House renovations

We moved to Kendal in the Lake District last May. See 2023 review for some background, but largely as a result of Pippa taking a break from academia as a professor at Durham University and moving to work in the outdoors as a mountaineering and rock climbing instructor. Initially we were renting while we found our feet, but with an eye to buying once we were settled. This blog post tells the story of buying and renovating our new home!

The first question was what sort of place we wanted? In a town or a remote cottage tucked away in the countryside? New or old? In need of renovation or ready to move in? How much to pay? I had an eye on Rightmove over several months, getting a feel for what places were becoming available, how frequently, and for what price. We’ve ended up liking Kendal:

  • Plenty going on with shops and facilities on the doorstep
  • Easy access to what we wanted (orienteering in the south Lakes, rock climbing in Langdale, Duddon, Patterdale and beyond), and the M6 and train line to escape further afield
  • Not as touristy as say Windermere, Ambleside or Keswick.

We also wanted somewhere with a bit of character. Nearby villages were also an option. Staveley is nice but places rarely come on the market. We looked at one 16th century farmhouse in Burneside, but was too quirky with too many wonky angles and grade II listed limiting what you could do. Eventually we found “Sawmill Cottage” in Kendal. Original estate agent’s advert. Built in 1850 before the Sandylands Estate grew up around it, nice size (three bedrooms – enough for guests and home working), period features like original wooden beams. What’s not to like?

The “Saw Mill” before Sandylands grew up around it a century later

Well even to our untrained eyes we could see it needed a bit of work (also reflected in the lowish price). New bathroom and kitchen were obvious, as was the hole in the bathroom ceiling and signs of damp/mould in the corners of some rooms. We put in an offer for the asking price, and got a surveyor in. I remember his words after doing the survey – “you’ve got a project on your hands here.” He wasn’t wrong, although I didn’t really appreciate what that meant at the time. The main new observation was much of the internal plastering was rotten and needed mostly replastering throughout. I contacted half a dozen builders, and was lucky that one of them got back to me and could fit us in. He quoted and we used that to negotiate £15k off the price.

The day we got the keys

We got the keys at the end of January, and moved in end of May – and those 4 months have been a bit of a rollercoaster. Here are some of the challenges along the way:

  • In the first week the builders managed to put nails through a water pipe and a gas pipe, break the glass on one of the stoves, and on a window pane (they did make good on all of this, and they were good builders otherwise!!)
  • I was managing this at the same time as coordinating the British Orienteering Championships – just to add to the stress levels!
  • The deeds to the property claim there is a Well (that the neighbours have right to draw water from). No-one has any idea where this is! Maybe we’ll unexpectedly discover it one day!
  • Discovering the property had very low water pressure, and needed a new water supply, across a private drive, needing permission, solicitors to draw up a deed of easement and dealing with United Utilities. This was the biggest unexpected additional work / cost. I was then very surprised one day to find water spraying out of a bad seal in the new pipe in the hallway (which the plumber promptly fixed).
  • Having ~20 different tradespeople come to the house for one job or other. We decided to get most things done professionally, as it would be a higher standard and quicker than anything we could do ourselves (despite costing a bit more). Some days the house was a hive of activity with multiple different folk working on different jobs around each other. It was also great how lots of them seemed to know each other – it is a close community.
  • Jobs being delayed and/or overlapping, when you really want to do all the destructive and dusty jobs before any final finishing jobs (decorating):
    • We decided some internal lath and plaster walls needed new plasterboard and replastering only after the decorator had already started painting other external walls, which then got very dusty.
    • The bathroom fitting on one side of an internal wall cracked some new plastering on the other side.
    • The new water supply was delayed which meant plaster boarding around where it came into the house was delayed also.
    • Endless rains meant the builders couldn’t get the roof / chimney work finished when planned (which also meant they weren’t working on our job indoors alongside as they disappeared to other jobs).
    • Because of various delays, the decorator was still going when we moved in, but that was fine, he worked around us and our furniture.
  • Builders do the heavy lifting but not the nice finishing. The decorator found many places that needed touching up, around electrical fittings, gaps around skirting boards and architraves, etc.
  • Builders do strange things, like plaster boarding over a light switch (did they not think we’d need it?). On the plus side it was incredibly useful to only be living 10 minutes walk round the corner, so I could keep a close eye on progress, and spot early when things that needing changing or fixing and answer questions.
Newspaper from 1979 stuffed down the back of some plasterboard

But we got there in the end, and 4 months from getting the keys to moving in seems good for what we’ve achieved.

Viewing (offered next day)31st October
Survey complete24th November
Quote from builder15th December
Got keys31st January
Builders started work8th February
Kitchen fitting started8th April
Bathroom fitting started22nd April
Moved in29th May
Finished decorating21st June

The surveyor originally estimated £60k in renovation costs. We ended up spending £90k, although £9k of that was unforeseen cost of new water supply. I can now appreciate how on those TV building programs people end up blowing the budgets – things just keep on adding up!

Stamp duty (because we still have our house in Durham that we rent out)£7,500
Survey and conveyancing£3,000
Building work (Westmorland Builders – replastering, chimneys, and various miscellaneous stuff)£26,000
New kitchen (Atlantis Kitchens in Kendal)£17,000
New bathroom (Lakeland Tile & Bathroom in Kendal)£16,000
Fitted wardrobes£5,000
New water supply (digging trench, laying pipe, United Utilities connection fee, legal fees)£9,000
Plumbing (new radiators, new water supply connection)£2,000
Other electrics£500
Carpets and kitchen / diner flooring (Westmorland Flooring in Kendal)£7,000

I don’t want to think about what it would be worth if we were to put it back on the market now. Maybe in the ballpark of the total above? But we have no plans to do so any time soon – this is “home” for the foreseeable future and we are loving it now we are in! And would I want to undertake a project like this again? Part of me says “never again” and another part says it was somewhat fun and I have a much better idea of ways to manage it better next time. We’ll see.

In the mean time, friends and family, you are welcome to come and visit! I’ll leave you with a few before and after photos…

Old bathroom
Bathroom before (lovely colours!)
Bathroom after
Old kitchen
Kitchen before
Kitchen after
Wardrobes before
Wardrobes after
Living room before
Living room after (notice the much lighter stripped beams; and the return of our piano)
Guest bedroom waiting for guests!
The all important bookshelf of maps, climbing guides, etc.!
Lots of pipes found when digging trench for new water supply
Original (and very heavy!) internal doors restored