Friday, 23 July 2021

Cottage cleaning session

 Today's cleaning session, the guests left it generally clean, but there were the usual type of issues:

  1. Stain on lounge carpet;
  2. Soundbar; tinkered with by guest and left non-functional. The output audio cable had been plugged in the Coax (aerial) socket on the TV. Sound bar configuration had been set to Bluetooth.
  3. The neighbour's wooden, fence two palings broken, probably by our guests.
  4. Microwave oven left dirty and greasy.
  5. Bedroom bedside lamps disconnected.
Meanwhile, we did a swap out of consumable items, wiped down all contact surfaces with isopropyl alcohol or Stakil water based biocide. Each room was treated with 74 Watt Ultraviolet light (UVc) for an average 30 minute exposure.

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Increased pricing at our Holiday Home

 Our current pair of guests are the straw that broke the camel's back. Their behaviour has been poor and they've made unwarranted complaints to our rental agency. We'd offered them a full refund provided they left immediately, but they chose to stay. We dread to think what we'll find when we go to the cottage tomorrow for handover cleaning. No doubt they'll leave a lousy online review. The previous couple loved our cottage and left a good review. Our first action on arrival will be to make a full video of the state of our cottage.

It seems that many other holiday home owners have had similar problems with "Marbella" guests displaced by the Covid-19 travel restrictions. There seems to be little respect for the owners from people seeking the cheapest available holidays online. For the past few years, we've subsidised guests staying at our property, mostly because we treat the property itself as the long term investment. However damages caused by guests abusing our facilities have all but wiped out any profit.  In addition to the subsidy, we effectively give each pair of guests four hours of our life free of charge. We also provide free of charge release from pet boarding fees for the holiday makers.

We've instructed our agency to increase prices by 25% with immediate effect, and to also add a £250 Good Housekeeping Bond per stay.  If the guests leave the cottage in good condition the GHB will be promptly refunded in full. This will price our cottage a few pounds per night over the previous rates, but hopefully people just looking for somewhere cheap to stay will go find their bargain elsewhere.  For regular guests we'll look at some kind of loyalty bonus to reduce their costs.

If this reduces the number of bookings, so be it. We're not in the business of receiving abuse as a reward for our time and efforts. I've seen reports from several owners recently that they've decided to pull their property from the Self Catering homes business.

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Weeding the back yard

 Our guests expect the back yard of the cottage to be tidy on arrival. The garden and yard soon become covered with stray grass and weeds during the summer period. The brick surface of the yard has small gaps between the bricks. These gaps become filled with soil in which weeds can take root.  Weeding by hand takes a couple of hours, and during changeover between guests we don't have the time to undertake weeding. So I make use of a paraffin fuelled flame gun. This burns off the weeds in approximately 15 minutes for both the garden and the back yard.

It needs careful preparation to ensure that the gun is operating safely and that it does not melt/ignite fencing and garden pots. The visible flame is about 60cm long and is pretty ferocious. In the above picture you can see the grass/weeds growing in the yard of the adjoining cottage. The owner is quite old and lives about 100 miles away so his yard tends to be neglected. I help him by occasionally killing the weeds in his area too. 

This is what the yard looks like after the work is done: 

I'd noticed that the hedge of another adjoining property was overgrown and projecting into our garden, making it difficult to follow the path and steps. A flame gun is no use with the hedge, so I also brought my petrol powered  long reach hedge cutter to the game during this visit.

This shows the path/steps before I tidied:

This is after cutting the hedge:

And, this is after the final hedge tidy and weed burn off:

It was a good job that I'd finished the work promptly because our next set of guests turned up five hours early asking to get access to the cottage. Fortunately, this time, I was able to oblige.

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Road in to Wirksworth

 Some of the people reading this blog may be curious as to the countryside around Wirksworth.  Here's a video from a summer evening drive into town from the South. I was visiting the cottage for maintenance jobs.

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Humid Summer Guests

The Victorian walls of our holiday cottage a solid and have no air gap, there is no damp course in the brickwork. Previous owners have used chemical injection in the brickwork and also ceramic vent tubes, but this has not been effective in controlling the damp rising on the interior plaster. Last winter by way of experiment we installed an automatic dehumidify machine and it was very effective at reducing the damp. We were keeping the house at 43% Relative Humidity. This makes an enormous difference to the house for relatively low power cost. The low humidity helps to prevent black mould on walls and insect infestations. As we allow guest pets we have to be careful about mites and fleas, this had been a problem in the past requiring fumigation and temporary cottage closure.

We also installed a remote environmental sensor which allows us to monitor temperature/humidity via the internet. We are also alerted by SMS when limits to temperature/humidity are exceeded.

When guests are present in our cottage, we remove the dehumidifier relying on them to open windows as necessary for comfort. It is also one less machine for them to tinker with and break. We soon learned to keep everything as simple as possible for guests, or things get broken.  We leave the unobtrusive environmental monitoring running and check the reports occasionally.  

We noticed with the last set of guests, during June, that the Relative Humidity had risen from 45% to about 65%. We're not sure why, but it is probably a good indicator that they kept doors and windows firmly shut during their stay.  This figure is unusually high for a guest stay.   There's a booking gap of one week before the next guests, so I reinstalled the dehumidifier during the gap to reduce humidity.  At the moment we are extracting over 5 litres of water per day from the air in the sealed and unoccupied cottage. I'd love to know how they so saturated of holiday home, during the summer rising damp is not normally an issue.

In the above monitoring chart you can see the sudden drop when we started the dehumidifier located close to the sensor.  It will take a while to extract the excess moisture from the walls, carpets and furniture.

Monday, 28 June 2021

Goodbye Sykes - we're giving notice!

We've finally tired of Sykes' games. They provide poor quality guests, and don't help when things go wrong. The term "Teflon Shoulders" comes to mind.  They've made a lot of money on the back of our capital investment and free labour. We're tired of subsidising guests stays in our property for Sykes profits. 

They now appear to be tinkering with contractual terms and conditions. A contract should document the business agreement and relationship between the parties. It is a document of last resort to be used when things go wrong, but when one side attempts to unilaterally change those terms and conditions to their sole benefit it is a sign that the original business agreement has broken down. Our guess this is largely due to the change of ownership of Sykes and the need to recover the massive sums borrowed for the purchase.

Six more months before we are finally free.

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Pensioner atop a 30 foot ladder

 Our holiday cottage is in a terraced row of houses. Access to the back garden is either through the house, or through the back gardens of adjoining houses. There's an alleyway at the end of the row of gardens.  Access is not easy, as there's a busy road to the front of the cottage and parking is not permitted during the day. 

When I saw plants growing in the roof gutter at the back of our cottage I knew that we had to take action otherwise in the next heavy rainfall the gutters would overflow. This would affect not just our property, but also adjoining ones. If the blockage was on our property we'd be liable for damage to the other houses. The gutter is about 20 feet (6 metres) high above the brick surfaced courtyard and it needs a 30 foot ladder to access the gutter. There's no space at the cottage to store a large ladder, so I had to transport one on the roof rack of my car (3 x 3.4 metre sections). I also needed a ladder "stand-off" at the top end of the ladder to prevent any damage to the plastic guttering.

It was quite a struggle carrying the 3-section ladder from the car roof through the narrow alleyway to the back of the house. Meanwhile the crazy Derbyshire drivers had managed to create a traffic jam around my car in the few minutes while I was moving the ladder. It was soon relieved when I drove away to park safely in a side road. Erecting the heavy ladder was a bit of a struggle. At age 70, the weight is close to my lifting capacity in the narrow space of the backyard. However with a bit of careful patience I succeeded in getting the ladder in place without causing any damage. As you can see in the picture above, the stand-off keeps the ladder clear of the guttering while allowing the end of the ladder to project above the roof edge. 

The tools needed to clean out the guttering are simple, some drain rods and end attachments, a bucket and a trowel. It was then just a matter of climbing the ladder with the tools and performing the cleaning. Fortunately I have a very good head for heights, a relic of my rock climbing days, though I'm not too keen on ladders. After 10 minutes of work I'd cleared the gutter and removed about half a bucket load of debris and plants.  The actual blockage was in the gutter section belonging to the neighbouring property, but I cleaned it anyway.  Then it was the dreary process of removing the ladder, strapping it on to the car roof and transporting it home. Easy, but quite physically demanding work, made easier and safe by having the right tools. Our next guests were due to arrive later that afternoon.

I was planning to produce a video of the activity, but it was raining and things were slippery. I didn't fancy holding a camera atop a wet ladder.