August 2002

Wednesday 14th August
Well, here it is the saga of the next stage of our house purchase!

We arrived at the LA Hotel (CTA – Cyprus Turkish Airlines- having changed our hotel 2 weeks before our departure!) at about midnight (3 hour delay going out there).  No food (even though we had booked half board!) so Mal had a go at them and then we did get fed.  Having booked a villa, to say that we were disappointed with our accommodation was a gross understatement.  So, we decided then and there we would not be staying and crawled into bed without unpacking our suitcases.  Our rep was due at 10 so we waited for her and told her that we were not staying as the room was awful and we had booked a villa and that was what we wanted.  Please note at this stage that there was a big notice on the wall of the room saying that NO food or drink was to be brought into the hotel, in other words, pay quadruple the price to buy it from the hotel!  Yeah right!

Olga, our rep arrived and we told her we were not staying and she would have to find us a villa.  There were a few villas at this location but it appeared that the air con had packed up and as it was about 43oC we decided we didn’t want to roast in their villas.  It would be fixed by Friday, we were told, (this being Wednesday) but Mal reminded her that he knew how Cypriot workers kept to deadlines!  Please note here that the villas still had no air con when we left three weeks later!  Wise move not going into one of those.  Olga told us there were no villas available on the island as it was peak season.  Like we believed her!  Then the Manager of the hotel came out and asked what the problem was and we said it was nothing to do with him, this was CTA’s problem, they had messed up the booking.  Anyway, he took us into his office and said he would like us to stay and offered us his personal suite.  He took us up there to see if it was suitable, it had a large fridge, and he told us we could bring anything we liked into the hotel!! This certainly was more like it so we agreed.  All through our stay, whenever he saw us, he kept checking everything was OK.  Nice man, very nice man.

Thursday 15th August
We went into Stringers Estate Agency to see the owners, Phil and Tracy (English).  They are a young couple who tried to find us some land in April. They are also building their own house and as they are further ahead of us we thought they would be helpful in giving us advice. Every time you ask people a question out there you get about 10 different answers! At least we knew with them that they had gone through the stages so would be up to date with the current situation.  The first bit of useful info was that you can get the land permission speeded up if you paid extra fees!! We also asked them if they knew of any architects and builders they could recommend

Friday 16th August
We were introduced to a really nice builder called Musa.  Shame about his architect!!!!!  Prior to seeing his architect Musa was helpful and took us up to the land and we tried once again to work out its boundaries, for those of you who have forgotten or who have not been told, our land is shaped like a boot and is on varying levels so it is difficult to establish where it begins and ends! On going to see the land we were very impressed that since our last visit the government had replaced the bumpy pot holed road with a new tarmac one but we were not too impressed that they had gouged out the edge of our land to make some of it!   One of the problems with this entire boundaries saga is that the land registry map we had is about 80 years old and some of the roads have moved.

That evening Musa’s architect, Mehmet, and Ahmet from the land registry met us on site. Mehmet and Ahmet had a disagreement as to where the boundaries were and a full blown argument ensued in the middle of the road. I think you could say that it was about to become pistols at dawn.  Musa I think, bless him, tried to translate to cover his embarrassment.   They were each telling the other not to tell them what their job was and not to question it and that each was an idiot and not to show them up in front of us!  This must have gone on for about half an hour with us standing on the sidelines twiddling our thumbs.  In the end Mehmet stormed off saying he was doing nothing until the land had been staked out.  It was agreed that Ahmet would return and stake out the land.

We were told the weather changes on 15th August and tomorrow would be winter!  They were right; it cooled down to about 35oC and a very pleasant breeze.

Saturday 17th August
We met Hakan, another architect recommended by Tracey and Phil. His wife is a Civil Engineer and he has his own builders…this sounds more like it!  He took us to view the land and then onto to some holiday home projects that he was doing.  We were quite impressed.

Sunday 18th August
We were supposed to be meeting Musa and Ahmet (land registry) to go and stake the land out but Musa arrived saying he could not get hold of Ahmet, his mobile was off. We were a bit pee-ed off by this but found out later that poor Ahmet had been in a car accident and written his Pajero off (that’s a car).  He was OKish, which was the main thing, but obviously not working!

Tuesday 20th August
Went to see Selcuk (our solicitor substitute) to get our land application number but he wasn’t there. Returned to the land with Mehmet, Musa and Phil. Had a good walk around and seemed to be getting a better idea of what was and was not ours, and the positioning of the house.  Phil was a big help and said he wished he had bought this parcel of land and it seems to have increased in value by about 10K since we bought it.  Kept being told to mind the snakes. We were not sure whether they were referring to the reptile family or to the human kind.

Wednesday 21st August
In between all this we did get to use the hotel beach in the mornings and do a lot of swimming, eating and drinking!

We went to see Mehmet in his offices and talked designs and prices.  This resulted in Mal running out of his offices saying quick get in the jeep before he sees me laughing! The reason for this was the fact he told us he wanted £700 for preliminary drawings (which we could do on a ncomputer!), £2,200 for submitting the drawings and another £2,200 to oversee the project!  He has obviously already worked with a lot of ‘stupid’ English people and thought we would follow suit! We immediately decided he was not the one for us which was a shame because we knew we could have worked with Musa.  I think Phil is going to suggest to him that he changes architects.

We then spent a lot of time, with the help of a newly purchased graph pad, deciding what it was that we wanted.

Thursday 22nd August

Mal drew to scale what we thought we wanted, with the help of counting out the squares on the floor of our suite!!!!!! This was hard work. ‘Do you want the kitchen this big or this big’ (as Mal paced out the squares!!) Then of course we ended up with the bathroom facing onto the pool etc etc.

Met Hakan again and he had some good ideas, like high ceilings (cooler in the summer) and to put beams in the ceilings and also to have a bay window at the front of the property to catch the winter sun. This room is to be the winter lounge/study/third bedroom.  Also we decided on arches internally to cut out a lot of the wasted space for corridors.  He definitely appeared to be on our wavelength.

We left Hakan and went back to try and track Selcuck down so we could get our land permission number.  We were successful this visit, it is number 125.  It appears 99 has not yet gone through but 150 has, so we enlisted the help of Phil who knows a man…

Friday 23rd August
Seemed like at last we were getting somewhere and so decided to have a day off.  We drove to Bellapais Abbey (my favourite place) and had lunch up there in the grounds.  Remember, this is peak season and yet there were only about two other couples up there.  In the evening we went out to dinner and went to see Tanner who owns Cesme restaurant.  This was the first place we ever went to during our first visit and we go back and visit him every time and he is always seems so pleased to see us.  He does THE best meze (about £10 for both of us including drinks, Turkish coffee etc!) He seemed pleased that we are moving out there.

Saturday 24th August
More house designing, this time thinking of lighting etc.

Sunday 25th August
Mal discovered Kilkenny (beer!) a close relation to Guinness which he said was a relief from the ‘fizzy’ Effes.

Tuesday 27th August
Back to Stringers to meet Hakan again. Phil had some news concerning our land. ‘It had been held up’. We are now both wondering what we paid the solicitor £700 for? But the process is now starting to move again (this ‘moving’ is actually bits of paper being passed from one desk to another in the land registry!)

Hakan had the preliminary plans but, as asked, he had enquired about the electricity to the site (originally we were told that the pole right next to our land was electricity but this trip we discovered it was the phone line!) and as we half expected it was going to be expensive, it didn’t come as too much of a shock to Mal (but it did to me!)… £10,000 to bring it to our land!   I think my jaw was still touching the ground as we left the office.  However Hakan’s drawings were good and we made some alterations, like incorporating a utility room and having folding doors on the winter lounge so that the room could be left open in the summer.

Wednesday 28th August
We decided to drive to Guzelyurt where we found a furniture shop with ridiculously cheap good furniture.  This was a funny experience because the assistants couldn’t speak English and our Turkish is very limited but at least we learnt masa is table etc.  It appears with everything you buy you get a free TV!!  We are seriously thinking now of buying a lot of furniture out there as everything we take we will have to pay import duty of 2%, 3%, 13%, 16% or 19%, again depending on who you are talking to.  Along with these variations on taxes etc, there will be an election out there this month and they tend to change the laws then, so all may change!

Thursday 29th August
Along with the drawings, Hakan had produced a ‘contract’ in the loosest sense of the term.  Not quite the spec we were hoping for.  So today was spent drafting our own contract. We went to the Internet cafe with Mal typing it up to the smallest detail we could think of and meanwhile I was searching the net for folding doors as Hakan didn’t quite understand what we meant.   The Internet was so slow you would not believe it.

Friday 30th August
Turkish Independence Day – lots of flags everywhere and celebrating and fireworks.

Met Hakan again, having emailed him our version of what we thought the contract should contain!  I was a bit nervous about it all and this was a heavy meeting with lots of bargaining between Mal and Hakan.  Mal has cleverly included the electricity connection to be Hakan’s responsibility (now I think we are down to about £8,500!) but then mains water will be another £1,500, also included in his responsibilities. Having said that, Hakan had amended that we supply the folding doors as he doesn’t understand them (oh yeah, we take them over in our suitcases??!) So we compromised and are now having a bit of wall each side and double opening doors to the winter lounge… now his responsibility!  So the contract now had masses of crossings out and amendments but although this is much more than we first originally planned we have decided to go the whole hog and get Hakan to do a swimming pool too and the drive etc. I just kept telling myself not to think about the money.  Mal also wrote into the contract that the last phase was to be complete by 15 August 2003 so we can holiday in it next summer (sleeping on lilos I think!)  I am not holding my breath.

Saturday 31st August
A bit of light relief, went into have a chat with Phil and Tracy and they told us to go up and see a hotel, The Hideaway where they are spending Christmas and the New Year, and asked if we wanted to join them there for New Year.  So we went to see it and Lynn showed us one of the suites.  What luxury.  It really is like a Country club AND you get served your choice of 6 breakfasts on your balcony when you phone for it! We seemed to have forgotten that we were talking about December and Janbuary.

8 – Design and Build a Villa

Design and Build a Villa

So we bought 2000 m2 of land with indeterminate borders and wanted to build an 165 m2 villa on it plus a pool. The first step was determining what we wanted inside the villa and then to decided the layout. The first step was relatively simple; 3 bedrooms, one en-suite, a lounge, a dining room a kitchen, a guest bathroom, a utility room and a large undercover terrace. Out came the graph paper and as we were staying in a hotel with 30 cm square tiles on the floor we could see the size of the room by using these tiles to mark out its area.

We had been told that it would cost about �300 per m2 and our villa budget was �50,000 so changing the size of the villa was out of the question. We quickly discovered that we would have to sacrifice either one of the rooms or reduce their size if we were to stay in budget. Then we had a brilliant idea, a dual use room. We decided that the dining room was to have a sliding door and a put-you-up settee which would enable it to be converted into a 3rd bedroom. Later we decided to call this south facing room the winter lounge as it would be a warmer room to sit in during the colder months. The idea was great but was spoilt by us putting the fireplace in the adjoining lounge which became a combined lounge-kitchen-diner.

The lounge then stretched from the front to the back of the house so that the constant sea breeze could cool the house. Added to this, by positioning the pool between the sea and the house, the breeze would be additionally cooled as is the common practice for Moroccan houses. We had two small windows set into the side of the front door to help this process. It is also worth noting that our front door is at the back of the villa, and faces the mountains in the south.

At the back of the house facing the sea we placed an 8 meter by 2 meter covered terrace which ended up being the main place we sit during the summer. One of the problems we had was positioning the pool. Ideally we wanted the pool in front of the terrace but thought there might be difficulties fitting all this into the narrow strip of land our site had become. We barely managed it but by narrowing the villa it was possible.

We then set the builder to work digging out the foundations. It is magic watching a drawing turned into reality. Concrete was poured and the outline of the villa appeared. We walked around the rooms and they appeared so tiny I had to measure them to find out that they were exactly right. Very quickly the foundations turned into walls and a roof materialised from nowhere. We received a phone call one day while we were in the UK saying the ground where the pool was to be was solid rock and the pool would have to be raised two meters. It would cost �2500 extra but we would end up with a huge terrace. The builder said that we would see what he meant when we visited.

We arrived and saw what he meant. He had already built the pool and the shuttering was up ready to concrete the terrace. We had no choice in the matter! We admitted that we liked the idea of not having to walk down two meters of steps every time we wanted to swim. We also liked the reduced risk to our four grandchildren. Our total budget was �66,000 plus another �6000 as a contingency plan which we never revealed to the builder. The costs were �48,000 for the villa, �10,000 for bringing electricity and water a few kilometres down the hill and �8000 for the 8×4 meter overflow pool.

A �2500 overspend did not seem too much to pay but then we realised that one of the problems with raising the pool 2 meters is that now we needed railings around the terrace to prevent tipsy party guests dropping off. The drawback of having a 110 m2 terrace was the �2000 cost of 40 meters of railings, bringing us �4500 over budget.

Before long fittings and fixtures began to appear, and then electricity. We did not realise at the time how miraculous this was until we heard of the length of time other people had to wait. Not only did we have electricity but our�s was not the expensive temporary kind that some people became stuck with for many months. It was then we discovered that we had neglected to add air conditioning to the contract, but as this was only �250 extra. Then we decided to have black granite worktops, another �450 extra. This brought us �5200 over budget.

We moved into the villa April 2004, a year after the building started. We ordered four tankers of water, 48 tonnes, and filled the 40 tonne pool, the balance tank and the water depot. The pool temperature was initially that of the well the water was extracted from but soon it climbed to 190C and we swam in it because it was there. It was cold but after a few minutes swimming it was bearable.

We had a visit from one of our neighbours and discovered our hardstand and access were owned by them and realised that our contingency plan would probably be breached in order to gain official access, but our villa was ready and a dream had been achieved, even if the never reached perfection had not.

Water appeared in September and plans for the first garden were made for October so our piece of land and plans had turned into a home. We looked back 2� years to when we had rushed around our plot, scratching our legs, wondering whether we would ever be able to transform it into a home. We knew there would be ups and downs but not as extreme as the black periods we had experienced when we said we would sell our building site, buy a camper van and go wandering through Spain in search of a completed house.  Seated on our terrace overlooking the Mediterranean we now knew it was all worth it.

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!

3 – Gypsies

Gypsies

We found the solution to our UK accommodation problem, accidentally. Driving along a country lane we were just about to pass a Caravan Park next to Manston Airport, in Thanet when on the spur of the moment we decided to pull in. In the back of our minds for a while we had been toying with the idea of buying a caravan but our first investigations led to us being told that if we wanted an all-year-round caravan the price would be in excess of �100,000.  We immediately discarded this idea, but in summer 2002 the idea returned and we found ourselves parked in Bradgate Caravan Park. We decided that we might as well ask for a second opinion.

One of the owners, Roy, explained that he had two caravans available, a 28 foot one for �8,500 and a 35 foot one for �7,000. The longer caravan was cheaper because it was older.  The rules of use were simple, you could use them for 10 � months a year, from the middle of January to the end of February the park was closed, you could not rent them out and the fees were �2,200 per year. We were amazed. We could not imagine why we would want to stay in a caravan during January and February and the fee, which included council tax and water rates, was less than we were paying for our rented accommodation. Then we discovered that our fee also included the use of a clubhouse, heated indoor swimming pool, gym, and sauna and Jacuzzi.

The only problem, we felt, would be living in a cramped caravan. We saw the smaller caravan first and were pleasantly surprised, but when we inspected the 35 foot caravan we were astounded. It included its own small maintained garden and when we entered the caravan and saw the main bedroom with double bed we abandoned our childhood memories of living in cramped holiday caravans. There was a small spare bedroom across the hall, and a toilet with a tiny bath/shower cubicle. Maggie was not too happy about that. We moved onto the small kitchen and dining area and then to the large lounge. My financial brain quickly calculated that we were, in effect, buying the caravan for �5,800 and that as our rent and other bills came to �1000 a month, we only had to live in the van for 6 months for it to be completely free.

We paid Roy the money and then thought about what we were doing. We were going to leave our large rented 4-bedroomed detached house in February and live in a caravan from March 1st 2004. In theory this sounded easy, in practice we might have made a big mistake. The kids were very happy and almost immediately started staying there. With a swimming pool for the grandchildren to play in, and with free bingo every Saturday night, who could blame them for wanted to take advantage of regular weekend visits to the �holiday camp�.

We arranged for a very expensive but, as it turned out, very efficient removal company to ship our furniture to North Cyprus and hoped that when all our worldly possessions arrived in Easter that the villa would be ready for them. As the 20th February removal date loomed it became clear that one of the problems we had not foreseen was deciding what goes where. To make matters worse, January and February were my exam time when I had a full-time day job as well as organising my exam and the few other extra jobs I�d taken on in preparation for retirement. To make matters even worse I become ill for the first-time in my life. A very embarrassing, and painful complaint, but very common I discovered, which eventually put me out of action for eight weeks. This was not the best time to move.

It was not all bad news. It was around then that I was told that because of the college�s poor financial situation they were looking for volunteers for redundancy. I was almost knocked over in the rush, but because I had managed to become overpaid and under-worked, I was top of the list. The redundancy money made the difference in my being able to retire now rather than wait another year, or two. The pain was bearable.

We returned from Cyprus, with me ill and full of painkillers, to a freezing caravan. But we didn�t care. We felt like gypsies without a care in the world, or as Rhys would put it, we were �pikey do as you likeys.�

In the end, living in a caravan was neither as difficult nor as exciting as we imagined. We did not use the facilities as much as we intended do, we attended a birthday party with free food and 50p drinks, but otherwise we sat in the lounge watching TV. Our real home was in Cyprus and until we were there we were just passing time. Then two things happened, the local airport, five minutes away, announced a new airline was opening there. EUjet, a no thrills airline, was to fly to 27 destinations including, Dublin, Nice, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Prague. This meant that we could book online at a moments notice and off we could go for a cheap long weekend. At the same time it was announced that only a walk away a large complex of shops was to open including cinemas and several major companies. A shopping paradise was about to open on our doorstep. Shopping is one of Maggie�s main hobbies and we both love to travel.

It looked like were going to have excitement and fun in Thanet for a few months of the year, whilst visiting our family and peace and quiet for the rest of the year in Cyprus.

2 – The Beginnings

The Beginnings

November 1995

We met on Flitwick railway station after a long telephone conversation confirmed we found each other interesting. For different reasons we had both used the Guardian Personal ad service. Neither of us was desperate. I was frustrated by the limitation for relationships that the narrow circle of people my normal day brought me into contact with. I was a teacher who was not particular interested in a partnership with another teacher.  Outside of this source of contacts I was confined to meeting the users of the local pubs and clubs. So, I put an advert in the Guardian. I was surprised at the number and the variety of responses. Maggie stood out from all the others with her �take me as I am� attitude.

There I was, waiting for Maggie outside Flitwick station, having spent the shortest four hours talking to someone who I felt instantly comfortable with, waiting nervously to meet her. She arrived, astounding me with her beauty, amazing me that not only was she great to be with but she was gorgeous! The weekend swept by and from that day on we talked on the phone everyday until she moved to live with me in Margate a few months later. After Maggie sold her house in Maston Moreteyne and I sold my house in Margate, and we got married, in December 1999 we bought a cottage in the country. Well, more precisely a semi-detached, unimproved, farm manager�s cottage in Sevenscore near Ramsgate, next to a noisy road labelled the �Pfizer�s rat-run�. The local pharmaceutical manufacturer was expanding and so was the traffic to and from the site.

Maggie worked for Canterbury University college for a short time and we decided that she should retire at 50, in May 2000, so that she could become a housewife and I could expand my work for the OCR exam board. I was working as Head of Business at a local Technology College but because of the subject teacher shortage was teaching mainly ICT and computer engineering, both of which I found boring. My work for OCR expanded and unexpectedly, in 2002, I was promoted to Principal Examiner for one of the vocational �A� level exams. Still, at this point, when I did the household accounts, we were barely breaking even, but with a gradually increasing income.

When my father died he left his house to me and my brother and sisters. As they were more interested in cash rather than being part-owners of a dilapidated terrace house in Margate, they were happy when I bought out their shares in the house.

During this time we began visiting South Cyprus and were becoming irritated at the rapid commercialisation we were seeing. We decided to take a trip to North Cyprus despite Greek Cypriots telling us, in effect, that the army there would make life difficult for us. I first trip was in 1999 and it surpassed our expectations. The Turkish Cypriots were friendly and at that time, the place was mostly un-commercialised. Even during this first visit we found ourselves looking at property and investigating the possibility of building our own villa. We were just dreaming, however.

We visited North Cyprus several times a year whilst also looking at Spain as a possible site for a villa, but every time our interest in moving to Cyprus strengthened.

In April 2002 we prepared for another North Cyprus visit by collecting the details of 50 or more properties costing around the �40,000. We looked at these properties and some more expensive ones and each time discovered they were either crumbling old properties in good locations or cramped new properties on cramped estates. It was then that we changed our focus to building our own property and began looking at land.

The idea was that I would cash in an endowment policy which had been linked to my old house and we would use that plus a credit card to buy land. We had two houses, both with mortgages, and a large credit card debt but because of my increasing exam board income we thought we would take a risk. As it turned out the endowment policy�s value dropped rapidly a few months after we cashed it in. We intended spending about �10,000 on a donum, 1350 m2, of land. We immediately found a plot we liked but a few days later discovered it had been sold. We were despondent. We were shown more plots, one with an electricity pylon in the middle of it, another high in the mountains which would mean being in the shade for a lot of the time, and lots of huge plots of land which would be beyond our budget and beyond the one donum limit for foreign purchasers.

Eventually we were shown the plot we finally bought. The man showing us around worked for the Land Registry, we were told. He showed us a map with the land outlined in red and started to walk us around what were three smaller plots combined for one sale. The total area of the land was 1 donum, 2 evleks and 100 square feet, a total of 2000 m2.  This was more that we were allowed but as we had two different surnames we were told we could each buy a donum. The price was �15,000, a great deal above our budget, but as the estate agent�s �land expert� showed us how much we would be getting we could see that this land was a bargain. It was at this time that I could see that our �land expert� was occasionally stopping and staring at the map and looking puzzled. He would point at the road below us and scratch his head. Something was wrong but he couldn�t work out what. In the end he started to revise his idea of where the borders of our land were, but still the purchase looked attractive. When I looked at the map I could see on thing that would not change, and hasn�t to this day, we had an uninterrupted view down the valley to the Mediterranean.

We were so frightened of losing this plot that we allowed ourselves to be rushed to a solicitor chosen by the estate agent, a big mistake, and put down a 50% deposit with a promise to pay the rest in 30 days. We left the office the proud owners of building land on the island of Cyprus. We went back to the land several times during our holiday and each time I looked at the map and like the �land expert�, and other experts to come, I found it puzzling. The most puzzling part of the map was where north was, at that time I didn�t realise that I should have turned the map 90o for it to point north, and it was not for several months that this was pointed out to me!

We returned home, organised the payment of the land and started to plan the villa we were going to make. We decided that we would have to sell our house to build the villa, the inherited house was occupied by our son and his family and they were eventually going to buy it from us. I wrongly estimated what we would get from the sale of the house and calculated that after paying off debts we would be left with �30,000 to spend on the villa. We were told that building a villa would cost �250-350 per m2 we would be able to afford to build a 100 m2 villa. I played around with designs so that when we returned to North Cyprus in May 2002 we started to look for builders. We found several, all promising to build what we asked for but none willing to commit themselves to a contract. Each builder came to the site, puzzled over the map and left with the same feeling of unease that I did. All except for one builder�s architect who pointed to one of the corners of our plot on the map and tied it correctly up with where he was standing, but if this was right then everything we had been told by the �land expert� would be wrong. There was nearly a fight, between the architect and our �land expert�, in the road which later it turned out that we �owned�. In the end we decided to believe our expert because the alternative would cause too many problems, not the least that we had no easy access.

We returned to the UK with an agreement with a builder that he would build our 100 m2 villa for �30,000. When no contract appeared we abandoned him, he installs swimming pools now, and decided to try again when we returned in August. Meanwhile we decided to make a move to sell our house and discovered to our shock that it was worth �40,000 more than I had estimated. This also meant that the inherited house was also worth a lot more than estimated. In the end, after paying off all debts, we had �70,000 to spend on the villa not �30,000! This meant we could have a bigger villa, a pool, walls, a large terrace and several other luxuries we had not dreamed we could afford.

We returned to North Cyprus in August 2002 and looked around for another builder; one we could trust. We found one, recommended by Tracey Stringer of Stringer Estates; Hakan Doğahan. Together we drew up plans for the villa, negotiated prices and drew up a contract with stage payments. We were now getting a 165 m2 villa with an 8×4 meter swimming pool for �66,000. This price included �10,000 for bringing electricity down from Malatya, the village above us, and main water from the same village. The village has an all-year-round waterfall and water that tastes wonderful. This confirmed the �300 per m2 cost of building a house that several builders had told us was the average rate then. This was when workman were being paid �8 per day and before the building boom pushed up all prices.

The villa was to take 9 months and be finished in time for summer 2003. That was the theory the reality was a lot different. According to North Cyprus regulations you should not build on land until you have both permission to purchase and planning permission. Permission to build would not be given unless you are considered to be an acceptable purchaser. The main reason for this process was to see if you were working for the Greek Cypriots in an attempt to buy the north of the island back through back-door methods. It became clear to us that something was wrong with the processing of our permission when every time we returned to the island something prevented us from receiving our permission. We paid another solicitor to �fast-track� the process and within four week our permission came through, but still the process was not complete. We had permission to purchase but until the deeds for the land were in our name we still should not start building.

December 2002 we finally sold our house and with the cash in the bank we waited for the completion of our dream villa. We were living in rented accommodation and I was thinking vaguely of retiring early, but wasn�t sure how I could do this in reality. Several people living in North Cyprus had told me that they were living on about �500 a month but we wanted to return to the UK often, to see our five sons and four grandsons. My pension from teaching would not amount to much more than that if I was to retire early and take an actuarially reduced pension, and the cash lump sum would soon disappear in removal expenses and other unforeseen costs. There were many of these about to appear.

We returned to North Cyprus for the New Year and found out that the final obstacle to our receiving the deeds to the land was the lack of interest shown by the land�s vendor in completing the deal. The cause of this disinterest was the fact that we had foolishly paid him all the money before officially taking possession of the land and, as it turned out, more importantly he was the executor of an estate consisting of several plots of land, one of which he could not find the deeds for.  Without this final deed the government could not calculate death duty and would not allow him to transfer the property we had bought into our names. After months of firm persuasion finally the process was completed and we walked out of the estate agent�s office with deeds in hand and minus �600 needed to pay purchase tax.

It was now April 2003 and with the deeds in our names we could officially start building. We contacted Hakan, our builder, and immediately the building process started. The item on the top of our contract was that Hakan was to have the land�s boundaries confirmed; a tapu as it is called in Turkish. He inferred that this was not necessary but we pointed out that the contract says this must be done. A few days later he arrived with his friend from Lefkoşa, Nicosia. Apparently his friend had been in charge of all the land registry in North Cyprus; another �land expert�. We looked at the map and he explained that there were three official points on the map we could use to measure and calculate our boundaries with, unfortunately he could only find two. One he believed had been destroyed whilst clearing the site. He used the other two points to stake out our land and it was at this time that he pointed out that we owned a ridge and road that we had overlooked, and that this would shrink our land.

We looked at the stakes as he drove them into the ground and realised that we would only just about squeeze our villa and pool into the useable width of our land. Land that had originally been shaped like a cowboy boot was looking more like a trainer. The top half had disappeared down a slope. We consoled ourselves that it was not a totally unusable slope but, for the moment, it could not figure in our plans.

Quicker than we expected the foundations of the villa appeared, making the villa look a lot smaller than we had expected. I measured all the dimensions and confirmed that they were exactly as on the plan. Two drives had been cut in order to gain access and I asked who owned the land. I was told, �the government�. Wrongly, we accepted that explanation and the logic that because the government had taken our land to expand the narrow track, we could take some of their land for access. By this time we were a dangerous mixture of exhausted and happy. We were too tired to think through what we were being told and were ready to accept anything positive we were told in order to experience an untroubled life. In other words we were temporarily putting off the problems which later would return to haunt us.

We returned to the UK and after the school holidays were over I returned to school starting to plot how I could escape work. The May exam period started and so did my work for the exam board. After some discussion I was assured that I would still be able to set, co-ordinate and mark my own exam along with other exam work, but only if I had an address in the UK. I calculated that this would be worth about �10,000 a year before tax, but we would need an address. The house we owned, that our son was going to buy would too full for us to live in. What could we do that would not cost a fortune?