Categories
DIY projects

#2 Fitted wardrobe framework

The framework is not something that’s worth rushing as if it’s not square or flimsy, you’ll regret it forevermore. I found CLS studwork to be ideal for a sturdy frame. But before buying and cutting the framework to size, the area needs to be prepped.


#1 | Prepping the area

Our wardrobe would be filling a space to the side of a chimney breast. The back wall was a bright purple and there was skirting and picture rail that would have to be adjusted before any framework could go in. Regardless of what colour the walls are, I’d recommend painting the interior of the wardrobe white as you’ll want as much light in there as possible.

Area painted, floor varnished

As for the skirting and picture rail, I wanted to leave it in place where possible so I just removed areas that I knew would interfere with the wardrobe. I didn’t have the proper tools for this job so made do with a chisel which took a while but the results were decent. Remember that you can fill small gaps with caulk so there’s no need for perfection with this job.

#2 | Cutting and securing framework

Once the area is ready, you can begin cutting your framework to size. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow my Dad’s mitre saw but a good wood saw will do the same job, just a little slower. Always sand cut edges with a fine grit paper before securing them.

J Leaf Snr enjoying his mitre saw

A good place to start is the front bottom cross-section. Work out the exact positioning, get it level using packers and secure it robustly. As I secured this section to our wooden floor, I used long wood screws to drive down into the floorboards and joists. Remember to screw pilot holes and countersink the screws so they look tidy and don’t interfere with doors closing. Don’t worry about the packers causing ugly gaps as these can be hidden when you’re applying finishing touches.

That bottom cross section is now the reference point for the rest of the framework. Next, I put the uprights in place, remembering to pay very close attention to getting them level so that the framework was as square as possible to accommodate the doors. If you don’t get the framework square, making the doors will be a ‘mare and it’ll look well dodgy. The uprights were against a brick wall so I used frame fixers to secure these which worked a dream.

After your bottom and uprights are in place, the top cross-section and any other framework elements can be secured in place. When joining two bits of framework at a right angle, cut the wood at a 45 degree angle ie: a mitre joint. If you don’t have a mitre saw to do this, you can get a mitre box v. cheaply and use a wood saw.

You may need to fix sides/partitions in place before finishing the framework

To secure one bit of a framework to another, a combination of metal brackets and fixit blocks do the trick. Be careful not to go overboard as A) you don’t want these to get in the way of the doors and B) they don’t look great.

Fixit blocks work great but aren’t the prettiest

Once that’s all done, you should have a really strong framework ready to support shelves and doors. Next up, getting shelves in.

Equipment

  • Paint roller
  • Paint brush
  • Spirit level (at least 60cm)
  • Tape measure
  • Metal ruler
  • Chisel
  • Hammer
  • Mitre saw or mitre box + wood saw
  • Combi drill with bits including countersink bit
  • Impact driver or screwdriver with bits
  • Finishing sander or sanding block with fine sandpaper
  • Pencil
  • Gimlet

Materials

  • CLS timber (38mm x 89mm x 2400mm lengths)
  • White emulsion
  • Packers
  • Wood screws
  • Frame fixers
  • Flat and right angle metal brackets
  • Fixit blocks
Categories
DIY projects

#1 Fitted wardrobe planning

Before any cutting/gluing/screwing commenced, I spent a fair chunk of time thinking about A) how our wardrobe needs to function and B) how it will look, and I’m so glad I did. This big ol’ wood structure is going to be the dominating feature in most bedrooms so fairly meticulous planning can only be a good thing.


#1 | Assess the space

Spend some time thinking about the space your wardorobe is going to fill. Are the floor, ceiling and walls level? Are there any awkward angles? Are there any sections of skirting/picture rail/dado rail that are going to have to be adjusted? The beauty of a fitted wardrobe is that however unique the space, the wardrobe will fit seamlessly, but it’ll be a much easier job if you’ve got a relatively vanilla space to work with. For our wardrobe, the floor and one wall were far from level and there was some picture rail & skirting in the way but fortunately, no awkward angles.

Such a shame to lose the purple

#2 | Window shopping

Next up, it’s market research. Get down to some furniture shops and pay attention to everything including dimensions, hinges and finish. I’d recommend taking a pad to jot down measurements & notes and also take plenty of photos. You’re going to look like a very odd person but just embrace this. Pinterest is also great for inspo so have a good browse of fitted wardrobes on there.

#3 | Time to sketch

Once you’ve considered the space and feel suitably inspired, spend some time roughly sketching out the framework, shelving and doors until you’re happy that the design looks good and will meet whatever your needs are. In terms of design, we have original 1930’s doors throughout the house and so I wanted to match the panels and trim of these doors so the wardrobe would blend in as well as possible. From a practical point-of-view, I knew that Haz would end up commandeering about 2/3 of the wardrobe and needs a lot of space for long-hanging items.

#4 | Final Design

Once you’re happy with the design, draw your wardrobe to scale based on both the measurements taken of the space you’re filling and what you learnt from window shopping. It’s also worth thinking about your clothes – for example, Haz’ longest dress was 140cm so I designed the hanging space to be 145cm. Sad, I know, but worth doing. She better not buy any 150cm long dresses…

Be precise with dimensions such as depth, gaps between shelves and less obvious things like gap above rail as all of these impact one another. If something’s not going to work it’s far better to find out at this stage rather than whilst you’re building the bloody thing.

I found it helpful to draw the final design out from 3 perspectives – with a front view of the doors, front view of shelves and ¾ view of the framework. This way I had a really solid plan and felt (relatively) confident that all would work.

Coding each cut makes life a lot easier

Here’s a few key measurements that I’d recommend sticking to:

  • Interior depth of 55-60cm to allow for sideways hanging
  • Hanging allowance of around 90cm if just hanging shirts, 140cm if hanging dresses
  • Aim for a door width of around 50cm; our total space was 161cm so I opted for 3 doors
  • Don’t have any knobs higher than you, or anyone using the wardrobe, can reach
  • If adding shelves, I found a 25cm opening height to be about right

#5 | Materials planning

Thanks to your beautiful drawings, it’s now possible to plan out the materials and quantities you’re going to need. I wanted to make sure the wardrobe was built to last so having sturdy framework was important. To achieve this, I used CLS timber (details in equipment list at bottom of post) which is normally used for building partition walls. When you’re out buying the framework, spend time checking that the lengths are straight before buying as there’ll likely be plenty of wonky ones for sale.

For the shelves, I opted for simple white melamine chipboard which is made for the job. It’s rigid and the more white inside the better to help reflect light.

As for the doors, I knew I’d be painting the wardrobe to match the walls so MDF would be perfect as it’s cheap, easy to work with and paints well. To match the style of our existing doors, I’d be gluing panels of MDF to the door and then adding a beading. The added benefit of including panels is that it keeps the door robust and avoids it wobbling. CharlieDIYTE has a really helpful video of how he made MDF mock-panel doors which I must have watched over 20 times. At B&Q you can get wood cut for free so make pals with the staff as they’re going to be sorting you out big time.

40+ cuts of MDF – the man hated me

The choice of hinges is baffling so I’ve done a whole post on this (possibly not the most stimulating read) but I’d very highly recommend using concealed hinges. There are certainly cheaper options eg: flush hinges but these impact the final look and don’t allow for adjustment which would be a problem for a novice DIY’er like myself.


If you’re like me you’ll be chomping at the bit by this point to get going so let the building commence.

Equipment

  • Grid paper
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Measuring tape
Categories
Doing it up

Top 10 refurb tips

Before moving into our place we were complete DIY novices. My DIY experience consisted of failing to put a blind up and making a shoe rack that is permanently in storage… So basically, we’ve had to learn a hell of a lot. Based on our experience so far, here are our best bits of advice.


#1 | Fork out for good sandpaper

As grim a job as it is, if you’re doing up a house you’re going to do an insanely large amount of sanding. As we’re trying to keep costs down, we used really cheap sandpaper for the first few sanding jobs. This is the falsest economy of all time because shit sandpaper just disintegrates and is utterly useless + infuriating. It will end up costing you more and taking longer so go for decent quality sandpaper.

Also worth saying that sanding by hand is a mug’s game. Buy a power sander (we have an orbital and corner sander) as they too will save you a hell of a lot of time and cost around £30 for a basic model.

#2 | Have a plan

Something else that we soon learnt was that doing random jobs here and there is a terrible idea. Not only does it mean you do jobs in the wrong order, but it’s also less rewarding because you feel as if you’re achieving nothing.

We now tackle one room at a time and write out all the jobs that need doing before making a start. Then we look down the list and roughly plan the order, paying attention to where one job needs to be done before another eg: don’t paint the skirting before sanding the floor as the sanders will mark the paint. The list is then stuck on the wall of the room so we can tick jobs off as they get done.

#3 | Find the best way to do a job as early as possible

There are dozens of ways that a job can be done but only one way that will be the most efficient. Finding this best method sooner rather than later should be your goal as it’s incredibly easy to waste hours doing a job ineffectively. For example, we used a heat gun to strip the skirting paint in our bedroom. The first metre must have taken me 2 hours but by the end I was probably doing 4 metres an hour after tweaking the method and using slightly different scrapers. Vary your methods of doing things until you find the best way and then stick to it.

#4 | Don’t dive in without doing your research

Certain jobs have to be done a certain way or you may end up doing more damage than good. Stripping paint from a fireplace, for example, needs to be done with with paint stripper rather than a heat gun as the intense heat can crack iron. Another example is painting MDF – you need to use a special MDF primer paint before emulsion coats as the finish will look blotchy otherwise.

These are tips that you only find out from research so spend the time looking into this stuff before cracking on with a job. At the end of the day, if you feel really uncomfortable about doing the job yourself you should probably be paying someone else to do it.

#5 | Borrow kit where possible

The DIY approach no doubt saves a lot of money. It does, however, require a lot of tools and bits of equipment that add up. The chances are you’ll have family/friends/neighbours/colleagues that have most of the equipment you need sitting in their sheds gathering dust. Borrowing and lending equipment is a great way to keep costs down and avoid having bits of equipment that you only use once.

#6 | Seek help

About 15% of jobs to refurb a house are rewarding. The rest are largely monotonous, repetitive tasks that take yonks. With these tasks, if possible, it’s great to have someone helping you with to not only speed things up, but also to keep you sane. Whilst sanding our floors I went on holiday for a couple of days, leaving Haz to fend for herself. I returned home to a broken woman as sanding a floor is definitely not a task you want to do alone. Get help from family and friends – the best ones will be happy to help.

#7 | Use paint rollers over brushes

You will get a far better finish using a roller to apply paint than a brush. Brushes are good for tricky areas and cutting in but that’s about it.

#8 | Shop around

Unless money is no object, shop around for all DIY-related goods just as you would for anything else. Prices vary massively and you can’t always rely on one place to be the cheapest. As a general rule, we use Wilkos as a first port of call for most stuff as it’s usually the best value. However, Screwfix is often a good shout and Toolstation is worth considering. B&Q is very rarely the cheapest but has just about everything. And then you have the likes of Gumtree, FB Marketplace and eBay which are perfect for certain kit.

#9 | Before starting a job, ask yourself if it’s worth it

When we first moved in we were adamant that we’d strip back every single square inch of woodwork and repaint it. 5 hours into stripping the caked-on paint of our bedroom door architrave, we realised our plan was overly-ambitious.

Some jobs simply aren’t worth spending the time and money on and being able to identify that is key. Unless you plan on doing DIY every day of your life until arthritis prevents you, be pedantic about the jobs that are and aren’t worth doing. Nobody will ever pay as much attention to the finish of a job than you will whilst you’re doing it.

# 10 | Have a Kitkat

Haz and I both work 9-5 office jobs and, believe it or not, have hobbies other than DIY. We try to spend as much free time as possible on the house but ultimately, if we’re really not in the mood or are knackered, we’ll pour ourselves a G&T/stubbie and flop on the sofa.

There have been periods when we’ve been doing housework flat out for days in a row and we always end up burning out and ultimately being unhappy. Unless you’re one of those types that will not stop until something is done, find time to chill or you’ll end up resenting the seemingly endless job list and maybe even your home.


Most of these tips are more around attitude and approach rather than the act of DIY. I suppose that’s because pretty much anyone can pick up a paintbrush (or roller) and slap it on a wall but having the right approach is what will lead to you doing the best job and having fun at the same time.

Categories
Doing it up

Our home when we moved in

The sensation of walking over the threshold into your first home is one of joy and terror. Sure, it feels amazing to have something to show for the years of saving, but the idea of having to improve and maintain a building is fairly horrifying. Just 3 months earlier we were living in a London flat where if so much as a lightbulb stopped working we’d ‘call the man’.

To be fair, there are plenty of houses that are in a worse state than ours when we moved in. The best way to describe it is probably ‘unloved’. Here’s what our house was like when we arrived in August 2019.


Downstairs

The downstairs is a pretty classic set-up for 1930s 3-bed semi. The front door opens into the hallway with stairs to the left, galley kitchen straight forward and 2 reception rooms to the right which share a wall with our neighbours.

Hallway
Dining room

The living and dining rooms are pretty much the same size and, like the hallway, have pine floorboards that are covered in a thick, dark varnish that’s badly scuffed and looks pretty grim. In the living room there’s a large original fireplace and big window out onto the back garden which is south-east facing. The dining room has had the fireplace boarded up, but there’s a lovely bay window that floods the room with light. The wall between the living and dining room has been semi opened up so it feels pretty open plan.

Living room through to dining room

The kitchen is definitely our least favourite room in the house because it’s small, outdated and only one of the gas hobs work! It’s also ridiculously cold. AND there’s no dishwasher which is surely one of the worst first world problems.

Kitchen

Upstairs

The bathroom and master bedroom face the back garden whilst the other double room and box room are at the front of the house. All 3 bedrooms are in need of some serious TLC – the carpets are knackered, walls are dented, wallpaper is coming off etc etc…

Within an hour of moving in I’d pulled up the master bedroom carpet and found some glorious original floorboards so they’ll be staying. There used to be a fireplace in this room but some maniac sacked it off so we’re going to have to do something about that too.

Master bedroom

The spare room is in need of some serious attention. It looks like a kid put several thousand posters up so the walls and ceiling are grim. As with all the other rooms, the woodwork is badly painted and damaged. The original fireplace is still in place but painted light blue for some reason.

Spare room

The box room has also seen better days but as it’s so small we’re hoping won’t take too long. There’s some weird stuff going on in this room eg: a dangling light switch in the far corner of the room which can be used for the main light…

Box room

The bathroom is just fine. It’s not exactly how we’d do it, but it’ll do for now as there’s way more pressing stuff to be done.

Bathroom

One day many years from now we might need a 4th bedroom. If so, we’ll probably follow the lead of most of our neighbours and do a loft conversion. For now, it’ll just be used for Xmas decorations.

Features

There’s a few quirky features to the house including the diagonal doors that come off the hall and landing. We really like them as they make the hallway/landing spacious and light, plus it’s a bit different which adds to the house’s character.

Funky diagonal door set-up

There are original picture rails running throughout the house which make the ceilings feel high and provide a nice way to break up the wall. We’re planning on getting some picture rail hanging equipment to use these back like they would be 90 years ago.

The doors are also original and thankfully haven’t been panelled over like so many doors from that era are. They are, however, caked in loads of layers of paint which doesn’t look great.

Interior door

A big selling point for us was the amount of natural light throughout the house. The windows are humongous and because of the layout, light travels from room-to-room really well. We viewed similar houses with less light and they felt so gloomy compared.

Outside

The apple tree ❤

The back garden is probably what turned this place from a maybe into our first choice. The previous owner was a keen gardener so it’s been well looked after and has a lovely old apple tree at the end. I’ve not lived anywhere with a garden for 10 years so to have our own outdoor space is dreamy. One not-so-dreamy part of the back garden is the pre-fab pebbledash garage which is really useful space but bleak to look at. It’ll either come down or get a makeover.

Back garden from master bedroom

There’s a long, narrow drive down the side of the house which leads to the front garden and main road. There’s only practical space for one car so one day we’re going to do what the neighbours have done and take up the small patch of front garden to gravel it so we can get a couple of cars parked.

Front garden

And that’s about it. We could easily make do with the house as it is but it’s that classic cliché of wanting to ‘put your own stamp on it’. Plus, as it is, the house isn’t particularly future-proof. So with that in mind, we have a fairly big ol’ list of things to change.

Categories
Getting on the ladder

Make your offer irresistible

It’s pretty bloody scary coming away from a house viewing of a place that you know you want. The combination of the excitement of potentially living there + the idea of some other absolute arsehole outbidding you is enough to make anyone feel mildly nauseous.

When it comes to giving yourself the best chance of making a house yours, of course your actual offer is key but there’s so much more to it than money. We had our first offer accepted which was £20K under the asking price and £40K under the Zoopla estimate. On top of this, the seller stuck with us despite an attempted ‘gazumping’ so we must have done something right! It’s all about making yourself as appealing as possible to the people who have the power to make the house yours ie: the seller and estate agent.


#1 | If you’re chain-free, scream about it

If you’re a first time buyer, the biggie is being chain-free ie: not having to sell a property to fund your purchase. Estate agents and sellers bloody love a chain-free buyer so make it impossible for them to forget. To illustrate the power of this, we were almost ‘gazumped’ (when another buyer makes a higher offer after house being taken off the market which is accepted) but our position as first time buyers was so appealing that the seller went ahead with us and didn’t even ask us to up our offer.

#2 | Do everything in person and build rapport

Second best tip sounds daft but I’m convinced it made a big difference for us. Rather than calling/emailing the estate agent to make the offer, we went into the office in person. I guess if we were total knobs this would go against us, but we’re relatively friendly people and figured that humans are emotional beings so meeting us in person and building some sort of rapport could only be a good thing. Making our offer in person also gave us plenty of time to hammer home why we were such good buyers eg: no chain, deposit ready and waiting, approval-in-principle in place, very flexible with regards to move-in date.

This logic is the same for when you view the property, whether it’s with the estate agent or seller. You want to be as memorable as possible, for good reasons! There’s a number of ways to do this but we found that just having a good old natter and demonstrating an interest in not only the house but the person showing us round was pretty effective. Ultimately, people love talking about themselves so spending 5 mins listening to the estate agent tell you about their passion for live action role-play can only be a good thing.

#3 | Be relentlessly reliable and constantly on it

From the point of making your offer onwards you need to come across as well-prepared, serious buyers. Whether through highlighting that you have proof of your decision in principle and deposit ready, responding to contact immediately or being prepared with a counter-offer should your first offer not be accepted – this stuff is crucial. The key is to come across like you know what you’re doing – whether you actually know what you’re doing is irrelevant 🙂


If you do only one of these things, make it #2. Getting in the good books of the people that make the decisions is key.

Categories
Getting on the ladder

Our house buying journey

There’s no doubt that every house buying journey is different but I reckon ours was fairly standard in that it consumed us. 3 months after our offer accepted, we got the keys and all the stress was forgotten. Here’s when all the main stuff happened.


First viewing – 23rd May

Our first viewing was the day after the house came on Rightmove. Weirdly, we were actually a bit disappointed by the viewing because in real life the quality of the finish was very different to the impression we got from the photos. Did a cheeky debrief after though and realised that the work required would likely put a lot of people off whereas we weren’t against doing a place up. The house had a shed load of character and ticked off pretty much everything on our list.

Made offer – 25th May

After a couple of days discussing nothing but the house, we knew it was exactly what we were after. We went into the estate agents and put in a formal offer, nestled into a 10 minute monologue about why we would be great buyers (here are some tips on how to make an offer). Then it was just a matter of waiting for a call, which we were absolutely expecting to be a no as our offer was £20K under the already-reduced asking price.

Offer accepted – 28th May

When the estate agent called to say that our first offer had been accepted I initially didn’t believe her. Who accepts a first offer when it’s that much below what the seller has listed for?! Especially as the Zoopla house value estimate was £40K above our offer… ANYWAY, I tried to play it cool and rang Haz to tell her the good news. She absolutely was not able to play it cool.

Solicitor arranged – 30th May

After a lot of research and quotes, we chose the solicitor that we wanted to represent us. They were fairly expensive but heard a lot of good things about them and didn’t think a solicitor was worth scrimping on.

Potential ‘gazumping’ – 30th May

The estate agent called to say that there’s been a higher offer made, despite the house having come off the market… Naturally, I wet my pants. Turns out the call was just to check that we were committed as seller still wanted to go with us!

Mortgage application appointment – 4th June

As we’d already had a sesh with our mortgage adviser, this was to provide details of the house and put our formal mortgage application in.

Electrics check – 13th June

As we knew the electrics hadn’t been looked at since before the seller moved in (12 years), we decided it’d be wise to get a bloke to check all was in order. We found a man on Checkatrade who did an EICR (Electrical Installation Condition Report) and gave everything the thumbs up.

Boiler service – 18th June

Same logic as EICR. All good.

Homebuyer survey – 18th June

We opted for a Homebuyers survey (the middle one where they do a general check of the condition of the house) which we arranged through our mortgage lender. First major problem – they found a crack on side of house which our mortgage lender said they needed more details on before they’d lend us the money. First thing they requested was a structural survey.

Structural survey – 24th June

Arranged for a local structural surveying firm to investigate the crack. Bad news again as the report suggested that it could be a progressive problem 😦 The main recommendations were to get another bloody survey done (drainage) but more horrifyingly, that we would have to reinforce the crack before the house would be stable. This basically meant we wouldn’t be able to get a mortgage offer until the crack was fixed, potentially derailing the purchase.

Builder quotes for crack – late June

Some people would probably have dropped out at this point but we decided to press on, given we didn’t think a house we like as much would come up again for a long time. So we got 3 builders round to the house to see how much fixing the crack would cost, with a view to asking the seller to pay for it.

Drainage survey – 12th July

Probably on the less glamorous side of surveys. They basically lob a camera down the drain. Fortunately, no leaks found in drain. By this point we’d spent 6 weeks and hundreds of pounds on a house that we were nowhere near owning…

Mortgage offer – 22nd July

A while after confirming with our lender that the drainage survey came back all good and sharing the quotes for the structural work required with them, we finally got confirmation that we would be able to get a mortgage on the house – WAAHOO. On top of this, we managed to negotiate the cost of the structural work off the purchase price so after a lot of stress/cost, it all worked out.

Exchange of contracts – 27th August

After the mortgage offer, there wasn’t a lot to do other than copious amounts of paperwork, mainly from our solicitors. And then, after several delays for missing paperwork further down the chain, we FINALLY exchanged contracts (ie: the no turning back point) which was a bloody awesome feeling as we could finally believe that it was actually going to be our home.

Completion ie: keys day – 29th August

Sitting in a pub and waiting for the call to say the keys to your house are ready to be collected is a very odd feeling. 3 months and one day after our offer was accepted, we were in and eating the obligatory first night Chinese takeaway 🙂

Categories
DIY projects

DIY picture ledge

Once we’d finished decorating the bedroom we stared at the massive space above the bed and wondered wtf we were going to do with it. Could whap a big statement poster up, or maybe a nude self-portrait? We decided in the end that a picture ledge would be perfect for a few prints and small plants. If you fancy making your own, here’s what you need to know.


Planning

To help work out ideal dimensions, we found that cutting a long bit of card and holding it above the bed worked well. After a few cuts, we decided that 110cm wide and 10cm deep was perfect. If you already have in mind what you’re going to put on the ledge it’s worth measuring this and using that to define the depth.

In terms of what wood to use, we planned to add a stain so any cheap softwood would do the trick. The picture ledge will need a back & bottom section plus a front lip.

Cutting & sanding

Once you’ve got your wood, it’s time to measure, mark and cut. I used a circular saw but you could just use a hand saw.

With your back & bottom section and front lip cut to length you can grab some sandpaper and neaten up all the cuts. If you buy planed wood then you won’t need to sand the other surfaces.

Assembly

The first stage of assembly is to glue the front and back sections to the bottom section. After spreading wood glue onto the surfaces that make contact, use at least 4 clamps (ideally more) to apply pressure. You might find when tightening the clamps that it alters the sections’ positioning so be careful to avoid this happening or you’ll have a wonky shelf.

I added some screws but this is overkill, the glue would be more than enough.

Finish

Depending on the style of the room your picture ledge is going in, you might want to just leave it naked or apply a protective coat of varnish. We wanted to match the colour of the door and bedside tables so chose to stain the wood. Before you slap this stuff on, do a test section on the back to make sure the finish is as you expected.

Getting it on the wall

Once you’ve decided exactly where to fix your picture ledge, use a tape measure to mark the positions of your screws. We were drilling into brick so after marking up 4 positions, hammered in some wall plugs then simply screwed through the front of the back section and into the wall. This will leave screw heads showing so you could use wood filler in these but they’ll be covered by the stuff on the ledge so I didn’t bother.


And that’s it, pretty bloody simple ey. This is a really cheap and quick project so if you fancy dipping your toe into woodwork without having to get loads of gear this is a great place to start.

Equipment

  • Measuring tape
  • Circular saw or wood saw
  • Clamps
  • Fine grit sandpaper
  • Paintbrush
  • Combi drill

Materials

  • Planed softwood
  • Wood stain
  • Wood glue
  • Screws & wall plugs
Categories
Doing it up

Before & after | Bedroom #1

The work on our bedroom started on move in day. After carrying Haz over the threshold, I legged it upstairs to rip up the carpet and begun prodding around. From a distance it looked in decent condition, but close-up it was really tired and unloved. Pretty much everything needed stripping bare before we could make it our own.

Anyway, you’re probably not here for all these words so without further ado, here’s what we did with it.

Before

After


The middle bit

We’re bloody well-chuffed with how it turned out after what felt like a bit of a slog. We spent all free evenings and weekends on it for 4 months which I guess isn’t that bad but the first 3 months were the shitty prep jobs – the last month was great! Here’s the main bits of work that we did.

Stripping, sanding, stripping, sanding, sanding, stripping… And more sanding.

Under the grimey carpet we found original pine floorboards and a hearth where the fireplace used to be. To get the floorboards back into shape we had to use industrial sanders which wasn’t overly fun but as with pretty much all this stuff, it was worth it in the end.

Pre-sanded floor

On top of floor sanding, we stripped the paint off the skirting, windowsill and door architrave then sanded and painted these. The radiator needed stripping and repainting too.


Finishing floorboards

Before we could varnish the floor, there were some humongous gaps between floorboards that had to be filled. To do this we glued some pine slivers in place and then chiselled & sanded them down to be flush with the floorboards.

After this it was just a case of lobbing 3 coats of varnish on and voila, floor finished.


Door dipping

One job that we couldn’t DIY was stripping the paint off the doors. It was so thick and stuck on that even with Wilkos paint/varnish stripper and a go on the heat gun we couldn’t get it off.

We got all our interior and cupboard doors picked up and dipped by a local firm. This was actually really good value and we’re so pleased with our stripped, zebra-esque doors.

Fitted wardrobe

Planning and building the wardrobe was definitely my favourite job. Don’t get me wrong, it was insanely frustrating at times but felt awesome to have made it myself and saved probably over a grand in the process.


Fireplace

We weren’t bothered about having a working fireplace in the bedroom, but the old hearth was asking for a mock cast iron fireplace to be put back in. We found one on Facebook marketplace which fit the bill. After re-tiling the hearth, we knocked back the bricked up fireplace and put her in place

Painting

The last stage before filling the room with our stuff was to give the walls, ceiling and wardrobe a lick of paint.

Finishing touches

Finally came the fun part – filling the room with stuff, including ‘smart’ hanging bedside lights and a picture ledge which you can read about and make yourself if you fancy.

Next up on the list is spare room #1 – more to follow.

Categories
Getting on the ladder

Costs of buying a house

No doubt the biggest obstacle to getting on the ladder is a deposit. It feels awesome when you’ve finally got together enough dollar to get your own place. That’s why it’s such a kick in the teeth when you start looking at the additional upfront costs of buying a house, and a massive wallop in the groin when you realise you’ve underestimated this (if you do like we did…)

From my casual Googling, I estimated that we’d end up spending £2,000 – £2,500 on stuff like solicitors’ fees and stamp duty – WRONG. It’s gonna vary depending on the place your buying and how many things go wrong in the process, but from our experience, content online significantly understates the added costs of buying a house. So, to help you prepare better than we did, here are all the costs that we had to fork out for when we bought our place.


Homebuyer’s survey – £245

This is the mid-level survey which involves a surveyor having a good nosey around the property to check for things like damp, structural issues and ultimately give you an overview of the property’s condition. It cost us £245 which is actually very reasonable as we went through our mortgage provider – it’d normally closer to £400/£500 for a house like ours. If you’re getting a mortgage you’ll need to get at least a basic survey done as your mortgage lender will want proof that the property they’re lending you money to buy is in good condition and worth the amount that you’re buying it for.

Structural survey – £372

Off the back of our homebuyer’s survey, a crack was found which our mortgage lender wanted us to investigate further with a detailed structural survey. Not a cost we were excited about paying but it needed to be done before we could borrow any money. If you want to know more about this saga you can read about it here.

Drainage survey – £210 

Our lender wasn’t happy with the structural survey results which meant they wanted a drainage survey doing to check the condition of our drains. Certainly not a cost we were expecting but again, we were keen to press on as the house was exactly what we were after and at a good price. Thankfully, the drainage survey came back with no issues and so we could crack on (excuse the hilarious pun) with getting our formal mortgage offer.

EICR (electric condition report) – £168

We learnt from the estate agent that the electrics hadn’t been looked at in over a decade so we thought it’d be wise to shell out for a condition report. If no work needed doing then great, if it did then we could ask for it to be taken off the price of the house.

Boiler service – £55

Same logic as the EICR – it came back all good.

Solicitor fees – £1,595

Solicitor/conveyancing fees will vary depending on the cost of the house and any additional work the solicitor has to do eg: £100 ‘processing fee’ for our lifetime ISAs. We ended up going for a fairly expensive solicitor as they came very well recommended so it doesn’t have to cost this much.

Mortgage fees – £35

The mortgage that we opted for had a £495 fee which we opted to add to our mortgage payment (worked out about £2 a month over 35 years!) so the only mortgage-related cost we had to pay upfront was the £35 CHAPS transfer fee.

Stamp duty – £750

When we bought, Boris and his cronies were all about giving first time buyer a leg up onto the ladder so luckily, the first £300K of the cost of our house was ‘stamp-duty free’. Our place cost £315K so we had to pay 5% stamp duty on the £15K over the threshold = £750. If this incentive wasn’t in place we’d have had to fork out £5,750 in stamp duty alone!


Total cost excluding deposit

Without factoring in our deposit, the total upfront cost of buying our place (a pretty modest 3-bed semi) was an eye-watering £3,430. It could certainly be cheaper than this, but equally if more things go wrong then it could well be more.

Total costs including deposit

As we both had lifetime ISAs, we got a 25% bonus on our deposit funds which meant that our savings of £25,200 + bonus equated to a total deposit of £31,500. This was a 10% deposit against the £315K purchase price. We feel very lucky to have bought during a period that the government has getting first time buyers on the ladder high on their priority list as it ended up saving us a shed load.

So the total upfront cost including the money that we contributed to the deposit came to £28,630. There’s a breakdown of all the costs at the bottom of this post to help you prepare financially, mentally, and emotionally.


So there you have it, a very large number of pounds. I wish I’d read something like this before launching into our property buying journey as the unexpected costs would have hit me less hard. The non-deposit upfront costs equated to 12% of our total cost including deposit so it really is worth taking into account!

ItemCost
Homebuyers survey£245
Structural survey£372
Drainage survey£210
EICR (electric report)£168
Boiler service£55
Solicitor fees£1,595
Stamp duty£750
CHAPS fee£35
House deposit (excluding LISA bonus)£25,200
Total upfront cost£28,630
Categories
Getting on the ladder

Top 10 tips for buying your first home

Buying a house is no walk in the park. From being on it with your finances to choosing a mortgage to whipping your solicitor into shape – there are so many decisions to make and things that can go wrong. The tips below should help make your house-buying experience a whole lot smoother and give you the best chance of getting the house you want.


#1 | Get your $$$ in order

Saving for a deposit is obviously a massive blocker for most people but Boris and co. currently love first time buyers so absolutely take advantage of it. For example, lifetime ISAs (LISAs) allow you to save up to £4,000 a year and have 25% added providing you use the money for a house deposit. We got over £6,000 of free money towards our deposit from saving in LISAs so if you haven’t got one yet, crack on!

When you start thinking about actually buying, it’s time to stop your standing order to William Hill and limit your borrowing. To get a mortgage, lenders will look at your recent bank statements and take into account outgoings when working out how much you can afford so it’s worth being stingy for at least a few months before applying.

#2 | Set your expectations early on

Once you’ve started thinking about buying your first place, you’ll find there’s not many things more enjoyable than having a big old Rightmove sesh. The temptation is to spend weeks gushing over glorious houses, only to find out at a later date that what you can’t afford more than a grotty bedsit in the stabby part of town. To avoid this disappointment, it’s well worth visiting a mortgage broker or bank/building society relatively early so they can advise you on what the maximum mortgage you can get is. This way, you can spend your Rightmove hours productively browsing properties that you’re in a realistic position to buy and avoid wasting time.

#3 | Be decisive

Buying a house can be summarised as an endless string of decisions that happen to almost all be important and expensive. If you dilly-dally when making up your mind during this process, chances are that you’ll never get a house, or certainly not the house that you want.

If you’re not naturally good at making up your mind, this can be helped by working out what you want before you start searching for it. For example, something that we found really helpful was to do shed load of location reccies and house viewings before we were even in a position to buy. It just meant that when we found ourselves in a position to buy, we knew what we wanted. Here are some helpful tips on how to choose where to live & deciding what your ‘dream’ home is.

#4 | Build rapport with everyone you deal with

One thing that shocked us about buying our place was how many people are involved in the house buying process – the seller, estate agents, solicitors, mortgage lenders, surveyors, tradesmen etc. It’s key to keep these people on side as they all have more important things to worry about. I’m not condoning bribery or flirting – just being a pleasant person to deal with who’s bothered about other people is enough. We found this to be a massive help and probably wouldn’t have had our offer accepted if we hadn’t been friendly humans.

#5 | Package your offer well

It’s easy to assume that your offer is all about the number but I don’t reckon that’s the case. When considering an offer, the seller isn’t thinking only about the money, but also things like how flexible the buyer is and the chances of things falling through. It’s therefore crucial to ‘package’ your offer in a way that gives it the best chance of being accepted. For us, this meant going to make the offer in person and stressing that we were chain free, totally flexible on move date, had our deposit ready to go, and had a decision in principle. The more reasons you can give to choose you, the more likely you’ll get the house you want at a great price so here’s how to make your offer irresistible.

#6 | Understand the house buying process

To avoid any nasty shocks and come across as if you know what you’re on about, it’s well worth reading up on what buying a house entails. It’s not particularly exciting, but spending an hour or two familiarising yourself with things like how to arrange a mortgage and what solicitors do will pay off. I’ve written about our house buying journey which should be a good starting place but I’d recommend reading more widely.

#7 | Expect unexpected costs

When people talk about the difficulty of getting on the ladder they focus on saving up a deposit. Sure, this is the biggest cost, but we were flabbergasted by the extra costs we had when buying our place. On top of our deposit, we spent £3,430 before we even stepped through the door! Don’t get caught out like us by making sure you know about all the costs that could crop up whilst buying your first home. Imagine moving in and not being able to afford the ceremonial first night takeaway, nightmare.

#8 | Be reliable/punctual/organised

Other than chasing people up, you can do little to control how other people behave whilst you’re buying your home, but you can certainly set the standard and hope this influences others. Making a point of things like swiftly replying to calls/emails and returning paperwork promptly sounds basic but it’ll get you in estate agents’ & solicitors’ good books and makes them more likely to want to help you. Plus, if you don’t get on top of this stuff it’ll get on top of you as there’s a shed load of admin involved in house buying.

#9 | Get multiple quotes

It can be tempting when choosing a solicitor or surveyor to go with the first one that comes up in your searches but this is a bit daft. It’s always worth getting at least 3 quotes so you can A) have a strong idea of what price you should be paying and B) choose people based on how they come across rather than just online reviews. I don’t mean to sound like a knob, but if somebody replies to an email enquiry in text talk and puts xoxox at the end it’s an instant no for me. Nothing beats a personal recommendation so ask friends, family and colleagues where possible. The same logic goes for plumbers, electricians and any other tradesmen you may need to use.

#10 | Meet the seller #controversial

Meeting the seller may not be possible and admittedly may not be wise in certain cases. However, based on our experience, we found this to be really beneficial. Rather than relying on solicitors and estate agents for updates, we kept in touch with the seller throughout the process and were totally transparent with each other which made the whole thing far easier. There can be a fair amount of tension and frustration between different parties involved in buying and selling houses so to have a direct line to the seller was brilliant. We still have the occasional natter on WhatsApp!


Of course, there’s a load more to buying a house well than just these 10 tips, but if you can do this this stuff right I guarantee you’ll be on course to nail life.