Passers-by in the smart North London street Jacquie Hale and Ed Goldswain once called home could be forgiven for wondering why there is a large crater in the centre of an otherwise attractive terrace of houses.
The rubble-strewn hole and steel beams connecting — or, more pertinently, supporting — the walls of the houses on either side suggest there was once a property there.
And indeed there was. Back in November 2012, it was Jacquie and Ed's home. They lived on the ground floor of a handsome Edwardian property. An upstairs neighbour owned the first floor.
In November 2012, Jacquie Hale and Ed Goldswain (pictured with their two sons) had planned to use their savings to extend their £345,000 ground-floor flat into the basement of their property in Finchley, north London
About to become first-time parents, they had recently installed a beautiful new kitchen and were making other home improvements to prepare for their growing family.
But, seven years ago last week, the whole property suffered a terrifying structural collapse — effectively splitting in half — following a botched basement conversion.
The frightened occupants were forced to flee with little more than the clothes on their backs.
Around three years after this horrifying event, Jacquie and Ed spoke to the Daily Mail, telling how they were mired in a legal and financial nightmare.
With the insurance companies refusing to pay out, they faced debts of about £1million, including a £318,000 demolition bill from Barnet Council, around £500,000 in legal costs, many thousands more in lost goods and other expenses — not to mention a £700 monthly mortgage, payable for the next 22 years, on a property that no longer existed.
They had hoped to create a roomy two-storey family home but the whole property suffered a terrifying structural collapse - effectively splitting in half - following a botched basement conversion
The frightened occupants were forced to flee with little more than the clothes on their backs but are still caught up in what seems like an endless legal and financial nightmare
In this era of endless home improvements, their story must serve as a timely warning to anyone considering an 'iceberg' conversion — in other words, giving their property an expansive basement extension.
There has been a rash of such building work across the smartest areas of London, such as Chelsea and Belgravia.
Wealthy inhabitants have constructed everything from swimming pools to bowling alleys under their homes, with seemingly little care for potential structural weakness, even though their craving for more space has meant entire streets being effectively 'hollowed out' underground.
And where the rich go, the aspirational middle classes follow, with a glut of 'don't move, improve' property television programmes encouraging ordinary people like Jacquie and Ed to dig down instead of moving on.
But, rather than living in their dream home, today this couple find themselves trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of legal and financial problems. For those tempted by an iceberg conversion, they have one word of advice: beware.
The insurance companies refused to pay out which left the couple facing debts of about £1million, including a £318,000 demolition bill from Barnet Council, £500,000 in legal costs and thousands more in lost goods
The family was also told they would have to continue to pay a £700 monthly mortgage, payable for the next 22 years, on a property that no longer existed
For the Mail can reveal their financial troubles are far from over and, arguably, have worsened. Insurance companies have yet to pay out. 'I honestly don't think it will ever end,' says Jacquie today.
Their old home remains a hole in the ground — albeit one that still requires the £700-a-month mortgage to be paid for the 18 years remaining of the 25-year term — and their debts to Barnet Council and the claim by the leaseholder of the first-floor flat that also disappeared in a cloud of dust remain outstanding, to the tune of around £800,000.
What's more, they have also found themselves in an expensive tussle with the property's freeholder.
Of course, the true cost to Jacquie and Ed can't be reduced to a set of figures: there is the emotional toll and strain on their relationship, endless sleepless nights and gargantuan stress, while juggling the demands of raising a young family.
That's not to mention the disappointment of shelved wedding plans. Newly engaged at the time of the house collapse, the couple had hoped for a large, traditional wedding, now, they have neither the emotional reserves to prepare for it, nor the money to afford it.
Yet, incredibly, they remain stoic, determined to count their blessings, rather than mourn for what-might-have-beens.
Mr Goldswain and Ms Hale were forced to move out of their dream property, along with their neighbour, and subsequent checks by Finchley Council revealed the house would have to be pulled down
The true cost to Jacquie and Ed can't be reduced to a set of figures: there is the emotional toll and strain on their relationship, endless sleepless nights and gargantuan stress, while juggling the demands of raising a young family
Jacquie says: 'In those first couple of years, it was simply a case of putting one foot in front of the other. Now, even though it is still a nightmare, we are able to keep it at a distance and focus on the fact we have our health and a home.
'Things could be a lot worse. We'll never get back what we had, but we've reconciled ourselves to that.'
It's a brave sentiment, even if, to an extent, they have managed to rebuild (if that is the right word) their lives.
Now, Jacquie, 44, and 45-year-old Ed live in a mortgaged property in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, with sons Ernie, six — he came along just a month after the house collapsed — and five-year-old George.
To do so required seeking help from family for a deposit and taking out a second mortgage, which they managed to secure courtesy of Ed's job in digital marketing.
Being able to have a mortgage and be homeowners is also one reason why the couple haven't filed for bankruptcy, which would have been a way of forfeiting their myriad financial obligations. 'It would mean we owned nothing,' says Jacquie.
After a bout of heavy rain Mr Goldswain said he noticed the cracks widening dramatically. The pair alerted their upstairs neighbour and all of them were forced to flee as the building fell down into the basement
Theirs is a calm and orderly home, with noticeably little clutter. 'We've got very little stuff these days,' says Jacquie. 'I would say one of the few positives from what happened is that we realised what was important.
'We don't spend on possessions any more, and favour experiences over stuff. We value time we spend together as a family and travel as often as time and budget allow.'
In fact, this lifestyle change inspired Jacquie's new business venture, a family travel blog called Flashpacking Family, with which she aims to inspire other families to travel adventurously, giving helpful tips and advice.
'Putting my energy into this has helped me feel half-human again after years of wading through legal paperwork,' she says.