we are proud to announce…

our plans to the whole world 🙂

We have been waiting for everything to fall properly into place before the final stages of the adventure start and we ‘go public’. Today Ady has handed his notice in at work so the rest of the world can now know.

We have firmed up a date to be out of our house and for tenants to move in which gives us slightly longer than we first thought. This is great as it means everything comes together as per my originial plans. It does mean we will end our time in the house without TV, phone or internet as I’d already given notice for the earlier date but I quite like the transition happening in staggered steps.

Willow the van is at the garage, having an MOT and getting checked over to see what is happening with the batteries to make the vehicle battery not keep it’s charge. We’ve had the landlord gas safety check done and we have waterproof jackets on the way. I’ve ticked off most of this weeks job list, the chickens who left have done so and are happily installed in their new home, the rest are staying here as the tenants are keeping them on.

I anticipate life (and therefore this blog) to rather degenerate into a slightly wibbly heap for the next month as we frantically try and pack everything up, say our goodbyes, documenting as much as we can and heading off on our way.

6 weeks to go, could be 5, could even be 3

But we’re hurtling towards it whatever it is!

We have tenants, not 100% confirmed as there is still paperwork to go through, references to be taken etc. But they have paid a holding deposit and we should have everything signed and sealed a week from now.

We’ve set a date to hand the keys over which gives us a deadline for being out of the house. 3 weeks. 3 weeks!!!

I’ve handed my notice in and Ady has his letter drafted to print off, I’ve put a poster in the staffroom to arrange a meal out with my colleagues, I imagine Ady will have the same and we have a party planned with friends before we go. I’m expecting lots of teary goodbyes, promises to stay in touch and people torn between feeling envious of our adventure yet grateful to go home and sleep in a  real bed at night!

So 3 week countdown to house plans go like this:

3 weeks to go:

  • Friends to stay for a night who are taking 3 of our hens for rehoming. The tenants want to keep the rest of our chickens -yay!
  • Trips to the tip for anything that isn’t worth freecycling
  • Ebay listing of last few things we uncover potentially worth selling
  • Freecycling anything that could be of use to anyone – already sent off a bike and a treadmill this weekend to new homes.
  • Start arranging Zone three hosts.
  • Begin boxing up stuff we won’t need in the last couple of weeks and clearly label boxes.
  • Try and sell old washing machine for spares / repair
  • Order years supply of mail order contact lenses

2 weeks to go:

  • Get kitted out with workboots, waterproofs, thermals etc. We have a mix of these things but need to a proper inventory of clothing we have and clothing we’ll need and fill in the gaps. I have contacted some suppliers of work wear, boots and waterproofs to see if any companies wanted to sponsor us, have us give their products a really good test or let us review for them but no one has showered us with showerproof stuff!
  • Email first round of hosts to confirm dates, give mobile number for contact etc. Draw up a map of locations with contact details to leave with a couple of people who will be keeping tabs on us to ensure we’re safe.
  • Book van hire for Moving Day. 
  • Reduce contents of two freezers into one and two fridges into one, freecycle spares. If extra interest let people know a second one will be available in a weeks time
  • Go through clothing and box up, give away or get ready to pack in campervan.

1 week to go:

  • MOT van
  • Do SORN declaration and cash in road tax for Sharan
  • Cancel car insurance & breakdown cover
  • Cancel house insurance and take out landlord insurance
  • Finish boxing up house
  • Revel in last baths, last sleeps in beds, last sits on sofas, last cookings in kitchen etc.
  • Put together How To Guide to the house to leave for tenants
  • Cancel all household bills

Moving Weekend

  • Transport all stuff for keeping to my parents for storage
  • Clean house
  • Take meter readings
  • Take some photographs of empty rooms
  • Drop keys off with letting agent

We’ve had an incredibly productive weekend and totally cleared the garage and garden of everything except for a few garden tools which we have already agreed with the tenants we’ll be leaving. The chicken coop is all cleaned, raked over and we are leaving a full dustbin of bedding and another of food for them. We feel like we’ve had  taster of bloody hard work (I spent over an hour chopping up firewood and nearly as long again moving logs about and we’ve all been hulking stuff in and out of the car and around the garden) and are looking ahead now ready to get started on the adventure.

Weeks rather than months….

Further developments to report!

Firstly, and most excitingly we seem to have tenants! There is still paperwork to be completed and final dates, signatures and checks to be done but it is all in hand.

This means today I am off to hand my notice in at work. They already know and have done for months about the plan and I had a provisional leaving date in the diary ages ago but I need to go and confirm it. A will wait until next week as he has a little annual leave to use up anyway which means he shouldn’t need to work his full notice so we’ll wait for everything to be fully finalised before he takes his letter in to work.

This gives us about 3 weeks left in our house to box everything up, clear out the last few things which need listing on ebay, taking to the tip or giving away on freecycle.

I’ve given notice to Sky tv, have lists of places to give notice to once we have a firm date, lists of people we need to try and cram a get together with before we go and a Bye Then party to plan with a large group of friends.

We need to sort out internet access for the van, a solar panel for the roof, waterproofs, thermals and decent work boots. I need to order in a years supply of contact lenses, decide whether a kindle is a worthy investment 😉 and confirm dates with the hosts we’ve already booked and send out the first email enquiry to the zone three hosts on our shortlist.

Let the countdown to craziness commence!

7 weeks to go

We have a tenant viewing this afternoon, so fingers firmly crossed that all falls nicely into place. Will come and update with any news as soon as I have some.

We have spent time this weekend tidying up the garden to create a good first impression of the house and clearing the cupboard under the stairs. Despite it already being cleared at least once we still found a full bin liner to throw out and another large bag ready to go to the charity shop. We also have a couple of boxes worth of stuff for ebaying. We had a brainwave that all our camping stuff could be stored in my car while we’re away for the year as that is going into a locked garage. Anything that minimises the amount of stuff we have to ask my parents to store for us is a good thing, so we are cramming stuff into our tiny loft spaces and will also fill my car.

We also weeded out some stuff from the camping gear to come with us in the van. We have some solar powered lights, various tape & tools, stuff like cushions, fleece blankets and sleeping bags, a mini cooker which runs on tiny gas bottles and has one ring. It’s tough trying to decide what does and doesn’t justify space in the van. I think we will have a box or two clearly labelled stashed at Mum & Dad’s of stuff that nearly qualifies so that if we realise along the way we should have brought it they can send it / bring it when they come to visit.

Along with my list of what happens when – stuff that gets triggered by us confirming a tenant, I also have a list of things we still need to buy: a years supply of contact lenses, a stash of toiletries, work out what our basic food rations for a week are and whether they fit in the van, waterproofs, work boots, some sort of solar charger, an internet access on the move solution. I’ve started to contact retailers / manufacturers of some of these things to see if they would be willing to loan us stuff for the year to really test and review for them. I feel a bit strange about this as it feels like I’m begging but friends assure me it is very common practise and I guess we will be giving their products a real ‘road test’. Of course all of my tentative enquiries may well return nothing anyway.

Along with more clearing of stuff from the garage and garden we also need to start using up the contents of our kitchen cupboards, fridge and freezer. Thanks to a big bill for work done to my car at the end of last month we are a bit strapped for cash this month anyway so eclectic meals R us, probably good practise for the coming year!

8 weeks to go

give or take as many weeks as it takes to find a tenant.

In order for everything to go perfectly as planned we need to have a firm tenant sorted by 20th January. Eek, that’s less than 3 weeks away. That allows both of us to hand our notice in at work and leave on the dates we planned, our Bye Then party to take place, a week in the van somewhere along the way between here and our first booked host from 7th March to fully leave one life behind before embarking on the next and everything to fall nicely into place finances wise.

Meanwhile I’m tying up lose ends on the little things, reducing mobile phone tariffs to bare minimums until contracts run out, checking notice periods on things like Sky TV, BT phoneline, internet provider and so on. My car will be put into storage while we’re gone so the insurance and tax needs to end on that. We need specialist landlord insurance for the house, permission from our mortgage company to let it out and we need to finely tune our finances for the year so that we balance between paying stuff in full in advance and keeping enough of a contingency fund to ensure we can cope if things go wrong along the way.

So we’re poised with phone numbers and addresses and websites all ready prepared for giving  notice as soon as a tenant is found, I’ve changed my car insurance to a rolling monthly arrangement and we’ve pretty much made final decisions on what is coming with us, what is going into storage and what still needs to go. I’ve done another load of ebaying and we still have some runs to the tip and some further ebaying to go. An unfortunate side effect of creating spaces in the house has been that they tend to get filled back up again so we are thinking about starting to box stuff up and allocating one room in our house to a box room from now, if only to give us that feeling of being about to move on.

My car had a very costly bill for getting through it’s MOT and having work done to it which has set us back a month in terms of getting stuff done that costs money but will hopefully be worth the sacrifce now when we come back and have a roadworthy vehicle to use or sell depending on what we do at the end of our year. This means that stockpiling contact lenses, buying waterproof boots and clothes and a solar panel for the van are all on hold for now.

It is suddenly odd that we are no longer saying ‘next year….’ when talking about our adventure, it is now ‘in 8 weeks…’ which brings it all so much closer. We are having wobbles – at the enormity of what we’re doing, at the fresh realisation of saying goodbye to things, comforts, friends, a certain calendar whilst at the same time trembling with excitement that it really is happening, that we will have such an amazingly different year in 2011 to that we had in 2010 – all the adventures, learning and new stories ahead of us poised to happen.

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.

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.

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!

Operation House Rent

Way back when we first started talking about the WW plan for next year we had several stumbling blocks to get past to make it all happen: firstly we needed people to actually want us to come and WWOOF for them, secondly we needed a campervan to transport us around the UK and to live out of when hosts can’t accomdate all four of us or when we simply take some time out (it’s our intention to have the odd week off here and there), thirdly we need to rent our house out in order to pay the mortgage and give us enough of a little income each month to cover petrol costs and any other things that crop up (food, clothing, emergency supplies of wine or chocolate, that sort of thing!).

We got the first three months worth of hosts booked fairly quickly. I am in the process of drawing up the short list for Zone two and composing an email to start booking the next three months but early signs were promising so if the good people of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall are happy to have us, hopefully the lovely folk of North Wales will feel the same.

The campervan also fell into place pretty easily, sooner than expected and aside from needing a bit more work done to her and an MOT before we go Willow is ready to roll.

The house is the final hurdle. If we don’t rent it out we can’t pay the mortgage and if we can’t pay the mortgage then we can’t give up work. If we can’t give up work we can’t go. So it is pretty crucial. We have rented this house out before, five years ago for a 2.5 year period. It rented easily, had three sets of tenants in it and was a fairly straightforward operation. Timing is pretty tricky this time, no point in having it arranged too far in advance as that leave too much time for it to fall through, people are not necessarily looking for somewhere to live in 3 months time, they are looking for now and in order to make it attractive we need to remove our stamp on it and make it look more like it could be a potential tenants home. This means making everything clean, clutter-free and blank canvas-like. In short, magnolia!

So the house is all but clutter-cleared, the last few things will go this weekend. Then things which are staying will be boxed up and moved into the middle of each room and my Dad will come in with a paintbrush and a vat of emulsion and make it look fresh and ready for a new chapter in the biography of the house. I’m hoping to get two or three letting agents in to give me their idea of monthly rental prices and sell their services to me in terms of marketing, securing tenants, preparing contracts and making it a smooth and hassle free arrangement. Then one of them can start trying to get a tenant.

Ady needs to hand his notice in by the end of January to leave by the end of February to be off at our first hosts at the beginning of March. So we will have until the end of Jan to have a tenant signed up to take the house on before he hands his notice in. If we don’t have one, he won’t hand his notice in and we’ll have to put plans on hold until we do have a tenant. We do have the option of moving out of here earlier than March as we can live in the van and have several options for parking it on people’s land so we can still work in our jobs til the end of February before going off.

Every step of the way we have been so lucky so far, our own planning has paid off and things have fallen into place. I am keeping my fingers firmly crossed that the same good fortune follows us for this next big part of the master plan.