12 weeks to go…

All falling into place in 12 weeks we will already be installed in our first host’s tent!

Yesterday I engaged a letting agent, choosing the one I had most clicked with when I had a couple round last week to talk to them about prices, what services they offer and so on. After much discussion we’ve decided to initially go with an agent and the charges seem reasonable.

The house is already up on their website and assuming a tenant is found by the end of January everything will fall nicely into place. If we don’t find a tenant in time we will simply put back our plans until we do, if we find one who wants to move in early the plan is to move into our campervan or go and stay with my parents / friends, hand in our notice as planned and head off. There are benefits to the original plan timing falling into place but either of the other options also have potential upsides – if we let the house early we will have more cash in our contingency fund pot as we won’t have bills to pay but will still be earning, if we let the house late there is the chance of Ady getting a work bonus which we agonised over leaving too early for when we first started talking about this plan. I’d rather it just went as planned and we head off in March but what will be, will be.

The other task to look at now is giving notice in various places – phone companies, getting gas and electric meters read and paying up, Sky tv and so on. I’m also looking at Zone 3 ready to have a list of places to contact just before we head off to book for September, October and November. Zone two has been very quick to fill with five yes replies already and no one saying no yet. We are already booked right into July so another 3 or 4 yes replied would have that zone fully booked.

We need to get Willow MOTd but we have got that provisionally booked in for late Feb and will confirm that once we have a tenant lined up and a definite leaving date.

We wish you a Merry Christmas…

I’ve had two Christmas cards this morning both wishing us a Merry Christmas and an adventurous new year 🙂

The night before last I posted to facebook with a status of ‘Christmas Schmistmas’. Last night I ordered some bits off ebay just because everyone else I know is stressing about things not arriving in the post in time and I was sort of feeling left out.

So I got to thinking about Christmas generally, how I feel about it, the impact it has on me and everyone around me and so on. I shared some of my feelings with Ady and he insisted we watch The Good Life Christmas episode together to reinforce what I was saying :). I love that my reaction is to grab a book to back up an idea, his is to select a TV sitcom episode 🙂

I’ve had various types of Christmas over the years. Early Christmasses were just as magical as they should be for small children, with time off school, the promise of snow (never actually seen a White Christmas), the smell of the Christmas tree, really good Christmas specials and Christmassy cartoons on tv, the magic of still half believing in Father Christmas and that almost unbearable excitement of creeping into the lounge early on Christmas morning to see the floor filled with brightly wrapped presents.

As a young adult I loved Christmas, loved the work Christmas parties, the dressing up in party clothes, the festive spirit (hic) even if as a retail worker it was often a stressful and busy time with little in the way of days off. When Ady and I were first together we began building our own traditions and really threw ourselves into Christmas, taking the first week of December off work, making pilgrimages to shopping malls for Christmas shopping for each other and taking great delight in recreating the sort of Christmas we both we’d had as children.

The magic really began when we became parents ourselves of course. Dragon’s first Christmas was a year my parents were abroad for Christmas so it was cosy, magical and incredibly indulgent to be enjoying our first family Christmas just the three of us. Star’s first Christmas was equally magical as she was barely 2 weeks old and meeting everyone for the first time – grandparents, uncles, aunt and cousins, friends. Our first few Christmasses as parents were filled with excited Christmas shopping, late nights spent wrapping presents and ensuring the pile for each child was the same size, wondering if they would ever go to sleep so we could put gifts under the tree, putting glittery footprints from the hearth to the Christmas tree and coping with a day that started at 5am by getting stuck into the bucks fizz as early as possible!

Four years ago just before Christmas our lives changed quite dramatically and we had to seriously reconsider making Christmas happen by throwing money at it. Budgeting and buying throughout the year when we have the cash to do so, making, buying second hand and putting thought into gifts rather than money makes for a cheaper, less stressy, more meaningful Christmas. This year we are taking that principle even further. Dragon and Star will be getting gifts that are useful, that will delight them not just for a few moments on Christmas morning as wrapping it torn from them but in the weeks and months afterwards. We are not buying things that will take up space, fulfil no purpose, not earn their keep.

The last 3 years we have spent a week with friends in early December. This is a very special group of friends who get together five or six times a year for various celebrations and stay in touch online, or by phone pretty much daily. We hire a youth hostel, nominate a day to be ‘Christmas’ and set about celebrating together with this extended family what are fast becomming our own traditions. For me it captures everything that Christmas means to me. I don’t have religious beliefs but do love the spirit of celebrating the turning of the year, being with those you love, singing together, creating decorations to brighten the dark of winter, making gifts with love and creativity and watching the recipients face as they open it, working together to create a feast, snowball fights with friends.

This year we will be buying as much food as we’ll eat. True it might be slightly more luxurious and we might be home a little more than usual so we may have a slightly higher shopping bill but I don’t want to be chucking stuff out at the end of January or having so many tins of quality street I am sick of the sight of it. This year everyone will be getting something that will enhance their lives past lunchtime. Our decorations are a real tree (we would have bought a potted one if we were not going away, as it is we have a real one given to us as a second) decorated with home made gingerbread biscuits, dried orange slices and home made baubles from last years recycled Christmas cards. We will have excesses it is true – we have bought wrapping paper, the lights adorning the house will be ticking our electricity meter round that bit quicker, we did send Christmas cards and there will be plastic under the tree for Dragon and Star, along with things with plugs.

If your Christmas is just another bullet point in your already overworked job list, transferring money you don’t have in the first place from your credit card to amazon.co.uk, filling your fridge with food you won’t eat, your bathroom with bubble bath you won’t use, your house with more stuff you don’t want and your children with an ever increasing portfolio of ‘I wants’ and plastic tat then I urge you to stop for a minute and reclaim what your Christmas is to you. Think back to the last time you felt some magic from December 25th and what it was about that memory you could recapture for yourself this year. For me it is wearing a bright white school shirt and shivering in a big church as part of the choir for a carol concert, the year I got the walkman I *really* wanted for Christmas, that blissful couple of hours walking home at the end of a bloody good New Years Eve in the early hours of a brand new year when every single person you meet becomes someone you exchange a smile or Happy New Year greeting with even though they are a stranger you would be suspicious of on a normal late night walk home. I’ve found elements of all of that for my Christmas this year, while giving my children the basis for their own Christmas memories and traditions.

Merry Christmas – find a way of actually making it merry, filled with love and wonder and festive magic.

Need to update

rather quickly on todays earlier post really. And I have some other updating stuff to do too.

First though, Operation House to Let. I had two letting agents round today. They both offer pretty similar service give or take a percent or two of the monthly fees. The first was a nice woman who did a fairly soft sell on me, said the house would be worth pretty much exactly per month what I had concluded would be market value, answered my questions about marketing and management competantly and clearly knew enough about the market to give me confidence they would do an adequate job.

The second was slightly different in that the representative had more charm, clearly had a fair degree of business nouce about him and actually concluded with me what the price might be before he actually looked all round the house. Sure there was smarm and typical estate agent-ness about him but he chucked in enough personal anecdotes, enough insight to convince me he *really* knew his stuff and several common sense tips. He also undercut the other agency and offered various options from guaranteed rent per month (vastly reduced per month but defnitely into your bank account) to arranging a tenant one off fee. We also have the option of a private rental agreement and a friend has recommended an online website for that so various options to explore in the next few days before making a decision and setting the final wheels in motion for that.

Hearteningly both agents saw no issue at all in finding a tenant by March 1st and indeed both felt our potential to be out of the house earlier if needs be might need to be exercised. Which is all nice and promising. Ady and I need to have a chat about it and see which option we’re wanting to go for before setting the wheels in motion – both felt it would be worth getting the property on books before Christmas as it is the time of year when people are browsing although unlikely to have anything secured this side of 2011, which gives us all of January to find a tenant, or allows us to put back our first hosts and wait until we have tenants secured to give a months notice to work.

In other news we have all of zone one booked up now; March, April and May with a couple of small gaps I am hoping to slot some hosts who said yes in principle but to contact them again nearer the time into. I have contacted 14 potential hosts for zone two and already had four back with yes replies, I have contacted them again to set dates and assuming they are all okay with my suggested dates we already have all of June booked too.

With the exception of a few small items which still need ebaying but we’ll wait until after the crazy Christmas period is over, the house is decluttered, redecorated and ready to pack up and vacate. The chickens are still to be rehomed but we have a permanent new home for 3 of the hens and potential chicken sitters for the remainder of the coop.

A final highlight today was the reaction of both letting agents when they asked where we were off to for the year on being told ‘around the UK in the campervan on the driveway’ which was met in both cases with a wistful ‘oh, how exciting, wish I could do that’ response. Whenever I have a little niggling doubt I picture how I’d be feeling if it were someone else doing this next year other than us…

The last big hurdle

I’ve got two letting agents coming round later this afternoon to look at the house. Renting out the house for the year has always been the last and biggest hurdle of the whole plan. It’s totally out of our hands and needs to slot into place with very little room for manourvere on timescales or finances. We have an amount of money per monnth which we simply *must* clear in order to pay the mortgage and a couple of other bills / insurances, with any excess making our small monthly income to cover food, petrol, PAYG internet and anything else that crops up. We should have a contingency fund of our last months salaries for any emergencies – either for us or the van or for anything that needs attending to back here at home with the house but there is no real margin for error.

I am fairly relaxed about this as part of the whole adventure is living with as little as possible in the way of ‘stuff’ or expenses but we do need this most basic cost covered to enable us to leae the house behind and have it to come back to.

In terms of timing it is our intention to leave here at the beginning of March – I have already planned to hand my notice in mid January to leave mid February, Ady is intending handing his notice in at the end of January to leave at the end of February. Our first host is booked from the second week of March leaving us a week to either stay with my parents, or head off for a first week living in the van getting used to our new lives before staying at our first hosts. We do have room to bring things forward if we found a tenant for the house who wanted to come in before the beginning of March – we could leave the house early and we could either stay at my parents or a nearby campsite in the van and carry on working out our notice from there – we have had plenty of offers to stay with friends locally if needs be. If we don’t find a tenant in time to leave for that date though we will have to put everything back by a month and leave for the beginning of April – not the end of the world as all our hosts are provisional bookings which need confirming nearer the time so we can shuffle things around but it would be nice to be sticking to our original plan really.

So the house is pretty much ready to go ‘on the market’. It’s been painted throughout, everything remaining will be used up, stored or brought with us when we go. So I’ve rung up two different letting agents, have them both coming over this afternoon to get an idea of their services, charges and what sort of price they expect us to make per month at which point we can take the last big step towards finding someone to live in our house and pay the bills while we go off wondering.

A part of me has been reluctant to take this final step and I think there are several reasons for that. It is the sealing of the whole deal in many ways, once we have someone due to actually move in here on a certain date everything else becomes more definite. It all gets very real.

It is also an area almost entirely outside of my control – everything else has been very much managed by me, this is out of my hands and as such makes me twitchy.

It’s been so interesting that long before we actually start up the van and head off for our first host we are all already facing fears, taking on challenges and learning so much about ourselves.

Reading List – possible last in random series for a while

I’ve finished The Council of Dads: Family, Fatherhood, and Life Lessons to Leave My Daughters and it was excellent. Some really powerful messages in there about family, friendship, life, health and What It’s All About.

I think sometimes books about people changing their life can be slightly tedious reading, there is a danger of the author coming across as smug, patronising or just too different to the reader that it all becomes irrelevant. I guess the reason all of the books I have been reading lately have been such enjoyable reads is that just now they are all incredibly relevant as I’m reading them at the beginning of a period of change, introspection and adventuring. All of that said though even if you are only after a bit of vicarious armchair adventuring through the pages of a good book I can heartily recommend all of the books I have mentioned in previous posts – now contained in a list on amazon which you can find here.

House to let, two careful owners

We’ve just had a week away with friends – a now annual tradition for early December when we hire a whole youth hostel, fill it with friends and share an early Christmas together including carolling, secret santa gift exchanges, a nativty play at a nearby farm and full Christmas dinner with all the trimming for 60 people. There are not many things we will be able to fit into our lives next year as we roam but Christmas Camp 2011 will be organised at a location we can still attend.

The week before we went we spent the evenings stripping wallpaper around the house and moving things about ready to leave it for my Dad to redecorate everything. Dad is a decorator by trade and was here twice daily for chicken sitting duties and did a fantastic job of making all the walls magnolia and the paintwork and radiators bright white. It all looks very crisp and clean – and not like our house at all! We don’t have anything left to get rid of but we do still seem to have quite a bit of stuff. There are a last few things to freecycle just before we leave, otherwise everything else is going into storage while we’re away.

Christmas decorations have gone up and the whole house could now do with a spruce up tidy before I call in the letting agents. We’re still in post-holiday recovery here with both Dragon and Star suffering a nasty cold and me ploughing through washing, writing Christmas cards and getting on with things such as getting my car MOTd so I’ve put off contacting agents until the end of the week and am planning to arrange visits on Monday or Tuesday next week with a view to giving one or more agent the go ahead to find tennants by the end of the week. A friend has also recommended a DIY website for house letting which I will look at in more detail alongside what the agents have to say / offer about their service and see how they all compare against each other in terms of security, likelihood of letting, potential price per month and so on.

We have taxed Willow the van, which we were not planning to do but decided was a good idea as it means we can use her if we want (and we still have a plan to try at least one night away in her before we head off for our year) and she is ready to go to the garage for an MOT before we go and a final checkover / a few small things we want done or fixed.

We need to make our short short list of Zone two hosts – North Wales. That is my main priority this side of Christmas, I’d like to have that more or less sorted by the end of the year so we have a clear six months of arrangements made.

So a tidy up, getting finding a tennant in progress and more lining up hosts to do – busy, busy, busy!

Moneyless Man and Council of Dads

I finished the The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living and thought it was an excellent read; inspiring, funny, touching and heartening. One of those books that make you want to contact the author and say ‘I’d like to be your mate’ :).
It had some great stuff about how we came to use money, made me wonder just why we do all accept that pieces of paper are worth anything at all and some excellent and thought provoking stuff about bartering and skillswap.

I’ve just started reading The Council of Dads: Family, Fatherhood, and Life Lessons to Leave My Daughters which I heard being talked about on the radio ages ago. I mentioned it to a friend who did go and read it and said it was good so I ordered a copy from the library and it’s just turned up. I’m about half way through and although it isn’t directly related to what we’re about to do it does have plenty of thoughtful, life lesson stuff going on in it. It’s making me really glad my children are already of an age to have clear memories of me to take forward (although I very much hope to be there reinforcing them), pleased that Dragon and Star have a really honest idea of who I am and what makes me tick and that in spending next year in such close quarters with each other that relationship will  be further strengthened, along with becomming closer to Ady.

My favourite message from the books so far is the 2% idea from his Dad. He takes an idea to his Dad when he is in his 20s, to do something he’s never done before. His Dad offers the same advice he gave to his older brother a few years previously when he asked for advice about whether he should emigrate – take a year, give it a try. When you are 50 it will mean you spent 2% of your life trying something – if it worked, great. If it didn’t, hey what’s 2% ?! I like that.

I’m running out of books in my pile to read before we go, but then I’m running out of time to read them before we go anyway!