Buying a house during Covid

Should we buy a house during Covid? This was a question that did pop up, but our need for a new home (in a new country) was so great, we couldn’t wait. Let me explain how we ended up buying a house during Covid and give you some tips.

Four years ago, we moved to China from England. We rented out our home in England and thought we could always sell it when we got back. Obviously, I didn’t polish my crystal ball and I had no idea anything like the disruption or financial ruin of this pandemic was on the horizon, or I would have sold our house in 2016 and invested the money somewhere.

When we were ready to sell our home, of course, our tenants weren’t ready to move out. They moved out 7 months after I came back from China, heavily pregnant. In fact, I had a five-month-old when we got our house back. So in the meantime, I’d rented somewhere. Anyway, I never wanted to live in England again (and I still don’t) so we didn’t ever plan to move back into our old house. The rental place I got was abysmal due to the rental crisis in Ireland. Also, I couldn’t get anywhere in the South due to the rental crisis, so we ended up in Belfast where you have to learn a whole new way of talking about a lot of things to avoid offending people. But that’s another story.

We put our house up for sale in January 2020. We had viewings and multiple offers and had accepted an offer for full asking price within 7 days of the house going up for sale. Wow. We thought we’d be out of that rental in six weeks.


The sale finally completed in August. This was a no-chain sale, we were moving countries so we were going to be cash buyers, and our buyer was a first-time buyer who was already approved for a mortgage when they put the offer in. Unfortunately, during the first English lockdown they shut down all the legal offices. This meant that our sale ground to a halt for months. Simple aspects of a house sale became impossible. When they all reopened, there was an enormous backlog.

Anyway, we had the cash at the start of August. By now, our baby had his first birthday and we were still in the rental, but we were finally able to go househunting. We booked some viewings.

Obviously, with the current situation, it’s not really possible to go to view the same house as many times as you normally would. To put it into perspective, when we were looking for our first house, in 2013, we viewed it (and another house) three times each to be sure we were making the right choice, that there were no issues we hadn’t spotted, that the area was decent, etc.

With our purchase last year, we had to make a decision from one visit. One of the main issues I’ve seen when househunting is damp patches. They can mean a lot of different things. Roof leaks, pipe leaks, bad bathroom installation, building defects in new builds, cracks in the walls from mica or pyrite (Ireland only), condensation or rising damp from outside. Basically, you don’t want damp patches. And on a viewing, they can be impossible to spot. The nicest houses get them. Even newbuilds. So I bought this FLIR infrared camera from US Amazon.

It attached to my phone, I downloaded an app, then it showed me areas of hot or cold. Basically it meant I could see behind the walls to find out if there were any leaks which will show as a sudden cold patch in the FLIR app.

For househunting in Covid times, it was the best $250 I spent. Think about it. This is the biggest purchase we’re making in our lives. We’re buying a house outright with no mortgage. If this falls down around our ears, we have lost the full cost of a house. An extra $250 is less than the cost of the surveyor or house insurance which are also intended to guard this investment. If you’re buying a house during Covid and are worried about not being able to find out enough from one brief viewing, I 100% recommend you get a FLIR One Infrared Camera for your phone.

You can get the FLIR One camera from UK Amazon here (it was about $50 cheaper to get it from the US for me).

Or buy it from US Amazon here.

If you’re in Ireland, the best place to get it will fluctuate week-by-week and you can shop on either site.

I was really excited to get one of these as I enjoy photography as a hobby and have messed around with infrared lenses in the past. This type of infrared camera is different to the infrared lenses you can get for DSLR cameras, though, and it creates images from the far-infrared part of the spectrum, which is less artistic and much more practical.

These are the sort of pictures you get (you can see the heat left from footprints on the floor, and the cold left from ice cream standing on a table, even after you’ve moved the ice cream):

The space where the ice cream had been sitting is that big dark circle at the bottom of the picture.
A footprint after I moved my foot. This camera is very sensitive and will show you a lot of information.

The estate agents didn’t say anything while I deployed the FLIR camera on each brief viewing of the two houses on our shortlist. We were not allowed to touch anything, which was annoying as it meant we couldn’t find out if the windows opened properly, or if the doors were hanging correctly, etc. This did mean we ended up buying a house where there were problems with the doors on the kitchen cupboards, but these aren’t hard to replace and it did make us feel more justified about the offer we had made for the house, which was 8k below asking.

Once we had satisfied ourselves that we were buying a house that was structurally sound and that didn’t have any hidden disasters for us to find later, we put in an offer and it was accepted, and four months later (thanks to more Covid delays) we were the proud owners of our new home.

And if you want to know how I managed to start a business that enabled me to be mortgage free by thirty-three years of age (including taking two years out for a baby), I will write about that at some point soon.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth (Infrared)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth

None of these are edited.

I took my camera out to do some more infrared photography last Sunday but since I’ve had very sick rabbits this week I’ve not had a chance to share them with you.  They really do encompass a small and more unusual portion of the beauty of the Earth so I  thought they’d fit nicely for the WPC this week.

Here’s my take on the weekly photo challenge then:

infrared photography infra red photography photo
Trees, left and right, are parted by a footpath (center), under a red sky in this infrared photo.

Infra red photography infrared
A path, left, fence, centre, and trees.  A nice example of infrared photography.

Infrared photography Infrared photography infra red photos
Trees, left and right, a path, front centre, leading to a stone circle, centre, under a red sky.

Infrared Photography in York: Can You Believe This is NOT Photoshopped?

I’m so excited to share with you my first infra red photographs! I’ve wanted a camera that could take infra red photos since I first heard that they existed. I know my readers have different levels of experience when it comes to photography, some of you are experts and some of you are, like me, just stepping out with artistic photography so it was hard to make this article readable without being too technical or patronising.

I decided to make  this my second entry for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Abstract because the challenge was to make the familiar unfamiliar, and it’s certainly done that. Scroll down for the two best photos (last two) or have a read of the journey behind this photograph.

For those of you who have never come across infra red (IR) photography, it’s not the heat-detection infra red (Far Infra Red) but it’s near-infra red, so it’s only a tiny bit outside the visible light spectrum (what we can usually see).  Infra red light comes from the sun and is reflected off everything just like regular light.

As you can see from the lead picture, it’s very different to the infra red cameras that the police use on those police chase shows, this doesn’t detect body heat and can’t see what you ate for breakfast (eww), this is MUCH more beautiful and artistic, and I fell in love with IR photography the first time I saw pictures, when I was putting a presentation together for a science lecture about 3 years ago. I swore that day that, when I had the money, I’d buy a camera that could do infra red (not the app on the iphone or the Photoshop setting that edits pictures to look like they’re IR when they’re not), and so when I bought my camera for Youtubing and photography, I made sure it would be able to do this by pointing the TV remote control at my camera.  I saw the red beam through my digital viewfinder, so I knew my camera could take IR pictures, now it just needed the right filter.

I bought a £10 filter for my camera and it arrived just before the sun left for winter. You don’t need a sunny day, but you do need bright natural light for IR photography to work – outdoors, natural features, midday-ish works best. A tripod isn’t mandatory but it will help.

Today, FINALLY, I got around to trying out my IR filter.
This is what the first picture looked like:

Infrared photography problem

Disappointed wasn’t the word. What was wrong with my camera???  Was the cheap lens filter I bought a dud?
So I fiddled around with the settings wondering why nobody on the internet seemed to have an article entitled: Infra red photography picture went black.
I changed a few things around and kicked myself.
It was too dark because, while I’d turned the shutter speed to max, I’d also dropped the ISO to 100 (the lowest on my camera).
When I wrote that presentation, 3 years ago, I remember reading that ISO has to be really really high for IR photography to work.  That’s why some cameras can’t do it.
So I flipped it up to 12,800 and hit the shutter to auto detect, and magically, I got this:

infrared photography problems
Okay so it’s not much but getting any image, however slight, proved that the principle was right and I was on the right track.

After fiddling around with the settings, refining the focus etc, I finally got both of these:

infrared photo canon eos 650d
I don’t think I could be more proud of this picture right now. It took so much trial and error. Taken on Canon EOS 700D with Infrared Filter.

Infrared photography of a tree in next door's garden. Taken on Canon EOS 700D (no modifications) with IR filter.
Infrared photography of a tree in next door’s garden. Taken on Canon EOS 700D (no modifications) with IR filter.

As you can see I need to practice – the hardest thing is focussing without autofocus or a viewfinder (you literally cannot see what you’re going to get) because the lens I’m using doesn’t have a “lock focus.”  Some lenses have a little graph on the side to help you focus accurately but this one doesn’t.  I think trial and error is going to be the case with every photo.

Another thing I want to improve about these pictures is that, as you can see in the last picture, distortion from vignetting is really bad when you tilt the camera at a high angle from the ground, I don’t know whether that’s down to the longer wavelength of infra red light, but it seems fine when the angle is closer to horizontal.

All in all though I’m really excited to be trying out this new form of photography to capture the beauty of the natural world, and if you’re looking to do the same, I highly recommend this £10 lens filter that I used (this one is for the standard 18-55mm lens that comes with the Canon camera, if you wanted to use a different lens, check the width of the front of the lens to make sure the filter fits; either way these filters are pretty cheap).

None of these images have been edited in any way they’ve come straight off my memory card from my camera and I resized them to fit WordPress; I’m so excited I want to do more and refine my technique.

Please ask any questions in the comments and I’ll try my best to answer them but I’m definitely not an IR photography expert!

What I used for infrared photography:

Camera:  Canon EOS 700D (no special conversions or anything)

Lens: 18-55mm standard kit lens (here in the UK)

Lens Filter: 58mm infrared lens filter (US) available here in the UK

IMPORTANT NOTE ON LENS FILTER: IT MUST FIT THE WIDTH OF YOUR LENS, IF YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO BUY LENS FILTERS, MEASURE THE DIAMETER OF YOUR LENS BEFORE BUYING A FILTER! The lens filter is available in different sizes, it doesn’t need to fit the camera, it needs to fit the front of the lens because it screws onto the front!! Sorry for the shouty capitals but it would be a huge shame if someone got the wrong size lens filter by accident.

More on Infrared Photography:

This article contains links to Amazon via Amazon Associates.

Tripod or No Tripod?

In this article, I want to discuss the question: tripod or no tripod?  Should I use a tripod for photography?  The above picture is what happens when you don’t use a tripod on a long exposure.

“A photograph can be an instant of life captured for eternity that will never cease looking back at you.”
– Brigitte Bardot

Tripods are a three legged stand that you can attach your camera to, so it stays put on the tripod.  They are very useful for a range of photography and video situations.  I’ve done several Youtube videos that wouldn’t have been possible without a tripod, because they stray from my usual camera setup, but I rarely use the tripod for photography.  Should I use my tripod more?  It got me thinking about when is an appropriate situation to use a tripod, and when they’re just a faff.  Here I want to share my thoughts about when it’s a good idea to use a tripod, and when it’s better to not bother.  Add your own thoughts in the comments!

Pro’s of using a tripod:

1. They steady the camera.
If getting those horizontal and vertical lines is a challenge for you, then the spirit level on your tripod can be a fantastic tool, because you can just adjust the legs until you get a perfectly level picture.  A lot of lenses these days have image stabilization but nothing beats a good tripod.  I’ve said it before, but if you know how to take a good picture first time, it saves a lot of lost opportunities.
2. Your hands don’t get tired.
Holding a camera in an awkward position while you wait for the subject to get arranged can really tire your hands out – and hand shake is the enemy of a good picture.
3. Essential for longer exposures e.g. astrophotography.
You literally cannot hold a camera still enough to get 30 second photos of space, unless you don’t have a heartbeat.
4. You can spend more time setting up the shot to make sure it’s perfect.
If your camera has a movable viewfinder, you can leave the camera in place and check whether everything you’ve arranged is in-shot.
5. You can learn how to compose the perfect shot.
This will probably improve the quality of your future pictures.  Pictures taken with tripods tend to come out either very static or very dynamic.  There’s no way to really compose the perfect dynamic shot (e.g. sports pictures) because the subject is generally moving independently of the photographer’s control, but for static shots, having a tripod can help you practise framing and using different focus techniques (for example) on the exact same shot to see what works and what doesn’t.
6. You can use the 10 second (or longer) self timer
This enables people to take pictures, and get a good shot without needing anyone to hold the camera, e.g. for family portraits.

Con’s of using a tripod:

1. They add weight to your setup.  Especially the ones that extend enough for you to stand up straight whilst using them – when you add a dolly (wheels) you’re looking at even more weight, and soon you’re going to need a trolley to cart it all around.  There’s a reason cameramen tend to have very strong arms!
2. They add money to your photography expenses.  Granted, you can pick up a tripod for pretty cheap on Amazon, but it’s still another thing to pay for, on top of all the other things you’ve already paid for, and some people simply don’t have the money for a tripod.
3. The ones for outdoor shots tend to be bulky.  The flimsy cheap ones can blow over easily (or get knocked over) if you’re not careful because they’re too top-heavy; would you risk a $1000 (often significantly more) camera and lens combo on a $20 badly made tripod?
4. You can get lazy in your composition
This comes from not snapping pictures whilst holding the camera, and it can lead to poorer quality pictures without the tripod.  Some pro-tripod people don’t even believe it’s possible to get good pictures without using a tripod!


I have just one tripod, a medium sized one of moderately good build, but I think there’s a time and a place for using it – I generally use it in my house or for astrophotography, as I said.  When it warms up, I’ll start using it for infrared photography as well.  I’ve never taken it up a mountain with me and I’m not sure I ever would (although who knows what the future holds).  I’d like to play around with it more, but the weight is off putting because my camera setup is already fairly hefty.

What do you think?  When do you use your tripod?  Are there any times when you would say it’s essential?