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Property: Stepping Stones

STARTING WORK at a small Lloyd's brokers in London back in October 1983 made Paul Glean keen "to fly the proverbial nest". He looked at studio flats in Wapping, just 10 minutes from his office, but, even with his girlfriend's salary, found prices out of reach.

A "chance comment" from the site manager led the couple to a more affordable development in Plumstead, south-east London, where they bought a one-bedroom house after seeing an artist's impression. They watched it rise from the ground and completed in September 1985 with a 100 per cent mortgage of pounds 29,995.

After a brief spell of living together, the pair split up and sold in March 1987 for pounds 43,500. While "back home with mother", Paul enjoyed a hedonistic 18 months but admits that the surge in property prices made him worry that he would never get back on to the property ladder.

At the market's height Paul made an instant decision that was to have lasting effects: "I viewed a property with a friend and after 10 minutes we bought it for pounds 60,000." The result of the snap decision was a small, "newish" mid-terrace in Bletchley, North Buckinghamshire, which proved to be costly: "Over the next 18 months interest rates rose steadily to a point where our monthly repayments had virtually doubled."

In 1990, Paul met his future wife and made plans to set up home together. While property prices had fallen nationally, Paul's area had seen "more of a crash", leaving his house with a value of just pounds 40,000. Neither Paul nor the co-owner could afford to sell but Paul was desperate to set up home with his wife. "After much agonising - I seriously considered handing back the keys - my wife took over the other share of the mortgage."

They lived in the small house for five years and began their family. "It was crazy. I was doing well at work as an assistant director but was living in a tiny house with, what was for us a huge amount of negative equity hanging over our heads."

They were bursting at the seams by 1997, with two small children giving them no alternative but to sell quickly "at a knockdown price of pounds 38,500 and a loss of pounds 21,500". They did, however, find a three-bedroom detached house outside Milton Keynes costing pounds 79,500, which was in poor condition but with potential. They found a lender who would accommodate negative equity - although with a prohibitively high rate of interest - and have since switched to a 90 per cent mortgage at a more sensible rate.

Paul's home was recently valued at pounds 100,000, which "just about covers my losses and moving expenses" and his story acts as a warning to all: "It's taken almost 10 years to return to the point where I began."

Those moves in brief

1985: purchased one-bedroom terrace house for pounds 29,995, then sold it for pounds 43,495 in 1987.

1988: bought two-bedroom house for pounds 60,000, sold for pounds 38,500 in 1997.

1997: three-bedroom detached house bought for pounds 79,500, now worth pounds 100,000.

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 March