Stepping Stones

One Woman's Property Story
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The Independent Online

Julie Gartell has bought four properties over the years and holds a record for being the youngest ever first time buyer featured in Stepping Stones.

Julie Gartell has bought four properties over the years and holds a record for being the youngest ever first time buyer featured in Stepping Stones.

"I was 18. I'd had a row with my mum and I wanted to live with my boyfriend." Julie's boyfriend prompted the move in other ways: "His parents owned their house, so he thought renting was a waste of money. I'd come from a council place, so thought it was alright." In 1989 they paid £51,000 for a studio flat in south Wimbledon: "It was all we could afford, because mortgage rates were so high. It took up the whole of one of our salaries."

The studio, in a block of four, was a repossession and Julie made improvements "we didn't spend mega money" until the flat was homely. Two years on they both had new jobs and could afford more space.

They found it in yet another repossessed property in Morden. Julie recommends buying repossessed properties: "It's good if you're picky. They are a bit cheaper and you can do them exactly the way you want."

The couple bought their three-bedroom semi-detached 1930's house for a good price, £68,000, but held onto their studio which was affected by the slump.

"Prices were low and one- bedroom flat prices were the same, so nobody really wanted to buy studios."

They let their flat while they concentrated on improving their home, which had been vandalised by the previous owners: "They had ripped out the kitchen and bathroom and there was just a tap coming out of the wall." In 1992 they decided to sell: "We loved doing the work, but we'd finished and were bored. We wanted something bigger and detached." The couple sold their semi for £85,500 and bought a five-bedroomed 1930's house for £109,000 in Surbiton.

This property had been cared for by an elderly couple and although it had no original features, Julie describes this as "a lovely house". She had her first daughter there, but after both she and her baby became very ill, Julie decided to move on: "I don't have many happy memories of that house."

By 1996 the market picked up and Julie sold her house for £137,000 and the studio flat for £60,000.

This time she found a house in Cheam village, which she describes as "like moving from Kennington to Mayfair".

Again, through good contacts with estate agents, Julie was able to buy another repossessed property, for £125,000, which she fell in love with at first sight: "I knew as soon as I saw it. I had to fight my way to get through the overgrown bushes and ditches in the front garden to get in."

The sight that met Julie would not be to everyone's taste: "It was disgusting. One of the rooms was painted black and there were syringes lying around. The paint was peeling off and the kitchen was covered in a layer of fat." The scene prompted Julie's mother to say that she wouldn't take the house even if she was given it.

But after much hard work "we've loved doing it" the house, with its fine features, such as oak panelling in the hallway and original wooden flooring, is now restored and has a value of £270,000. Julie advises others to trust their own instincts and look for potential: "If you're handy and you don't mind hard graft, it's the best bet and you get a much better return on your money."

Those moves in brief

1989 bought studio for £51,000, sold for £60,000 in 1996.

1990 bought 1930's semi for £68,000, sold for £85,500.

1992 bought five bedroomed Surbiton house for £109,000, sold for £137,000.

1996 bought detached house in Cheam village for £125,000. Now worth £270,000.

If you would like your moves to be featured email or write to: Jackie Hunter, Stepping Stones, The Independent, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL.