Property: Stepping Stones


SUSAN AND John Barr have bought more properties than anyone else featured in Stepping Stones: 12 in 22 years, and all within a five-mile radius.

It would have been 13 had their first attempt succeeded: "We wanted to buy an unmodernised flat from a man we met in the pub but nobody would lend us the money. He said we could pay monthly while we did the work, but backed out after we'd spent pounds 1,000 and done most of it."

Lesson one: "Don't buy a flat from a man in a pub."

In 1978, they bought an end-of-terrace house for pounds 7,000 but a year later sold for pounds 12,000, opting for a country cottage for pounds 6,000. Two children later, the cottage was too small, so they sold for pounds 16,000 and moved to another unmodernised house.

Once the work was complete, a semi-detached house with garage came up for sale so the Barrs sold for pounds 15,000 and bought for pounds 16,000. In 1983, they sold for pounds 27,000 and bought a shop which had been empty for some time for pounds 16,000, which they sold for pounds 37,000 the next year.

By now "fed up with modernising", the Barrs bought a plot and decided to build a house: "This was a new experience and it cost far more than we had budgeted for" - pounds 48,000 to be exact, forcing them into a large mortgage which they struggled with until , after modernising, they sold nine months later for pounds 47,000, buying a bungalow.

Finding the bungalow "boring" but being unable to sell, they eventually agreed to exchange for a seven-bedroomed Victorian house lived in by "one man and his dog". The house was to be their "downfall".

They lived in the house with its "seven original fireplaces, fancy plasterwork but no bathroom or heating" and gradually worked on it but couldn't keep up their pounds 72,000 mortgage. A slump meant it was three years before they could sell but for pounds 92,000 rather than the sale price, pounds 125,000 and wiping out their capital.

Unwilling to tackle another renovation, they found a new house at pounds 50,000. A few months later, they realised it was too small, sold for pounds 60,000 and bought an Edwardian house for pounds 38,000. They lived there for another three years, finding it "perfect for teenagers as we couldn't hear them in the attics" but sold after their son left home.

"We then decided to realise our dream of buying a house in Spain to escape the winter and eventually retire." They needed somewhere cheap and found a shop, originally a cottage, that was reduced to pounds 16,000 and ripe for renovation. They sold their house in September, moved into the cottage and are looking for a "brand new" Spanish retreat.

Moving is hard but Susan sees advantages: "Life is never boring and we often joke that we've been together so long because we don't swap partners, we swap houses."

Those moves in brief:

1978: bought terrace end for pounds 7,000, sold for pounds 12,000.

1979: bought cottage for pounds 6,000, sold for pounds 16,000.

1981: bought terrace for pounds 10,000, sold for pounds 15,000.

1982: bought semi for pounds 16,000, sold for pounds 27,000.

1983: bought shop for pounds 16,000, sold for pounds 37,000.

1984: bought self-build plot for pounds 48,000, sold for pounds 56,000.

1985: bought "cheapest" house for pounds 11,000, sold for pounds 47,5000 nine months later.

1986: bought bungalow for pounds 45,000, exchanged at pounds 70,000.

1989: exchanged for seven-bedroomed house, sold for pounds 92,000.

1993: bought new house for pounds 50,000, sold for pounds 60,000.

1994: bought house for pounds 38,000, sold for pounds 64,000.

1998: bought shop/cottage for pounds 16,000. Now worth pounds 40,000. About to buy Spanish home.

If you would like your moves to be featured in `Stepping Stones' write to: Nic Cicutti, Stepping Stones, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. The best story printed by 31 June gets pounds 100

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