Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cortijo Finito

It had been a frustrating few weeks for me in Cadiz province as the house had been finished just before the birth of Florence Lucia on September the 14th. The exhilaration of the birth of my daughter was overwhelming but so was the responsibility to mother and daughter as we adjusted to our new status in the flat in Vejer. A period of quiet and calm was necessary to acclimatise Florence to this brave new world and this meant of course I could not rush of to see the newly finished house and to pay Daniel some outstanding monies.

However, after two weeks of chill and contentment and the baby happily ensconced in her routine I felt I could grab a few days away to check on the Cortijo. I was somewhat nervous anticipating my feelings towards the house. Would I be elated or deflated? Would I see it as a burden due to the money tied up in it or a sound and profitable investment? I wouldn't know until I saw it and so off I trundled on my now familiar trek cross country passing by Arcos, Olvera, Antequera, Granada, Guadix and Baza before dipping down into Almeria through Oria to the Rambla and La Ermita. I needn't have been worried as the house more than lived up to my expectations, all the finishing work was up to the usual high standard, the kitchen finally done and the concreted patio with retaining walls looking stunning as the night shot here shows.
So I slept peacefully and awoke next day with a full list of snagging and finishing jobs to tackle. Firstly I stained the wooden backing to the kitchen island incorporating the oven before using the same stain to coat the beams in the upstairs bedroom. Next the remaining new doors needed treating with a pine wood stain. I called Jo the estate agent (Daniels girlfriend) to arrange for her to come round and see the house, take photos and put a valuation on the house. My new plan was to put the house on the market asap to test out the waters as I don't want to feel trapped within it knowing it could take a year to sell in this climate. With the birth of Florence my new responsibilty meant I wanted to realise some profit and move onto a new project nearer home base ideally. Of course the scenario that would most suit me would be to have the cortijo in Vejer where it would be worth at least 3 times as much as Almeria.....but that wasn't going to happen, unfortunately.
Off to Albox the next day, stocking up on plants, olive and a lemon tree for the patio plus lots of paint to tidy up the front patio area. A twelve hour work day saw me painting the stairwell a crisp white, and over two days giving two coats of lemon paint to the kitchen door and two coats of black to the dowdy front door, whilst also freshening up the patio with a stone colour touch up. I also purchased a wicker chair and table perfect for the bedroom to gaze out over the olive fields to the Ermita opposite. The house was now looking and smelling fresh and clean and furnished to my taste with a combination of Daves stuff with my slightly more classy pieces!
Jo turned up camera at the ready and we discussed the state of the market generally before I took her for a tour of the house. She hadnt been round since she sold it to me almost a year ago so she was most impressed, especially with the new 30sqm winter lounge and the patio leading off from it. Discussing the cost of the renovation and the sale price she said a fair market price of around 135,000 euros would be a good starting off point, which is what I had envisaged. Still lots of work to do for my next visit repainting both lounges, touching up outside walls, painting garage doors green, stripping some old interior doors and windows back to bare wood. Also need to bring the rest of my large Moroccan carpets and Moroccan prints down to the cortijo to finish the dressing up but for now......its all good. Will probably spend Xmas here with the family, roaring log fire, mulled wine, mince pies...can't wait.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Getting there

After only seven weeks of renovation work from the indominatable team of international amigos Daniel, Luis, Fernando.....and Dave we are entering the final stretch. This work has been interesting in that I have orchestrated it from 5ook away relying on the intuition of the team to follow through on my ideas. It has been relatively stress free with my frequent visits allowing me time to watch tradesmen in action working at full capacity with 11hour days the norm. I have also sent two vanloads of stuff from Vejer with, sinks, tables, taps, tiles, kitchen doors etc as the work demanded it. It all seemed to synchronise relatively sweetly and as I sit here typing the boys are finishing up the final week with Dave tidying up the last of the electrics and fitting kitchen doors whilst Daniel cleans up all rubble and rubish ready to concrete the back patio.
Its just as well they are nearly there as the bank valuer called to say he will be at the house at 9.30 tomorrow morning for a revalue of the house. I'm hoping he will be generous as I would like to pull out some equity to swell the ole bank balance in case the house takes a while to sell (its tricky in this current climate to know). One thing I have learnt is not to be greedy but to have a fair price. It has been enjoyable to renovate an old cortijo with beamed ceiling, old doors and a fireplace as well as buying all the bits and pieces for the bathroom and dressing up the place with furniture I had from Morocco and Spain.

It feels homely now but still needs the finishing touches, painting, stripping old doors and windows, planting for the patio etc but these can be accomplished on what I hope are monthly visits from Vejer. As well as this project of course there has been the other, my daughter Florence still residing in her Mums tum. I have been trying to get the house finished before the birth as I will obviously be seriously distracted then. So it has come to pass that the house will be finished on the 10th of September whilst Jane is booked in to be induced on the 12th, a close call!!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Home Straight

Only five weeks in and we can see the finishing line already. The winter lounge has the floor tiled, all electrics in and the fireplace installed and bricked in ready for plastering. This visit also saw the upstairs bathroom nearing completion, all tiled and plumbed in so I expect to be christening the plumbing next time round. The kitchen units and worktops are all assembled and awaiting the doors and drawers I am having made in Vejer by a local carpenter in solid pine.

We travelled up en masse, Jane, myself, Emily and Robin (Janes two kids) to spend a few days at the cortijo as Dave had taken a few days off to pick up his girlfriend. Also Daniel and his team were taking a well deserved two week break after slaving 10 hour days over the last month in the Almerian heat. The progress has been amazing to say the least. I knew it wasn't a major reform but even so there was quite a lot of renovation involved, plumbing, electrics, roofing, rendering, plastering and tiling and fitting a new bathroom and kitchen. All has been achieved without any major screwups or friction which is relatively unheard of in this line of work, and I think by the early part of Sept the work will be complete with the addition of the pergola lounging area and gravelled patio. Then I will get the bank in to revalue the house and pull out some equity.

Strolling and clambering around behind the house with Robin we checked out the trees and plants which was interesting. Above the house I have two almond trees and and some giant cacti, in the patio there is the orange tree and grapevine blooming whilst over the road from the house on a small piece of land I own there are three olive trees, a passionfruit plant and just outside my boundary a huge fig tree. Across the way is a communal allotment where you can help yourself to lemons, olives and oranges. It is a muccho tranquilo spot here with very friendly neighbours, peaceful and subdued with all your needs catered for in nearby Albox town or the very Spanish town of Oria 5 mins drive out of the hamlet. As I said to Jane it is very near perfect but a shame we couldnt uproot the house to the campo in that would be perfection. Also this area is populated by predominatley Spanish with the odd sprinkling of retired ex pats but not too many young, vibrant personalities..apart from Dave and Sue and their Rambla Social and Cinema Club. Of course there could be other people in and around here that I just havent met yet. We shall see. As an investment here it makes sense although the house wont make a fortune it has been good to click the old grey matter into gear to bring a neglected house back to its former glory..and then some!

The plan is to sit on the house till next Spring and after planting some flora and fauna it should look pretty as a picture for a prospective buyer, although at this stage with the kids running round enjoying the space and comfort it feels very homely. Still a good idea to find another property with a bit more land though to get in some creative gardening and reformation as the prices here are still very keen. We shall see...again.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rambling Stories

One of my favourite things to do in Spain whether its Cadiz or Almeria is to find a cool relaxing spot for that first morning cafe con leche. In Vejer its a quick uphill stroll to the Plaza de Espana where you join builders. the local barber and the obligatory tourists to sit and reflect, ruminate and readjust to the already sultry heat and plan your day. In the Rambla I found a great little Venta just 500m up the old river bed from La Ermita, my village. There is no sign to it but a grape encrusted entrance with blooming bougainvilla beckons you in from the dusty slip road.

Once inside you are generally the only person there but then again there might be a local campo character slurping a drink at the bar or an ex pat or two. I will sit and savour the first cafe whilst smoking my morning Fortuna Azul and then onto a tostado and aceite and tomate (toasted crusty roll soaked in olive oil with fresh chopped tomato and salt). Recommended highly. Outside the bar and kicking up the dust one morning was a local goatherd with his muzzled dogs and a very well trained group of goats marching briskly head down along the Rambla.

In this bar one morning Dave and I met HiFi Dave and Glamourous Sue, a couple who had been out here for four years renovating their 200 year old Cortijo further up the Rambla. He had installed home entertainment systems in England in a previous life while Sue looked and dressed like an ex model, an incongorous sight in the wilds of the campo. They were trying to do their bit to create a social agenda so had recently organised a twice weekly meet up at their home for xpats plus also twice a week they had a film society showing movies on a big screen in their converted garage. Hi Fi Dave also went to Archery classes or raced his buggy up and down the river bed whilst also spending his day on renovation work. We agreed to see them at the wednesday social and he gave us directions to their house a few k up the Rambla, uncharted territory for me!
Work at the house was coming on nicely and Dave and I felt we both deserved a few beers at the end of a busy day. With HiFis directions we headed up the Rambla missing all the signposts he had given us and within only 3k we were in a different environment totally with majestic craggy mountains flanking both sides of the Rambla and quite deserted apart from a secluded farmhouse here and there skulking in the scrubland. We looked out of the car window half expecting to see a troupe of Apaches or Navajo in the heights above, it was that kind of Wild West vibe. Realising we had overshot our destination we doubled back and found Hi Fi's cortijo, perched on a high ledge with sweeping views of the mountains in the distance. Lots of English voices confirmed we were in the right place. There was my taciturn neighbour Jack chatting with a disparate bunch of expats, some Northern, some old, some interesting and then again some not. The usual. The beers and nuts flowed courtesy of our glamourous host Sue and the conversation turned a bit wacky. After maybe his third beer Dave was into his stride and regaling the table with tales of life in Valencia. Apparently they like their pigeons up there but unlike in England where they race them passionately in Valencia there is a slightly different slant on things. Apparently they let a female pigeon on heat out first and after an appropriate amount of time they let out all the male pigeons. With all the owners squinting through their high powered binoculars they have to ascertain the winning pigeon ie the male who first gets to the female and does the dirty business, if you get my drift. This being Spain of course lots of alcohol, laughter and heated discussion is involved in confirming the winner!
Another expat went into a very detailed and thorough story about an artist who created works of art in minature, for instance on a grain of rice. He said that to get the requisite composure to do the work he had to go into a Zen like state for 40 second bursts of work so that he effectively stopped breathing whilst concentrating so that his hand was steady enough. We were all paying rapt attention to the story until after a pregnant pause after this information was divulged Glamourous Sue piped up"My Daves like that in bed". Cue raucous laughter as Sue hadnt quite thought through what she had said and its possible implications. So welcome to campo life and expat experiences. Roll on Friday and the home cinema experience.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Life in the Campo (Rambla style)

Have you heard the one about a Bolivian, an Argentinian, a Romanian and an Englishman, well they all got together to form my creative building team. They also seem to have a bit of Trojan in them as they work like proverbial donkeys as I frantically try to capture their progress on the camera. What I've found is if I leave them for a few hours I come back to find them forging ahead either plastering, putting a door in here and there or recently I came back to find a room competely tiled in my absence. A nice problem after my last multi delayed project in Fes which ultimately took a year to finish. With the cortijo we are less than three weeks into the job and already we have broken the back of it. The new lounge has a new beamed roof and glorious old style roof tiles (as in picture), it is fully plastered wth an archway built leading down the stairs to the kitchen and old style granny pantry. The old doors that I bought in Vejer, and labouriously stripped on the terrace are now being framed ready to be put in place as the main lounge doors leading to the rockfaced patio.
Dave has been busy and thorough evaluating the whole electrical system and rewiring behind Daniel and his crew, whilst also buying the kitchen cabinets and setting out the layout with the cooker, and wash machine and double belfast sink. He very rapidly plumbed and wired in the kitchen so it is now operationable. He talked me out of buying the granite work tops which at 100 euros linear metre would end up costing 750 euros!! Instead I ended up buying granite laminate at 48 euros for 3.6 metre board so for whole kitchen worktop the cost was just over 100 euros a saving of over 600 euros. Thanks Dave. So all I need to do now is choose kitchen doors and kitchen is complete.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Project Progressing

Had to leave the house reluctantly after being involved in the first weeks work but left very impressed with Daniel, Luis and Ferdinands hard graft. In photos Ferdinand is plastering over the bamboo that runs between the old beams and then knocking through the thick walls to create space for the double balcony doors, which were literally in place only hours after his photo. They dont mess around. At this rate I estimate they will be done in under 2 months especially as Dave the builder has now turned up. He immediately turned his attention to the kitchen, measuring up for the cabinets and so when I leave I will have two teams cracking on, Daniel with major construction upstairs and Dave assimilating the kitchen cabinets and fitting appliances.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cracking on

Daniel wastes no time in attacking the project from all angles. This in precis is what has been achieved in four days on the job. Rock face behind house levelled off, area for pergola cleared, building supplies arrive and lounge wall built, lintels in place for new doorways and windows, wall constructed in master bedroom, rendering of lounge walls, ordering of new doors and windows and beams for the lounge roof, plastering over the bamboo between beams in third bedroom, making doorways by drilling through metre thick walls as well as gouging out channels for electricity . Not bad for four days work really. Myself I have been out and around scouting the area and checking out stores. On Tuesday bought, fridge, stove top, oven and washing machine ready for Daves imminent arrival so that he can buld kitchen around them. Found a great Butler sink (double) to finish the kitchen buying. Also on a trip to Huercal Overa, the next major town after Albox and very Spanish, found a great granite and marble factory tucked awayin a side street and the father and son (who spoke broken English), with great patience, showed me the different types of granite and marble. They recommended the cheaper granito nacional as a counter top and explained it would cost 100 euros per linear metre with all cutouts, travelling costs and installation included in that price. Not bad.