PROPERTY: Stepping Stones; One Couple's Property Story

CAMERAMAN Graham Barnes and his wife Louise's story began in 1981, but ended just last month when they bought a Lancashire mill mansion.

Louise's first purchase was made seven years before Graham's, when she bought a three-bedroomed town house in Edenfield, Lancashire for pounds 15,500. "I felt very bold and brave, buying alone," she says.

Seven years later, Graham decided to enter the property market and paid pounds 22,000 for a semi in Bolton. They married in 1989, and Louise sold her house for pounds 48,000 and moved into Graham's. "Apparently, on the day we got back from honeymoon I said, `This house is too small', but I don't remember it that way," she says.

In 1991 they sold for pounds 50,000 and bought Polefield, a derelict 350-year- old cottage in Rawtenstall, Lancashire for pounds 110,000. "When we saw it, we just fell in love with it, even though you could see sky up from the bedrooms." Estimating that renovation would take six weeks, they asked Louise's mother if they could live with her. "In the end it took six months, but it was easy as we had no kids."

They made many improvements, including knocking rooms through and installing en suite bathrooms as their three sons came along, but by July 1999 they "felt like a change". After being offered pounds 175,000 for Polefield they decided to move to Ilkley, Yorkshire. When the sale fell through they realised the move would leave them isolated, and stopped looking.

But in October Graham "happened to walk past an estate agent's window" and saw a repossessed mansion, previously a rest home in Haslingden, Lancashire, for which bids were invited. He drove past the enormous 18-roomed house and on arriving home asked Louise: "I've just seen this fantastic house. How do you feel about staying around here?"

When they looked around and saw its huge hallways with ornate carvings and double staircase Louise's reaction was obvious: "I want it, I want it," she said. But she wasn't alone: "There were queues of people viewing and the agent was handing out details at the door."

The couple made a brave decision: "We knew that mortgage applicants would not be considered so we took the biggest gamble of our lives and offered pounds 175,100, knowing that we'd have to come up with the cash if our offer was accepted."

They quickly liquidated their investments and took out a short-term loan. On 18 October they got an offer of pounds 163,000 on Polefield, and in the afternoon their offer on the mill mansion was accepted - if they could complete within four weeks.

"We agreed but our sale dragged on," says Graham. On 8 November the mansion was theirs - but so still was their old house: "We now owned two properties and were desperate to sell the cottage. We decided, if we couldn't, then we'd have to put the mansion straight back on to the market." Taking another risk they moved in and awaited the cottage's sale: happily that went through on 26 November. Graham sees further challenges ahead: "Now all we have to do is renovate this huge house while living in it with our three boys."

Those moves in brief:

1981 - bought town house for pounds 15,500, sold for pounds 48,000.

1988 - bought Thirties semi in Bolton, pounds 22,000: sold, pounds 50,000.

1991 - bought cottage for pounds 110,000, sold for pounds 163,000.

1999 - bought mansion for pounds 175,100, worth around pounds 200,000 when renovated.

If you'd like your moves to be featured, e-mail ginetta@ dircon.co.uk or write to: John Willcock, Stepping Stones, One Canada Sq, London E14 5DL. pounds 100 will be awarded for the best story printed by 31 December

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