Climb Every Mountain


March 19, 2013 by robertjjarvisuk

‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’ (Confucius)

I dived in, perhaps with much ignorance and little thought.

Let’s take a few steps back. I’d finished the house at Warfield towards the end of 2001. At the time I was recovering from a major illness but fortunately my mortgage provider paid off the loan following the diagnosis. Also at that time, I met my partner, Helen, and after a few months, I moved in with her and rented out my house. So with a loan-free property providing an income, I planned a new career in property development, partly inspired by some of the TV programmes. The house was re-mortgaged to provide a deposit and a budget for a renovation project.

Now we step forward again. In fact, many steps because I walked between every estate agent in our local town, Fleet, Hampshire, to register my interest in buying a project house. Eventually my persistence, and perhaps their annoyance, paid off. I was contacted about a property, not yet on the open market, requiring much work.

Front - beginning

This was a 1950s semi-detached bungalow on Pondtail Road. It was located just outside Fleet, about a 20-minute walk, in an area of similar properties.

Even though it was on a corner plot, you could be forgiven for denying its existence. The front door, actually located on the side of the house, was accessible – just. The back garden was lost.

Back - beginning

At this point I was excited and felt I had to make an offer immediately. I didn’t. Instead my sensible voice told me sternly to talk to my partner and think. So, minutes later I rang and made an offer. Forgive me, I cannot recall if there was any negotiation but a purchase price of £165,000 was, at some time, accepted and the purchase completed in October 2003. Further details of finances can be found later in this blog.

I spent the initial months reclaiming the garden, stripping the old kitchen and bathroom, and planning an extension.

Side - beginning Back - site cleared

4PR layout1

This image shows the final layout with the extension in grey. I apologise for the small size, I’m climbing another mountain or, maybe, a large hill, in learning how to create blogs.

What became bedroom one used to be the lounge, bedroom two used to be bedroom one, half the new bathroom and hallway used to be bedroom two, and half the kitchen used to contain the tiny kitchen and bathroom.

Once the final layout was decided, an architectural technician was employed to complete the drawings and see us through the planning process. In the UK, an architectural technician is not necessarily a qualified architect but somebody capable of providing the drawings to gain planning permission and building regulation approval.

After about eight weeks, with the planning approval gained, I employed a local builder, Jim Cox, to begin work. Jim was recommended by the architectural technician. In turn, Jim recommended a plumber, an electrician, a plasterer and a roofer. In this game, everybody knows somebody who can do the job.

Pouring concrete 2Foundation blocks along side

After digging the trenches they’re filled with concrete and when set, trench blocks are laid.

Back - dpcPouring concrete slab 1

Then come the brick courses, laid up to damp-proof-course (DPC) level. Before the walls are built any higher, a damp-proof membrane is laid, on top of which lies a layer of rigid insulation (it looks silver in the photo because it’s coated in foil). Steel reinforcing mesh sits on top but not directly on the insulation. The mesh is held above the insulation by plastic chairs but not the type you sit on in your back garden. These upside-down-cup-like chairs sit on the insulation, on the top are grooves holding the mesh in place. Then when the concrete is poured to make the ground ‘slab’, the mesh is sandwiched by the concrete, resulting in an extremely strong structure. You may notice some black pipes running across the mesh. Originally this property had a suspended timber floor with vents in the outside walls to keep the timbers dry. Concrete would obviously block these vents so the black pipes maintain the air flow.

Brick shell 4

Jim, the builder, made a fine job of ‘toothing in’ the new brickwork with the old at the front. Where the new brickwork met the old at the back of the property, the join formed a right angle and it wasn’t necessary to tooth in. Instead a metal strip called a ‘wall starter’ was fixed to the old wall and adjustable metal ties could be placed to tie in to the new brickwork.

Lounge - joists

Up to the wall plate level. Steel lintels are placed above any door or window openings. The top of the cavity between the outer brickwork and the inner blockwork is sealed with more bricks. The cavity is filled with fibre insulation. On top of the inner blockwork is the wall plate, lengths of timber to allow the roof timbers to be fixed down.

It’s about time I showed the inside of the property. These next four photos show the same viewpoint, well almost, at stages before, during and after, looking from the old lounge into the old kitchen (new bedroom one into the new kitchen).

Old lounge & kitchen

The entire block wall between the old lounge, kitchen and bathroom was removed and rebuilt as a stud wall. To attempt to patch up the doorway and make good the whole wall was too much trouble. In building a new stud wall we could bury some new wiring too. A stud wall is built using vertical timber ‘studs’, with horizontal timber ‘noggins’ to provide a strong framework, the gaps between are filled with insulation and the whole wall covered both sides with plasterboard.

Opening up

It’s gone. Gone, too, is the wall between the kitchen and bathroom. Now you see how small they were.

Kitchen space

With the extension weather-tight, we removed the entire side wall. Keeping, of course, the essentials – toilet and water supply.

Finished kitchen

…and there it is, all finished. If only building really were that simple.

The next two photos, whilst still of the new kitchen, are of a different angle, looking towards the front.

Kitchen first fix

This image was taken after the ‘first fix’ was complete. First fix refers to all the internal work up to the point before plastering begins. This includes wiring, plumbing and carpentry. You can see the white cable covers fixed vertically and horizontally – these cover the electrical wiring supplying sockets and switches. On the ground under the window to the left can be seen one of the supply pipes for a radiator. Finally, running along the floor around the far corner, a new water supply pipe joins the point where the old pipe entered the property, to where we wanted the new stopcock – under the window to the right. One more point of note here, is the different floor constructions. On the left there is the existing timber suspended floor, albeit with new floor boards, and on the right is concrete. This resulted in a few floor level inconsistencies when the final floor covering was laid both in the kitchen and bathroom. There’s another stage of the learning curve climb achieved.

Kitchen fitted

Just for the record, here’s how that corner turned out.

Being my first major development, even now I’m proud of my achievements. I installed the windows, doors (external and internal), kitchen, tiled the kitchen and bathroom, fitted skirting and architrave and decorated throughout.

Outside, I erected a new fence along the side and back, including two gates.

Side with extension

Completed new front door

Finished side aspect

Some facts and figures:

Purchase completed in October 2003: £165,000 (£137,000 on a mortgage)

Renovation completed in March 2005: total costs of £41,731

Renovation costs            %            £

Building costs                  48%          23,174

Plumbing                          6%            3,009

Electrics                           5%            2,665

Other services                   6%            2,686

Carpentry materials            2%               762

Windows                           7%            3,250

Kitchen                            3%            1,634

Bathroom                         2%              739

Tiling materials                  1%              444

Painting & decorating       0.2%              112

Fencing                            3%           1,389

Garden materials             0.3%              145

Flooring materials              3%            1,311

Miscellaneous materials       1%              410

(These figures are rounded)

At the point of completion, our intention was to sell to make a profit. For reasons unknown to me at the time, it didn’t sell. In hindsight, I believe several factors contributed: location, timing, asking price.

Instead, from June 2005 to July 2012, the property was rented to a sequence of tenants. In total, this property earned £66,795 in rental income. Not bad. However, during that same period there were expenses, not least of which were mortgage payments. The total expenses came in at £55,479, so a net income of just over £11,000. On the positive side, the increase in added-value as a result of the renovation allowed us to re-mortgage it to provide funds for another project.

So it paid for itself, required little maintenance and provided a little income and a budget for another development.

When the last tenants told me they were planning to vacate, we decided to try selling again. This time it sold within days and in October 2012 the sale completed with an agreed price of £247,000. Even with the increased loan to pay-off, a net profit of £48,633 was achieved.

Some lessons were learned:

  • As anybody in this game will testify, the three most important considerations are location, location, location. The property was probably a little too far from the town centre and the railway station.
  • Property type, as well as area, determine the buying market. This was a bungalow in an area of bungalows and while most of our tenants were young, the buying market was most definitely the older generation. This limited our chances.
  • Know thyself. My aim was to learn but I learned the hard way that it’s time consuming and costly to try to do too much yourself. A balance must be found between paying for professional contractors to get the job completed more quickly and competently, against minimising your costs by doing some of the work yourself.


Did I reach the summit? Eventually, yes, when the property finally sold with profit – but at what cost to my sanity?

3 thoughts on “Climb Every Mountain

  1. Lin says:

    I loved the finished kitchen. What you said about finding a balance between paying for professional contractors and doing things on your own, I’ve learned that too. It’s not always easy to learn on your own during a first project, but the lessons sit so much deeper. 🙂 Great job!

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A 40-something Dad gradually finding myself.

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