Roundhay, Leeds: Buying run down properties in auction has big advantages. It’s transparent; you see who you are bidding against, there is little scope for bluff and you never pay more than a thousand pounds over what the next bidder is prepared to pay.
1. Property Search and pre-purchase analysis
Secondly, it’s quick. The Seller cannot mess you about and conveyancing is simple. A legal pack is generally available before the auction and once the hammer falls both sides are committed to complete within a tight timeframe. .
The main drawback is that there are usually only a few weeks between publication of the auction catalogue and the auction. In this time you need to view properties, sort out finance, devise project design, calculate approximate costs, estimate re-sale values and assess feasibility particularly with regards structure and planning permission. All this with no assurance that your bid will be successful!
I did pre-purchase-analysis for two lots in Eddison’s December 2011 auction. The first was a lodge and building plot owned by Yorkshire Water on Otley Road, Headingley.
There was scope to restore the lodge and build a second house. The sums added up nicely and it looked like a viable project. Then Leeds City Council responded to my enquiries saying the new build was probably viable but that the Highways Department would block any application for vehicle access from Otley Road. Furtive attempts to buy a right of way from neighbouring properties drew a blank and after the estate agent blankly dismissed my great idea of an eco house without vehicle access I was forced to abandon the project.
The second lot was the Cartaker’s Lodge at the back of Roundhay High School. This imposing stone building boasted an excellent leafy location. Ofsted rates Roundhay as one of the best state schools in Yorkshire and the property was a stone’s throw from one of the County’s loveliest parks.
The drawbacks: a) there did not appear to be any parking or vehicle entrance as the School’s service driveway was blocked by locked gates, b) the property gave straight onto the pavement on a bus route, c) the garden was too small for a family dwelling and d) the internal layout was dysfunctional.
The last three problems could be ameliorated by good project design. The first looked more serious. Eddison’s legal pack made no mention of parking and somewhat despondent I rang the vendor, Leeds City Council. To my surprise their surveyor said that the Council would move their gates back and cede right of way to the Lodge. So the house did come with off road parking and crucially I was probably the only bidder who knew this. I did my sums, fixed my top end bid and came away with the house for 20k less than I’d been prepared to pay. Auctions don’t always work like that and I’ve bid for plenty of property that has gone way over my top bid. But on some occasion it does work out, this was one of them.
2. The Project
With a sought after school on the doorstep the first thought was how to create more living space and convert the Lodge into a family house. A loft conversion would have entailed raising the height of the ridge and removing one of the chimney stacks. I was unlikely to get planning permission for this in a conservation area and besides the cost would have been high. Extending outwards into the already small garden was a none-starter so all that remained was expansion downwards.
The Cellar Conversion
The cellar had been boarded over but yanking up floor boards revealed a sizable room under the kitchen floor. This was dug out to create more headroom, tanked to make it watertight and the excavation of small light well on the outside allowed sunlight to pour in through two south facing windows. This did not constitute an extra bedroom but it did make a good sized multi-purpose room with an attractive spiral stairs leading to the kitchen. This additional level made the house feel much bigger and more interesting.
The spiral stairs was delightfully quirky. However, it created a third entry/exit point into the kitchen which was already the principle thoroughfare. Passage was eased by the use of (very expensive) curved kitchen cabinets. These flowed into the handrail of the spiral staircase and generated a curved theme that contrasted with the sharp right angles of the exterior architecture and living room.
There were other ways that floor space could be increased. One was to rebuild the front porch. The line of an old flashing served to convince the Conservation Office that this was reinstatement of a previously existing feature. The porch greatly improved the exterior appearance of the building and created a buffer so that the front door did not open straight into the living room. A part of the original facia board was found in the loft and was duly recreated. (More brownie points with the Conservation Officer).
First floor bathroom
Another way of carving out additional space was to create a downstairs toilet under the stairs. This was achieved by dropping the floor and creating a couple of steps leading down.
Removal of chimney breasts
Yet more space was grabbed by knocking out chimney breasts. This was done in the kitchen to allow space for the oven, hob and extractor:
The chimneys were also removed in the second bedroom, to create wardrobe space, and in the master bedroom where an enormous corner flue was hacked out to create an en-suit bathroom. This proved to be quite a task. It took several days to remove tons of stone and brick and leave the chimney stack above supported by two giant structural lintels. But by taking out the corner flue and occupying a slice off the neighbouring bedroom a decent sized En-suit was created with a full sized bath. The room was finished with stone travertine and solid beach tops.
The only existing bathroom in the Lodge opened awkwardly onto the top of the stairs. It was one of those classic narrow rooms where there was just room to squeeze past the bath to reach the toilet on the end wall. These room never work well and as we had managed to fit a bath in the En-suit it was decided to leave this as a shower room. The door was changed to open inwards, a stylish back to wall pan located under the window and a luxurious walk-in shower cubicle constructed along the back wall.
Living room / Dining room
There is a tension in property redevelopment between rooms and spaces. Estate agents tend to favour separate rooms. Interior designers and architects generally prefer open plan light spaces. A central position was achieved in the Lodge by knocking the living room and dining room into one while, out of structural necessity, leaving the central fireplace and chimney stack in place.
Some of the Yorkshire stone flags that had come out of the cellar made an attractive hearth for a double ended clean burning wood stove. The floor was finished in solid bamboo flooring laid perpendicular to the fireplace to exacerbate the length of the room.
The windows of the living room give straight onto the street and every hour a bus would hurtle past inches from the glass. Square cut frosted glass was fitted in the doors and windows to provide privacy while letting in plenty of light. The crisp square borders of the glass mirrored the right angles of the fireplace and provided a contrast with the softer curves of the kitchen with its dreamy spiral stairs and curved doors.
Work on the Lodge throughout the summer and autumn of 2012 was pleasant and relaxed. The job had none of the complex planning and legal issues that have plagued some VPR projects. Research into the history of the property revealed that it was built in 1888 by the then resident of Roundhay Manor (now part of the school), and original partner in Tetley’s Brewery, Sir Charles Ryder. A last piece of Yorkshire Stone served as plaque which my Dad carved.
Strong location, imposing stone exterior and imaginatively crafted interior made this a special job which sold easily in early 2013 to a couple with no children. So what of the other Lodge sold by Yorkshire Water on Otley Road?
It went in the auction for a reasonable sum. Over the last two years I have often driven past it. There are still no sign of work starting. The windows are all smashed, the elegant chimney stacks crumble and the building lot to the side is as overgrown as ever. I do not know who purchased it but I have a nasty feeling that they may not have done their pre-auction analysis thoroughly enough.