Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Furniture shopping no go

So on Sunday morning we raced off to Ilva to purchase a few items, namely a dining table, possibly a corner lounge suite, some rugs and a pile of these cute Arne Jacobson style kids chairs (which were down from £16.99 to a tenner) only to find the place had been well and truly picked over. There was virtually nothing left. Rob was miffed and mortified. I was surprised. I thought there'd be more stock as the receivership news was only made public last week. I guess this credit crunch means people are keen to buy mountains of stuff they don't really need if it's 50% cheaper than usual.

I'm glad we went though, because if we'd waited a couple of weeks then the place really would've been empty and Rob would've blamed me "If we'd gone in the first weekend we'd have found everything!" Ack. Back to Ikea and Habitat then I guess.

Our builder was meant to start work this week but we still haven't had the final quote in from him, any day now I'm told, and then we need to have a meeting with him and the architect.

In other news, I got the company who's manufacturing our extension glass to re-quote and it's now nearly £1,600 more than four months ago (due to the Euro strengthening, and the cost of petrol etc - the glass is made in Germany). Ouch. That's the cost of a Velux window and installation... something's gotta give.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Furniture shopping?

Ilva, the Danish answer to Ikea, is in receivership in the UK. They'll be closing down when the stock runs out in about six to eight weeks. I'm a bit sad as actually I quite liked some of the stuff in Ilva. It's more expensive than Ikea but the shopping experience was less fraught - there were never that many people in the store (maybe that's why they're in receivership). In my opinion their marketing let them down - Rob and I are frequent visitors to Ikea in Thurrock (in Essex) but until about a year ago we had no idea that there was a massive retail park just down the road. Of course this is where Ilva is based, but we didn't know that. Listing your address as "Thurrock" isn't really useful to the sat nav.

Once we'd found Ilva we were pleased that it stocked essentially cheaper "homages" to the stuff we actually like, but can't afford just yet. We're fans of mid-century designers (isn't everybody?) and obviously would like to own the originals rather than knock-offs, or reproductions… but that's not going to happen any time soon.

Pictured is the table we'll probably buy, it's on sale for £60. Our current dining table is a cherry wood extendable thing from Habitat which we'll leave in the flat when we rent it out. It cost nine times the Ilva table but we just can't be bothered moving it cos it'll be massively heavy (and the movers would have to negotiate tricky concrete stairs, recipe for disaster).

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Country blues...

Img from

I've had a few rather terse email exchanges with builder number two, Division 5 Builders. When I asked for a more useful document than the one he supplied he got *very* defensive. I told him we'd paid (over the agreed price by a fair whack) for what was in effect a quote, and that it was of no real use to use unless it could detail the actual quantities involved. He retorted saying that's not what a Bill of Quantities is (check Wikipedia - that's exactly what it is).

We're now at a stand off as we'd like our keys back, he wants payment and we still don't have a Bill of Quantities, and he told us we don't need one. (We do, actually).

Anthony (the architect) was over for dinner on Monday night and he said that as the document supplied was six weeks late and builder number two hadn't told us of the massive price increase we should pay the original agreed amount and let him chase us for the rest. Of course, if we don't get the keys back we can also deduct the cost of changing all the locks from the invoice too. I found a really negative review about him on the internet which is another red flag, though having dealt with the guy first hand and seen how difficult and aggressive he is there's no way I could work with him on a full project.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Bill of what?


This photo illustrates some serious demolition. The quote we had from the 2nd builder for 'demolition work' (ie removing the back wall downstairs, and removing a couple of non-load bearing interior walls) was in the region of £12,000. The quote from the 3rd builder for the same was less than half this sum.

The 2nd builder has been chasing our architect for payment of the invoice, despite only issuing it a few days ago. The architect sent a very good email back: "Your estimation was for approx 8 hours of work which was agreed but I understand you expended considerably more time. You thus should have informed the client immediately as such dramatically increased time thus cost expenditure was not authorised. Furthermore the costings took significantly longer than expected: we anticipated this work to be completed by the end of May yet it was only recently delivered. I suggest you explain this when discussing the settlement of your invoice with the clients whose email addresses are included in this email: FYI WHAT_architecture is the agent of the client not the invoicing party."

Awesome. He's right. And it's VAT on top, so instead of paying £360 we've been invoiced for £634.50 and in effect are paying for him to quote as the so-called Bill of Quantities hasn't actually revealed any quantities - we're none the wiser about how much MDF, plasterboard or how many nails are actually required!

Rob is going to email requesting a proper breakdown as we're paying for it, and it will be useful when ordering items for the build.

Monday, 7 July 2008

The third quote is in...

… and the bottom line is only double our building budget! I never thought I'd be happy that something was only going to cost twice as much as we expected. This is a great start. As I was hoping, the quote is from our New Zealand friend Teia and he can start work before the end of the month. We need to get the quote broken down into a full schedule so we can see which bits we can shelve until next year aka "Phase 2". The building quote covers demolition, build, plumbing etc, but we still need to buy all the fixtures and fittings including cabinetry etc. None of our sums include appliances or furniture. Basically, we need to be able to shave £20 to £25K off the spend. It's not an insignificant sum so it will be tricky to get the balance of major works done vs priorities and preferences.

Then we have no choice but to do the rest of the work when we've got some more funds. Depressing really, but heck, not as depressing as paying six or seven months worth of mortgage on an empty property (which is what we have been doing, for any new readers of this blog).

The photo above is what the garden currently looks like. Our neighbours were having an afternoon soiree and tentatively asked over the fence if it would be OK to cut down the grass as there was possibly a family of foxes residing in there. They own a large Persian cat, which is a sitting duck for some wily urban foxes. We were happy that they offered to cut the grass as neither Rob nor I have ever dealt with a sickle… or a lawnmower come to think of it.

Rob is keen to move in relatively quickly, whereas I'm thinking it would be better to give the builders a head start (say, 6 to 8 weeks) and see where they're at. Am a bit nervous about having a large gaping hole in the back of the building with a bit of tarpaulin over while we wait for the glazing to be manufactured. Firstly, it's not safe or secure and secondly, it'll be a bit chilly unless we get an Indian summer (not likely. This is England.)

Next step after seeing the budget breakdown is to get a contract signed between us, the architect and the builder. The only hiccup is that the builder doesn't currently have full building insurance but he's sorting this in the next couple of weeks.

So, five months behind schedule and it looks like we're about to have lift off...

Friday, 4 July 2008

Second quote is in...

Well the first quote came in a few weeks ago and we dismissed it outright as it was triple our building budget. Last night, Amy emailed to say the Bill of Quantities had finally arrived (six weeks later than it was meant to) with the quote detailed.

It was nearly four times our budget!

The actual cost of the BOQ was meant to be £360 but it ended up costing £540. So now we're paying out for a list of items which I am having trouble agreeing with. For instance, they want to charge us just over £6,000 to install and fit the Ikea kitchen. This includes plumbing and electricity. To give you some comparison, our current flat has a slightly bigger Ikea kitchen than the one we'll end up with in the new house and it cost around £900 to install and fit.

There are materials listed in the BOQ which are mysterious - £50 here, £100 there, for little more than nails and screws - and yet there's still a £2,000 contingency fee at the end.

As the addition of an extension on the property will add about 10% onto it's value, it's absolutely bonkers to spend much more than this on the renovation, yet the two quotes we've had in so far are more like 15% (and when you're talking thousands of pounds, that 5% adds a huge sum).

So. Rob now wants to move in and rent out our current flat as soon as possible so that we can start saving up for the rest of the work to be done in the future (THE FUTURE?! Incidentally the photo above is from the weekend, showing friends round our empty and expensive space.)

I am keen to get another quote or two as I would prefer to have two out of the three floors done before Christmas, if we used either of the quotes supplied so far, we'd be lucky to get the ground floor done. I suggested renting out the new house for six months, or even selling our current flat to fund the work, but Rob thinks that both of these suggestions are absurd.

And yes, I am buying Lottery tickets.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Neutra house for sale

This is an iconic image of the Richard Neutra 'Singleton Residence' which occupies five acres on top of Bel Air. The good news if you have bottomless pockets is that this property is currently for sale, though the price tag won't give you much change out of $20m. That's a huge pile o' smackers. Interested parties should check out the Sotheby's website for more details.

As mentioned in earlier posts, Rob and I are huge fans of Case Study Houses and Richard Neutra was part of that scene. In fact, after Pierre Koenig, Neutra would be a close second for favourite mid-century architect. Check out the photo of the Singleton house below - indoor/outdoor flow, sliding doors and a feature wall made of stone (Rob has poo-poo'd this idea for our current project, but I'll get my feature stone wall in our next house with any luck…). I even quite like the furniture and flooring in this house (which obviously has had several updates since Neutra designed it in the 1950s)

There's less quality real estate porn to drool over with this dreaded credit crunch but I'm sure I can ferret around for some more inspirational images to tide us over until our building work actually kicks off (still no quotes from any builders!)