DJ Taylor: Serial refurbisher Barry Stucco is blissfully unaware of the ticking time-bombs buried beneath his lucrative lifestyle

 

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Just now the Stuccos - Barry, Mel and their daughters Kayleigh and Tricia-Ann - are living in a converted oast-house on the Surrey-Sussex border: a "really nice place", Mrs Stucco assures her acquaintance, with half an acre and the out-of-town Tesco only three miles away.

The only problem is that this highly desirable residence, which Barry bought for a song late in 2012 and has spent the past year-and-a-half energetically doing up, is on the market for £750,000. Six weeks from now it will be sold, and the Stuccos sent forth to negotiate the next chapter of their peripatetic existence.

In fact, the oast-house sojourn is one of their longer stays. Usually they reckon to be in and out of a property inside nine months. Two years back they were in Essex, where Barry had chanced upon a moth-eaten guest house outside Billericay just crying out to be turned into flats. The site cost £300,000. The flats – a bit cramped, but it's a seller's market isn't it – went for £150,000 each, and once the contractors had been paid off, Barry cleared £200,000. It meant the Stuccos camping out in the first one while the others were being coaxed into existence, and the noise was a nightmare, but how else can you make this kind of money for what, basically, is a bit of high-grade interior decorating?

In the past decade or so the Stuccos have fetched up in a variety of inviting south-of-England locations: a townhouse in Gravesend, which Barry acquired for £350,000, fitted out with a Jacuzzi and a sun-room and then sold for £550,000; a small hotel in Andover, which a little judicious reconfiguration saw carved up into no fewer than four maisonettes. There was a bad moment after the banking crash when the buyer for a redeveloped stable block in Caterham pulled out leaving him with a £250,000 bank loan to renegotiate, but that's property for you, and you have to take the rough with the smooth.

In his late forties now, hair beginning to recede, his only exercise the mid-morning potter around the current site in espadrilles and Hawaiian shirt, Barry is blissfully unaware of the two ticking time-bombs buried beneath this lucrative but somewhat breathless lifestyle. The first is a zealous tax inspector who came across the Billericay project. The second is Mel's increasing resentment at having to take the children out of school every other year. Who knows which will be the first to detonate?

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