Property: Stepping Stones - One Family's Property Story

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SUSAN WILDE has bought three properties since 1984. She now lives in a five-bedroom Victorian house in East Molesey, Surrey with her husband and three children. "Me and my sister moved down to London and lived in some appalling rented flats."

The poor conditions were tolerable, but eight months without heating or hot water, thanks to an errant landlord, made ownership look attractive. Susan wanted to live in west London where she worked, but could not afford a deposit until her mother, worried about her daughters' living conditions, sold up, bought a smaller property, and gave each sister pounds 5,000. Susan's flat-hunt began.

When she and her mother saw "the perfect flat" for pounds 27,000 in an agent's window, they were excited, until they discovered it was under offer. In desperation she wrote to the vendor: "I offered pounds 2,000 more and said he could use it for a cruise or a new car."

The vendor succumbed, if Susan exchanged within two weeks. She met the deadline and enjoyed life in her Edwardian flat until a particularly nasty incident: "A burglar cut himself breaking in and rummaged through my clothes. Afterwards I'd go to wear something and find it covered in blood."

In 1988, Susan, by now with her fiance, put her flat on the market for pounds 78,000. "We couldn't believe the response. Every hour brought desperate buyers gazumping each other. We sat there shouting `higher! higher!'." The flat went for pounds 95,000, which Susan likens to "winning the jackpot".

The hefty profit helped towards buying Susan's "dream house". Her castle in the air was a four-bedroom, detached 1930s house backing on to the river in East Molesey, which cost pounds 285,000: "It was idyllic. If you sat on the bed and closed your eyes all you heard was water, it didn't feel like London."

Susan lavished money on the house and improved the rear aspect by installing a huge conservatory, which took nine months and cost pounds 60,000 in total.

The front was less idyllic: "It was one of London's busiest roads and we couldn't open the windows because of the roar of HGVs." They wanted to stay in East Molesey but found little available in an area where "people stay until they die". In 1996, they sold for pounds 330,000 and bought a Victorian five-bedroom, four-storey house for pounds 550,000 which Susan admits was not her choice.

The 40ft-long reception room has advantages - "our son learned to ride his bike without stabilisers here" - but Susan would prefer somewhere smaller. "I always imagined I'd live in a grand house, but now I couldn't care less," she says. The house is valued at pounds 750,00 and while some owners take pride in profit, Susan is pragmatic: "It looks good on paper but to move within the area, we would have to pay a similar amount, so we'll never release that cash."

Ginetta Vedrickas


1984 - bought Acton flat for pounds 27,000, sold for pounds 95,000.

1988 - bought 1930s home for pounds 285,000 sold for pounds 330,000.

1996 - bought five-bedroom Victorian house for pounds 550,000 now worth pounds 750,000.