Saturday 29 October 2016

Herefordshire or bust?

In recent times some focus in the RIT household has now switched from A Place in the Sun to what about Herefordshire?  As with any of our crazy ideas our approach is always plenty of desk research and then boots on the ground.  All I can say is that Herefordshire is everything we remember from previous visits.  An absolutely beautiful part of the world but then again at this time of year in the UK, with the leaves yellow to red and starting to fall, ugly parts are probably the exception so some care is needed.

Click to enlarge, Kingsland, Herefordshire (source)

Of course our trips have not been all about roaming around country paths, lanes and villages  although we’ve done some of that.  They’ve also initially focused on looking at the possibility of building a modest warm home.  Don’t get me wrong, we love an old historic grade II listed home like the next man or woman, but as a FIRE’ee we don’t very much like the energy performance or maintenance costs that go with them.

There are plenty of Herefordshire homes that are just beautiful
Click to enlarge, There are plenty of Herefordshire homes that are just beautiful

This great country has some pretty draconian planning laws that really favour the NIMBY’s of the world so our first priority was to see if any land was around and what it might cost.  There are plenty of ‘building plots’ but we have no intention of seeing out our days on a plot that is about as large as the home floor plan so we had to be more creative.  By talking to the local agents and particularly the locals, who without exception were all fabulously friendly and helpful, we did turn up a few plots and one in particular.  It was quite attractive as it’s about a third of an acre, south facing, has some established fruit trees already present and already has planning permission in place for ‘a home’.  Some initial discussions suggest the price would be around £130,000.  So land looks to be possible with some effort.

The plot does however carry some problems which might be turning off the punters.  It’s located in a conservation area so any construction must respect the character, size, scale and design of homes in the area.  For us this isn’t a problem as we’re looking at a modest oak framed home and there are plenty of those in the area.  The other problem is they want an ecological survey done which could be a costly problem if they find something and so would need more investigation.

We’ve also met with some builders.  We only want modest and quite like something like this:

modest warm 115m^2 oak framed home
Click to enlarge, modest warm 115m^2 oak framed home

Looking at some plans, kicking some tyres and we’ve agreed a 3 bedroom 115m^2 or so oak framed home would have us grinning from ear to ear.  This is where the problem starts.  One builder we’ve talked to has indicated that by the time we pay for planning amendments, preliminaries, built the home and then fitted it out modestly we wouldn’t be seeing much change from £302,000.  That is £2,600 per square metre of living area which looks very expensive.

A modest garage that’s in keeping with the area would add a further £20,000.  All of a sudden some land, a modest oak framed home and a garage costs £452,000!

Two thoughts immediately come to mind.  By mid 2017 and provided Mr Market is favourable I should be able to have £350,000 or so in cash or cash like investments available for the home part of my FIRE journey.  So I’m a long way short and would need to be working at least One More Year (OMY) which I really don’t want to be doing.  The other thought is that £450,000 will buy this:

Much more land, bigger and more oaky
Click to enlarge, Much more land, bigger and more oaky

That’s already done, sits on 1.3 acres, has far more expensive oak present and is at least 50% bigger.  We have no interest in it for all of those reasons but it does demonstrate something is not right with our numbers.

More work to be done me thinks...


  1. RIT,

    Good to hear a lovely area of the UK is on your agenda.

    Personally, I would be looking at your last option rather than self-build...something on the market which you can then make more energy efficient, insulate conserve energy, instal woodburner and eek out a low cost/low impact lifestyle which I imagine would be very relaxing in the sort of area you are researching.

    Check out

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks for the link John. Some of it is a bit too 'hair shirt' for me but a lot of good stuff including a half decent explanation of k, R and U values.

  2. Welcome to Herefordshire!

    I was brought up 3 miles away from Kingsland. Weird! IN fact, my best friend is a teacher at the local primary school.

    The border Oak houses are beautiful. Great choice!

    Best of luck!

  3. Have you watched the Grand Designs TV series? Its a) full of tips on building your kind of house, b) full of reasons why you shouldn't, because of all the stresses and pitfalls. You seem to need huge drive to get a self-build done, and a GREAT LOVE OF BUYING STUFF, with all the decisions to me made on materials and fittings. I wonder if the frugal FIRE type will react badly to all those choices, I know I would hate it.

    1. I don't watch to much TV but I do admit to watching some Grand Designs. For example I loved this weeks episode in Pembrokeshire where the couple had to demonstrate 75% self sufficiency in 5 years. The ones I don't watch are the ones where they are just building some huge McMansion with no focus other than it has to be big and flash. Totally pointless IMHO.

      TBH I much prefer the Ben Fogle : New Lives in the World type of stuff. I know it's TV so isn't the full story and it's a bit too extreme for me but I understand why those people do what they do and I wish them every success.

      I think I have decent drive so that shouldn't be a problem. I also have pretty good spacial awareness so can translate plans/2D drawings pretty well. I'm not a buyer of stuff though.

      I think I'd actually enjoy it as it would enable me to achieve exactly what I'm looking for from a size, insulation, land etc perspective. For example we'd like a bit of land but only want a 'small' home. That is a pretty rare combination. In fact even the builders I've spoken to recommend you don't do it as it can affect resale.

  4. A lovely part of the country. I'd far rather live in Herefordshire than Malta of Cyprus but of course each to their own!

    You have hills, greenery and beautiful countryside. Okay, you have the British weather...

    What are communications like? Looks pretty good when I just looked - I guess the M5 will take you most of the other nice parts, and the M4 is not so far away if you really want to go to London ;)

    1. I find both the English countryside and the Cyprus Mediterranean coastline both beautiful but obviously for different reasons. Walking alongside an azure sea and smelling the salty fresh air is an attack on the senses that just agrees with me personally. That said a country path smelling the damp foliage and fresh air is also very special.

      Mobile phone signal was not great but that suits us just fine (I think). I'm still on PAYG and top up very infrequently. I carry one for emergencies only which I guess is not going to work as a plan without a signal :-)

      One thing I like about Herefordshire is that the only motorway it has is a sliver of the M50 meaning it takes quite a while to get anywhere which suits us just fine also as we won't be rushing to get anywhere. I've broken my work life down into 15 minute increments for years now so it's going to be lovely to not have to rush. It also means it doesn't seem to be a commuter county and makes it still feel like true countryside.

  5. Energy efficiency? Buy fleeces and gloves. Or buy NZ sweaters of merino and possum. Lovey, and lovely and warm.

    Also, with 1.3 acres you may have space to install heat-pump heating. That might pay off over the decades. The beauty of buying cheap energy rather than insulating and draft-proofing everything is they you are likely to end up with decent ventilation, which is probably going to be healthier for you and for the building.

    1. Yes, a ground source heat pump is definitely on our radar but it wasn't in the numbers above. In Cyprus solar/PV is also on the radar - most hot water is already solar there. I don't think you need something as large as 1.3 acres though. I've read that for a typical system you need about 400m^2. One of the builders mentioned a cost of about £12k though! Do any readers have one? Would love to know more. Most interested in payback periods. Also if I have something well insulated and smallish my bills are not going to be that large anyway so might push into the uneconomic category.

      Good point about something a bit worse on the efficiency front that's already there but then just make it up with efficient energy sources. Do you have one dearieme?

    2. We don't have a heat pump, though we saw some when we lived in NZ: they were air source. As for "I don't think you need something as large as 1.3 acres": no doubt, but the more space you have the less the risk of having to tear up something beautiful to allow the work to be done.

      Given the utter shambles that our last three governments have made of electricity supply, I'd be tempted to buy a diesel generator to go with my heat pump, while working out how to use the waste heat from it. Warm exhaust, rich in CO2; warm air from radiator: enough to run a large plastic greenhouse giving you lovely fruit and veg all winter?

      Or, if you bought precisely right house with its own tumbling stream, a little waterwheel or turbine to drive the heart pump?

    3. And lovely benzene rings. They will taste nice on your tomatoes!

  6. Great site

    Question: given you will be retired Have you considered the Isle Of Wight?

    Better climate in a place like Shanklin (albeit not quite Cyprus!), quieter pace of life, lots of greenery and open space, good walks nice beaches, locals are friendly in the main and lots of well priced properties compared to the mainland - plus regular ferries (or hovercraft if in a real rush) to Portsmouth Southampton or Lymington

    1. No I haven't but you've encouraged me to do some desk research.

      - average max temperature 14.1C
      - average min temperature 5.9C
      - average rainfall 665mm over 155 days

      - average max temperature 13.9C
      - average min temperature 7.9C
      - average rainfall 871mm over 120 days

      More rain but on less days. Minimum temperatures a bit warmer...

      Do you live there?

    2. Sounds as if basically it has a shorter winter. Do the monthly figures bear that out? A long, early spring is a lovely thing.

    3. It gets a lot more sun as well. About 2000 hours.

      Winter temperatures are moderated a lot by the sea so frost is very rare. Equally in the summer very hot days are rarer (a sea breeze will cool them off).

      Similar mild climate can be found along the South West coast.

    4. I think you should be looking to West Wight, if Herefordshire is more of your thing. Shanklin has it's fair share of visitors, as Firestarter Financial will attest to!

  7. Well when you look at it like that maybe the climate benefit is marginal after all :/ however the other benefits may outweigh?

    If you have kids then the island may not be suitable as the schools are average but for retirement it's a lovely place.

    I have a bolt hole on the island and intend to live there 6 months a year when i retire,I live inPerth Western Australia (became a UK expat in'03) as the Oz incomes are good and my frugality excellent - this way I can follow the sun and have 2 summers

    I'd suggest having a lookaroundfor a couple of days, ferries are cheap in off season, if you avoid Ryde and Newport it's got a lot of lovelyspots both inland and on the coast it reminds me of fond memories I have of growing up in Dorset but quieter and cheaper

    Shanklin and Ventnor have a microclimate which allows more tropical/Mediterranean flowers to flourish

  8. Buy the house with 1.3 acres. Build an Eco house in the garden, slowly, should be possible at a much lower cost than you have been quoted. Then sell the original house.

  9. I understand, I really do, Brexit and EURGBP at 0.9 have seriously dented your mediterranean dream. However, as an Italian who has lived in England for 20 years (and loves it), I urge you to ponder those long winter months when everything turns to grey, the air is constantly damp and the sun stays oh so low (not that you can see it, anyway). Now imagine your early-retired self in your little place on the sea in Malta/Cyprus/Sicily/Greek island, where those same winter months bring sharp, blue sky days and the temperature is mild... No need to be there during the busy and oppressively hot summer months. That is when you want to be in Herefordshire and let your little place to tourists - it will probably repay itself...

  10. Don't understimate the impact of a sunny weather in the quality of life!

  11. Or do if Kahneman's research findings are to be believed..

  12. In lots of ways you remind me of myself. I dreamt for a long time about retiring early but also dreamt of different lifestyles. So I can really empathize with your thoughts of living overseas. The challenge of course in the retirement context is what happens if it does not work out? You can always come back but in my experience moving is a very expensive event!

    You need to decide which pull is strongest: the pull to live abroad or the pull to retire early. Of course you can do both but if one does not work out its nice to have a job (and cash!) to bail your out.

    I've moved twice with my employer (to Germany, to Australia and back again) and have loved every minute but we always had the safety net and I would not have done it any other way.

    You need to decide whether in 20 years you will look back and say "I wish I had....". For me it was moving to Australia. I wanted it for years such that it became an obsession. We did it. We didn't like it. But it scratched an itch and now I can look back contented.

    So my advice to you is, try and be as sure as possible about what you really want .....but buy a return ticket.

  13. Herefordshire is a great choice - have lived here for nearly 20 years.Have dreams of 6 months a year in Crete one day too.

  14. The great thing is that you can always rent an apartment in Rhodes, Crete, Corfu, Croatia for three months each summer - get the best of both worlds - you don't have to own it to enjoy it!



  15. How about a little bit further west and into Wales? More property for you buck perhaps - if a little higher rainfall....