Property: Stepping Stones - One Couple's Property Story

SHEILA HAYDEN and her husband began married life in 1944 in a two-roomed flat in Edgbaston, Birmingham. When Sheila became pregnant their landlady disapproved, so they bought a house with a 45-year lease in nearby Moseley for pounds 500.

The house had an interesting past: "It was an air-raid warden's post during the war and was in a pretty poor state. A land mine exploding nearby had demolished a large conservatory and the ruins still littered the garden." The Haydens set to "putting the place in order" and eventually bought the freehold for pounds 600. In 1952 they sold for pounds 1,500 and moved to Brewood, an attractive Staffordshire village, where they bought a small three-bedroomed bungalow for pounds 3,000.

They lived happily with their two small children until one day they found a water mill a mile out of the village up a farm track. Not only was the property derelict, it was officially condemned as unfit for human habitation. What made the Haydens want to swap their comfortable home for a condemned property? "It had a two-acre pool and paddock and a stream running through its acre of garden. It was such a beautiful sight."

With great difficulty the Haydens persuaded the local, stately-home-owning landlord to grant a 60-year lease, for which they paid a few hundred pounds. They then found themselves in a Catch 22 situation. The council would not remove the order until the building was renovated and the Haydens would not renovate until they were sure that the order would be lifted.

"Eventually my husband met the local surveyor behind the pub and the deal was struck." In 1959 the family sold their bungalow for the purchase price of pounds 3,000 and, after two years of hard work, moved into what was by now a beautiful house.

In the 1960s the Haydens "took advantage of the Labour government's Leasehold Reform Act". They gave up the paddock for which they had no use but bought the freehold on the house, garden and pool for pounds 2,500 in what proved to be an idyllic family home for almost 25 years.

By 1983, Sheila's husband's infirmity made maintenance increasingly difficult. They sold for pounds 90,000 and moved into the village where they paid pounds 60,000 for a modern house. How did it compare to the mill? "At first I felt like I was in prison and was in absolute misery but we pulled it to pieces and made it our own."

After 12 years, Sheila's hip replacements and her husband's further infirmity prompted another move. They sold for pounds 145,000 and went to live with family in Sutton Coldfield. Her husband lives nearby in a nursing home and Sheila enjoys security and independence. She recalls their property purchases with fondness, but has no advice for today's buyers: "So much was accidental, but it wasn't a bad investment."

Those moves in brief

1950 Bought air-raid warden's house for pounds 500 (and freehold for pounds 600), sold for pounds 1,500.

1952 Bought bungalow for pounds 3,000, sold for the same sum in 1959.

1960 Paid pounds 2,500 for the water mill's freehold, sold for pounds 90,000.

1983 Bought modern house for pounds 60,000, sold for pounds 145,000 in 1995.

If you would like your moves to be featured write to: Nic Cicutti, Stepping Stones, One Canada Square, London E14 5DL. A prize of pounds 100 will be awarded for the best story published before 31 March

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