I was renting in Ladbroke Grove, but the lease was coming up. The area had rocketed beyond my budget so I decided to go east, which had always been cheaper and still is, though the Overground has had a big effect. I’d only been to Whitechapel once and though it was very run down, it reminded me of how Notting Hill had once been.
Then a row of four houses came up for auction. They had been derelict for years then boarded up and were now, despite security grilles, squatted. It was now or never.
Little gem: bought for £331,000 in 2005, the Georgian house was part of a derelict terrace that came up for auction. Today it is worth an estimated £850,000 after plenty of TLC and £60,000 repairs
The auction was mid-December which is a good time to buy, as most people are distracted by Christmas and property looks grim in freezing weather. Nevertheless, the saleroom was packed. I wasn’t the only person desperate to buy my first home, and the 14ft-wide houses had attracted a lot of attention.
The beauty of an auction is that once you commit, there’s no turning back. If the hammer falls, you pay 10 per cent of the sale price on the spot — two big men frogmarched me to a desk — and if you don’t settle the balance within (in my case) nine working days, you wave goodbye to that hefty deposit. So you must do your homework first, because perfect property rarely goes to auction.
Golden glow: Warm and subtle paint shades give the kitchen, with its school chemistry lab worktop, which was a gift, a cosy feel
My house had so much wrong with it that it should have been in A&E, but the cursory viewing you get before an auction won’t reveal much. And because these particular houses were all squatted there was no viewing at all — nor any hope of getting a surveyor in. At auction, the phrase “buyer beware” really is true. But I took the risk because a few years before, the houses had come up for sale through an agent. They’d been put on the market by a so-called developer at a very high price and I had viewed them, so had a fair idea of the state they were in.
I had a “mortgage in principle”, which allowed me to spend up to £335,000. So I went in all guns blazing. The early bids rose at £5,000 a time, which isn’t for the faint-hearted. Then down came the hammer at £331,000 — a huge amount in 2005.
Regency red: the warm, welcoming dining room. Doors in the house were remade to the original pattern using hand tools and Philippa mixed many of the paints she used herself
After that the mortgage was suspended, its release dependent on a full structural survey. Feeling sick, I got one done in the nick of time. It was shatteringly nerve-wracking and exhilarating in equal measure.
But there I was, on Christmas Eve, holding the keys to my own house — less than two weeks after the auction.
That “developer” had done terrible things, like building a wall across two collapsing chimney breasts to hide them, and putting a macerator lavatory in another tiny partitioned room, which stank like a sewer. Most of the original doors and skirtings had been ripped out, and there was damp.
Dandyish charm: old brick and shutters (left); Breakfast is laid: by a fireplace in a bedroom that also doubles as a painting studio
The back yard was awash with builder’s rubble and pink concrete tiles, without even a weed in mitigation. The little building was weeping through sheer neglect. Yet underneath it was a terrace house made of old bricks, with Baltic pine floors, built 300 years ago when the fat Prince Regent was dancing in Brighton Pavilion.
It had survived two world wars — though its top had been blown off in the second. Despite its pint-pot size, it had lovely lines and a dandyish charm. It was a tiny fighting bantam dipped in soot, and I wanted to take care of it. Bit by bit, doors were remade to the original pattern using hand tools, and given lovely rim locks and knobs. The floors were scrubbed and patched, and new skirting boards were cut to match the few remaining.
Wood’s good: scrubbed up and patched
In the cleared back yard, I planted things — most from Sainsbury’s for £3 each; some grown from seed; one tree found in the street — and laid flagstones the same age as the house, bought from a reclamation yard. The local surveyor gave me some old flowerpots. Everything was done with traditional or old materials on a very tight budget. Among many kind gifts was a 1926 chemistry lab worktop from a school in Darlington which now graces the kitchen.
Fortunately I’m a painter, so I hand-mixed most of my paints, and bought cheap brown furniture from a local dealer. A lot of furniture, such as the chess table in the living room, came from a skip, and then I painted it. Slowly, the rooms came back to life. This house is a work in progress. It still thinks it is bigger than it is, rather than a sort of Regency caravan parked in a side street. But I love it.
Originals: pine flooring, intriguing artwork and beautiful blues in the bathroom
Some people say it takes guts to buy at auction but in my case it was naïve hopefulness. If I’d thought too much, I might not have done it. But I have been happy with the way things turned out.
What it cost
Auction buy in 2005: £331,000
Value now: (estimate): £850,000
Buying at auction
Get a survey first, and get your mortgage agreed in principle so you cannot bid too high in the excitement of the sale.
Get the Look
- Paint: mix artists pigment into Dulux matt white for pale colours (Dulux.co.uk).
- Exterior paint from farrow-ball.com.
- Croquet pale green in bedroom from Crown colour archive (crownpaint.co.uk)
- Antiques: try Spitalfields Market, E1 on Thursdays, from 8am
- Plants from Sainsbury at Whitechapel (sainsbury.co.uk)
- Kitchen brass taps from Barber Wilsons & Co (barwil.co.uk)
- Rim locks from Nu-Line (nu-line.net)
- Small brass doorknobs from willowandstone.co.uk
- Antique Indian hanging lamps from Joss Graham (jossgraham.com)
- Paintings: to commission from philippastockley.com