Stepping Stones

One Couple's Property Story
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The Independent Online

Mike Robson credits one special person for getting him onto the property ladder: "It was Maggie Thatcher who got me going." In 1978, aged just 20, Mike bought not one but two flats in his native Newcastle for £10,000. He and his future wife, Debbie, lived in the top flat and rented the bottom flat to a sitting tenant, an elderly lady, until 1982, when they sold both flats for £24,000. "We doubled our money," says Mike.

Mike Robson credits one special person for getting him onto the property ladder: "It was Maggie Thatcher who got me going." In 1978, aged just 20, Mike bought not one but two flats in his native Newcastle for £10,000. He and his future wife, Debbie, lived in the top flat and rented the bottom flat to a sitting tenant, an elderly lady, until 1982, when they sold both flats for £24,000. "We doubled our money," says Mike.

The couple then rented for more than a year until they paid £20,000 for the right house, a three-bed terrace in Monkseaton - "the posh end of Newcastle". "Location was very important to us so we waited." They sold the house for £30,000 in 1985, and then bought a "massive house" in Tynemouth for £35,000 as an investment.

"It was on the coast and was the place to live. I don't know why we ever moved, really." Their investment paid off: "Prices were going up and the house was increasing in value by about £2,000 a month while we waited."

As a child, Mike grew up on a large council estate in the North-east and credits his parents for his motivation to move up the property ladder. "They always wanted me and my brothers to get off the estate, and while education was one way of doing that, property was another."

Mike and Debbie also had a grand plan: "We knew that at some point we wanted to move down south so we thought we should play the market." Mike eventually applied for a job in London - with perfect timing: "Down south the market had slowed dramatically, but in the north it was still on the up. We deliberately waited. It was like watching ships passing and deciding when was the best time to jump."

In May 1990 the couple "jumped" and bought a 1970s three-bedroom detached house in Cuckfield, West Sussex, for £100,000. They sold their huge Newcastle home for £105,000 and although their new home was smaller, location was now their main priority. "We wanted to be in that particular village, which we knew was always buoyant." But the housing market continued to slump, and by 1993 Mike and Debbie's property was worth just £90,000.

"It was disappointing, but we did have a very low mortgage so we weren't bothered about negative equity." Eventually the market improved and Mike and Debbie decided to buy somewhere larger, but they had trouble selling. "It was in a good location but very small, more of a starter home." Finally they found buyers who needed to move quickly, so Mike and Debbie sold for £125,000 and rented a place for themselves.

They "had an eye on" a house nearby, which belonged to a couple who were having difficulty finding somewhere to move to: "In the three months we were renting, the house we wanted went up by £20,000 and I began to panic," Mike remembers. In August 1999 they paid £199,000 for the four-bedroom detached house, which has increased in value to £260,000.

Mike made the rare move from north to south. Is he tempted to return and buy a bigger property there? "I wouldn't go back. My daughter is a southerner and although you get more land up there you could easily pay £250,000 for an equivalent house in one of Newcastle's key areas."

Those moves in brief

1978: bought Newcastle flats for £10,000, sold for £24,000 in 1982.

1983: bought Monkseaton terrace for £20,000, sold for £30,000 in 1985.

1985: bought Tynemouth house for £35,000, sold for £105,000.

1990 bought Cuckfield Seventies house for £100,000, sold for £125,000.

1999 bought four-bedroom Cuckfield house for £199,000, now worth £260,000.

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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