Building a house, overseas, in the midst of a global pandemic? Are you crazy? Well, yes… and possibly no. Given the state of the Turkish economy right now, with the inflation rate soaring, if we were to embark on the project today, we wouldn’t be able to afford it at all. With recent changes to planning regulations, nor would we get building consent. So it could be said... just in the nick of time.
This was not our first foray into the world of construction. Of course there was our house extension in 2012, wherein we added an extra room and downstairs bathroom to the back of our house here, and rejigged the layout of our living room. All deemed necessary now that we had two kids aged three and four, desperate for extra space.
Nor was it our first attempt at building abroad. This was in fact our third effort. On the first occasion in 2010, the builder put up a wall, fixed a very shoddy staircase and then ran off with our money. That one was only supposed to be a Tiny House, affording us some privacy during our extended stays in Turkey, but it was not to be.
After a court case pursuing our rights, which we won — but which never recovered our money, for the builder had a string of claimants pursuing him — we tried again in 2012. More success this time, mostly as a result of my beloved remaining behind for months to oversee the builders’ work there, while I oversaw our builders’ work here. They too ran off with some of our money, but my fastidious wife carried the project to completion, providing us with a Little House, to which we could escape in the summer.
That Little House served us well for the next few years. I was able to work remotely in the summer, my work sandwiched between leave at either end of the holidays. My parents came to stay with us in 2014, embracing the quaint lifestyle of our little lodge set on the side of a hill amidst tea and hazelnut fields. When the kids were small, it was so much fun — an adventure they looked forward to each year. With that view, who could blame them?
In 2017, we attempted to migrate to Turkey to start a new life there. Well a partial migration, anyway; I was coming and going, taking on the role of migrant labour, sending my wage back to my family to enable them to enjoy the highlife over there. And that they did. We had a spacious apartment down in town, well furnished and nicely decorated, within walking distance of the local school. The kids loved that adventure even more, enjoying a freedom we had never given them here.
But living down in the town, our Little House was beginning to fall into disrepair, and seemed less attractive to the children now. They would much rather spend their weekends at my mother-in-law’s house in the village, in a valley just inland. They had friends in the village, with whom they could get up to all kinds of mischief, whether it was watering an auntie’s cow or playing hide and seek in the corn fields. Whereas I had always found the lack of privacy stifling, they found that old village house cozy and filled with fun.
Towards the end of our stay in Turkey in 2018, we began considering what we would do with the Little House. It seemed we had a few options: to do minor repairs to make it habitable again; to do nothing and live with its degradation; to rebuild the roof to add an extra room; to rebuild from scratch; to sell up and buy something elsewhere. In the event, our Turkish adventure had to be aborted early. While I had managed to secure permission from my employers to work abroad permanently, health issues, worries about our children’s education, and family problems meant we ended returning home that summer.
Over the next couple of years, we would continue to contemplate our options, going backwards and forwards as to whether do something or not. The not being the thinking that until our kids go to university, our chances of travel are limited to school holidays alone. For now, our dreams of enjoying life straddling two countries seems far off. The possibly being the thinking that we must have a place of our own, giving us freedom to enjoy our time there.
After much toing and froing, with the encouragement of our trustworthy neighbour who looks after our tea and hazelnut fields, we decided to bite the bullet and go ahead with renovations. However, on my insistence, we would do everything properly this time. First a geologist’s survey to ensure we could safely build on that site (a steep mountainside); detailed architectural drawings and engineering plans the builders could be held to; and approved planning permission from the regional belediyesi (municipality).
And that was the project we had just commenced when the pandemic struck at the beginning of 2020. God bless our neighbour for dealing with all of that bureaucracy on our behalf, regularly driving 60km up to the provincial capital to have a piece of paper stamped or a fee paid. It’s no wonder that few locals bother with planning consent, given how costly and time-consuming the process is.
Most of that year was spent on planning and paperwork, complicated by rules clearly designed for flat plots of land in Ankara. A rule ensuring properties are built five metres from any boundary, road or neighbouring house clearly poses challenges when you’re situated on a hillside plot. It was not until September 2020 that we were able to commence ground clearance in preparation for significant earthworks, regrettably losing several of our vines and citrus trees in the process.
Once started, under the watchful eye of our trusty neighbour, taking on the role of project manager for us, the building work progressed at speed, interrupted only by the long winter at the start of 2021 and of course a series of pandemic lockdowns. Honestly, we couldn’t have done it without him, absorbing all the stresses of dealing with the numerous different tradespeople throughout the process.
My beloved has tasked me with producing a time lapse video of the entire construction process, but as you can imagine, I have yet to find the time or motivation to sit down and do that. One day, perhaps. For us now, there is just the dream of being able to enjoy our new house on the hill in the summer. A dream — high hopes, if the Most Merciful wills — because last year’s plans were aborted by government-mandated travel bans. No, but we hope and pray that this will be the year we’re finally able to rest our heads in a place of our own.
Perhaps there’s method in our madness, that even Kevin McCloud might marvel at. Here’s praying that this summer will work out for us, our first return visit in four years, God willing. Can’t wait to have a cuppa on the balcony.