PROPERTY: Stepping Stones - When London Bridge is falling down, cross the river

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Indy Lifestyle Online
UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATOR Mark Allen has bought three homes since 1985. He now lives in Streatham, south London.

"Waking up to find you've been burgled isn't great," says Mark, recalling the incident which made him hand back the keys to his council flat in Stockwell, south London which he shared with a friend: "They'd obviously been in the flat for hours and had even taken my aftershave."

Mark and his friend decided to buy somewhere together and their first priority was "a neighbourhood which felt safe". Peckham, south London, may not be everyone's choice, but it was Mark's: "We paid pounds 28,000 for a tiny terrace in a really established street where the neighbours had all known each other for years - it was great."

The pair set about renovating their two bedroom cottage: "We knew nothing about DIY we just picked it up as we went along. I doubt if any of it lasted," says Mark who installed a new kitchen "courtesy of MFI - there was no IKEA then" and re-tiled the bathroom: "I stuck the new tiles over the old ones."

The improvements were enough to net the pair pounds 65,950 when they put the house on the market in 1987: "By then I'd met Teresa and my friend wanted to go travelling so it seemed right," says Mark. The house proved "surprisingly easy" to sell and Mark and Teresa decided to move into, rather than out of, the city because of their frustration with transport: "We were spending a fortune on cabs and that's if you could get someone to take you to south London."

Eventually the couple found a "real wreck" in a London Bridge street which fired their imagination: "It was dark and narrow and you could imagine Dickensian life underneath the railway arches." The house cost pounds 95,000 but the couple soon found it a drain on their finances: "Basically everything needed doing; it was never ending."

When their daughter was born they were frustrated by the lack of garden - "more of a yard" - and no longer found the area charming: "The river might have been OK for older children but there were few families and we felt isolated."

They put the house on the market in 1992 but had trouble selling: "The slump had well and truly hit and it was before the area was trendy," says Mark. A year later they sold to another couple expecting their first child, "we didn't tell them how lonely the area was", and rented in Hornsey, north London. "We wanted to try north of the river"

After a year, they moved back south of the river after a friend in Streatham told them of a house a few doors away which had come up for sale. They paid pounds 125,000 for a five-bedroom semi-detached property "chock-full of features" and near to the common. Streatham agents Winkworth are selling a similar house in Fontaine Road (pictured) for pounds 329,500.

Agent James Doyle, who recently bought there himself, says: "Prices have rocketed in the last two years but are now levelling off. You get a nicer type of person in Streatham now - me being one of them."

Those moves in brief:

1985 - bought Peckham terrace for pounds 28,000, sold for pounds 65,950.

1987 - bought three-bedroom terrace for pounds 95,000, sold for pounds 125,000 in 1993 and rented in Hornsey for a year.

1994 - bought Streatham five-bedroom house for pounds 125,000, now worth pounds 325,000.

If you would like your moves to be featured, e-mail ginetta@ dircon. or write to: John Willcock, Stepping Stones, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. pounds 100 will be awarded for the best story printed by 31 Dec