Stepping Stones: One Woman's Property Story

IN THE Seventies, Marion Gray and her then husband bought several properties in Sunbury on Thames, Middlesex. But it was in 1985 that her real property story began when, aged 42, divorced and with no financial settlement, she determined to help herself: "I used my home, my only asset, to turn my life around from one with an extremely bleak future and even bleaker retirement, into a future I could look forward to with optimism."

She first bought a house for pounds 55,000, with a mortgage of pounds 20,000. Marion also had a son in a relationship that failed. For the next five years she struggled: "I tried to juggle work and childcare but by December 1989, having increased my loan to pounds 40,000, my financial situation was critical."

Now 46, Marion had no means of repaying her mortgage and funding a pension. Recession meant her house was falling in value: "I jumped before I was pushed." In 1990 she sold for pounds 95,000 and after much searching, saw a three-bedroomed house, under offer but still on the market at pounds 95,000. When the sale fell through Marion found the agreed price had been just pounds 80,500. She made the same offer via the current agent who scoffed - but it was accepted: "I knew then that, although I was buying a property for less money, it was pretty level in value."

After improvements, Marion sold in 1996 for pounds 100,000 but her financial situation, although easier now her son was at school, was not secure: "I still had a mortgage and no provision for a pension." Later that year she saw a scruffy house nearby for pounds 85,000. Her own house was valued at pounds 105,000 and Marion realised that, by selling and moving down the road, she could wipe out her pounds 10,000 mortgage. With no mortgage, Marion was free to concentrate on renovating.

Her work paid off and in 1998 she sold for pounds 145,000. She scanned the property pages until she found a house in Addlestone, Surrey, again needing work and again already under offer. When this sale fell through Marion's offer of pounds 120,000, the full asking price, was accepted and after a traumatic contract race she completed in June 1998.

The house was recently valued at pounds 175,000 and, with no mortgage, Marion believes that her pension is secure. She has this advice: "Anyone can reduce their mortgage by getting a better house for less money and by not spending much on it. You don't need expensive kitchens and you can decorate yourself. Against all advice, people said I'd never do it, I've got a fantastic house and no mortgage."

Marion's story is not finished: "I won't stop now. I'm always on the lookout - and it's a trip round the world next."

Those moves in brief

1970s: several houses bought with former husband.

1985: bought Weybridge house for pounds 55,000, sold for pounds 95,000.

1990: bought three-bed Victorian terrace, pounds 80,500, sold for pounds 100,000.

1996: bought semi with garage, pounds 85,000, sold for pounds 145,000.

1998: bought detached house, pounds 120,000, now worth pounds 175,000.

If you'd like your moves to be featured write to: Ian Griffiths, Stepping Stones, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. pounds 100 for the best story printed by 30 September

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