Stepping Stones

One Woman's Property Story
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The Independent Online

Illustrator Helen Wood's story begins in 1985 when she bought a flat in Shepherd's Bush, west London: "I was fed up with flat-sharing and having to label the milk."

"It was so exciting looking for somewhere to live, but of course I hadn't a clue what I was doing," says Helen, who settled on a £40,000 Victorian conversion flat "in a bit of a grotty street which is quite posh now". It was run down, but she enjoys DIY and painted much of it herself.

Helen enjoyed her time here, although as time passed things changed: "When I first moved in, an old lady lived in the flat above and it was lovely and quiet. But when she sold to a young couple it became very different. They sanded the floors and I seemed to hear every step they made." In 1988 Helen decided to sell after "yet another argument about noise". "My earnings had increased and I thought I should stretch myself a bit more as the market was going crazy." Helen put her flat on the market and was shocked at how fast it sold. "I hadn't done an awful lot to it, apart from superficial painting, yet people were falling over themselves to buy it." In the summer of 1988, Helen sold for £89,995. "I couldn't believe how much money I'd made."

The next buy was a small cottage on the outskirts of Twickenham, which cost £129,500: "It was a big jump but I thought I couldn't go wrong. I'd made so much on my previous place, I naively thought the bigger the mortgage the better."

But as soon as she'd moved in the bubble burst: "Almost immediately the bottom seemed to fall out of the market and I realised my cottage wasn't worth what I'd paid for it." Prices continued to plummet and Helen felt the pinch. "My mortgage was enormous, at one time I think I was paying around 13 per cent interest, and even though I had a lodger to help with the rent it became harder and harder." By 1990, Helen met a boyfriend who eventually moved in with her and took on half the mortgage after the lodger left. Helen was happy for a time. "At first things were great, but the stress of knowing that I'd lost my previous equity was a worry." At this time, Helen reckons, the value of her cottage had fallen to around £100,000. Two years later the relationship had soured and Helen made a bold decision: "I'd had enough and I thought why should I stay and be saddled with the debts?" Helen left and rented again, but by 1996 she had married and, with her husband, bought a semi-detached house in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, for £175,000. She estimates her current home's value at over £300,00 and has no contact at all with her ex-boyfriend but still thinks about the cottage: "I hope he hasn't made a fortune, though I suspect he has."

Those moves in brief

1985: bought flat for £40,000, sold for £89,995. 1988: bought cottage for £129,500, left in 1993. 1996: bought semi-detached house for £175,000, now worth over £300,000.

If you would like your moves featured, e-mail ginetta@ or write to: Jackie Hunter, Stepping Stones, Weekend Review The Independent, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL