Property: Stepping Stones - One Couple's Property Story

SINCE 1980 Ann Ball and her partner Norm have bought four south London properties. They now live in a three-storey Victorian house in East Dulwich.

It was in 1985 when, at the age of 30 and in a stable job as a housing association director, Ann decided "to get into the house-owning democracy".

Her first flat was an impulse buy, a one-bed conversion carved from the hall floor of a house in Brockley for pounds 24,500: "It had the most amazing huge rooms looking on to an enormous garden."

But the prospect of external renovations was worrying: "It was a big house and the other flats were mostly rented so I knew that one day I could get saddled with a large bill." In 1987 Ann, a lover of Victoriana, sold for pounds 45,000 and bought a freehold property in Deptford's Friendly Street.

The two-bedroom, Victorian cottage had a walled garden which, although "a mess", was lovingly restored by Ann, who created raised beds and a patio. She enjoyed the house and garden but not the noise from the busy road.

In 1989, having met Norm, she decided to rent out her house and move into a two-bedroom flat in Clapham which Norm had bought for pounds 25,000 in 1980. The rental was not a total success: "The first tenants were fine but the second lot junked it. When they left I found dirty washing-up and pans everywhere with beans stuck to them."

Prices had bottomed out, but in 1991 Ann sold at the purchase price and, having had a daughter, Alice, decided to buy a family home. She and Norm paid off the Clapham flat's mortgage and rented it out but could not find an affordable house nearby.

East Dulwich, a few miles away, offered more for money and prompted another of Ann's impulses. She remembers saying: "I have to have this... It was fabulous, you could just see the potential." It cost pounds 117,000 in 1992, and features such as a butler sink and original brass taps in the bathroom help understand the instant appeal. The couple have carried out improvements such as resiting the kitchen and adding a conservatory - and while Norm will "never move to another house where he'll have to do all this work", it is hard to see why they would ever want to.

Ginetta Vedrickas

Those moves in brief...

1980 - two-bedroom flat for pounds 25,000, now worth pounds 180,000.

1985 - one bedroom flat for pounds 24,500, sold for pounds 45,000.

1987 - pounds 69,995 house, sold for same in 1991.

1992 - three-storey house for pounds 117,000, now worth pounds 200,000.

If you'd like to be featured write to: Nic Cicutti, Stepping Stones, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. pounds 100 for the best story

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