Property millionaires: how we climbed the property ladder

Scouring auction catalogues for bargains, opting for ex-local authority flats, adding as much square footage as possible and using inexpensive but stylish finishes: how property professionals manage to trade up from modest first homes to seven-figure dream houses.
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Clambering up the property ladder is tough and much depends on underlying market conditions. But - as these agents’ stories show - being prepared to roll up your sleeves and take a calculated risk can be a most effective strategy when it comes to buying and selling London property.


Well on his way: Jamie Lester outside his garden flat in Fulham. Next stop: a family house near good schools. Image: Charlie Forgham Bailey

Jamie Lester, 33, founder of Haus Properties, and his wife, Julie, 32, who works for an interior design company.
First home: Two-bedroom flat in an ex- council block in Wanstead, bought in 2001 for £100,000.
Current home: Two-bedroom garden flat in Fulham, currently being extended, worth an estimated £1 million. 
Time taken: 13 years.
Top tip: Buy near a station or where transport improvements are imminent; buy where there is potential to enlarge.

Jamie left school at 16 and by the age of 20 he was working in property recruitment and felt ready to buy his first home. He took out a 100 per cent mortgage and bought a run-down flat in Wanstead. “It was in a poor state but it was huge compared to conversions in the road which were almost twice the price,” he said. Lesson number one: square feet is king.

He spent the next year renovating the flat and in 2002 let it out. He then bought an unmodernised two-bedroom flat in a purpose-built 1970s block in Woodford, which cost £175,000. “It was horrible but I was single so I could live with it, and get stuck in when I got home from work.”

Things changed when he met Julie, who had been offered a job in Feltham on the opposite side of London. The couple let out the Woodford flat and moved into a rented flat in Fulham, where they stayed for three years.

During this time Jamie sold both flats and used the equity to set up his company. In 2008 - “just at the wrong time” - they bought a two-bedroom garden flat in Fulham. By this time they had two small children and needed more space. The 650sq ft flat cost £500,000 and had the potential to be extended at the side and back to a little over 1,000sq ft.

Put off by the recession, they did nothing until the beginning of this year, when work began. Jamie estimates that once the £100,000 project is complete, the flat will be worth about £1 million. Their next step will be to a family house close to good schools - for which Jamie is resigned to leaving Fulham to find value.

Karelia Scott-Daniels, 41, founder of property finders Manse & Garret.
First home: A £92,000 three-bedroom house in Feltham bought in 1999.
Current home: Four-storey live/work house in Bankside, worth £1.1 million, plus a four-bedroom Victorian rental property in Newington Green.
Time taken: 15 years.
Top tip: Be prepared to take on a project where you can add value.


Realising the dream: Karelia Scott-Daniels with her husband, Simon. She always longed to live in central London. Image: David Butler

Karelia was 26 when she bought her first property, using money she had earned in a part-time telesales job,plus a £5,000 top-up from her mother, as a deposit. With a tight budget, she took two weeks off work to view properties about to come up at auction.

At first sight, the three-bedroom terrace, a boarded-up repossession, wasn’t inspiring and Feltham was not her dream location. But the street was leafy and the neighbours friendly. Most important of all, she could afford it.

After moving in, Karelia installed a new kitchen and redecorated. Then she let out three rooms to lodgers to help fund more renovations and in June 2000 she sold up for £160,000. “I broke records for the area, and I think the thing was I just made it look really lovely,” she said.

She then moved in with her boyfriend (now her husband, Simon, 47, an engineer) in Horley but soon decided commuting was not for her. They found a four-bedroom late-Victorian property in Newington Green, on the borders of Hackney and Islington. 

The house needed gutting but once the work was complete, they lived there for eight years, during which time they got married and Karelia started a property company.

By 2007 she had “itchy feet” but the housing market had gone into freefall and she was forced to wait until 2011 to realise her dream of living in central London. Working on the principle of never sell if you can find a way to hang onto your properties, they rented out the Newington Green house. This rent not only covers the mortgage, it enables them to pay off an extra chunk every year.

Meanwhile, they bid at auction, again, for their three-storey Victorian house with basement and roof terrace in Bankside, SE1. Although its guide price was £195,000, they had to pay £455,000.
They then converted the property from a ground-floor office with a two-storey flat above into a house. Their budget was £250,000 and the project began in the summer of 2012. By January 2013 she and Simon were able to move in, and she estimates the house is now worth £1.1 million.

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