Wow. So, it’s been a while since I updated this blog – already breaking the resolution that I set down in literally the second sentence of my first post. Way to go. Let’s see if we can break the trend and get the next update sooner than six months down the line.
Since the first post, my brother Max and I have (mostly) finished work on our house. We decided to buy together in late 2015. Both of us were in a very good position for it: single, without any existing mortgage or debts, no dependents and a good deposit. It took several months, but we finally found somewhere that matched all of our criteria (good position but a bit shabby, with lots of storage space). The property that we settled on was a bungalow in probate, meaning that the previous owner had died.
A little tip: probate properties often have more room to negotiate on price, because they tend to be owned by more than one person. That means that a £5,000 price cut is really only going to cost each individual £2,500 or less.
Unfortunately, bungalows are prime development properties in the UK, thanks to their wide floor area and possibility of expanding upwards, so builders show a lot of interest. We had to fight to get the house, and actually offered over the asking price. We were successful in the end, though.
We had a family friend, Marek Sopilnik, manage the renovation project for us. His team did everything, from tearing out the old kitchen to putting down wooden floors and installing a new window. We can’t thank them enough.
We had a very clear idea of what we wanted, which sped the process up. Of course, those plans had to be revised once we started ripping out the interior!
Max and I began by doing all of the work that we could ourselves. Every room in the house – including the bathrooms – was covered in embossed (thankfully woodchip-free) wallpaper, which had been painted over with gloss paint. This took weeks to remove, with both of us heading straight over to the house after work every day, and we experimented with three different methods.
We began by using a steam stripper. Some people swear by them, and it worked perfectly. However, the plaster that was already on the walls started cracking up and falling off! Whether this was because it was bad plaster in the first place, or if we were using too much steam, I’m not sure, but the end result was that we abandoned the stripper, although we had to have every room replastered, anyway.
Next up, we used the old cheapo fallback: vinegar water. This was awful. Never, ever do this, no matter what you see people say online. Some people swear by a mix of vinegar and water, because it’s how they were trained. I found myself swearing at it a lot more often. Vinegar can dissolve some adhesives, but it does very little to the strong stuff used in wallpaper. The paper also needed to be scored (we used a Zinnser Papertiger, but it fell apart after two rooms), which was a really time-consuming process.
Finally – and thanks to our dad – we discovered the joy of chemical wallpaper strippers. These simply need to be added to hot water and sprayed onto the paper, then left for a few minutes. Piercing the paper first does increase the effectiveness, so we were still forced to use the Papertiger (a mission in itself – there are more robust options). However, the ease with which the paper lifted off made it absolutely worth the extra time spent. A pair of good scrapers (we used the Harris Vanquish strippers) also sped the process up.
Next time, I’ll go into what happened when the real work started…