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Moving to Canada

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Image from PixabaySo Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Douglas Adams – Book title

Pace the promise at the end of my last post (the final part of a trilogy on my tax transition from the UK to Canada over the last year) this unexpected fourth part details the delightful process of completing a reasonably complex UK tax return. The gentle reader will be relieved to know that I am going to skip all of the obvious bits and just concentrate on that which is out of the ordinary.

Completion of this particular return was complicated by the fact that – having been resident in the UK for 104 days from April 6th to July 19th 2015 – I was considered by HMRC to have been a UK resident for tax purposes for the whole tax year. To avoid being taxed in both countries for the period from July 19th 2015 (our date of landing) to April 5th 2016 (and having already paid my Canadian taxes up to December 31st) I needed to meet the criteria for a ‘split year treatment‘ for 2015/16, under which I would pay taxes in whichever country I was resident at any given point.

There are eight sets of circumstances under which one is deemed to have met the criteria for ‘split year treatment‘. The only one that applied in my circumstances was Case 3 – ‘Ceasing to have a home in the UK’. The HMRC’s ‘Tax Return Notes’ give a fair bit of information on the criteria as a whole but cheerfully send one off in search of document RDR3 – ‘Guidance Note: Statutory Residence Test (SRT)’ for further detail on each specific case. Herewith the relevant sections for Case 3:

Case 3:  Ceasing to have a home in the UK

5.22  In this instance, you may receive split year treatment for a tax year if you leave the UK to live abroad and you cease to have a UK home.

You must:

– be UK resident in the tax year
– be UK resident for the previous tax year (whether or not it was a split year)
– be non-UK resident for the following tax year
– have one or more homes in the UK at the start of the tax year and at some point in the year cease to have any home in the UK for the rest of the tax year.

5.23  From the point you cease to have a home in the UK you must:

– spend fewer than 16 days in the UK
– in relation to a particular country, either:

– be present in that country at the end of each day for 6 months, or
– have your only home, or all your homes if you have more than 1, in that country within 6 months

Hmmm! That is all as clear as mud…

The other portion of the return that I had not previously encountered was that concerning Capital Gains Tax – for which the sale of our UK property made us potentially liable. The basic rules regarding Capital Gains Tax on property sales at the time that we sold the apartment were thus:

  • Capital Gains Tax could be subject to Private Residence Relief (PRR)
  • PRR was 100% if the property was one’s prime residence and was lived in for the whole time that it was owned
  • PRR might be reduced if the property was let for more than three years
  • no tax was payable in any case for the final 18 months of ownership

Our apartment in Buckinghamshire (which I had owned for more than fourteen years) had been let for more than three years at the point at which we sold it. We thus had to work out the level of PRR for which we might still be eligible. This was calculated by determining the profit made on the sale (the agreed selling price less the original purchase price) and by determining the percentage of months for which PRR might be applied. I had owned the property for 176 months, I/we had lived in it for 130 months and it had been let for 41 months. Given the exemption for the final 18 months of ownership this meant that I could apply for PRR to cover 84% of the capital gain.

That would yet have left a chunk of tax owing, but there were – fortunately – a couple of other reliefs that could be applied:

  • Selling costs (estate agent and legal fees) could be set against the profit
  • We could apply for Letting Relief for the period that the apartment was actually tenanted
  • There was a general Capital Gains Tax allowance of £11,000

A tortuous calculation led us to the conclusion that all of the potential taxes and reliefs fundamentally cancelled each other out – leaving us after all nothing to pay on the sale of our home. The tax return was duly completed and sent to the United Kingdom at the start of June this year. Shortly before I started writing this series of posts I was finally in receipt of a further rebate from HMRC, though they also sent a note which somewhat unkindly suggested that this refund had been based on my calculations – which they claim not to have checked! I suspect that this is just to give them some wiggle-room should they find any way that they can claw back some of what they paid me.

We shall see…

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tax“Taxation is legalised extortion and is valid only to the extent of the law.”

Ed Troup (now Head of HMRC – in a 1999 newspaper article)

This final installment in a trilogy of posts detailing the transition of my tax affairs from the UK to Canada over the last year (previous episodes here and here) may seem somewhat dry reading, but it might also provide at least some useful information for those who find themselves in the same boat.

As mentioned previously I had taken advice from HMRC in the UK before we left for Victoria. One of the suggestions that they had made was that I should write to them setting out in detail our intentions and proposed schedule. This I did – if for no other reason than that it is always a good idea to get such things down in writing and to file a copy for posterity.

Income tax in the UK is collected through a Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system which relies on each individual being ascribed one or more codes which determine how much tax is deducted each time an income is payed. My income before retirement fell into a higher tax bracket, which in turn meant that the two pensions that I was already drawing at the start of the 2015/16 tax year were also taxed at that level. When I retired and started receiving my third and final pension (but stopped receiving a salary) the tax codes for all three pensions should have been changed to reflect the fact that my income no longer merited being taxed at the higher level. Once we had become Canadian tax residents the codes should have been changed again to ensure that I was no longer taxed in the UK at all.

Naturally, ensuring that these codes were all corrected at the appropriate times proved to be far from simple. They should have been updated as a result of communications from my final employer when I retired, but in the event I still had to spend some considerable time on the phone from Canada to the HMRC arguing the case before all three pensions were finally being taxed at the basic rate. HMRC then had to pay me a rebate for overpaid taxes – which they duly did.

Once my tax status as a resident of Canada had been confirmed by Revenue Canada and the consequent paperwork forwarded to HMRC there followed another round of ‘negotiations’ before all three pensions finally became un-taxed in the UK. I had by this point already been taxed in Canada for the year to December 31st and I was looking forward to recovering the monies that had been deducted in the UK since our departure in July. A further conversation with HMRC made it clear that this wouldn’t happen until I had completed and submitted a tax return for the 2015/16 tax year in the UK.

Filling out that tax return was quite a mission in itself and entailed another couple of hours of phone calls to HMRC before I was satisfied that I had accurately particularised our situation.

Having ventured thus far with my explication I firmly intend to document that process as well – though I fear that so to do will entail a fourth post. Ah well!

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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid“Tax is not a four-letter word; rather, it’s the price we pay for the country we want.”

Alex Himelfarb

My last post went some way towards explaining the vexatious complexity of our tax affairs upon leaving the UK last year and heading across the pond to Canada. I promised – for those who simply could not sleep without knowing how the issues had been resolved – to reveal all. As I am (mostly) a man of my word…

I had, naturally, taken the trouble to consult Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) well in advance of our departure from the UK to discover exactly what steps would need to be taken to ensure that I ceased paying tax in the UK on our departure and started so doing in Canada. A most Helpful Young Chap had given me chapter and verse… though as it turned out not all of the chapters and rather less verse than he might have!

He did advise that I should acquire – from the HMRC website – “Form Canada-Individual” (for those seeking this document it should be noted that it does not – unlike most other HMRC forms – have a form number!). At the bottom of the first page of this document there is a box labelled “For use by Canada Revenue Agency” and the guidance notes helpfully state that once completed the form should be sent to the “Tax Services Office of the Canada Revenue Agency for the area in which you reside“, for them to stamp and to sign. The HYC from the HMRC was unable to elaborate further on this instruction so I figured I would have to wait until we got to Canada and to ask questions there.

A few days subsequent to our arrival I paid a visit to the Revenue Canada building in Victoria, thinking that this would be the best way to find out whom I should approach. The Canada Revenue office may well be open for business but the building itself certain isn’t – not to the public at any rate. There is no open foyer or reception desk – just tight security and locked doors. I was forced to resort to the InterWebNet instead and – taking what seemed the best bet – sent my “Form Canada – Individual” to the Revenue Canada office in Vancouver.

Nothing at all happened for two months but eventually a reply limped into our mailbox. According to Revenue Canada Vancouver my application could not be processed because I had not provided them with my Social Insurance Number (SIN). This was – of course – because I had not been able to ascertain from anyone what the correct procedure was. I duly added the requested information and resubmitted the whole application – as directed by Vancouver – to Ottawa.

This time a mere month elapsed before Revenue Canada once more returned my application. Apparently they did not have the required information to determine that I truly was now a Canadian Resident for tax purposes. I would needs complete and return Form NR74 – “Determination of Residency Status (Entering Canada)” along with my resubmitted application before they could proceed.

Manfully resisting the temptation to enquire as to why Revenue Canada could not have sent me this form the first time they returned my application, I duly completed it. I could not help but notice that the information requested was mysteriously similar to that already submitted on “Form Canada – Individual” – but thought it best not to point this out either.

Another hiatus ensued.

Eventually – some six months after setting the whole process in motion – I finally received from Revenue Canada the duly stamped and signed copy of “Form Canada – Individual“, which I promptly sent back to HMRC in the UK. I was now registered as a tax payer in Canada – effective from the date that we landed.

Now – the Kickass Canada Girl has a long-standing relationship with a tax accountant in Victoria, who agreed to handle my tax affairs as well as the Girl’s. She was most helpful to us both in completing our tax returns following the end of the 2015 tax year on December 31st. Our attention was drawn to some highly beneficial rebates of which we would not otherwise have been aware and – as a result – my tax bill was considerably less scary than it might have been.

All that remained was for me to persuade HMRC to stop taxing me a second time (or first – if you see what I mean) in the UK and to return any excess tax that they might already have deducted.

The tale of how that went must – however – wait for next time.

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pieter_brueghel_the_younger_paying_the_tax“The hardest thing to understand in the world is the income tax.” 
Albert Einstein

I have been meaning for some little while now to draft a brief disquisition on the subject of taxes – with particular reference to the effects thereon of relocating to a different continent. Though circumstances are – in term of taxation – really quite different from case to case, it is yet possible that my recent experiences in the field may be of some small use to someone somewhere.

That I have not until now carried out the electronic equivalent of putting pen to paper can be readily explained. Our situation featured certain complexities which have complicated the transition considerably. It is only very recently that we can state with reasonable confidence that our tax affairs have now been put in order. We have yet to receive final written confirmation that this is the case, but the omens have a propitious look about them.

It is a basic principle of income taxation that the norm is for all such to paid in one’s country of residence. There might well be exceptions should one be in receipt of income from territories other than that in which one resides, unless there exist between said nations a reciprocal tax agreement. The United Kingdom and Canada have just such an agreement.

On moving from the UK to Canada there is a supposedly relatively simple procedure to follow to ensure that one stops paying tax in the former and commences so doing in the latter. Of course, such things rarely turn out to be simple in practice, though that has much to do with the degree of tax complexity to which one is subject.

In my case the situation was complicated by the following factors:

  • I retired part way through the 2015/2016 tax year. I paid income tax at above the basic rate on my salary until that point.
  • I was already drawing two of my three employer’s pensions from the start of the year. These were also being taxed at the higher rate.
  • When I retired my final pension kicked in, though of course my salary stopped at the same time. I was still being taxed at the higher rate even though my income no longer merited such.
  • Two weeks after retiring we moved to Canada and I became a tax resident here. My pension incomes are all paid in the UK and transferred monthly to Canada, but because the UK uses PAYE (Pay as you earn) I was still seeing tax deducted at source in the UK. I was thus for a period being effectively taxed in both countries – though in Canada (which does not have PAYE) payment was not due until the end of the tax year.
  • We sold our property in the UK a week before leaving the country. Normally the sale of one’s primary residence in the UK does not attract capital gains tax. We had – however – been living in a rented apartment for our last four years in England, and had tenants in our apartment. In such circumstances the rules are different and capital gains tax can come into play.
  • The UK and Canadian tax years do not coincide. In Canada the tax year runs quite logically from January 1st to December 31st. In the UK – as you might expect – the situation is quite different and the year runs from April 6th to the subsequent April 5th.

I fear that I can only subject myself to a certain level of tax contemplation at any one sitting. A subsequent post (or posts!) will thus be necessary to guide the gentle reader through how the process of tax transfer was effected in our case.

Something to look forward to!

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image“Isn’t it crazy how we can look back a year ago and realize how much everything has changed? The amount of people that have left your life, entered, and stayed. The memories you won’t forget and the moments you wish you did. Everything. It is crazy how all that happened in just one year.”

Author unknown

Were one to scour the InterWebNet (as did I earlier today) searching for a suitable quotation, an appropriate apothegm on the subject of ‘anniversaries’ – one might well discover (as, again, did I) that all such wit and wisdom that is to be found online concerns exclusively the matter of matrimony. Further, not one example actually concerns the business of marking the day itself – instead all exclusively wallow in the warm waters of the well of love! Rightly so in normal circumstances you might think, but connubiality is not on this occasion the subject of my discourse.

In the circumstances the unattributed passage above was the best up with which I could come.

In some ways it is actually quite fitting (though perhaps something of a truism) for today marks the first anniversary of my arrival on these fair shores – of that ‘first day of the rest of my life’ – of my landing in Canada as a Permanent Resident. It is therefore absolutely the case that in this brief span my life has changed utterly and completely – and in what feels now to have been the blink of an eye.

Where did that year go!

For sure, on reflection it is clear that the Kickass Canada Girl and I have achieved a great deal since the day a year ago that we arrived in Victoria bearing our lives in a small number of suitcases. Yes, there is much yet to achieve – but that is as it should be. We have not – after all – either of us reached to point in our lives when we are prepared to sit back, gazing out to sea and reminiscing on our past lives as seen through blush-tinted spectacles.

There is still ass to be kicked!

We will hold back the celebrations themselves as there are yet more anniversaries to be considered over the coming weeks, but we can at least raise a quiet glass in honour of this particular landmark with a certain degree of satisfaction.

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imageThus commence all good fairy stories.

This one is no exception…

I feel sure that the habitual reader – should such there be – will be unsurprised that there has been something of an hiatus since my last posting to this journal. Given that this week has proved to have been – as predicted afore-hand – pretty ‘full on’ (as the parlance has doubtless not had it for years!) it will probably be taken as read that there has been little time or energy left over to practice the communicative arts.

No matter! We are in!

By which I mean – of course – that as of last night we are officially in residence in our splendid new (to us!) domicile.

As for our physical and mental state you would have more sympathy – I have no doubt – were our weariness solely attributable to our endeavours on the home-making front. Alas, I cannot pretend that this is so. For the last few nights at least we have been living the high life.

Should I needs plead an excuse I find myself in possession of one such of the copper-bottomed variety. This past week has seen the occasion of the Kickass Canada Girl’s birthday.

Happy birthday to the Girl! Hooray!!

Celebrations have included participation in several events of a charitable nature, which means that not only have we indulged in revelry but that we have done so in good cause!

We commenced on Thursday night at a fundraising dinner in support of the Tour de Roc – the ‘Cops for Cancer’ charity cycle which takes two weeks to ride the length of Vancouver Island. This splendid campaign has been an annual event since 1998 and the officers who volunteer not only ride over a 1000 kilometres but also have to scrub up and put in appearances at fundraisers throughout the fortnight.

Last Thursday was the penultimate day of the ride and the dinner in the evening – at the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney – not only offered quite the best mass-catered buffet I have encountered, but also a full bill of comedy headlined by our new Canadian favourite – Mike Delamont, who once again had us crying with laughter.

Friday found us back at the Mary Winspear Centre for another charity event for which the Girl’s best friend was helping to organize the silent auction. The most worthy cause on this occasion was the raising of funds to support the excellent work done by ‘THRIVE Malawi‘.

The centrepiece of the event was a concert by local ensemble – The HiFi. All you need to know about this assemblage of musos – who describe their schtick as “New Orleans, West Coast brouhaha” – is that not only are all concerned amazingly talented musicians, but one of them is actually an internationally reknowned boogie pianist appearing under a pseudonym for contractual reasons. Anyway, they all appeared to be having a lot of fun – as were we!

 

With regard to our new home… all of our goods and chattels were duly cleared through Canada Customs on Wednesday morning, and the movers spent the rest of the day unloading and unpacking everything. They were contractually obliged to unpack everything to a ‘flat surface’ and we to let them so do – for were there to be any breakages of items not so processed we would not be able to claim for them.

As a result the day was extremely long and tiring and at the end of it every available surface was covered with gewgaws. It took a couple of days subsequently to create sufficient order that we could actually take up residence. This not helped of course by the fact that once one’s possessions have been bundled up and bumped halfway around the world in a container absolutely everything needs to be washed before it can again be used.

No matter. ‘Tis done and we are in!

Guess I am now officially a resident…

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Image from Pixabay“A transition period is a period between two transition periods.”

George Stigler

The period following the declaration in September 1939 that a state of war existed between the United Kingdom and Germany – the which endured until April of the following year – came to be know as the ‘Phoney War’. This because, following the Nazis’ blitzkrieg attack on Poland and Chamberlain’s dramatic declaration, as far as the general public could tell – absolutely nothing happened!

That this was – of course – far from being the case became all too apparent as the following year unfolded, but the phrase – and the notion – has stuck. It now provides a useful analog for an unexpected hiatus.

Far be it from me to suggest that the events of the past two months in our humble lives could in any way compare with such great moments from history – but I am, naturally, about to do just that.

Since the offer on our new home on the Saanich peninsular was accepted and the contracts signed back at the start of August we have existed in a dreamlike state of limbo. Schemes have been schemed – researches pursued relentlessly – plans prepared patiently… inspiration quivering tremulously just beyond reach like some slippery Will O’ the Wisp…

Not a great deal of any true import has been achieved. We have instead floated through a delightful holiday-like existence at our lovely friends’ smallholding in Saanichton, indulging in all the delights that Victoria has to offer of a summer season.

All this is about to change…

Next week we take over and move into our new home and all of our worldly possessions finally finish their long voyage from the UK.

I have already made reference to some of the many differences between buying and selling property in Canada and so doing in England. A further disparity – particularly if one is in the fortunate position of not requiring mortgage finance – is that the legal profession’s part in the process over here amounts to little more than a cameo.

As soon as we had received an offer on our apartment in Buckinghamshire I had immediately to engage a solicitor, by whom the process was effectively run from that point on – all the way to completion. Here in Canada we were advised that a lawyer would not be required until the very last moment. Sure enough we finally met our lawyer earlier this week, signed the necessary papers and handed over a bank draft made out for a very large sum of money. Apparently we will not need to see him again.

The funds will be transferred to the vendor on Monday next, we take possession at midday on the Tuesday and our goods and chattels should be with us on Wednesday.

There is some uncertainty as to the exact timing of this final phase because our various bits and pieces – having been extracted from their container upon arrival in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago and subsequently stored in a bonded warehouse there – still need to be cleared by Canada Customs. We will meet the truck bringing them from Vancouver at Victoria International Airport (where Canada Customs have an office) and the business will be transacted there. We don’t envisage there being any problems, but don’t yet know if this will take place on Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning.

Once everything has been unloaded and unpacked – that’s when the fun really starts…

Until then – and as a way of preparing ourselves for the busy and arduous week ahead – we have run away for a couple of nights to Saltspring Island, concerning which more anon…

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Image from pixabayIn exactly four weeks from today we will take possession of our new home on the Saanich peninsular north of Victoria.

If we are fortunate – and our experiences of late seem to suggest that frequently we are so – then our goods and chattels – which have been bobbing their merry way across two oceans – should put in an appearance at roughly the same time.

We have, in fact, heard from our tranter – Bournes International Moves – that the vessel that is playing host to our container is due to make landfall in Vancouver on or around September 4th or 5th. Whereas that should leave plenty of time for our precious cargo to reach us before we complete the house purchase it must first clear Canadian customs – a process in which we need apparently have some personal involvement, the details of which we will learn more about in due course.

Should this cause only a minor delay then our goods must needs briefly be held in storage in Vancouver before making the final leg of the journey to Victoria. This has already been factored in and the necessary arrangements made to cover all eventualities.

I have previously made reference to the fact that our new home – though really in very good condition – is in need of some updating, mostly to bring it into the current century in terms of style and convenience.

Our current wish list of improvements includes the following – in no particular order:

  • A new kitchen
  • Complete renovation of the family bathroom (mine!)
  • Extension and renovation of the ensuite bathroom (the Girl’s)
  • Connection to the natural gas main (we want a gas range and gas water heating)
  • A modern gas fireplace for the living room
  • Hardwood flooring in the living room and bedroom (the Girl does not tolerate carpets well)
  • Installation of a new staircase to give better access from the living rooms to the garden. (This will also involve opening up one of the current external walls at the foot of the new staircase and the installation of new patio doors to the ground floor in its place)
  • In conjunction with the above – the re-siting and re-commissioning of the hot tub (come on – this is Canada!)
  • The creation from the downstairs family room, kitchen and bedroom of a new studio apartment for our guests to use (and for possible future Air-B & B-ing)

I feel sure that there will also be many other things to do, but that’s about all I can think of at the moment. Besides – that’s quite enough to be getting on with.

Though we are blessed with wonderful friends in Saanichton who put up without complaint with our squatting in their suite and imposing on their hospitality, we are reaching the limit of our patience with living out of suitcases. The next four weeks of limbo-living will probably fly by, but we are now increasingly impatient for them so to do.

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imageI did promise that I would fill in the gaps regarding the most expeditious and auspicious purchase of our new home on the Saanich peninsular…

Well – ‘Yer tis’ – as they purportedly exclaim down ‘Zummerzet’ way (how’s that for an entirely gratuitous, irrelevant and quasi-offensive reference?).

I wrote in this post concerning our first abortive attempt to purchase a house on the island from vendors who had clearly forgotten the essential characteristic required of their role in the transaction – namely the desire actually to sell the property that they had brought to market!

When it became clear that the deal was not after all going ahead – and mindful of the fact that the paucity of new properties being offered had created a sellers’ market in which houses were moving rapidly and, occasional, selling above the asking price – the Kickass Canada Girl and I decided to revisit our criteria for choosing a new home.

This we did in part by driving around each of the areas on which we had focussed our attention, looking critically at our reasons for having chosen them and re-evaluating their potential when it came to fulfilling our dream. As often seems to be the way with us this actually had the effect of narrowing our range of possibilities, leaving us ultimately with a mere two adjacent streets within our number one area on which we were prepared to settle.

It looked as though we had made things yet more difficulty when the Girl mused that our ideal might be a house owned by an old couple that now needed fixing up.

What were the odds?

At about the time that we had finally decided to let the first house go we were out on a Thursday afternoon in downtown Victoria. The Girl has been signed up for several years to email alerts from our realtor when new properties come on to the market and – wouldn’t you know it? – a notification popped up.

A new house had come on the market – on one of our two chosen streets! We called our realtor. She was busy but checked with the vendors realtor, who was actually at the property. We could view immediately. We drove there directly, arriving no more than 45 minutes after the ‘for sale’ sign went out.

We liked what we saw. The right street – loads of space – beautiful and quiet garden – wonderful views – plenty of space for the Girl and an large outbuilding that I could turn into a studio. Furthermore, the property had been owned by an old couple. The husband had died and the wife was going back to live near family in Vancouver. The house had been looked after, but the decor and installations – kitchens, bathrooms etc – dated from the 70s and would need to be replaced.

We paid another visit the very next morning and determined to make an offer. Fearing that the vendor’s realtor might attempt to engineer another multiple offer situation we made a full price offer, and after an anxious wait we heard that it had been accepted.

Being cash buyers the only conditions attached related to the home inspection. We had already lined up an inspector for our abortive first purchase effort and he was simply switched – the following Wednesday – to the new house. He had only minor issues to report and the payment of the requisite deposit made the house ours – just in time for us to leave on our trip to the interior.

Wow!

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“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

Maya Angelou, ‘All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes’

My last post concluded thus:

“There is clearly – as with all such things – some meaning behind all of this emotional upheaval. We await with interest to see what it is.”

Well – we did not have long to wait to discover what it might be.

We have bought a house!!

The Kickass Canada Girl and I are heading to the interior for a short period from tomorrow and communication may be difficult, but we did want to share this news before we left. Full details of one of the fastest house sales of all time will be posted later, but for now let me gently stimulate your envy buds!

This is the unassuming prospect of the property from the road:

image

But this is what it looks like from the back:

imageThe building to the right is not the property next door but the outbuilding that will become my studio! The house itself needs a fair bit of updating but we are prepared to take time over that.

The deal maker is what you get if you look out of the back of the house:

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Nuff said!

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