Property: Stepping Stones - One Woman's Property Story

WENDY JOHNS was given one property and has bought four others since 1971. She now lives in a three-bedroom Victorian terrace in Banbury, Oxfordshire. After divorcing, Wendy made an unusual property move: "I bought a 72ft boat and loved it from the word go." She travelled the canals in her pounds 2,500 home, after a memorable maiden voyage: "It started to sink on its way back." Resourcefully, she plugged the holes with clay and straw: "It was no big deal - I'm quite an optimist."

Wendy tells proud tales of a thriving community hiding from "nasty council officials" spying on them, as they were allowed only eight days in any one place: "We had the biggest garden in England and carried our homes on our backs like snails."

In 1980, Wendy sold her boat for pounds 10,000 and searched for a waterways cottage. She was offered a "three-up, three-down" in Oxfordshire on a "repairing lease" which she accepted without seeing inside. It needed total renovation, which cost pounds 8,000. Idyllic years "involved in canal life" ended with the M40 construction nearby: "The thought of the lovely hill replaced by cars thundering past was too awful."

In 1984, Wendy sold her home for pounds 15,000, pounds 1,000 for each year of the lease. She wanted to live in Banbury but bought a "pretty derelict, as opposed to `pretty', cottage" in Leamington for pounds 14,000.

She coped "with the confidence that God will provide". Provision came in the form of a renovation grant, but meant six months without basic amenities. Wendy found the area "lacked warmth and friendliness" and she still hankered after Banbury, "which looks toward London and Oxford rather than Birmingham".

In 1993, she sold for pounds 51,000 to a friend and trawled Banbury for a cottage. One she viewed turned out to be a "Brookside Close bungalow". She looked round and on finding an "immaculate home with its marvellous garden", immediately took it.

But living there was different: "I loathed it. The walls were thin and nobody visited." She blames the cul-de-sac as being "very bad in feng shui terms" but admits she didn't fit in: "You don't get bohemian eccentrics on Brookside Close. They thought I was weird."

Finally, she bought a Victorian three-bedroom terrace for pounds 44,000. Her childhood, spent in foster homes and orphanages, has left her rootless but now she is home: "I love it here and am proud to say I'm from Banbury."

The Moves

1971 - bought boat for pounds 2,500, sold for pounds 10,000.

1980 - cottage on repairing lease, sold for pounds 15,000.

1984 - bought derelict house for pounds 14,000, sold for pounds 51,000.

1993 - bought bungalow for pounds 50,000, sold for pounds 51,950.

1996 - bought terrace house for pounds 44,000, worth pounds 60,000.

To have your moves featured write to: Nic Cicutti, Stepping Stones, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. pounds 100 will be awarded for the best story

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