American-born Laura says that in 1985 the couple moved from Boston to Britain but found that renting was not straightforward: "By then we had a child which made it difficult to find somewhere," she says.
Laura's career meant another search for a rental property, but one estate agent's advice was unexpected. "She said we were mad and that buying would be much cheaper. Owning had always been a distant dream so I was stunned," says Laura. In the US, buyers typically can only get mortgages of up to 60 per cent so need large deposits.
In 1986, they took the advice and, with a 100 per cent mortgage, bought a "pretty standard" Victorian semi-detached house in Guildford, Surrey, for pounds 48,000.
They gutted the two-up, two-down which Laura describes as "nothing posh", but in 1988 a change of job took them to Oxfordshire. They sold for pounds 84,000 and for pounds 86,000 bought a cottage beside a bridge overlooking the river Thames. Laura reminisces about the picturesque setting with its swans and tranquillity: "It was cute, not like that urban Guildford thing."
Over 10 years they converted their loft themselves, which cost pounds 7,000 rather than a builder's quote of pounds 20,000, for Roger's studio. But two not-so-cute events spoilt the pastoral scene: "New traffic lights by the bridge changed things dramatically and the sweet, two-bed cottage next door was bought by an obnoxious medallion-wearing John Travolta type who turned it into a five-bed monstrosity."
In 1996 they sold for pounds 96,000. Opting to stay in Oxford, they wanted to buy in Jericho, which Laura calls a "Bohemian enclave with a foreign movie house", but saw their dream fade away in price terms as values rose steeply. When friends in more affordable St Clements mentioned two neighbouring houses on the market, Laura and Roger went to view. Confident that Mr Travolta wasn't next door they saw potential in the larger property: "Nothing had been done since about the 1950s, including the vacuuming."
Ignoring friends who "walked in, said `Gosh' and walked out", they bought the house, originally on the market at pounds 115,000, for pounds 92,000. The 1840s house, with its separate two-storey outbuilding which makes a perfect artists' studio, has had walls knocked down, heating installed and a glass ceiling built in the kitchen. It was recently valued at pounds 160,000.
THOSE MOVES IN BRIEF
1986 - bought two-bed Guildford semi for pounds 48,000, sold for pounds 84,000.
1988 - bought riverside cottage for pounds 86,000, sold for pounds 96,000.
1996 - bought 1840s Oxford house for pounds 92,000, now worth pounds 160,000.
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