Monday, March 12, 2007



Last Friday we picked up the keys for Cottarton Cottage, our new house in the hills. Set in a little valley near Huntly, it stands on three acres, including the small stream at the bottom of the hill --- everything we would like for our life once I finish working in an oil company office in Aberbeen. Until then, we expect to spend weekends at Cottarton, working on the house and the garden.
To Americans, buying a house in Scotland must feel like buying on Ebay. The house is listed with a minimum price, and you bid up from that price. A challenge, especially in the North Country where the housing market is very strong, with houses selling within a few weeks of listing. We visited a Solicitor (Lawyer), required when you buy a house in Scotland. Friends recommended to me Anne Maryse. A former ballet dancer, she is so small she could travel in her husband's suitcase. In her tiny office with a simple table and chairs that might have come from a resale shop, she explained the process -- get your financing first then bid on the house. If the seller accepts your bid, it is legally binding so be sure you really want the place.
Last year in Aberdeen prices went up by 27%. As losing out to a higher bidder is common, many people only secure their home after several tries. Concerned that in two years we wouldn't afford a place, we decided to buy now. The choices are between new houses, stamped out of the same cookie cutter, and planted densely in a faceless suburb, city row-houses where you'll pay a high premium for living in city noise, and a few -- really few country houses, such as we would like.
Amber scanned properties on the web, knew every house for sale. I found it hard to resist a two bedroom house in the hills at the end of a three mile, bumpy dirt road. Really for folk who don't like neighbors. Along with the house, a steading with pigs, goats and chickens, plus eight acres. Offers begin at 230,000 pounds. The owner, Scott, is a sweet man who lost his partner, and needs to move. Unfortunately the house would require a total rebuild, new windows, heating, chimneys, an additional room. Eheu!
One Thursday Amber called to say we were heading for Cottarton that afternoon. It reappeared for sale that morning, after having been listed as sold. Driving over the hill on a one lane road, we spotted the white house at the bottom of the glen, remote, surrounded by rolling hills and scattered crofts, but within a couple of miles of small hamlets and eight miles to substantial towns (Huntly, Keith and Dufftown). A large meadow belonging to the house extends down to a creek running down the bottom of the valley. The living room has large windows that look north and east at rolling hills. An oil fired stove in the spacious kitchen heats the hot water and the house. Large windows and the space ensure that people will come together here. Water, unchlorinated comes from a nearby spring. Bedrooms are small, but outside we have a portable wooden cabin, ready to be wired that will provide more space. Our greatest surprise was that the attic had been a second story, still with attic windows, blocked off when the house was expanded. Standing in the garden, I feel a brisk wind. I can already imagine a substantial vegetable garden, a greenhouse, polytunnels, Amber's chickens and goats -- and a stone tower, our astronomical observatory.
Nicki, the owner told us plainly that she wanted to sell quickly. She and her husband had already moved on their separate ways. I asked her plainly what bid she would accept, and she said 17% above the minimum bid. A very reasonable deal for a house in such good condition. We returned the next day to look around. Snow had fallen and the wind turned bitter. I wanted to be sure the winter sun would clear the hills and shine into the windows. Some valleys are in perpetual shadow in winter. We decided we would like to make Cottarton our home.
Monday I called Anne Maryse and asked her to put in an offer. If Nicki liked it, she might decided not go through the sealed bid process, which I sensed we would lose. That evening while working in the garage, Amber came running in with news that we had the house.

You write very well.
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