After 10 years of being committed to renovating an old cottage and converting its attached workshop, the family is now enjoying the benefits of having a house worth twice its initial investment and making a living solely from managing the home as a rental property.
After having worked as a teacher and environmental health officer for most of their lives, Richard and Debbie welcomed the change with open arms and in 2008 embarked on a long, challenging renovation and conversion journey that has improved their lifestyle as well as their income.
Richard says: “We both realised that we have a genuine interest in property and agreed that if we wanted to have a nice big house then we’d have to do it ourselves. We made a bold move from Leeds into Hunsingore, North Yorkshire, where we found a 400-year old oak framed cottage which needed renovating. Attached to it there was a large woodturner’s workshop, which could be converted into a five-bedroom house.
“The property sat in an elevated position but its state was so dilapidated that it was spoiling the beautiful views over the Nidd Valley and the farmland. It did take a great deal of imagination to see its potential but I come from a design background as a landscape architect and this knowledge came in very handy.”
The cottage part of the property used to be inhabited by a vicar as the parish church is right next to it and the workshop was run as a local woodturning business. The vicar retired to Spain and the Heyes family bought the assets through an estate agent for a total of £280,000, 10 years ago. The unrenovated cottage was valued at around £180,000 so the plot and the old workshop cost around £100,000 at that time.
Richard and Debbie first renovated the cottage and, once it was finished, they and their two children moved in. They then spent over seven years converting the workshop into a large house, with Richard doing much of the building work himself.
He recalls: “I would come in from school, work in the house until it got dark, do all the preparation for the next day, go to bed exhausted and then be ready for it all over again. There was a lot of determination required and because we didn’t have a huge amount of money available we had to do it steadily across a few years.
“I carried out the large tasks like building the walls and ceiling, moving the floors and tackling everything else that was in my power to keep the costs down. At the very beginning, when I was stripping down the original roof, I fell through it, but luckily landed on some sheets of board that were leaning against the wall and didn’t get hurt. Being committed to doing the hard work pulled us through these rough times.”
This wasn’t the only hurdle they had to surpass as a family. When they were working on the project for about a year, their son, who was about eight years old, became ill. He was later diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour which stopped everything in its tracks. He had to undergo a year of radio and chemotherapy, but now thankfully he’s fully recovered. After the break from the project, it took plenty of courage for them to dive back into it.
The old workshop had a garage attached but the planning restrictions were quite severe, being in a conservation and no-build area. They couldn’t change the outside of the property and the floorplan but were allowed to knock down the garage and convert it into a large contemporary kitchen diner.
Richard adds: “We bought the place with outline planning permission, but it was basic, stating just that we could convert the property. But the initial plans weren’t what we actually wanted. It took us 10 months to receive approval on a new planning application, which I put together myself. Because the house was in a conservation area, the local authorities wanted us to keep the slightly industrial look of the house and also be sympathetic to the village feel. We couldn’t change the footprint and extend, couldn’t have chimneys or install windows which weren’t Velux.”
Despite all these restrictions, the couple managed to create a property with a distinctive look, which caters for their wish of having something modern-looking but with traditional materials. Inside, the house has a crisp, white touch and introduces a traditional twist through its exposed oak beams, vaulted ceilings and windows, which reflect the local style.
For all the showstopping features such as the kitchen joints, the beams, the staircase, the study and the library, they worked with local craftspeople. They built significantly on what was already there as, for example, the staircase is inspired by one previously found in the cottage. The original workshop was built around windows from a local hotel which is why, when you look at the front of the house, you notice arched windows that add plenty of character.
The industrial feel of the property, on the other hand, is enhanced by a wood burning stove in the living room which continues with a stainless-steel flue on the external back wall because they weren’t allowed to use a chimney.
The ground floor now has three reception rooms, a utility room, a bathroom and a very large living room. Upstairs you can find four large double bedrooms, one with en-suite and an extra bathroom on top. Heading outside, double doors from the kitchen/diner open out onto the decked area with garden furniture, a charcoal BBQ and a private hot tub recently added.
Richard says: “We lived in the cottage for the first six years of the conversion. With money being tight, we wanted to rent it as soon as possible so we moved into the unfinished house and stayed in the bottom part which consisted of the kitchen, bathroom and a couple of rooms for the four of us. With most of the building works still underway, we had a ladder to use as stairs but the added income was much needed for the finishing touches. Our initial budget to get us into the house, live there and rent the cottage was £200,000. Throughout the years, we ended up spending just over £230,000 for the main building works and the last £20,000 finishing it off. But we managed to source extra money through claiming back the VAT on the project. Because it’s a conversion, we kept the receipts from builders and services and claimed back around £15,000 from HMRC.”
At this point, when everything was almost ready, Richard and Debbie took the decision to do something totally different. They wanted a change, as the kids had grown and had started travelling the world. They still had the mortgage so the two thought of letting the house out and living in the cottage after their children had flown the nest. But this wouldn’t give them enough income and that’s when the idea of letting the house to holiday renters came into play.
They got in touch with The Travel Chapter (home of holidaycottages.co.uk), invested some money in getting the house up to scratch; repainted it and made sure that it was kitted out properly and were ready to test the waters. The house was inaugurated on 30 March 2018, when they had their first renters. Seven months later, the property is almost fully booked by visitors from all over the UK as well as Hong Kong and New Zealand, who opt to relax on the decking, take a dip in the hot tub and enjoy the views for long weekends or a full week.
Richard explains: “I feel we have a very good relationship with The Travel Chapter. Jill’s advice has been invaluable in enabling us to get things right from the start. The team have been encouraging and supportive as well as securing the bookings.”
Speaking of achieving their goals, Richard explains that they targeted 35 bookings in their first year. They’re currently up to 38 with more time to go until April 2019. He anticipates having an 80% occupancy rate by then and next year he anticipates the property will be fully booked. With their public sector wages being cut recently, The Heyes are now making a living out of the property. They quit their jobs and are enjoying an income of £43,000 so far. If the house is fully booked next year they will earn £50,000, which allows them to enjoy their financial independence.
In addition to this, they’ve also managed to increase the value of the old cottage as now, after spending £50,000 to renovate it, it’s worth £270,000. For the house their investment has now doubled. By spending £240,000 on the conversion and £100,000 on the land, its value is now estimated at over £700,000-730,000.
Richard adds: “I had to be workaholic for over eight years. Keep a full-time job and build a house at the same time. It has been a huge challenge, but it has all been worth it. We’ve got a house that has doubled in value and now we’re relying on it for our income as well. It’s been a tough, long road but it’s paying dividends and has become a massive success story for us as a family.
“It’s been a joint achievement. I’ve done the physical work while my wife has held the four of us together. Being in the countryside has also improved our family’s wellbeing. The children, who contributed to the build as well, were rewarded with a bedroom each, a garden to play in, the possibility of going for adventures in the village and walking near the river; overall, enjoying the countryside and all that it had to offer.”
Asked how the future looks for them, they say: “We’d like to keep holiday letting for at least eight to 10 years. After that we’ll consider selling and downsizing. We’ll probably then buy a wreck in Portugal and renovate it. The current projects are a huge asset for us and our kids will get to benefit financially from them as well, so everyone’s really pleased with the results.”
To find out how you can successfully achieve the home of your dreams, venture to the Homebuilding & Renovating Show.