Welcome to Scatterbrook Cottage
What do two empty-nesters do when a pandemic ruins an entire year of post-retirement travel plans? Buy a house in the country of course.
We had always planned that, on retiring, we would move out of London, back to the centre of Norwich, where we would stay for a couple of years whilst we travelled, and then find something more rural after that.
When Covid struck in March 2020 we had already decamped to Norwich, and we managed to sell our house in London during the first lockdown. I’ve always loved looking at property online (thank you Internet for property porn, and not having to wait for the local paper property section each week) and I had been keeping an eye on what was available for a while, dreaming about what we might buy when we were ready.
Although we were glad to be back in Norwich I was really missing the space we had in London, not least the garden, and the more I looked at houses, and the less we were able to travel, it seemed a good idea to bring our move forward.
Finally in November we found something worth looking at, and we visited Scatterbrook Cottage, which had originally been built in 1819 as a Baptist chapel. It fell into disrepair fairly quickly from what we can gather, there is limited history available for it other than some old maps. Then in 1987 it was converted into a home.
We are both fairly decisive and fortunately usually both on the same page and we came away both feeling it was the house for us. However we hadn’t really planned on a do-er upper so we did continue our search for a few more weeks, but nothing else came close. We looked at a modern conversion that was definitely more what we had intended to buy, but it was in the middle of a village that didn’t have so much as a corner store, and was 20 minutes drive from anything that passed for one. We left another property after two rooms, mainly because Ian kept banging his head on the door frames, and yet another that had a lovely top floor master suite but had no door on the loo, and a gloss red kitchen…
So we went back to Scatterbrook Cottage for another look and we just knew. It was the view and the garden that really sold it to us, our nearest neighbours are 1/4 mile away in each direction, it feels like we are in the middle of nowhere, but there is a Budgens in the next village and we are 15 minutes from the centre of Norwich. It really was about Location Location Location.
And so here we are. Moving day was horrific, no exaggeration. I have moved house several times, more than average I would say. Never have I moved into a house that didn’t appear to have been vacated yet. While we waited to get the call about the keys we looked on with sinking hearts at the piles of junk the previous owner had left in the garden. That morning she had asked if she could leave a “few things” in the garage and come back for them on Monday. As it was a double garage, and she promised to move the things to one side of it, we agreed.
These are the 'few things' she left…
And this is some of the junk that greeted us in the back garden…
After a call with our solicitors, non-completion was threatened (not ideal as we had nowhere to go, and two lorries of stuff waiting to be unloaded) which seemed to focus her mind, and we completed on the understanding she would return on Monday and deal with it all.
She had lived here for 40 years, and had obviously collected a lot of stuff over that time, however, she had known for 7 months that she would be moving and had done nothing. We had offered on the understanding that she would move into rented accommodation to break the chain, so after exchange two weeks previously, she had not really been tied to any particular date prior to 25 June. She tried to move in a small van and with no professional help at all.
On the Monday she returned at 7am with three helpers and a bigger van to finish clearing up. I had to let Ian deal with her because although I was angry I knew that I would be too soft on her. They were there for 14 hours clearing away the rest of the stuff. She asked us to check round and confirm with our solicitors we were happy because apparently her solicitor was withholding her funds until we were. No wonder she was so focused!
The first thing we realised on actually getting into the house was how much had been hidden by all her stuff. We hadn’t been able to see into bedroom 4 properly because it was so full of junk (our surveyor had commented on how difficult it had been to carry out proper checks in some parts of the house due to the amount of possessions everywhere) and it turned out there was some awful 1980s built-in furniture hiding in there.
The second thing that became apparent was just how filthy it was. The owner had told us her daughter had given it a “good clean”.
All I can say is she’s a stranger to a J-Cloth.
It’s a good job I’m not afraid of spiders as there was a whole housing estate of them in the kitchen alone. Thank goodness we had already arranged for an “end of tenancy clean” on the Saturday. I refused to unpack anything until they had been. It took the two ladies four hours to clean the kitchen alone. They said they had seen worse, I think they were trying to make me feel better. They were absolute stars though and they managed to remove the mushrooms growing behind the taps in the bathroom without vomiting like I had.
I admit to shedding a few tears in those few days, especially as we collected up a carrier bag of dog poo from the back garden, but gave myself a good talking to. We knew it would be a long term job, but the stuff with all the crap left behind really put a big damper on the first few days. We found loads more once we started strimming back the garden. At one point we found a brand new spade and rake, just abandoned where they’d fallen. Like she had been weeding for the day and never gone back the next morning to carry on!
We filled two skips in 3 days!
In our first week, we’ve seen 3 architects, one tree surgeon, one damp expert, and ordered two replacement windows. We removed the 80s bedroom furniture to be left with an 80s carpet that has clearly been down since the house was first converted 40 years ago. With 40 years of filth. Carpet fitter is coming on Wednesday.
On Friday we awarded ourselves the day off and went to our new local, which was excellent.
We just need to keep reminding ourselves that it's a marathon not a sprint.