Property: Stepping Stones - One Woman's Property Story

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The Independent Online
RIO SPARKES, who works for a charity, bought her first home in 1981 after finishing college. "The market was rising and the pressure was on," she says. "I knew if I didn't buy then, by the next year I couldn't have afforded to."

Her choice was a three-bedroomed maisonette in West Norwood, south London, which she bought with her husband for pounds 23,000.

"It was big and in good decorative order - I've never been into DIY," she says. In 1983 Rio had a child, but a year later she and her husband split up and the flat was sold for pounds 50,000. She bought a two-bedroomed basement flat in Brixton for pounds 56,000: "It was cheap, near the Tube and very beautiful, but it was a nightmare."

After a burglary, Rio became increasingly frightened of being in her flat and decided to sell. She looked for somewhere nearby and, with a friend, bought a three-bedroomed Victorian terrace in East Dulwich.

By now it was 1987 and "prices had soared", meaning that the house cost them pounds 114,000. It was on a quiet residential street, but the purchasing partnership left much to be desired. "It just didn't work. She smoked 60 a day and drove me batty. It was a case of different lifestyles."

Rio found it hard to let her son, who was seven by 1989, have the freedom she had experienced as a child growing up in suburbia.

"It wasn't safe for him to ride his bike outside and I started worrying about the future and how he would have to travel to school by Tube."

By now back with her husband and pregnant with her second child, Rio used her maternity leave wisely. "I started to search Suffolk, where we have family, for a property to buy," she says. Her friends were sceptical: "They thought I was chasing a Laura Ashley dream and used to tease me about wandering round in a flowery dress carrying a wicker basket."

Rio's dream was made harder by a price slump. The Victorian house was now worth only pounds 85,000 and she had to compromise on her purchase, a three- bedroomed semi with garage, backing onto fields, which cost pounds 81,000.

The transition from city to village was hard, with her husband commuting for five years before he found work locally, and Rio finding her age a barrier when it came to making new friends.

The house has increased slightly in value, to about pounds 90,000, but her London property would now be worth more than pounds 160,000.

Does she regret moving? "No, there's no point in feeling greedy and I'll never leave this area, where I have fields and it's beautiful. You only have one life."

Those moves in brief:

1981 - bought maisonette for pounds 23,000, sold for pounds 50,000.

1984 - bought Brixton flat for pounds 56,000, sold for pounds 75,000.

1987 - bought house for pounds 114,000, sold for pounds 85,000.

1991 - bought Suffolk house for pounds 81,000, now worth pounds 90,000.

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 30 September