Saturday, 23 April 2011

House Viewing: Igor-To-Sell

Another quick house viewing post, and I promise it's not an exciting one. In the period of gloom between giving up on Mould Mansion and the auction, Sven spotted Igor-To-Sell on Rightmove. It turns out Lotte had seen it before, but we'd not been keen to see it as it was over our budget and doesn't have much garden to speak of. Still, we needed cheering up and you never know what lies behind the front door of a property, so we decided to give it a look. The estate agent described the vendor as "eager to sell". This bit is important later.

Bless the man showing it to us (the eponymous Igor), he was a very good guide around the property, and to be fair, it was quite nice (in places). It's actually owned by a company of some sort, who currently let it out (and please bear in mind that it's a 6 bedroom house and one bedroom flat) to one woman, because it doesn't meet the HMO regulations. They currently use the downstairs flat to store more tea towels than I've ever seen in my life. That bit never got explained. Neither did the fact that the estate agent hadn't mentioned the attached double garage which doesn't come with the property, even though they share a flat roof.


Size-wise it was fine, but it had no garden and was too expensive for us. On top of that, it's not for sale.

Say what?

Yep. On the way out Igor told us that, bemusing though he found it, his mad scientist masters had put the house on the market to "test the water". They're actually in the process of getting quotes to turn it into either a HMO or self-contained flats. It was only put on the market (and at what seems to us an over-inflated price) to see if they could get silly money for it.

Eager to sell, indeed.

This seems to me to highlight, rather neatly, yet more of the foibles of property as a speculative commodity. In order to see if they could squeeze unreasonable money out of someone, on their way to squeezing a lovely rental profit out of some other people, this company has told the current tenant that they might have to leave at any time. Her housing situation is insecure in either case because some distant company, apparently against the advice of their local Igor, wants to make as much money as possible. Because of their unwillingness to spend money to upgrade the property, a 7 bedroom property in a popular (and expensive to rent in) area has been occupied by only one tenant. Something is wrong here.

I cannot wait until we have a co-op house, and can hopefully inspire there to be another housing co-op in Swansea. And another. And another, ad infinitum.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A picture says 1,000 words.

Or in this case, 155,000 words.

Find more artists like Cradle Of Filth at Myspace Music

PS: The awesome lady on the left is Molly, musical genius.

Edited to add:

Auctiontimez (by Lotte)

So, a couple of us are off to the house auction where Mould Mansion will probably be sold, in about half an hour. In the highly unlikely event that it doesn't sell, I will post in about 2 hours with many CAPS and excited exclamation marks, because that's the only situation in which we have a tiny chance of getting the place.

However, if I reset the blog layout to have lots of black and crows and skeletons on it, the house sold for far too much money and I'm highly depressed and listening to Cradle of Filth. My hair and fingernails are probably also black.

NB: We're all coming to terms with the fact that Mould Mansion isn't right for us, so neither of these things happen, it's because the house sold to some other bugger and I'm too lazy to whine about it on the internets.

Monday, 18 April 2011

House Viewing: Rebound House and Liberties Lodge

Two quick updates about house viewings we have had in the last few days. I'm afraid there are no pictures as both houses are occupied, and although this means you often get to nose about in other people's book collections, it also means you can't take photos and post them on the tubes. Sad times.

Anyway, these were both unsuitable - on paper and in reality - but they did remind us that there are more houses in the world and that we will find one soon, honest. Rebound House (I couldn't think of a pithier name) was a reasonably bog standard Swansea terrace. Three stories high, split into 3 flats and currently a HMO, it was one of the nicer versions of rented accommodation to be seen locally. This lack of mange was reflected in the price tag, unfortunately, but had it been gorgeous we could possibly have stretched to it.

Alas, a thorough look round led us to the inevitable conclusion that it just isn't big enough for us at present, let alone having any space to expand. Biscuits of doom. The undeniably keen estate agent seemed to enjoy telling us that we could never possibly get a house to fit us in the area, and we'd have to settle for something smaller. Alas, we know this not to be the case, and I'm afraid I went home wishing that Mould Mansion could somehow be ours, yet again.

 Liberties Lodge is called that because the vendor is, quite frankly, taking liberties. This was a strange house for us. Set in (what appeared to be) large grounds approximately 5 miles out of Swansea, it's an ex care home with 16 bed rooms. These are all rented out, although they share only one kitchen, but because it's out of town and only on two storeys it is exempt from HMO legislation. Nice.

Although there were a ridiculous number of rooms and a surfeit of conservatories, there was also a smell of mildew, little natural light, and the Strange Case of The Missing Garden. The vendor also owns the property next door, and her drive runs through the garden of the Lodge. She has, in her wisdom, decided to keep the driveway (not unreasonable) and all the garden on the other side of it. Essentially Liberties Lodge sits on the little island of it's own garden, marooned in a sea of someone else's. Bizarre. I hope she finds someone who's not keen on gardening to buy this place from her, but it clearly won't be us.

A couple of us are going to the auction on Wednesday to see what Mould Mansion goes for. This might be slightly torturous, but I can't resist my own morbid curiosity to see what might have been. And of course, it may not even sell. Hope springs eternal, eh?

And in the meantime, the search continues, so if anyone happens to find a 7 or 8 bedroom house down the back of the sofa, please do let us know.


Friday, 15 April 2011

Moulder and Wiser

Dear readers, I am gutted to let you know that we have had to abandon the quest for Mould Mansion.

I can't pretend this is a post I'm pleased to write, but I will be doing my best to focus on the positive. Frankly, there's nothing else for it. After the most frenetic period of activity in the year long history of Golem Housing Co-op, we had a meeting last night to formally agree that we could not realistically go to the auction for Mould Mansion. The mood was curiously upbeat, which I suspect was mostly down to the relief of finally knowing something for certain after so many weeks of uncertainty. It's just a shame that the certainty was that we are likely to remain an un-housed co-op for some time.

To re-cap, Sven spotted the magnificent mouldering edifice that is MM on Rightmove some while back. Some of us were keen, others less so. Why was the start price so low? Did we really want to deal with the vagaries of the auction process? Could we possibly ever afford such a large house? A viewing was arranged for those of us keen to have a closer look, and we duly saw that though undeniably mouldy, it was (spacially, at the very least) the perfect house for us.

Excitement set in and a second viewing was arranged. Could we, dare we go for it? More viewings and more discussion led to the unavoidable conclusion that we had to try, and so off we embarked on the incredible rigmarole that is attempting to buy a house.

And this is where the process defeated us, for at the end of the day, for all of our enthusiasm and determination, we cannot manufacture time. Quotes take time, valuations and surveys take time, finding investors takes time, and fitting all of these things into a workable business plan which gets approved by mortgage companies all takes precious time, which, in the end, we did not have. With a normal house sale there would be time to do these things consecutively, but with the auction deadline looming, we were forced to do them all at once.

Clearly, this approach did not work, but I feel proud that we tried, and amazed at how much we have learned in so short a time.

Focusing on the positive, (which I promised I would do), we all now have a clearer idea of the complexities of the house-buying process, and it's pitfalls. We have built relationships with surveyors, builders and trades people of all sorts, solicitors, guarantors and investors which will stand us in great stead when we next see a suitable property. We have all learnt that we can push ourselves to get things done to tight deadlines, have three meetings a week and not go mad (even when two golems are at work on dissertations). On a personal level, I have learnt more about damp and insulation than I, for one, ever expected to know. I can give you a rundown of energy-saving home improvements by cost and effectiveness in a way that the geek in me is unspeakably proud of.

Most importantly, we are all still friends. We still eat together. We still fill our meetings with innuendo. We still make pots of tea and hold babies for each other when needed, and we still want to continue in the unpredictably emotional process of buying a house together, which is surely the most positive thing of all.

Onwise and Upwise

To fend off dejection and ensure that our collective thoughts remained focussed on finding a house in which we all shall live, those non-dissertationing golems amongst us will be turning our energies towards one of the major stumbling blocks we face as a co-op: The Housing Act 2004. This mighty embuggerance legislates for Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). It's meant to protect tenants from unscrupulous absentee landlords, sub-standard and dangerous living conditions, and other such perils of rented accomodation.

For this, we applaud it. But our applause ends abruptly when we consider that it also applies to housing co-ops. As a co-op you are both tenant and landlord, and as such, mightily unlikely to keep yourself in sub-standard living conditions. Not only this, but certain characters at Westminster have openly admitted that housing co-ops were never meant to be included in this law. Indeed, there was meant to be an exemption for them, but somehow it got forgotten. A minor oops in bureaucratic terms rendered many co-ops illegal overnight, and the co-op movement has been trying to get this situation rectified ever since.

Some golems have already been lending their weight to a campaign by Friendly Housing Action to get an amendment made to the Housing Act, and in the pursuit of a home to call our own, we will now be working on ways to persuade Swansea Council to clarify the situation in our local area. If you're interested in the issue and want to help out, then do get in touch.


Friday, 8 April 2011

The Calm Before The Storm

The mood here at Golem HQ has been a strange one of late. After a flurry of activity, late night meetings and intense bursts of decision making, we are left to wait for other elements of the house-buying process to slowly grind into place. Completely out of our control, we can only hope that they respect our tight timescale and get a blimmin' move on.


This week, amongst other things, we commissioned a survey of Mould Mansion, and are awaiting the results with baited breath. 

There will undoubtedly be surprises, but rather like waiting for the MOT result on an old rust bucket of a car, it's inevitably going to be worse than imagined. You panic when the mechanic does that sharp intake of breath that only mechanics (and builders, I suspect) can do, and brace yourself for the worst. When it comes, you suddenly look at your car as though it were some death-trap on wheels which could tear itself apart from the inside at any moment, and wonder how you ever got it to the garage in one piece. How have you survived your daily travels in this perilous conveyance?

Then you take a step back, breathe deeply and realise that the car is no more dangerous than it was yesterday. The difference now is that you know that the suspension is shot, the exhaust needs welding and the head gasket is blown. You know the cause of the strange banging noise when you go around tight corners, and why you can only park on hills below a certain gradient.

None of this information makes the car more dangerous, and when you can stop panicking for long enough to appreciate it, the exhaust clears and you feel better for knowing what is wrong and how to fix it. Even if there is nothing for it but to scrap the car, the certainty can be an unfathomably welcome relief. 

This rather lengthy allegory is meant to demonstrate the atmosphere here at Golem HQ when the survey is mentioned, and how I hope it will be responded to once it is received. None of us has even been involved in this process before, and I, for one, had never expected it to be so emotionally involved as it is. And as we wait for the diagnosis of Mould Mansion's health, it is hard to stop imagining what we will do if we manage to get our mitts on it. The garden is being planned, Sven and I are getting over excited about insulation and DIY solar air heating, and Lloyd is contemplating the best places for sound proofing in his bedroom/studio. Indeed, we have to keep imagining and dreaming these things, because if we do win the Mansion at the auction, we will have only 28 days until we get the keys, and that 28 days will be a period of such intensive physical and mental activity that there will be no time for dreaming.

So, with crossed fingers and crossed toes, we wait by the letterbox for the heavy tome of the survey to arrive, and until it does, I'll be planting fruit trees against the back garden wall.


Friday, 1 April 2011

What we are up to in our personal lives. With visual aides.

Like A level students dashing to complete their coursework on time we lunge madly at mortgage providers, builders, loan stock people and the like, collecting together the necessaries. And we're doing pretty well, all in all. So far we have worked meetings, mortgages and more meetings around babies, protests, goth nights, university, jobs and chronic ill health. We are officially awesome.

Here, for you dearest invisible audience, is a summary of what's going on in the intimate private lives of Camp Golem.

Lloyd - An artists impression
Lloyd is getting on with his second year like a ninja. He's recording with a lovely and exceptional artist called Molly for about a month soon, his manipulation of sonic waves for audible pleasure continues to amaze and entertain. The advantage of a co-op set up is that we all live together, an so all get to be the test audience. Here is a song that he and the Glorious and talented Molly made last time she alighted at the Golem Citadel.

Find more molly zacharias songs at Myspace Music

Joe, the second of the three wise men at University, is approaching the end of the 3rd year, meaning assignments all over the place. He was recognised for all his LGBT activist efforts with the 'Greatest Contribution to Liberation' award from his uni, and quite right too. He is currently cooking us a big ol' dinner, potato wedges and home made veggie burgers for >9000 people. Shame there are only 7 of us.

No cuts to the NHS!
Mattie's still meandering along with work and a reasonable pace whilst being the co-ops pet typist and paper chaser. Turns out she's pretty skilled at pestering mortgage companies daily. She's also pretty excited at an impending MRI scan (nothing too seroius, dear readers), as she's seen Tron and has decided that there's a link between the two.

Sven is at the cruddy end of a fair amount assignments, but on the bright side is off on a day trip to Tenby. Something to do with old houses, I'll find out when I get my postcard, no doubt. He's been doing a pretty incredible job of keeping the business plan in shape and generally enthusing about insulation whilst being a highly amusing Pa to young Finn. As you do.

Overlockers hate everyone
Hannah now owns an Overlocker sewing machine. We are all terrified of it, as it follows none of the usual rules of sewing machines and could easily break at ANY MOMENT. Oh noverlocker! Her enthusiasm has lead to me having new and most excellent pants, Finn having excellent bibs and the co-op having glazing quotes.

Lotte is still fully ensconced in facilitating a gender revolution, changing pronouns, educating the masses while knitting a very nifty sock yarn blanket. The work they are doing online and beyond is proving popular and they're getting quite a following. They're also still writing the rather awesome Poly in Pictures web comic, and a co-op cooking blog. Read them, they're part of your 5 a day.

Snazzy Aardvark
Finn is doing very well, he's learning to sit up and we suspect giggles may be just around the corner. He has also forged a deep and hopefully lifelong bond with Misc. Corduroy Aardvark. He is mostly unfazed by the co-op based mayhem, as he is too busy trying to eat juice cartons. An up-cycler already.

So there, that is what we are up to, with visual aides.  Normal informative service will resume soon, but until then keep safe, be seen and have a good'un.

Mattie Rose