Should you ever plan to let your home for a short period, check that your near neighbours aren’t planning any activity that might inconvenience your paying guests.
In February, a few weeks after I’d agreed to let a family from Iceland have my terraced house in southwest London during the Olympics, my new neighbours told me they were planning some building work. Just the usual stuff they said, a loft conversion, kitchen extension, smashing down the chimney breasts and ripping down most of the interior walls.
I think my eyebrows hit the ceiling so hard they’re still there. I had “sold” the Icelanders a house in “a quiet oasis of London”. I had no idea how I was going to go back to them and say, actually, you’re going to be staying next to a building site. My neighbours, a lovely couple, told me not to worry as the work would definitely be finished by May. No doubt about it.
Of course the renovations were delayed and it seems they had underestimated how long planning permission would take, but they promised in March the work would still be finished by June.
Nothing happened until mid-April when I came home one day to find a big blue chemical loo in the neighbour’s front garden, within sniffing distance of my front door. I marched into the living room to where my partner was watching TV, pointed outside and demanded: “Have you seen THAT?”
To be honest, he wasn’t really interested. Football was on TV so a UFO could have landed and he wouldn’t have cared less.
Ugly scaffolding is now sprawled across the front and back of my neighbour’s house, one post of which is trespassing on my garden path, and a vast piece of tarpaulin is stretched across the roof. Most nights I’m kept awake either by the sound of it flapping in the wind, or by rain cascading from the cover.
Every morning, shortly after dawn, I’m woken by the sound of builders stomping around the house next door and the clang of skips being removed and new ones delivered. All day my place vibrates to the sound of drilling on the other side of the flimsy wall.
Windows have to stay closed, even during brief sunny spells, to keep out the dust from the building site and if ever I try to venture into the garden I’m driven back by the pneumatic digger.
None of this would matter very much, except that with every hammer blow I’m reminded that in just a couple of weeks seven Icelanders will be pitching up in the expectation of a relaxing fortnight in leafy, green south-west London.
I believe I might have told them they could enjoy evenings sitting in my “secluded” back garden in the jasmine-scented air. However, the garden is no longer secluded. The fence has been ripped down to make way for the neighbour’s kitchen extension and the jasmine, destroyed by a careless axe, is hanging across the patio like a rotting corpse.
The question is do I confess now to my Icelanders that the house is not as it was advertised, giving them enough time to rent somewhere else, or do I keep crossing my fingers that the work will be finished just in time not to wreck their stay?
Answers on a postcard.
* Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London