (but very exciting) profit, we decided to try and do another cottage in the same area, as there were a few available that we could afford and we felt safer repeating the same formula again. The second one was in a worse state though and so was a bit more of a challenge.
As with the first one we extended into the loft to create a third bedroom. As the roof space was quite small, it involved taking a bit of space from the floor below by lowering the ceilings slightly, but that then meant the bedroom in the loft was a much more comfortable height to stand in.
Here you can see pictures of both the cottages; we kept the interiors very simple and clean to maximise the space and light, so not a huge amount of design from me in these early projects!
Our next project after these cottages, which I will share with you soon, was a slightly larger Victorian house next to Clapham Common – it is one of my all-time favourite houses that we worked on and lived in. I don’t know why exactly, but I just loved it! I will share that part of our journey with you soon…
Photography by Patrick Butler-Madden