Property: They even tried to sell the goldfish

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The Independent Online
WHEN Amanda Snowling moved into her new home in January 1992, she would find any excuse to get out. 'We went shopping to keep warm,' she recalls. Hers is not a draughty old rectory; the house is modern, in London, and has all its doors and windows. But it was a repossession - one of the most ill-treated of an already wounded species.

The Snowlings have three adult children, one nervous cat and a shivering dog, all of whom had to cope in a house with no kitchen, no central heating, no bathroom and no lavatory. The walls were bare, the floor blank concrete, and icicles froze the windows shut - from the inside.

The previous owners had done a moonlight flit, but not before they had ripped out cupboards, carpets, kitchen, bath fittings and radiators. Anything that moved was moved - and some things that were apparently immovable.

'We had to get special permission from the agents to put in a toilet so we could move in quickly,' says Mick Snowling, who has spent much of the past year turning the place from a shell into a home again. 'We were in a bit of a rush, you see.'

The Snowlings had inherited a flat, which they sold, along with their own semi, giving them the capital for a much bigger home. They were taken by surprise when they quickly found buyers, leaving them with only this stripped-out shell as an alternative home. Within weeks they were huddled around electric fires and cooking over Calor Gas. 'That didn't stop us having 10 people to a celebration dinner, but it was pretty much like an indoor picnic,' says Mick.

He was not put off by the scale of work needed. 'We had already been through a few houses. This just meant starting from scratch.'

Far more horrified was Gary Murphy, an auctioneer with Allsop & Co, which had planned to auction the place before the Snowlings stepped in. He is hardened by the sight of hundreds of similar stripped-out homes he handles, as a flood of repossessions continues to engulf the market. But this one was different.

As readers of this page may remember, Mr Murphy had lived in this house until 1984. He had not been back since and was staggered by the state of the place. 'The house was built in 1974, and my father put a lot of work into it - particularly the landscaped garden. I couldn't see how it could be the same place,' he said.

One of the features that attracted the Snowlings was the impressive garden pond. By the time they moved in it was clogged with rubbish. 'There were two fish left,' says Mick. 'Apparently the previous owners tried to sell them to the neighbours.'

Mick looks back with horror on those first weeks. 'The kids thought it was fun, but they almost went down with hypothermia. Amanda also says this is the last time. When we move again, it's got to be a complete home.'

At least they will have jumped an extra few steps up the housing ladder. Unstripped, the house would have been worth about pounds 270,000, says Mick. The agent was asking pounds 245,000 but the Snowlings beat the price down to pounds 205,000. Some idea of the peak price comes from the fact that the previous owners had a pounds 320,000 mortgage. Fitting out costs have been kept low by a lot of DIY - including adding a couple of bedrooms, so the Snowlings still feel they have a bargain, even if the value has slipped even further since they moved in a year ago.

Renovation went relatively smoothly. 'It is a modern house and pretty square, so there was no problem slotting in new fixtures,' says Mick. 'Except for the radiators,' adds Amanda. She thought they would be easily attached to vestigial spigots generously left by the old owners. But apparently the house had not been provided with enough pipework in the first place. 'I think the time I got most depressed was watching the plumber leave each evening with the place still cold.'

Given that this is their last adventure, would they recommend others to take the plunge? Only if they are ready to take on the hard work and disruption, says Amanda. 'It can be a good deal if you get the right one,' adds Mick.

'Also, make sure it is wind and watertight before you move in. We only survived because we had intact windows. I often wonder why our predecessors did not take them as well.'

(Photographs omitted)