Lee Rotbart

Posts Tagged ‘guesthouse’

If I had a time machine…

In The beginning on August 9, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Having spent all weekend writing about our USPs, marketing strategies, and sorting out cash flow forecasts I am a bit out of steam for updates. Not that there’s that much to report. I should mention that much to my chagrin our commercial mortgage broker did not jump up and down with joy when I sent him the business plan, nor did he claim that it was the best piece of writing ever seen, hence I’m currently feeling rather under-appreciated.

It did occur to me however, that this process would be so much easier if I had a time machine and could fix the following elements that I have absolutely no control over at this stage in the game.

My current mortgage

I would have been very grateful if a little mortgage fairy had visited me in 2008 and mentioned that interest rates, which were standing at 5%, were going to go down and there was no need for me to get a fixed rate mortgage for 5 years at an interest rate of 5.69% – which seemed like a phenomenal deal at the time.

Saving: £5,800 in early repayment charges + £thousands in reduced monthly mortgage payments had I had the courage to invest in a tracker.

Porthminster View accounts

Without divulging too much information, if I had a time machine I would pop back to 2006 and tell the current proprietors of Porthminster View how to set up their accounts to ensure that they would have no trouble selling it as a profitable business should the situation ever arise.

Saving: Hmmmm, this is a difficult one. Probably would have saved us lots of time and made the process of borrowing money a lot easier, however, it may have meant that we wouldn’t have been able to buy the property at such an affordable price; so maybe not such a bad thing after all.

Plan A

With the knowledge I have now, I would never have invested so much of our time and energy in Plan A which was a bit of a non-starter. Plan B all the way.

Saving: £1,500 in survey and broker fees + a healthier mental state which wasn’t driving me to think homicidal thoughts about all surveyors in the South West of England.

My car (RIP)

With advance knowledge I would not have turned right out of a side road, on 28th December 2009, straight into the path of an oncoming car, irrespective of whether he was indicating to turn left or not. Without making that slightly disastrous decision I wouldn’t have written off my car in a matter of seconds, therefore resulting in having to buy a new one with our ever depleting funds.

Saving: £2,000 + insurance, etc. to buy a new car, plus I would not be rendered uninsurable through losing my no-claims discount which was tenuous to say the least.

The Big Chill

I might have hidden Danny’s Big Chill ticket so he would have had to stay at home with me all weekend and help me write the 20 page business plan.

Saving: Not sure if this would have saved me anything; it may have made me feel better briefly, yet I suspect my relationship would have been in a worse state than it is now had Danny and I been stuck in my flat all weekend drafting marketing plans together (plus this way I get my own way).

Like I said, I am feeling unappreciated and therefore indulging in a little self-pity.

All in all, there are a few things I would like to wind the clock back on under the supposition that it would make life easier at this stage in the proceedings. However if, like Doc says in Back to the Future (and I’m paraphrasing here), “each action has a direct and opposite reaction” then any of these things actually changing may have resulted in us losing this opportunity; so I guess it’s a good thing I can’t go round fiddling with time… God only knows what kind of chaos I could cause.

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Planning to run a business?

In Getting the mortgage on August 5, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Apparently a business plan consists of more than forecast figures we’ve plucked out our bottoms, and some high level grand ideas about organising guided walks and afternoon teas. Unsurprising really, and more than naive of us to assume that was all commercial lenders would need. We’ve been wittering on about our enthusiasm, passion and general bonhomie but you might question (and someone has) if that alone is going to deliver a return on investment.

Now this isn’t high finance, it’s not even a small start-up, however it IS a business, and we cannot defend our position when friends accuse us of retiring if we are approaching this the same way a retired couple might. Nor can we moan about lenders not funding us based on our overall determination and passion, when we have provided them with little evidence (bar figures that we’ve found in aforementioned parts of our anatomy) that we can pay them back the money we are asking to borrow.

We can, by the way, I’m sure of it…. but I’m beginning to understand how it might look otherwise. Now we know that Porthminster View is in an enviable location, with phenomenal views, and lots of potential, we just need to show the lenders that.

This weekend Danny is off to the Big Chill festival… and while he is dancing in a field I will be ordering take away and getting down and dirty with the SWOT analysis and cash flow forecasts. Am I secretly looking forward to it? Yes, I think I am, for a couple of reasons (1) this is something I really really want, and if that means spending a weekend writing a business plan so be it (2) we need to know if we can pull this thing off. Maybe, just maybe, this is why guesthouses are being repossessed up and down the country? Not because the industry is bottoming out (soaring UK tourism statistics would suggest otherwise), but because people forget that this really is a business, as nice as it is it’s still real money, and real banks, with real consequences.

It’s surprisingly easy to talk about £hundreds of thousands without ever really grasping what this means; even if I think of it as my annual salary x 7 it still doesn’t really hit home. It’s money we’ll never see, loaned out by people we’ll never meet, and paid back by banks we’ll never visit. For us however it’s not just a business, it’s a lifestyle, it’s a massive change, it’s an opportunity to build a life together. However, while that might be all we need and all we want, I doubt that’s a good enough argument to make it past the Dragon’s Den panel of lenders.

So… I like to think that this blog follows the very good advice provided by a friend – it is positive, yet realistic. We’ll see what happens on Saturday, you may yet find me on http://www.callthisabusinessplan.com.

Learnings so far…

In The beginning on August 2, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Bored of moaning about the mortgage, and unable to update you on anything as there is no news as yet, I thought I’d take this time to reflect on how things have gone so far.

We arrived back from our holiday in Cornwall 6 weeks ago and in that time we’ve managed to get an offer accepted on our dream guesthouse, sell my flat, appoint a solicitor, write a business plan and gather all manner of statistics and research about the Cornwall Tourist Industry.

Not bad going when you consider that we left for our holiday with absolutely no intention to do anything bar have a lovely relaxing time, and partake in a bit of walking. Also in this time, I’ve learned a helluva lot about mortgages, about juggling a job while trying to fulfill a dream, about estate agents, and about myself.

To summarise:

  1. Not all estate agents are bad people; yes they’re a bit pushy and a bit insensitive, and it did annoy me the way they addressed all correspondence to ‘Mr’ Lee Rotbart when I am quite clearly female. However, they have been pleasant, efficient and did a very good job at alleviating the guilt I felt when I couldn’t sell to the first guy that saw the flat – apparently house buying should not work on a ‘first come first served’ basis no matter how nice the person seems.
  2. The headlines about banks not lending are NOT fabricated or exaggerated. They really are not lending.
  3. Getting annoyed about #2 does not do anyone any good. Ranting and raving about cause and effect, focusing on articles in the newspaper about giant bonuses paid out to banks when they not only caused this crisis, but are exacerbating it, does not make it any more likely that we will get our mortgage.
  4. I am not very good at juggling two jobs, and the more I focus on the guesthouse the less motivated I am at work. In my defense I haven’t had a pay rise or decent appraisal in over 2 years so there are few reasons for me to pull out all the stops at work. However, things still need to get done and I am finding myself working late and checking emails at weekends to compensate for day time shenanigans.
  5. Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, thinks they will be able to identify the solution to our mortgage problem. “Have you tried ‘x’?”, and “Did you think about ‘y’?”; this isn’t really a problem as we do need all brains on board for this, however my ego is bristling at the intimation that people don’t think we are exploring every single avenue available to us.
  6. I have an ego. A big one. A giant one, with a whole heap of pride on top.
  7. I don’t like cleaning. This is something I suspect that I knew about myself already, but with my cleaner having been away for over a month, I am struggling to dust, sweep and wash floors in an efficient manner. This does not bode well for when the live-in maid takes her leave of Porthminster View.
  8. I understand more about business than I think I do. Even though I have an MBA (Masters in Business Administration), I’ve always suspected that I have very little business acumen, yet I’m discovering it’s not actually that bad. Both Danny and I have written business plans and cash flow reports, and I’m amazed at how much I understand about pulling this together.
  9. I really do want to leave London. This might seem like an obvious thing to anyone reading this blog, but I have to admit that at the beginning I had my reservations. Do I really want to leave the convenience of 24 hour corner shops? Friends on every street? Family down the road? Will I miss the choice of 30 cinemas in a 3 mile radius? Late night coffee places? My favourite bars? Ultimately, I probably will miss all those things, but not so much that it would stop me leaving. As the mortgage gets further and further out of reach I know that the desire to move away is not only real, it’s obviously and painfully apparent.
  10. I struggle to delegate tasks. While I moaned for the first 4 weeks about how I was dealing with all the mortgage calls, now that Danny is doing it all I want to do is get involved. I feel powerless when someone else is doing the work, and I suspect that the control freak in me secretly thinks that things will be forgotten if I don’t do them. However, this is a business partnership, and I have to admit that Danny is doing just fine without me, maybe even better.

I suspect that if this project continues, this is just the beginning. I suspect that there’s plenty more to learn. I also know that, for the first time in 6 weeks, I am 110% sure I want to learn it.

Losing momentum

In Getting the mortgage on July 30, 2010 at 11:42 am

My usually optimistic, enthusiastic, nature is taking a battering. There are only so many ups and downs one person can go through before losing the ability to swing back. Like a pendulum slowing down my highs just aren’t reaching the heights they were.

The momentum which this project had a few weeks ago is slowing down like a bunny without a Duracell.

Two weeks ago you read about how I was struggling to focus on the next thing because I was so excited about everything else; and now I’m in the complete opposite place. I can’t focus on anything but the next thing, as I’m so unconvinced that anything else is actually going to happen.

I sigh and I answer the emails, and I pick up the phone and I respond to the questions; yet I do all of those things with almost zero enthusiasm and, to those of you that know me, you know that unenthusiastic is one thing I am not. The image that I have of myself is of a go-getter, a vibrant, slightly OTT, chatty activist. The image I have of Danny is of a laid back, occasionally cynical, occasionally excitable, practical, manager of things. It seems we have swapped places.

Weeks of moaning about how I am doing all the work, has resulted in him taking on all the work. He has spent the last 3 days phoning lenders, having conversations with banks, brokers and solicitors; while I have taken on the less than stressful task of staying in touch with the current proprietors in order to ensure that they don’t sell the guesthouse to anyone else. I genuinely believed that this swapping of responsibilities would help me just get on with my day job, whereas in fact I just feel less engaged, less bothered, and more accepting of the fact that this might not happen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not depressed, I just think that 2 weeks of being battered by lenders has resulted in my inevitable surrender.

I’ve stopped leaping up and down everytime someone new starts following us on Twitter, I’ve stopped checking my blog statistics every 10 minutes, and I’m not even reading Cornwall related news because I genuinely feel like we’re never going to get there. The other day I even entertained a recruitment consultant’s offer of a relatively interesting (industry related) job that he phoned me about, going so far as to send him my CV and a cover letter.

I’m not talking about sausages, room decoration, turnover, business ideas, and dog breeds that might be acceptable for a guesthouse. I’m like a tired fish who’s stopped swimming down the river, and is just drifting with the current. Everyone – friends, family, friends of family – are being incredibly supportive. I’ve had offers of money, business expertise, time and skills from so many people, all of which I am really grateful for; however I can’t help but just give them the same line “Thanks for your offer, but I’m not feeling particularly positive that it’s going to happen at the moment, so I’ll give you a call if anything changes”.

I genuinely hope something does change, and I hope that Danny has enough enthusiasm to get us both through the next week or so of yet more mortgage conversations; and I hope even more that the little spark deep inside me that still thinks we cannot lose this opportunity remains alight for just a little bit longer.

The mortgage maze

In Getting the mortgage on July 28, 2010 at 6:33 pm

I feel like a double glazing salesman, phoning around trying to get someone to bite using the same script that has been rejected by hundreds of people beforehand. With each new phone call there is renewed hope, as well as newly identified obstacles. We get so far down the line with one lender, and then something comes to light that means we can’t go forward.

There are the highly suspect ‘market trader” commercial mortgage brokers saying “We don’t mind if you have been bankrupt before and have CCJs coming out your ears, we’ll find you money” – sentiments we are becoming ever more suspicious of.

There are the ‘over-realistic’ brokers saying “You don’t have a hope in hell, we can’t help you unless you have more money than sense at your disposal”.

Then there’s our ‘I cannot say enough good things about him’ mortgage broker who is bending over backwards and exploring every possible avenue to help us get this money, as he truly believes in us, and in what we are doing.

We are currently mid-discussions with 3 separate organisations and everything is so slow, and so painful and I’m bored of hearing myself say, “if only ******* hadn’t employed that surveyor”, because it’s irrelevant drivel which is no good to man nor beast.

I don’t believe in fate, but somewhere along the line surely we have to know when to fold our hand. Kenny Rogers once (tunefully) gave us some advice about knowing when to hold ’em and fold ’em (The Gambler, 1978):

Should we be folding? Or is this just something we have to get over, something we’ll laugh about in a few months time? I truly don’t know. I know that even though I’m telling people there is no more hope I’m secretly thinking about the last conversation I had with *******; that while I’m looking at other properties I’m still coming back to this blog, and thinking about this (and only this) near perfect opportunity.

Surely there can’t be many properties in the middle of one of the most beautiful, and popular, areas of the UK that:

  1. Have planning permission
  2. Have a search engine friendly website on a sought after web address
  3. Have the perfect number of bedrooms – not too many to be unmanageable for novices, but not so few that there’s no potential to earn a decent wage
  4. Have phenomenal views from 4 out of the 6 bedrooms
  5. Have all fixtures, fittings, linen and furniture in place (and not charging any extra for them)
  6. Have a live-in maid who is prepared to stay on, who knows the ropes and will be vital in ensuring the guesthouse runs like clockwork while we’re still finding our feet

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is a great opportunity isn’t it? Add to that the fact that we have significant money behind us, business brains, enthusiasm and passion for the task – it just doesn’t add up.

Two years ago, when this recession hit, my only concern was that I might not get a pay rise at my current job (just for clarification, I was actually right about that). Now it’s so much bigger. Those newspaper headlines that, like the war in Afghanistan, were only relevant to “other people” now mean something to me. Headlines that screamed ‘Banks not lending’, ‘Financial crisis makes 80% mortgages a thing of the past’, and ‘No more credit’ are now my reality.

It just goes to show that you never know what’s round the corner. One man’s relevant headline is another man’s chip paper. After all, there is probably someone somewhere that cares about Wayne Rooney’s love life.

In her heyday Margaret Thatcher once remarked:

Small firms can be a seed-bed for new ideas and a testing ground for new ways of working. They often lead the way in new products and new services. They put the customer first. They have to, to survive in a fast-changing world.

Maybe I should write to her…