When you’re 3,000 miles away from the object of your desire, in my case a farmhouse and barn in England dating from the 1700s, it’s imperative to have boots on the ground, especially for the “Open House.” I am extremely lucky to have three pairs of very good and competent boots within a mile of the cottage: one aunt and two cousins.
My aunt, who over the past 12 years has checked out probably 20 or so of my hottest leads, told me everything she knows about the cottage I’d fallen in love with. She knew the former owner, a lovely older woman who had been a member of her church choir and had recently passed away. This woman had run the dairy farm with her father, and spent her later years living in several rooms on the ground floor.
My cousin, G., a savvy and successful farmer, and S., his wife, a farmer and manager of a beautifully appointed B&B, are also planning to attend the Open House on my behalf.
G. tells me that when he was a young boy, he used to go to this cottage after school to wait for his mother to pick him up. At that time it was a working dairy farm, but thirty or so years ago the family sold almost all of the farmland to a developer who built a housing estate of moderately priced houses.
G. and S. spent the previous week on holiday in Tenerife, and are flying back today. They are due back home around 3 this afternoon, and I’m praying they can make the 3:15 appointment, which was the only one left. When I phoned the property company to make the appointment, I learned that appointments have been staggered throughout the day in 15-minute increments, so clearly there’s a lot of interest.
From my home in New England, I call my aunt. She tells me that a lot of people had signed up for the Open House, with 44 separate bookings consisting of both individuals and property developers. The property developers plan to tear down the cottage and barn, and in their place build 4 new houses. To me, tearing down a 300-year-old cottage is a travesty, but there’s nothing I can do unless I have the winning bid at the auction, buy the cottage, and restore it. I rapidly calculate the value of the property to a developer: if he buys the cottage and land, and builds four cottages, and sells each one for L350,000, he is looking at a net gain of L700,000 to L800,000. My heart sinks; with this amount of money to be made by the developers, there is no way I can prevail.
My aunt, who was accompanied by my uncle, tells me that they think the cottage could be made very nice with the expenditure of sufficient money, though my uncle laughs and says it needs a lot of work, emphasis on “lot.”
I then speak to G. and S. They got to the appointment on time, and believe that the cottage has a great deal of potential. However, they warn me, it’s extremely damp, and there’s a certain type of damp you can never get out of Derbyshire hill cottages no matter how hard you try, so I should be forewarned.
The property was listed in the sales brochure at L150,000 to 200,000, which made me hopeful. However, G. explained that property companies like Rightmove advertise extremely low price for cottages going to auction in the hope that frenzied buyers will bid up the price. Based on my twelve years of following Peak District property, I believe that the property is worth at least L350,000; G.’s guess is L325,000.
Whatever the price, it will be way out of my range. The cottage will undoubedly go to someone else, almost certainly one of the property developers.
I thank G. and S. for rushing back from their holiday and going straight to the Open House. Despite the other 43 groups of people viewing the property, despite the plethora of developers, I ask G. and S. to attend the auction which will be in several weeks and to bid on my behalf. I’m not ready to give up on this property yet, although after the surge of interest at the Open House I now know that I have almost no chance of being able to buy it.