One Couple's Property Story
FEW BUYERS attain the home of their dreams and fewer still get there without excessive mortgaging. Chris and Andrea Masters have achieved both over 30 years and four purchases, with a mortgage in the Eighties of just pounds 2,000.

Their story starts in Bermuda, where they rented for three years which enabled them, on their return in 1971, to buy outright a 16th-century Herefordshire town house for pounds 3,500. The house, while steeped in history, was also "on the flight path of local quarry lorries" and the experience prompted the Masters to build their own home in "the best spot we've ever lived in" - a quiet orchard behind a church on the edge of town.

The plot cost pounds 2,000 and by doing the work themselves, and using reclaimed materials, Andrea and architect Chris kept building costs to pounds 5,000. In 1974 they sold their town house for pounds 7,000 and moved into their "experimental and unconventional home with too much glass", which Chris describes as "arousing mixed feelings" in the village.

By 1977 a family addition and declining workload saw Chris returning to college to finish his architectural training and also to "sit-out the building industry's major recession". They sold their self-build house for pounds 15,000 and for pounds 14,250 bought an end-of-terrace in Cheltenham: "It was a big contrast but we enjoyed being back in an urban environment and looking onto a street filled with lights and people."

In 1980, Chris was working for an architect but, tiring of routine, he decided to go it alone finding endless variety at his "drawing board, laying bricks or even on a roof". This led to him enlarging their own house in an unusual way: "We built an extraordinary staircase in a tower on the gable end by slicing out a section from floor to roof." The addition made the house "delightful to live in" but added little value when the Masters sold in 1996 for pounds 58,000.

They decided to move to France "where an English couple of modest means can afford a country house". Their purchase, La Cretouffiere, turned out to be not one but three houses and a collection of barns bought for pounds 34,000 which Chris is currently renovating. The long barn has been turned into three holiday homes at a cost of around pounds 20,000 and current work includes a swimming pool and an art gallery.

The Pays de la Loire is ideal for short breaks and the project has brought many visitors, enabling Chris and Andrea to "earn a modest income" from their beautiful home and all achieved without a mortgage. Chris estimates that the hamlet's value is now cpounds 80,000, a "moderate return for the work involved", but he has many plans for further improvements. And the future? "I'm driven by challenges but I can't see myself in a French old peoples' home."

Ginetta Vedrickas

Those moves in brief

1971 - bought 16th-century house for pounds 3,500, sold for pounds 7,000.

1974 - bought plot of land for pounds 2,000 (built house for pounds 5,000), sold for pounds 15,000.

1977 - bought Cheltenham town house for pounds 14,250, sold for pounds 58,000.

1996 - bought French hamlet for pounds 34,000, now worth around pounds 80,000.

To contact La Cretouffiere, call 0033 243 0800 20.

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 printed before 31 March