Property: Stepping Stones - One woman's property story

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Indy Lifestyle Online
LIZ KEYWORTH, an artist, has bought four properties in East Dulwich, south London, but it was not her first choice of location. "I was on the brink of buying a pretty house in Brixton thinking it was trendy, but thieves broke in and stole the fireplaces," she says. "After squatters defaced it I decided to head for safer, more reliable East Dulwich."

In 1984, Liz paid pounds 52,000 for a first-floor flat with access to a garden via a spiral staircase. "I'd been given pounds 5,000 and thought I should buy somewhere and get lodgers in to pay the mortgage, leaving me free to paint," she says.

The plan worked. Liz's mortgage was helped by "two French boys in one room and a Japanese girl in another" and her career benefited. "I didn't have to worry and it left me free to spend months painting in France." In 1991 she considered selling when the flat was valued at pounds 94,000. A year later she was pregnant and in a relationship, and because "spiral staircases and babies don't mix", she decided to sell the property that was now valued at just pounds 56,000.

Liz advertised the flat herself and sold to the first person to reply for pounds 64,000 - not the giddy heights of a year earlier but the experience left her cynical about estate agents: "It shows that they undervalue in order to sell."

By spring 1993 she had found a semi-detached house for pounds 90,000, with four bedrooms and an attic for a studio. Liz transformed the garden and began work on the house: "I got a builder to install a hand-built kitchen, decorate and make the place bright and cheery."

Liz loved her much-improved house but also found herself in love with the builder so, less than a year later, she sold for pounds 115,000: "We could have got more but it was a difficult situation and I was in a desperate hurry to sell."

With her share Liz was forced to "take a downward leap" and, with her builder, bought a "cottagey four-bedroom house" for pounds 51,000, which again needed total renovation, making it difficult to get a mortgage: "We borrowed from friends to do the basic work but it was a very dicey time."

The family stayed until 1996 when they decided that they wanted another child and more space. "We knew that we'd made money but you couldn't swing a cat and the area was going up quickly." Liz began her search, this time single-mindedly: "To make a leap we had to go for another wreck and I didn't want a normal house with two through rooms and a kitchen out the back."

After selling their house for pounds 99,000, their estate agent had just one house on the books which could satisfy Liz's requirements. "On paper it had everything: five bedrooms, garage, huge garden and conservatory," she said. "It was cheap, pounds 105,000, so we thought it had to be all right."

When they went to view it, they found something they had not expected. The house had had its facade replaced with metal windows, a PVC door and pebble dash. "It was hideous," she said, "but anything is possible with a builder and we had to have it."

The couple have transformed the interior and are about to replace the facade. Once the work is complete, they estimate the house's value at around pounds 300,000. They have no plans to move: "We're exhausted and we'll drop dead here."

Those moves in brief

1984: bought three-bedroom flat for pounds 52,000, sold for pounds 64,000.

1993: bought a four-bedroom house for pounds 90,000, sold for pounds 115,000 later that year.

Bought a four-bedroom cottage for pounds 51,000, sold for pounds 99,000.

1996: bought five-bedroom house for pounds 105,000, worth around pounds 300,000 when finished.

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.

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