Property: Stepping Stones

ROBERT BREW is 42, but his 37th birthday brought with it the realisation: "I'd been a painter and decorator for over 10 years and wasn't looking forward to doing the same job for the next 30."

He bought his house in Worthing for pounds 42,000 back in 1980, but in 1995, at the bottom of the slump, a friend told him that the flat above his own - a seafront maisonette - had been repossessed and was up for sale at pounds 20,000: "I took my loving but un-rich parents out to lunch, they agreed to re-mortgage their home and I borrowed pounds 19,000."

The building society rejected Robert's first offer, pounds 15,000, but an hour later: "I offered pounds 16,000 and they accepted."

The flat's condition was poor. Five months later, Robert had sold nearly everything of value to get it up to scratch - but the flat was now tenanted and valued at pounds 37,000.

Flush with success, Robert bought a spacious, one-bedroomed flat for pounds 17,000, which had belonged to an elderly DIY enthusiast with a limited toolbox: "A hacksaw, a hammer, and a very fine hand-axe".

To make nocturnal visits to the toilet easier, the previous owner had knocked a hole through another wall: "I don't mean an archway - I mean a hole."

Two months later, the flat looked lovely, was let, and had doubled in value. By now property prices were rising, but Robert found an enormous listed Regency seafront flat with high ceilings and ornate coving for pounds 19,000: "I couldn't understand why nobody had bought it, it only needed decorating and a kitchen refit."

Reassured by his surveyor's valuation, pounds 34,000, Robert bought the flat and three more, including one for pounds 6,000 that he paid for with his credit card.

The flats are all tenanted, on 10-year mortgages, and self-managed. Robert's equity has finally run out but he is content with the six he has, which give him more than enough excitement and paperwork.

His property portfolio, including his own home, is worth over pounds 220,000, so he was puzzled by a bank letter he recently received: "It said that I had made no pension provision for my retirement. I assume they were joking."

Those moves in brief

1980 - bought house for pounds 42,000, now worth pounds 75,000.

1995 - bought flat for pounds 16,000, now worth pounds 40,000.

1996 - bought one-bedroom flat for pounds 17,000, worth pounds 38,000.

1996 - bought Regency flat for pounds 19,000, worth pounds 38,000.

1997 - bought flat for pounds 15,000, now worth pounds 22,000.

1998 - bought studio for pounds 6,000, now worth pounds 10,000.

1998 - bought flat for pounds 14,000, now worth pounds 18,000.

If you would like your moves to be featured write to: Nic Cicutti, Stepping Stones, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. pounds 100 will be awarded for the best story printed by 31 June