Stepping Stones

One Family's Property Story
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Back in 1986 Russell Toms, now 37 and an advertising director, bought his first property, a two-bedroomed starter home in Yateley, Hampshire, which cost £46,000.

Back in 1986 Russell Toms, now 37 and an advertising director, bought his first property, a two-bedroomed starter home in Yateley, Hampshire, which cost £46,000.

Like many new houses it had no landscaping, but Russell cunningly held a "garden party" for his friends. "I filled them with beer and got them to help me lay turf. They were a bit surprised, to say the least."

The garden problem solved, Russell then found himself involved in a minor dispute, thanks to a developer's mistake. "Much to my neighbour's annoyance, my kitchen was of a much higher specification than his, which only had the standard fittings."

Russell had managed to buy his home thanks to his grandfather, who had left him some money. Other family members helped too. "My uncle gave me a sofa, my auntie bought some curtains and I used to take all my washing home to mum." He admits to having struggled for the first few months. "My mortgage at the time was as much as I earned, and all I owned was a bed, a TV and a microwave."

In 1988 Russell decided to sell. He visited his local agents and by the time he had driven home there was a message on his answering machine from an interested couple. They visited on the same day and immediately offered the full asking price, £66,000, on one condition: "They wanted me to leave the bathroom fittings, in reality just a black plastic toilet-roll holder bought for £15 from the Army and Navy, which I'd screwed onto the wall."

Russell netted a cool £20,000 profit, which gave him a crucial step up onto the property ladder and helped him buy, with Lizzie his wife-to-be, a house for £87,500 at the height of the property boom. Just around the corner from their first home, it had three bedrooms, a large garden - and an even larger mortgage. "The payments on our £75,000 mortgage doubled to £1,000 a month, it was terrifying."

The couple soon found themselves facing negative equity as property prices plummeted. They weren't alone. "A couple round the corner from us split up, sold, and had to find £20,000 to repay their mortgage." Over six years Russell and Lizzie made many improvements. "We spent a fortune, around £4,000, on landscaping and building two large patios."

By 1994 the market had cooled considerably and the house was valued at £73,000. Against his agent's advice, Russell put the house on the market at £79,500 and, within two days, it sold for the asking price. "I'm quite a creative person and am good on colours, so we've never had trouble selling." Russell and Lizzie sold easily, but finding somewhere else was problematic.

They stayed with family while they searched and managed to jump the queue for their next home by visiting a site while the sales director was there. "He said if I gave him a cheque for £250 the house was mine." Russell produced his cheque book - and bought a three-bedroomed, detached "cottage-style" house in Church Crookham, Hampshire.

Russell, Lizzie and their children, Freddie, Jemima and Imogen, enjoy their home which, thanks to its corner plot, is "more detached than most", but they would like more room. Space is an issue, but moving has been rejected in favour of extending. Plans for an integral garage, extra bedroom and family room have been drawn up for a project which will cost around £50,000. "I wouldn't buy now, at the top of the market, and we are all very settled here and love the area. Moving costs alone would be around £15,000 and we've got room to extend, so why not?"

Those moves in brief

1986: bought starter home in Yateley, Hampshire, for £46,000, sold for £66,000.

1988: bought three-bed semi in Yateley, for £87,500, sold for £79,500.

1994: bought three-bed detached house in Church Crookham, Hampshire, for £114,950, now worth £220,000.

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