Stepping Stones

One Man's Property Story
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The Independent Online

Financial adviser Tony Reeves was 23 when he bought his first property in 1989. Having saved a £5,000 deposit, he paid £36,000 for a 110-year-old terrace in the mill town of Mossley, near Oldham, Lancashire. "I bought it because it overlooked the Tame Valley, the house was well presented and the street was quiet and not full of noisy hooligans."

Financial adviser Tony Reeves was 23 when he bought his first property in 1989. Having saved a £5,000 deposit, he paid £36,000 for a 110-year-old terrace in the mill town of Mossley, near Oldham, Lancashire. "I bought it because it overlooked the Tame Valley, the house was well presented and the street was quiet and not full of noisy hooligans."

Tony "concentrated on making the lounge and bedroom really special", and simply repainted the other rooms. He spent a couple of years "adding character" by sanding floorboards and installing a cast-iron fireplace. In 1991, although most properties were facing serious negative equity, he quickly sold and even made 10 per cent profit. "It was a nice surprise and gave me a step-up in terms of my next deposit."

His second property, found by his parents (who he suspects had a "hidden agenda" as it was yards from the family home in Carrbrook, Cheshire), was a three-bedroom, 420-year-old weaver's cottage. This was a much larger house, originally two cottages that had been knocked into one, which he bought for less than £100,000, and its privacy and rural location were the key attractions.

Yet again Tony and his partner Rachael, an RSPCA inspector, carried out a renovation programme on what he calls a "massive job". They restored the old beams and timbers by bleaching and waxing, and removed the ceiling in one of the bedrooms to create more space after being inspired by a memorable holiday: "We'd stayed in a gîte in Swiss Normandy where the ceilings were open to the rafters. It was like sleeping in a barn without the animals."

Other painstaking bits of restoration undertaken included installing stone paving containing fossilised ferns in the lounge, and bleaching the existing fireplace and beams to remove the Tudor-style, chocolate-brown treatment. The windows were initially a mish-mash of styles but the couple applied for, and got, £2,000 towards the cost of replacement from the Heritage Board to match their own funds of £2,000. With the help of a local planner they restored 15 mullion windows, producing much light and space. "It unified the property, whereas before it looked just like two properties knocked into one."

Tony has many tales of loving restoration, including kicking around in a disused barn in his suit and stumbling across the perfect bit of timber which was used "to support two walls", but after "years of blood, sweat and tears" earlier this year they made a radical decision. The couple have put their cottage on the market, and plan to exchange their rural lifestyle for urban living, after buying a two-bedroom luxury apartment in one of Manchester's most chic developments, Nicholson Estates' Century Buildings.

The award-winning site is in the heart of the revamped city and is a dynamic mix of Edwardian Grade II listed building and adjoining glass-fronted 1960s block featuring floor-to-ceiling windows. Inside, the contrast to the couple's 420-year-old cottage couldn't be more stark; the flat's specification is utterly contemporary, and features steel-laminate worktops, iced-glass flooring in the bathrooms and natural bamboo floors elsewhere.

Will Tony miss his beloved ancient timbers and easy access to the Moors where he likes to run? "It's a phenomenal change, but I'm not scared and I love visiting restaurants as much as I love running," says Tony, whose seventh-floor location will give him spectacular city views.

It will also cut his travel time to work at St James Place Partnership - where he "helps professional people make the right decisions about money" - down to three minutes. He says: "You can't be too sentimental, you've got to use your equity to improve your lifestyle and it's time for me to move on."

Those moves in brief:

1989 bought stone cottage for £36,000, sold for £40,000.

1991 bought weaver's cottage for 'under £100,000', on the market for £150,000.

2000 bought Century Buildings apartment for £241,000.

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

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