One manager suggested that Elaine was a bad risk because she was single: "Needless to say I closed my account with them immediately." However, her pounds 18,000, enough for a tatty one-bedroom ground floor flat in east London's Mile End, brought an abundance of opportunities: "I went on a steep DIY learning curve and had a lot of fun doing it up."
The DIY paid off. Three years later Elaine sold for pounds 36,5000, a profit of more than 100 per cent. Selling was lucrative, but finding somewhere else wasn't easy as prices in the area had "rocketed", so Elaine searched further afield: "I was keen to get a house; trade up was always the advice, so my partner and I decided to move south of the river where you get more for your money." They bought a large three-bedroom house in Nunhead for pounds 41,000 and, Elaine recalls, "I set about renovating, again".
But the couple split up in 1991, leaving Elaine with a dilemma: "I'd established a network of friends, property prices were falling and I could not face any more renovating, so I went on an enforced economy drive and bought him out."
With the benefit of hindsight Elaine believes her decision, which proved to have long-term consequences, was ill-judged: "I should have moved. The house really is too big for me and there are rooms I rarely use, including one last used for my 40th birthday four years ago."
In late 1996, Elaine decided to move into her new partner's house but found that she was unable to sell her own property, which had developed subsidence: "The insurance company didn't deal with the problem as efficiently as they could have. I was always promised action `in a few months time' so I couldn't even let it. I was stuck."
Commuting between two houses took its toll on Elaine's relationship, and the couple split up, leaving her alone in a subsiding and unsaleable property. Luckily Elaine's story has a happy ending. This year the house was underpinned ("now it's probably the most stable in the street"), decorated and is under offer for pounds 165,000. "As much as I love the house I want a change of lifestyle and have decided to ignore convention and trade down to a one-bedroom flat in central London. No renovating to be done and I can walk to work."
Not content with buying another property, Elaine plans to use the balance to buy a place in the sun "somewhere south of the Pyrenees", with her brother. "Got a feeling it's going to involve some renovating though..."
Those moves in brief
1982 - bought Mile End flat for pounds 18,000, sold for pounds 36,500.
1985 - bought Nunhead house for pounds 41,000. Under offer for pounds 165,000.
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