How to Climb The Property Ladder Successfully – Part 4

Diary Of An Accidental Renovator

I’m so happy there has been such a huge response to this blog series. It’s a bit of a labour of love to write and truly feels like I’m writing my memoirs! If you missed Part One, Two and Three, then click on the links here. In this episode I’m going to tell you about the haunted house Mr C bought without me seeing it and the Victorian cottage we bought afterwards that would become our home. I’m going to tell you about our points system for buying the right property and loads more hints and tips that have helped us along the way. If you are thinking about starting out on the property ladder, want to know how to climb it successfully and don’t know where to begin, then this is the series for you.

If you remember, we had been staying in a barn whilst the house purchase was going through. To say it was rustic was the understatement of the year. The floor in the far corner was lined with hay. I was half expecting Mary and Joseph to rock up with a donkey asking if they could stay the night! Unfortunately (or, maybe fortunately), we were not able to extend our stay for the last couple of nights needed to complete the house purchase. So, we had to decamp to the local YMCA. I can say with some authority that it is not, in fact, fun to stay at The YMCA and, much to our dismay, it is also not filled with hot gay men!

Two nights wasn’t going to kill us though and after the barn it was somewhat palatial! The purchase completed on the Guildford house and we moved in. However, because it was never going to be our permanent home and there was so much internal work to do, we couldn’t release all our belongings from storage. It was touch and go whether we would even have a bed on the first night.

The Haunted House

It was a 1960s nondescript terraced box and I absolutely hated it. I can’t really think of one redeeming architectural feature, other than it had a parquet floor in the living room. It faced North and it backed onto the A3. However, it was perfectly placed for Surrey University and it would prove a winner with the renters.

Now, this was the only time that we did a renovation without our heart and soul. It was all about doing it up quickly and renting it out asap. The kitchen was replaced, along with the bathroom. We also replaced the hot air heating system with gas central heating and decorated throughout. It wasn’t the type of house that called for fancy interiors or a design aesthetic. A few trips to Wickes and B&Q were going to do the job with off-the-shelf products and a flat-pack kitchen – inspiring right?

I found it astonishingly dull and I have no intention of ever repeating the process. But, we had our eyes on its true purpose and it gave us a much-needed home, whilst we searched for the right one. That search took a lot longer than we thought it would though.

When I first entered the house I got a very strange feeling. It’s a sensation I have had before with one or two other houses I have lived in. It made me draw breath, something was there! About three days or so into our first week at the house I was busy upstairs painting a ceiling. Mr C had gone into the office, so I was alone. It was coming up to 3pm and I became aware of a strange stench emanating from the front bedroom. Just as I stepped off the ladder I heard a door slam, then another and another. It was a cacophony of door slams, open, shut, open, shut. I ran out into the hallway and everything went abruptly silent.

It absolutely scared me to death, however, it wasn’t the first time that had happened to me. Years before when I was a student I had witnessed the fit of door slamming somewhere else. I now knew that it was a bit like a ghost/spirit throwing its toys out of the pram. You might not believe in the spirit world, but I’ve witnessed so much that I cannot explain or deny. I decided to look into the previous owner who had died in the house – a Mrs Henderson. I had a feeling that 3pm might have been the time she passed away. The same stench, often accompanied by the hissy fit of door slamming happened almost at the strike of three most days.

Later that year we went on a week’s holiday and my younger brother said he would look after our rabbit for us by going in to feed it every day and give it a run. Whilst away I received a text from him: “You could have told me the f***ing house was haunted! Just had the shit scared out of me by all the doors opening and closing. There’s a f***ing dreadful smell too!” It was just after three in the afternoon.

The Victorian Cottage

During my online property search back in Northamptonshire I had come across a Victorian semi-detached house in the Surrey Hills. It needed masses of work and a large extension, but it definitely had potential with a south facing garden and pretty views. I had discounted it though because it was out of our price range at the time. Seven months on and it was still on the market. It did require quite a lot of imagination as the garden was a shambles and inside was verging on derelict. We decided I would go and view it – “just to see”.

From the moment I walked in I loved it. It had such good bones and somehow it felt like the whole house was giving me a hug saying: ‘please buy me!” That night I talked incessantly to Mr C about it, to the point that he was compelled to view it himself the next day. He loved it. We put in a cheeky offer as it had been on the market some time. It’s always worth trying. Even in the current high-paced market of 2021 where everything is going to sealed bids, it can be worth a go and, in fact, we did! I’m always quite surprised when watching Location, Location, Location on TV that Kirsty and Phil often seem to suggest offering a couple of thousand below the asking price. Mr C and I always turn to each other and say we would have offered a lot less!

We secured the Victorian house in the hills for nearly ten percent below the asking price and proceeded quickly with the purchase. We owned the house for nearly two months before we moved in. I went there every day that I wasn’t travelling up to Northamptonshire to do hairdressing, to start stripping floors, skirtings and architraves.

It wasn’t five minutes before we had employed an architect and the plans were in for a major extension and remodel that would include a whole new roof and painstakingly matching period tiles and bricks with a mix of a modern equivalent and reclaimed materials. We wanted it to look like the extensions had been there forever and that requires an enormous attention to the finer details.

The Renovations

The house already had a basement room, but it wasn’t full height, so we dug down and used a conveyor belt to take out the soil. My god that was a tough job, but so worth it as it created a fourth bedroom/playroom or home gym. We added a large side extension, which would incorporate a family kitchen/diner and utility room with double bi-fold doors leading onto the garden. Upstairs, we added a master bedroom and en-suite.

The garden also needed a huge transformation and would be my most difficult to design so far. It sloped upwards on a slight gradient, but as soon as we started to terrace those levels we saw that the gradient was actually much steeper! It had to be done though and we created a garden oasis with a large sweeping Koi pond. If you’ve been following me for a while, then you’ll know that I believe that the outside space of a property is intrinsically linked to the interior. They are, in my mind, one space that needs to be synergised so that they flow.

We were half way through the planning process when we realised the architect’s drawings were wrong. Something had been niggling us about the drawings for weeks and after buying a special architect’s ruler, we measured everything ourselves to discover that he had not created enough height on the second storey. It would have been just perfect for the Oompa Loompas in The Wizard of Oz, but not Mr C at over six feet tall!

We ended up having to take legal action against the architect and then start the planning process again. This time, we did the drawings ourselves. By the Spring of 2009 the project was complete and it would become the location for our wedding the following Summer.

The Points System

In the first instalment of this blog series I talked about our points system for buying a house. Now, most people have a wish list when searching for a home, that’s nothing new. Our system goes through all the pros and cons and comes up with a mathematical answer, taking emotion out of the equation. If you are going to climb the property ladder successfully, then you need to stay calm and keep focused.

List every single thing that you want in a home, from views to proximity to schools and a train station. Then list all the things you definitely don’t want. Each pro is worth one point. Every con is a minus point. Take a property you are considering and apply this process adding points for every pro and removing a point for every con. The total at the end tells you how well the house fits the brief. So, if you have 30 on your pro wish list, then the closer to a figure of 30 at the end of the process, the better the house fits the bill.

Here’s our list. We use it every time for every house we look at and it has worked in each case:


  1. Detached or suitably beautiful to not need remodelling from the outside if attached.
  2. Three bedrooms or more, or ability to extend.
  3. South/West-facing garden.
  4. Period features, or suitably nondescript to be able to turn into something with character.
  5. Near water – ie: river,stream, the sea.
  7. Near a shop and a pub.
  8. Close to a train station.
  9. Near good schools.
  10. Easy access to a main highway.
  11. Within ten miles of a good supermarket.
  12. Within ten miles of a Marks & Spencer, Waitrose. This sounds snobby, but these companies do their research when siting their stores and they opt for more affluent areas. You want that if you are climbing the property ladder.
  13. The neighbours look after their homes.
  14. Building works within a short distance of the house. If other people are renovating then it’s a good sign.
  15. The house has not been recently renovated.
  16. Large kitchen/diner area or space to build one.
  17. Utility/boot room, or space to create one.
  18. Space to add more bathrooms if only one exists.
  19. A loft with good access.
  20. Privacy.
  21. Good access to work locations.
  22. Room for outbuildings in the garden.
  23. A road with different types of property with many of them aesthetically pleasing.
  24. A road where planning permission has been granted for neighbours in the past.
  25. Not in the centre of a village or town, but within close proximity.
  26. Parking for at least three cars.
  27. Good dog walking locations nearby.
  28. A choice of good pubs and restaurants within a few miles.
  29. Close to a high-end shopping location/high street.
  30. A good community – check websites and parish magazines etc.
  31. Good proximity to friends and family.
  32. No Tree Preservation Orders on the property.
  33. No refused planning permission.
  34. Not a listed property.
  35. Not a thatched property.
  36. Close proximity to a local councillor – wherever they live things seem to get done!
Our transformation made the front page when we came to sell. I was so proud of it.


  1. Thatched.
  2. Listed Property.
  3. East or North-facing garden.
  4. Little Privacy.
  5. In a street where all the houses are the same design.
  6. A semi/terraced property that isn’t pretty and can’t be altered due to the house it is attached to. If you’re in a row of semi’s and they all look the same, then standing out by remodelling the exterior of yours is not going to bring in the big bucks.
  7. Near an Asda or an Aldi – sorry, but it’s proven. I’m not meaning to be rude to anyone that shops there, but if you’re serious about climbing the property ladder then this matters. I know I’m going to get it in the neck for this!
  8. On a main road, or in earshot of a busy road.
  9. Near a large-scale housing development.
  10. Planning refused in the past.
  11. There is a Tree Preservation Order on the property.
  12. Extremely difficult to extend.
  13. The house has been renovated and not to your taste.
  14. Not near a pub or a shop.
  15. Not near a train station.
  16. Extensive structural faults.
  17. Upvc windows.
  18. It’s in the middle of nowhere.
  19. No off-road parking.
  20. It’s in a conservation area.

So, there you have it, that’s our extensive list. I promise by using this process you will get a very clear idea of how close a property meets your requirements. It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment just because a house is pretty. Take a step back. It will pay dividends in the end.

Next week is the final instalment of this series and I’ll be going full hog into our most outlandish renovation so far – turning a 1920s ugly duckling into a New England swan. Thanks for reading.

If you are interested in our current renovation of a 1960s deckhouse or our next one, which will be a Victorian Townhouse, then head over to Instagram on: @jpslifeandloves and @theharbourdeckhouse

JP Clark signature


  1. May 16, 2021 / 8:25 am

    Brilliant Blog JP. Ooh the haunted house. That would have scared the bejeezers out of me 😬. I was using your list to check our current property and I’m so pleased that I ticked more pros than cons! 😁 oh and the Aldi/Asda reference made me laugh 😂 I love Aldi but I wouldn’t want to live near one 🙈. I’d shop more in Waitrose if my son (who has a PT job there) would get me my bloody discount card 🙄🤣💓💓

    • JP Clark
      May 16, 2021 / 4:53 pm

      That’s so funny! We shop in Tesco and Lidl and sometimes the off Waitrose and M&S. I don’t mean to be snobby about it, but it is a fact that if you want to get the best price then the supermarkets matter. So glad your property ticks all the cons!

    • Carole Dunk
      May 16, 2021 / 5:53 pm

      Had to snigger at the fact that I live in a “cons” house. (1960s semi on an estate and no M&S or Waitrose) . Bad luck with negative equity in the past has left us not where we wanted to be BUT we have great neighbours and they all look after their properties. I can enjoy the more aspirational properties through accounts like yours and others on the gram, and bring just a little bit of it into my home. After all, with the door closed I can imagine I’m anywhere ❤

      • JP Clark
        May 23, 2021 / 5:30 pm

        I’m sure your house is wonderful. I’m only talking from a property development angle. As you might have read, I don’t go into whether the neighbours are lovely etc. Our last house was great for property development, but not for neighbours!

        • Carole Dunk
          May 23, 2021 / 7:12 pm

          Oh, absolutely no offence taken. I agree wholeheartedly with your criteria. I’m really enjoying this series of blogs.

          • JP Clark
            June 7, 2021 / 1:39 pm

            Thank you xx

  2. Anne
    May 16, 2021 / 10:07 am

    Loved this. Pros and cons brilliant. Agree with every one. Neighbours looking after their properties is essential.

    • JP Clark
      May 16, 2021 / 4:50 pm

      Thank you Anne, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Xx

  3. Ann
    May 16, 2021 / 12:50 pm

    Hi JP
    Fabulous history of your renovation life. Although your description of the haunted house, haunting aside, did disappoint me. I live in a 1970s house on a 1970s estate, which I suppose could be considered vintage now. I saw these houses being built and played in the brook near them as a 1960s child. Your words are quite disparinging about ordinary homes. But sadly, we cant all afford the better things in life, and i am sure i am not the only follower who lives in the average of home. I bought my house in 1993 as a single mum of 31 on my own. It was an achievement i was proud of. I have chosen to stay all these years as it is south facing with no buildings at the back but the aforesaid brook, allotments and playing fields. The houses are uninteresting architecturally but they can still be made home for those of us who can only dream of magazine styled homes. Now then, omg the ghost! I have also experienced things and the main one for me was a council house viewing I had been offered. Lovely house, lovely street but on walking round with my two small babes, a heavy death gurgle started and we shot out of there at full pace! Please write your spiritual adventures in a blog. Good luck finding your next home as I loved to see the things I can only dream of. Xx

    • JP Clark
      May 16, 2021 / 4:50 pm

      Hi Ann, I’m so very sorry I never ever would dream of upsetting anyone or be disparaging about someone’s home! I was personally not attracted to the Guildford house. Your house sounds lovely as it has a south facing garden too and close to so many lovely things. Of course, you make any home beautiful and I’m sure yours is. This house was due North and right next to the main A3. We’ve lived in very small homes in the past which I have loved because I was able to transform them and make them cosy. You can’t do anything about north facing though! I’m such a gardener as you know, so the aspect for me is so important. Please accept my apologies, I would never mean to offend you.

  4. Helen Burridge
    May 16, 2021 / 6:27 pm

    Great blog JP love the point system. If I had applied them to this house we may not have bought it, however it did “feel” right and here we still here 8 years later ! Great read thank you !

    • JP Clark
      May 23, 2021 / 5:28 pm

      That’s so good to hear. Xxx

  5. Sara
    May 17, 2021 / 8:47 am

    Hi JP

    I’m curious about the haunted house…. did your renters have problems and did you have to get the house exorcised? I love a ghost story… my Mum lived in a haunted house in the shadow of Caernarfon Castle as a child. She said she sometimes heard soldiers marching on gravel (there was no gravel outside or soldiers), and she would hear footsteps on the wooden stairs when there was no one there. My grandfather on my father’s side stayed overnight once and woke in the night with hands around his throat!

    • JP Clark
      May 23, 2021 / 5:28 pm

      Scary! I don’t know whether they did. My hubby never saw anything at all.

  6. Gail
    May 17, 2021 / 10:07 am

    Loved reading this install ent on the blog renovation JPS. The ghost well I have one here, but it’s subtle…found the bedside lights in spare room on at 4 in morning- nobody else in house 😳! Dog likes to sleep under the bed in same room?! Love the ticklist , however I’m in bungalow and have NE facing garden but because low roof level garden is gorgeous all day. Am trying to bring the egarden / house together to flow which is important to me too. Haven’t oodles of pennies but I love an up cycle and do lots myself too. Thanks for inspiring me x

    • JP Clark
      May 23, 2021 / 5:27 pm

      You’ll do an amazing job I’m sure!

  7. Christine
    May 17, 2021 / 10:10 am

    Hi I’m staying in a deckhouse for a few days enjoying a break from normal life. I came across your blog while researching the history of the deckhouses. I really enjoyed reading it and look forward to more. Good luck with your renovation.

    • JP Clark
      May 23, 2021 / 5:26 pm

      Oh how wonderful. I hope you enjoy your stay and thank you for reading. X

  8. May 18, 2021 / 2:46 pm

    This series is AWESOME, JP! Love every one, photos and stories. The ghost, though – OMG! Really enjoying watching the deckhouse progress, and hoping you have good news on your “real” home soon. You certainly have the experience to know what you’re doing by now!

    • JP Clark
      May 23, 2021 / 5:26 pm

      Fingers crossed it’s very soon now darling. Thank you xxx

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