April 2002

Somewhere To Live – Easter 2002

According to Maggie, we did not consider renting “because we’re stupid!” We knew we wanted to live in North Cyprus, we knew that in the short term we would be returning to the UK regularly and we didn’t like the idea of being at the mercy of a landlord.

We surfed the websites of local Estate Agents and ended up with a huge wad of properties that we wanted to look at, forty all together. We then arranged a holiday with a Travel Agent and, during Easter 2002, off we went to North Cyprus, full of optimism and with a clear idea of exactly what we wanted.

At first we decide that we wanted an old Cypriot house, we were impressed by their cheapness, about £35-40k. But having seen them we realised that considering the amount of work they needed doing to them we might as well buy a newly built property. Then the next problem arose, all the nice properties were in the wrong place. So, finally we decided to buy land in the right place and then build the dream house on it.

So, having been taken to see countless pieces of land, we decided on the dream site. But of course it has already been sold. No one told us but eventually someone did, but not the original estate agent, and the process of searching continued. Ahmet, Guy’s contact from the Land Office, took us around and showed us sites he thought we would like. Gradually he began to understand what we were looking for and eventually he found the perfect site: a nice square piece of land conveniently situated next to a village road. We loved it! Next day we discovered it was already sold.

Ahmet became desperate for us and showed us some “wonderful” sites: one with a group of “gypsies” living next door and one with an electrical pylon in the middle of it. Well at least getting electricity wouldn’t have been too much of a problem. Then an even more perfect site became available and, jaded and pessimistic, we decided to go for it. We were told that the site, in between Incesu and Malataya, was 1 donum 2 evleks and a bit, which equated to ½ an acre (2000 m2). On the map it looked like a cowboy boot.

Ahmet paced around the site, confidently showing us the perimeter of our land. Gradually these perimeters became bigger. The land was terraced and, according to Ahmet, consisted of several large pieces of land. The site was actually three separate plots being sold together. It was so overgrown it was difficult to make out what it was really like, but the view down the valley to the Mediterranean was stunning, and that was what we were buying. We should have realised that the area we were being shown was too big, our house and land in the UK was about 750m2 and the area that we were being shown was more than three times bigger than that. But, dreamers don’t check facts before they rush into things and the view is what we wanted so the amount of land was a little bit irrelevant.

The moment we said yes, Guy (Guray) the owner of Korinia Estate Agents, took us to a solicitor, Selcuk Gurkan. It might perhaps have been wiser to have decided on our solicitor before searching for the land. What you will find out eventually is that the word solicitor in Cyprus does not mean the same as it does in the UK. A solicitor here conveys documents through a process, and is sometimes called a Notary. Don’t expect much more than this. The Estate Agent is supposed to do whatever the solicitor feels is not theirjob. There can be some confusion here, and there was!

We agreed on a price of £15,000, which meant that we were paying £9000 a donum. We knew from our short experience that this was a fair price. The Land Purchase Contract was quickly produced, in English, and a document, in Turkish, giving Guy Power of Attorney was also signed. All this happened so fast it was as if we were in Dixon’s taking out an extended warranty on a washing machine. We then wrote out two cheques: £750 for the Solicitor and £2000 deposit, the rest of the money to be paid in two instalments within a month. Hindsight suggests that possibly we should not have been so swift to pay all the money, once the vendor has the money the incentive to get involved in the purchase decreases gradually to zero, and it did. Against this is the possibility that someone might offer to pay more quickly, at that time good plots were being snapped up and prices were rising.

We then went back to our land several times with the map we had been given and started pacing it out. We had been shown where the access to our land was supposed to be and using that point and the scaling on the map we tried to confirm the perimeter of the site and to decide where we were going to build the villa. Our original £35k limit was beginning to look unrealistic, as we had already committed £15,750 on the land. We were going bonkers trying to work out the land’s borders. There was supposed to be a surveyor’s point on the land, but this could not be found. Without this point as a reference no other point was definite. We sensibly gave up.

We then set about sketching the plan of our 3-bedroom bungalow. Somehow we managed to fit everything we wanted into 100m2! We had been told that we should expect to pay between £200-300 per m2, so using the bottom figure our bungalow should cost us £20,000. Perhaps we could build a 3-bedroom bungalow in ½ acre for £35,750! Oh, how we dreamed.

The finances were important because Mal wanted to take early retirement at 55, which meant giving up his teaching job at the end of the 2003 Summer Term. He also works for OCR as Principal Examiner and also as Moderation Team Leader. If he kept the OCR job and combined it with the early pension then we would be living on about £15,000 a year until Maggie’s pension was available in May 2010 and the rest of Mal’s pension was due in March 2013. We kept asking local Cypriots, and Brits living over here, how much they lived on. The figure of £500-600 per month kept coming back, and this was for a couple running a car and eating out once or twice a week. We also established that local wages were about £200-300 per month! This should mean a life of relative luxury for us.

Another financial consideration was the value of the two houses we owned. At that time we estimated that the 3-bedroom semi-detached rural house we had bought for £65000 in 1999 was worth £110,000 and the 3-bed terraced house we had bought for £51,000 in 2001 was worth about £65,000. From these figures we estimated that by selling the properties we could build the £35,000 bungalow and still have £40,000 capital left. Oh, how wrong we were.

So, now it was time to look for an Architect/Builder. We decided straight away that we did not want to get into a situation where these two roles would be separated so that the Architect and Builder could blame each other when things went wrong. We went to Bormat and they said they could build a beautiful 100m2 bungalow for less than £30,000, sign here please. Mehmet the Architect showed us some plans and told us that he would design the bungalow to be like the one the Stringers were building. However, the building price was now over £30,000 and the intakes of breathe were becoming sharper when the price was mentioned.

“A sharp intake of breathe” is a building phenomenon associated with builders who respond to questions like “how much will it cost?” by breathing in sharply and saying nothing. A nodding of the head often follows this action. It seems to be a universal phenomenon. Our question “could this be built for £30,000?” usually resulted in a sharp intake of breath then a “maybe”. This combination actually means “no chance!”

The Easter holiday got sillier when, having almost decided to let Bormat build our bungalow, we went for a meal in Hensons’ and after a few drinks we were introduced to John Torris, a builder/architect with an MSc and who used to play for Leyton Orient and Roma. We were a bit worried that with all this going on he might not be able to find time to build but we decided to see what he could do. Yes, he could build the bungalow for £30,000 plus 13% tax. He showed us some of his work so we decided that, subject to the contract being acceptable, he was our man. How wrong can you be!

So, at the end of the Easter holiday things seemed to be coming together. Six to nine months for the permission to purchase to be given and our builder ready to draw up contracts and draw the plans. That meant that building would start between October and January and all we’d have to do was to sign contracts and pay the instalments to our builder. We would be in our villa by August 2003. How wrong can you be!

After the holiday John Torris visited us in the UK but would not be drawn on the contract. Several emails later he still would not confirm the contract, though he did pay the vendor’s rates for him without being asked. We still don’t know why he did this or why the rates office refuses to accept that they were paid!