Even students are cleaning up

Student loans are making it difficult for graduates to get on the property ladder - but a lucky few beat the rush, says Christopher Browne
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The Independent Online

Key-worker schemes, shared-ownership programmes, starter-home initiatives, subsidised loans - they all sound like something from a speech Sir Humphrey Appleby might have made in the BBC satire Yes Minister. But hackneyed though they may sound, each project gives a glimmer of hope to prospective first-time buyers. Only a glimmer, though. Too many singletons, couples and college-leavers have joined a "boomerang" generation of stay-at-homes instead of set-up-homes, as they try to raise a deposit alone or with friends.

Key-worker schemes, shared-ownership programmes, starter-home initiatives, subsidised loans - they all sound like something from a speech Sir Humphrey Appleby might have made in the BBC satire Yes Minister. But hackneyed though they may sound, each project gives a glimmer of hope to prospective first-time buyers. Only a glimmer, though. Too many singletons, couples and college-leavers have joined a "boomerang" generation of stay-at-homes instead of set-up-homes, as they try to raise a deposit alone or with friends.

And the hurdles keep increasing. House prices, interest rates and the cost of living continue to creep up while the number of affordable properties falls as speculative owners cash in on the buy-to-let boom. But there are young buyers who have seized their chance and, with a bit of hard work, actually made money on their first buys.

Scott Redhead was a 22-year-old physics undergraduate at Leeds University, resigned to a student life of rented accommodation until he decided to become a landlord himself. He found an Edwardian mid-terrace with six bedrooms for sale in a street near the university. "The house had been on sale for more than six months, so my low offer was accepted," the enterprising student says now.

With a cash deposit from his parents, who also acted as his guarantors, Scott bought the four-storey house. And then the real work began. It needed a new central heating system, refurbished bathroom, double-glazing to replace its crumbling sash windows, and an intruder alarm and security locks, as the house lay in a high-risk area of the city. "No problem," said Scott - after all, he was living rent-free, receiving £865 a month from his student tenants and his mortgage was a comparatively low £285-a-month; the surplus paid for the renovations.

Scott stayed on at Leeds to take a PhD after his physics degree. Then, after his finals, he decided to sell up and move south. He sold the house for £116,000. "It was double the amount I had paid for it," he says. "It made me a handsome profit and helped to fund an awful lot of beer," he says.

Julia Dickinson, 24, had a much more hands-on approach to her first foray into the housing market. A personal assistant, she had been commuting to London from her parents' home in Hertfordshire while she looked for a small local flat she could afford - London properties were out of her price range. She finally found a one-bedroom flat in Watford.

"It wasn't ideal as the kitchen was shabby and you had to visit the bathroom via the bedroom, which I knew could be a problem for any resale, but I also knew I could make money as there were few one-bedroom flats within commuting distance of London," says Dickinson who paid £91,500 for her apartment.

Though she had inherited money from her grandmother, it wasn't enough for a complete refit. Dickinson bought several DIY books and borrowed tools from friends. Then she single-handedly knocked down the wall dividing the flat's kitchen and living space.

Her boyfriend helped her to renovate the bathroom with new fittings and re-tiling. Her kitchen came from a website, the manufacturers designing the layout on a laptop in her home before the final fitting. Carpets were warehouse offcuts, which she laid herself, and her coup de grâce was putting down a wood laminate floor.

In four busy months, the apartment rose in value from £91,500 to £119,000 - a gain of £27,500, and all for an outlay of £5,000. Now the apartment is up for sale, "so I can go through the self-same process a second time," she says.

Beginners' luck? Hardly. First-timers' pluck, more like.

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