How To Climb The Property Ladder – Part 2

Diary Of An Accidental Renovator

Renovating property and gradually climbing the property ladder can, in our experience, be one of the best ways to better your life financially. We both have full time jobs, so it was never going to be a career. It was just something we ended up doing almost by accident in our spare time. We have never bought a property specifically to renovate and sell on, or flip, as it’s known. All our houses have either been our home or bought to rent out. We have always lived in the properties we have remodelled during the build and renovation process. Renting elsewhere was a luxury and not cost effective for us.

Victorian double fronted house
Sorry about the terrible photo quality! The Walthamstow house when I bought it.

In the first instalment of How To Climb The Property Ladder I talked about our first house in London. At the same time as refurbishing that, I also bought my first house back in 2001 in Walthamstow, London. It was a double fronted Victorian house in total disrepair. The family that had been living there had five children, but there were only two double bedrooms upstairs, with two reception rooms downstairs and a lean-to kitchen and make-shift bathroom. How they all cohabited there I will never know. It’s probably why they ended up getting divorced!

The plan was to renovate the upstairs rooms and the reception rooms and then rip out the kitchen and bathroom. We would lay new floor joists for the latter and create a new entrance for the bathroom by opening up the area underneath the staircase. The only problem was that my hubby, Mr C had a very stressful job in the city and I worked long hours for a very demanding company in their PR department. This only left evenings and weekends to do any work on the house.

Remember I said you will need to sacrifice a lot of free time and fun in order to follow in our footsteps in your spare time? Try finishing work at 6pm, then travelling on the underground to the 2nd to last stop of the Victoria Line in the East. Then doing DIY till 11pm and finally hopping back on the tube to travel all the way to Baron’s Court in the West. I would arrive home after midnight and would be up at 6am the next morning for work again. I did this tirelessly almost every day for six months. My hubby was with me one or two of the weekday nights and every weekend. We worked our socks off and lost loads of weight in the process, always a bonus to get skinny in the process!

By 2003, our Fulham house was completely finished and the Walthamstow house had been rented out. It was then that we started thinking about a completely different life in the countryside. I would leave my job in PR and retrain as a hairdresser at Vidal Sassoon. I had to sell the Walthamstow house to pay for that training! The plan was to move to South Northamptonshire, where property prices were much cheaper. We found a cottage in January of 2004. It was built in 1703, was in total disrepair and needed gutting and a large extension.

Our home in Northamptonshire before extensions and renovations.

I was training all week at Sassoon’s and Mr C was still working in the city, so we couldn’t sell up yet and move into the cottage. We had to travel up every weekend and do as much DIY as we could in two days, then travel back to London for the working week. During the week, we had builders on site creating the new extension to the cottage, which would add a third bedroom and a larger kitchen/diner. This palaver went on for a year and in January 2005 we moved in.

With both the Walthamstow house and the cottage we had a goal. The East London house needed to be rented out ASAP and the cottage needed to be ready for us to move into and for me to start my new job. Knowing what you want and what you need to achieve and by when is so important. Renovations that drag on cost money. I talked in my first post about knowing what you want and having an ultimate goal. Knowing why you are spending every waking hour remodelling a house is key to keeping your impetus going.

Know What You Want

Don’t limit yourself. What is your dream home? That doesn’t mean that your dreams can’t be small. If your ultimate dwelling is a cute country cottage, a Georgian semi, or a terraced home in Hove, then that is fabulous and just as valid as anyone else’s dream. It’s so easy, particularly with social media, to think that your aspirations are less than others, that what you want doesn’t compare to what other people seem to have achieved. Who cares? The only thing that matters is what you want. So, if it’s a canal boat home in Northamptonshire that really melts your butter, then fabaroony, you can do it!

For those of you that know me, or have followed me for a while, you know that I love to write things down. So, write it down! Erm, like now! Go On!

  • What kind of life do you want?
  • Can you even be bothered to climb the property ladder?
  • What is your dream home?
  • Where is your dream location?
  • How many bedrooms do you want?
  • Are you a country, coastal or city dreamer? Do you want them all at some stage in your life?
  • What things have you always dreamt of having in your home? A pantry? A home cinema? A veg patch?
  • When do you want to be mortgage free?
  • When do you want to retire? I know that’s hard for younger people, but please try!
  • Where do you want to retire?
  • Do you want a holiday home?
The dream of being by the sea. 

Then ask yourself these questions:

  • Just looking for a forever home?
  • Want kids and grandchildren?
  • Do you want lots of free time?
  • Do you want to be at the top of your career?
  • Is spare cash to spend on clothes and going out important to you?
  • Can you cope with missing out on fun stuff for a very long time?
  • Could you cope with living on a building site with no creature comforts for a very long time, many times over?
  • Can you cope with huge disappoints and enormous amounts of stress?
  • Are you aware that you don’t always make a profit and that it’s possible to fall down the property ladder as well as go up it?

By answering all of the above you will start to get an idea of what you want in your life and whether you can cope with the realities of property developing in your spare time. By having an end goal it will keep you focused. Remember this is for the long haul, there is no quick fix. Keeping your dream at the back of your mind is important. 

However, it’s also important to live in the moment and enjoy your life. Please don’t spend the next 20 years just waiting for the end game. With almost every house we have completed we have enjoyed living there too and sharing it with friends. To us, that’s the most important thing. None of it matters if it’s not enjoyed by as many loved ones as possible, creating memories you will keep forever. 

Be Realistic!

It’s really important to know what is realistic. I believe in dreams and I truly believe they can come true, but it’s important to also know what you can honestly achieve. If your ultimate dream is to live like a princess in a Gothic tower and spend your days lowering your golden locks for your prince, then you may be disappointed. So, it’s a difficult balance: having a dream that is achievable is key. No one wants to end up at the end of their days thinking they totally sucked. So, again, get that pen and pad out! I can’t believe you put it away already, honestly!

  • Do you have any savings or a deposit?
  • Is your job secure?
  • Are you in higher education?
  • Are you DIY challenged? Do you have any skills in this area at all? Paying trades is expensive. You need to do as much yourself as possible, even if that means watching YouTube videos to educate yourself.
  • Do you have a partner and are they on the same page?
  • Do you have kids or plan to have them?
  • Are you incredibly close to your family and need to live nearby?
  • Are you scared? You should be! Only joking – NOT!

How Do I Start And When?

Well, this one is completely obvious. In order to start on the property ladder you need to buy a property! I can’t stress enough how incredibly fortuitous it was for me to meet a guy who managed to get on the property ladder early on in life. It really sets you up for life. I was in higher education till I was 21 and then I spent quite a few years working abroad, so it wasn’t possible for me to start so early. Mr C had left school and went straight into an apprenticeship earning money, so, with a little help from his family, he was able to buy his first flat. The sooner you start, the more chance of you achieving your goal.

However, you’ve got to get the timing right. At the time of going to press the property market has gone wild, believe me I have first hand experience! Prices are incredibly high and people are paying over the odds, often going to sealed bids for houses that are a complete wreck. A year ago, these estate agents had no hope of selling these houses quickly. Now, they might be on the market for a week at the most!

Choose your time. There is a high chance that the market might cool come the Summer months. In the U.K there is a stamp duty (property tax) holiday at the moment, which finishes at the end of June. It’s very possible that there could be a slump in demand once everyone has to pay the full tax again.

“Why aren’t we waiting for that slump?” I hear you cry. Well, we thought it was going to happen much earlier. We have just entered our seventh month in rented accommodation and I’m done, quite frankly. Also, you need to know your local area and that market. Where we live, good houses are in short supply. Being by the sea there is always high demand. I really can’t see the market falling here, so we may as well get on the property ladder again while we still can. Our buying power is diminishing every month as the prices rise.

What If You Already Own A Home?

You might already own a home, but dream of loftier heights of the property ladder. First of all, have you done everything to your home that you possibly can and is it finished? If not, then you need to finish it first. Rule No.1 – Never Ever sell a property that you have not finished! “But I’m bored of it” I hear you cry. Be gone yea property heathen! Why would you do that? You own a property and you want to sell it half done? Are you off your trolley? Have you completely lost your fixer upper marbles?

You are just about to give away your profit. You are about to sell your home to someone else who can make the profit instead of you. Perhaps they will end up with their dream home faster than you…and they deserve too! The biggest mistake that most people make when selling their home is that they expect their buyer to have imagination.

You are wrong my friend. Hardly any buyer has any imagination whatsoever! I have a friend who was house hunting with me when I bought the house in Walthamstow. I showed her a flat that would have been perfect for her. It was a period property and had great features. She hated it. Why? Because the walls were painted pink! I kid you not, she could not imagine the walls being any other colour. This is what we are dealing with guys, so to sell your home unfinished is just insane. You will not reap the rewards.

Before even thinking about getting the estate agents in it is imperative that you create a “lifestyle” to sell within your home and garden, if you have one. The two go hand in hand in my book. Woe betide the property developer that forgets about the garden!

So, in next week’s chapter of How To Climb The Property Ladder I will begin my talking about creating that lifestyle. You need to entice people in to your home and make them want to imagine themselves living there. I can’t wait to tell you more!

JP Clark signature


  1. Shaz Buchanan
    April 18, 2021 / 9:27 am

    Your Surrey home will always blow my mind.
    True words/ great advice.
    We sold in Surrey 2x made a mint moved to East Kent at perfect timing with 4 kids. Longest 19 yrs in one home – sold and bought this crazy one off stable/ hayloft with alot of spare cash.
    Plan to sell with 10 years ( max) and downsize to give our 4 enough for deposits. We ve always finished a house and put it on the market- lots of luck too.
    S x

    • JP Clark
      May 12, 2021 / 3:05 pm

      Sounds like you have a great plan! Well done you! Xx

  2. April 18, 2021 / 10:14 am

    That was very informative and really interesting
    Thanks for all the excellent tips

    • JP Clark
      May 12, 2021 / 3:04 pm

      Thanks for taking the time.

  3. Anne
    April 18, 2021 / 11:54 am

    Another brilliant blog. So interesting. So agree with you about buyers having no imagination. I had a friend once who turned down a fantastic house because she didn’t likd the bathroom suite. It was a fantastic room and could have been replaced in a weekend.

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