Page last updated at 09:37 GMT, Sunday, 10 May 2009 10:37 UK

Trapped into living with the ex

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Gemma and Ben split up and are now unable to sell their property

Couples who have split up and want to go their separate ways are increasingly being forced to live apart under the same roof by a lack of movement in the housing market.

Gemma Appleyard had been with her boyfriend Ben Blackwell for three years when they bought a two bedroom terrace house for £350,000 in Hither Green, south-east London, last June.

Ben's mother gave them £100,000 for the deposit as she had some money she wanted to invest somewhere.

"She thought we would be together forever and wanted to secure our future," says Ben.

Fall in value

At a house-warming party a few months later the couple's friends kept telling them "you must be so happy", which Gemma says made her think, "actually I'm not that happy". By November the couple had broken up.

It'll get awkward when one of us meets someone else, that'll be difficult
Gemma

However when they tried to sell their house they realised the value had fallen to £280,000.

"We had an estate agent round and it was clear we would not get what we paid - it had dropped 20-30% and we would take a hit on our deposit," Ben explains.

They looked into renting it out, but found the rental yield would not cover the mortgage and they would have to come up with £400 each month, as well as whatever rent they would be paying.

A £70,000 loss on the house was too much for Gemma and Ben to take, so they have resigned themselves to living together until property values go back up.

Tightened lending restrictions mean it can be nearly impossible to secure a mortgage to enable one party to buy the other's share of the property or to enable one party to buy a separate property.

A bad end to last year in Scotland's residential property market has been followed by a much worse start to this year.
Douglas Fraser, business and economy editor, BBC Scotland

Gemma says she now thinks it was a mistake to buy last year but felt she was pressured into it by the fact Ben's mother gave them the deposit - and she now feels an obligation not to lose any of that money.

However she says she still loves the house and the area and "everyone knows property values works in cycles and prices will go back up". But she is finding it difficult to move on with her life.

Gemma has not started seeing anyone new, but cannot imagine how she would explain the situation to anyone she might meet.

Ben has been on a few dates with women he has met on the internet, and Gemma says she was "strangely pleased" when she found out because she felt so guilty about splitting up with him.

'No rush'

Ben, who is a part-qualified accountant, says when he finishes his exams he wants to try and find a way to let the house and then rent a small flat somewhere in west London.

But he feels in no rush to sell the house because he and Gemma are still friends and he would not mind holding onto it until they can - even making a profit on it if possible.

"I don't regret buying a property, but I do regret buying with Gemma. I think I'll buy on my own next time to avoid the risk," he says.

Robert Sinclair, director of the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries, says there is a "worrying rise" in couples like Gemma and Ben who have split up and are forced to stay together.

PROPERTYWATCH MAP
Propertywatch map

"We are aware of a growing range of people trapped by negative equity or close to it - where the price of their property after costs is less than the debt they owe," he says.

He says it is not always feasible to rent out the property - and sadly there is little lenders can do to help people.

But he says research suggests we are getting close to the bottom of the slump and house prices are beginning to level out. The difficult thing is judging how long they will take to go back up.

"We do think that 2010 prices may go up but not by more than 5%, so I think people in these kinds of situations will have to sit it out for the next 18 months."

And while Ben might be happy to wait, Gemma is concerned that things might get harder.

"How long can we continue? As long as we get on I suppose. It'll get awkward when one of us meets someone else, that'll be difficult," says Gemma.

However amicable their split has been, Ben and Gemma are eager for the market to allow them to walk away from their home for good.

Propertywatch, a new series on property prices and the downturn, will be broadcast from 11-14 May at 2000 BST on BBC Two.


Are you in the process of moving, or trying to sell your house? Would you make a one minute video describing your experience and include pictures of your property? If so send your pictures and video to yourpics@bbc.co.uk or text them to 61124 . If you have a large file you can upload here.

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