First Priority – Fix the Cottage!

I took a few days off from the office last week. I had planned to use the time to get a whole lot done on the farm. Well, I got some stuff done, but not a whole lot.

I spent a little time setting up new grazing for the cattle. The grass grows really slowly in the winter, but I count my blessings that we are able to graze our animals right through winter in our climate. No snow, no sleet, no frost, no keeping animals in a barn for warmth. I treat, the  Port Jackson weed tree, as reserve feeding, and cut a few branches down allowing the cattle to help themselves and add variety to the limited grass that there is to graze.

Brown Cow – 19 July 2014

But I also got to do some work in the cottage. The plan now is to get the cottage into a liveable condition. At least liveable enough so that the family can spend weekends there. My hope is that we all love it so much, that we will happily agree to rent out our house in Walmer and live on the farm full time. This will open up a stream of income that will see the Walmer property paying for itself. It will also put us on the farm, where we can more believably begin to get income generating projects running there like:

  • Broilers
  • Beef
  • Goats
  • Eggs
  • Tree nursery
  • Shop
So you can see that the plan that I am working on here, is not just a physical plan of how to layout the farm and the cottage, but it is a plan of how to “layout” our family finances and lifestyle in such a way that the farm does not become a burden that causes Hlubi and I to work longer and longer hours in business to support.
So work on the cottage is really important right now. The other reason the cottage needs to get sorted out really quickly is because of the strategy that we have adopted with the banks. I am sure I have told you the story before, but we had to take out a mortgage loan of around  R700 000.00 (about $70 000.00 US) The selling price for Pebblespring Farm was R1 500 000.00 (about $150 000.00 US ). I am playing open books with this blog to make it as helpful to others perhaps trying to do something similar. The only way I could get the mortgage was as “new building finance”. I went to all the major banks, none of them are interested in financing vacant land. The old cottage and shop were in such a state of disrepair that the valuers were not able to find any value in them.
The long and the short of it is that the bank would not just loan me the R700 000.00 I needed to purchase the farm they insisted rather to loan me R1 200 000.00 with the condition that I build a new house worth R500 000.00. It was a hell of a process and I spoke a little about it in a previous blog. The condition of my bond finance is that I complete the construction of the new house within 9 months of the end of March when the property was finally transferred. So the deadline for completing the new house, that I have not yet started building, is December this year. But, I would prefer not to build with more debt. Firstly, I want to see if it is not possible to live in the old cottage (once renovated) secondly, if I were to build a new house, I would love to take it on as a personal project, without the banks inspectors breathing down my neck. And I would like to build at a pace that I would be comfortable with.
So with all of this in mind, our planning is as follows:
  • Plan A: fix up the cottage, make it cosy, furnish it, have a working bathroom and kitchen and lights that switch on an off (All Off the Grid of course) and then call the bank up and say, “listen…..I have changed my mind. I don’t want to build a new house. I would prefer that you send your assessors around to look at the cottage again. I am sure that you will find value”
  • Plan B: if my bank says “no” to Plan A, is then to shop around with other banks to take over the finance
  • Plan C:  Somehow scrape together another R700 000.00 by December and go back to the bank and say “Here’s the cash I owe you. Thanks, it was fun”
I will keep you posted here on the progress with this game plan. All legal, all above board, but working the system to meet our needs and the needs of the farm.
Inside cottage – 20 July 2014

Specifically though, the work I was doing today, was with a tie beam that needs repair. You can see in the picture, the beam laying in the ground. Well it is completely rotted off at the one end where it went into the wall. I will have to construct a joint. I cant easily replace the beam with another because it is quite unique. It appears from its texture, to be hewn with an axe. It is definitely not a milled beam. I would very much like to keep it and to take the time to repair it as best I can. It could date back as far as 1820 or 1830. I cant really be sure. What I know is that it was a hell of a mission to get it down. It must weigh over 100 kgs and was almost 3 metres up. I quite enjoy the challenge of figuring our the complex manoeuvres required to move heavy and precarious objects when working completely alone. So it  was a lot of strapping and a of work with the “come-along” wrench, but it came down and it came down in one piece with out any injury to my good self. Now that its on the ground, I can work on it with saws, chisels and drills to remove the rotten end timber and carefully joint in a new end that will fit into the wall.

But all this is going to take time, and right now is a busy time in the office. I feel conflicted. I see where I need to be spending my time right now, but I struggle to re-arrange my life in order to get this right.
I knew it would be difficult.

Author: Tim Hewitt-Coleman

The World can be a better place.... But how? Taking the debate beyond the political, beyond the theoretical into the real economy, into the physical and spatial dimension where cities, landscapes and livelihoods take form.

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