Tuesday, January 19, 2021

My Life In ... Homes (1 of 2)

The ninth (part 1) in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

How to make a £1 million? Buy a flat for £25k and wait 35 years! My parents moved 7 times before I bought my first home. I guess I followed in their footsteps.

Homes 1 of 3: Places to live in.

New readers start here:

I’ve been very lucky with my homes. I have always bought my home from the heart not because it’s a good investment (buy-to-let purchases not included). As it turns out the bounty of the universe has provided and the homes have doubled in value on average every eight years starting with £25k (yes, that little) in 1980 and finishing up at just under 1.1 million in 2017. The last downsize freed up enough capital to make retirement an easier decision.

Starting with one flat for me to live in we now have three homes to live in (two in the UK, one in Italy), four apartments to rent (three buy-to-let flats in the UK and an AirBnB apartment in Italy) plus a garage and a timeshare. 

Thinking about how we acquired the homes, I realised that there has been a great deal of serendipity involved and those tales I want to tell. That makes for a long post so I am splitting it into three: Homes to live in, Buy-to-Let apartments to rent out and Holiday homes abroad.

I think (hope) we have peaked and are now planning a gradual winding down of the portfolio!



21a Montague Road, Wimbledon. 1981–1987. The first home that I owned. An Edwardian three bedroom, two reception, first floor maisonette built in 1910 that I bought with an ex-girlfriend. We had split up five years earlier but remained friends. Back then mortgages were hard to find and expensive to service. Joining forces to get two lots of mortgage tax relief was the only way to make first time buying viable. It had a small garden accessed via an internal secondary staircase from the kitchen. It got me onto the property ladder. Part way through I bought my friend out so she could move on and buy a home with her boyfriend.


Recent interior courtesy of Zoopla.


The lease term on Montague Road was running very low and I wanted to own the land on which I stood. So I sold up and moved just over a kilometre to the cheaper end of SW19 near the football stadium and the dog track. 

Due to poor communication along the chain of buyers and sellers by the estate agent, my solicitor exchanged on my sale of Montague Road but not my purchase of Garfield Road which then hit a delay. I was legally bound to vacate on completion date, 31st December, cast out into the street on New Year's Eve with nowhere to live. I put all my belongings into storage and went to house sit a friend's place for a month while she was fortuitously out of the county.

76 Garfield Road, South Wimbledon. 1987–1994. A Victorian three bedroom, two reception, mid-terrace house built 1889. I lived there with an assortment of lodgers until I met Mary. 


Avon Cottage, Ibsley, Hampshire. 1994–2007. A mediaeval three-bedroom, timber frame thatched cottage dating to the mid 15th century. Following our marriage we moved out of London and bought a house together. It was by accident we bought this cottage through an extremely convoluted chain of events. 


English Heritage Listing: Cottage. Late C15 & C17, altered C18 & C20. Cruck timber-frame with painted brick infill, thatch roof. 1½ storey, 3 bay and smoke bay, added hip bay.

We were looking for a house with a cellar for our growing wine collection, initially around Kingston and Surbiton. We had planned a weekend in the Cotswolds courtesy of a free voucher I got for completing a customer survey. The Cotswold hotels were full so we changed location and booked into the Watersplash Hotel in the New Forest. There we saw a brochure for a Roman fort in Fordingbridge so off we went. Unfortunately the fort was closed so we parked up and went for a pub lunch. On the way we passed an estate agents window featuring Avon Cottage. We had previously discussed the possibility of a second, holiday home and called into the estate agent to enquire about cottages with cellars. "Only that one in the window". "Too large and expensive, that would have to be a main home!" 

We were both travelling a lot for work so we didn't have to live in London provided we could get to the airports in a reasonable amount of time. We had a chat over lunch and afterwards went back to the estate agents and said that if they could arrange a viewing the next day we would be interested. The owner dashed back from her daughter's to do the viewing, we saw the cottage on the Sunday, made an offer on the Monday and it was accepted on the Wednesday.

Avon Cottage was home for us and several cats over the next 13 years. I have many happy memories from there and was sad to see it go. You don't really own a house this old, you are only custodians. In the words of William Morris "we protect our ancient buildings, and hand them down instructive and venerable to those that come after us". I believe we left it in a better state than we found it. Read more elsewhere on this blog: "Avon Cottage"

Inglenook fireplace with room for four to sit inside.


28 Fairfield Street, Wandsworth. 2005–2015. A lovely Georgian style, semi-detached house built around 1856 with four bedrooms, three reception rooms and with font and back gardens back plus, most importantly, a cellar.


Planning ahead we intended, in 5 years time, to move from Avon Cottage back into London. Mary went online to suss out the market with ridiculously specific requirements: in the Tonsleys in Wandsworth (1 km square area), at least 3 bedrooms, separate living and dining rooms (not knocked into one), downstairs loo, cellar, garden and costing less than £500,000. Blow me down if the exact property popped up 10 days later - 5 years ahead of schedule! At the time it was the cheapest four bedroom house in the whole of SW18 because of its location on the Wandsworth one-way system.  

It was so unique and so perfect we just had to snap it up regardless of the consequences. That is how we came to own two main homes concurrently for a year and a half. It had lovely high ceilings that spoiled us for modern properties.


Our retirement plan included downsizing from 28 Fairfield Street. Seriously, do two people need a four bedroom, three reception property? And it was stuffed full at that. So we put our house on the market and went flat hunting, finding this next gem. 

41 Heathfield Square, Wandsworth. 2015-present. A mid Victorian two bedroom, ground floor flat directly behind Wandsworth prison, built around 1870 as Officers' Quarters for the prison guards. It looks out onto a communal green the size of a football pitch.



Our buyer messed us about a bit, more from incompetence than malice, which meant the sale and purchase were out of sync. Removals were booked and non-cancellable, financials all set up, etc. We learned about "Licence to Occupy" which enabled us to break the chain and move in a few days before completion.

The estate agent's photo. That red feature wall was first on the decorating hit list!


Garage 50, Strickland Row, Wandsworth. 2017-present. A garage. We used to rent a garage from Wandsworth Borough Council behind the Fairfield Court flats but when we moved to Heathfield Square we really needed closer storage facilities. This garage is literally at the end of our street.

6A Benson Row, Penrith. 2019 - present. A three bedroom, two reception room, mid terrace 1850’s house in Penrith. 

Intended initially as a third holiday home this time in the Lake District and eventual second retirement home . We used the proceeds from the sale of Trullo Azzurro to fund this purchase. However since Covid lockdown it has become our main home ahead of schedule.

Originally three back-to-back, one-up one-down houses they are now all knocked into one larger property. Nicknamed "The Money Pit" because of the silly amounts of money we have spent doing it up. Now a very cosy and comfortable place to live. Read more elsewhere on this blog: "Penrith".


The living room:



That is it for now. The next step is to incrementally sell off our property portfolio to fund our retirement.

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