THREE HOMES in four years - that's not what I call settling down. Who ever said, "Buying a house is fun?" and yet, one has to start somewhere.

With a little girl 1 1/2 years old and another child on the way, we began looking for our first home - a quaint ivy-covered cottage surrounded by a white picket fence. Thanks to a tour of Vietnam, we had been able to save $2,900.

Unfortunately, my husband, Colin, had to take a pay cut to enter civilian life as an advertising sales representative. His starting salary was $9,256. He decided to join the Army Reserve which gave our income a boost of $135 a month. We were anxious for any extra financial help because we had no medical insurance to cover the birth of our second child. I was not far enough advanced in my pregnancy by military standards but too far gone by the new company's standards. Poor planning. However, we thought, surely in Alexandria, in the spring of 1972, we could find something small but charming for under $30,000.

The meeting was arranged. The real estate woman sympathetically listened to our financial status and our desires. Our request seemed simple enough - good area, character, even a little rundown if need be. It took only 10 minutes of looking through the multiple listing service to see that we could not afford anything in a nice section of town. We went back to our apartment depressed. Colin's parents suggested that we wait until we could afford waht we wanted. We hoped his salary would increase, but so would inflation. We were stubborn and resolved to begin somewhere. So we swallowed our pride and took another look at what was available.

We finally found an older home in moderate condition on Commonwealth Avenue, in a borderline but improving section of Alexandria. We purchased this gem for $26,000. After putting $2,000 down, we were even forced to borrow $1,200 from Colin's parents to cover settlement - how demoralizing.

Enthusiastically attacking our new project, we began by tearing up the horrid, cheap carpeting which hid lovely, wide old oak floors. We sanded and stained the floors, plastered, painted, papered, had a baby, and six after we had moved in, Colin started looking for another house. I decided he was out of his mind, and I just went on with my painting while the babies crawled beneath my ladder.

Seven months after we moved in, with yet a bedroom to redecorate, a kitchen floor to lay, and the outside of the house to paint, we put a contingency contract on a filthy old dilapidated house in Rosemont, another section of Alexandria. The house was less than a mile away from our present home. Rosemont was a rapidly improving area of older homes. Though the house had been rented for 20 years and needed a great deal of repair, we knew the house and the area had much potential.

We had only 30 days if we were going to consummate the deal. Hastily we prepared our house for sale. We hired two young boys to help paint the exterior, and we rapidly finished the inside. Those days were a little tense. Colin's salary and Army Reserve income were now $12,332. We could only just afford the new house at $44,950.

After much aggravation and many sleepless nights, we sold our Commonwealth Avenue house for $37,000. All of our improvements had been cosmetic, and all expenses had come out of our living money. We had spent only about $600; yet, after settlement we had $11,270, $11,250 of which was put down on the Rosemont house. I completely attribute this move to positive thinking on Colin's behalf. I was scared to death!

With the help of friends, we rented a truck and moved into our latest dwelling. I was very embarrassed for them to see the condition of what we had bought. I knew they must have thought us mad. But there was no one individual whom I was more afraid of showing our new home to than my mother. Her reaction to our latest venture was tears!

On trash pickup days our pile looked like the city dump, but work went on. Colin borrowed $2,500 against his insurance policy for emergency work. We had to have such "minor" improvements as having the garage removed, the plumbing and electrical systems updated; wallpaper stripped, walls plastered, painted and wallpapered again.This time we treated ourselves to having the floors professionally refinished. Oh the dust! I vowed never again to move into a house without having the floors sanded first. A few yard sales and a lot of scrimping helped to pay for much of the renovation. Progress was slow those two years, and I was impatient.

When Colin got a raise, we finally decided to take out a home improvement loan. We had bookcases put in the living room, the basement finished, the bathroom redone and the closet in our bedroom enlarged. We rescreened the porch ourselves, refinished the floor and landscaped the garden.

Colin even built a patio with the bricks that had been left from the demolished garage. I was pleased with my husband. He had come a long way. When I married him, he had not even known how to paint. Now look what he could do.

Well, the house was almost finished; we had spent approximately $10,209 on improvements. The children were 5 and 3; now we could sit back and start enjoying life. We wondered what other people did with their free time.

My spouse had figured out something to do. He took six to nine hours a quarter of real estate investment and business courses at Northern Virginia Community College. His veteran's benefits, after tuition, went to help pre-pay our loans. At this point, we paid off all our loans and had a momentary feeling of financial security. I might add we were living very comfortably in our old house, but the wheels were turning, and I could see that he was restless.

He calculated that we should be able to sell our house for at least $75,000. Our total income had then reached $28,260. So we began to look in the $90,000 $115,000 house category.

Being an antique bargain hunter, I took a double take when I read of an estate sale in a home on Mansion Drive, one of the prettiest streets in Alexandria. It was Saturday morning, and there I was with the masses ready to find the antique of my dreams.

The abode was a handsome typical colonial on the exterior, but such a disappointment on the inside. Plaster was hanging from the walls; there was a musty smell in the air. Something clicked in my mind. The house was very rundown but had potential, and the area was lovely. Maybe the price would be right.

we boosted all our courage, and a few days later returned to the house to inquire if it was for sale! We were told it had just been listed. We quickly contacted the agent and put a contract on the house.

Our contract for $107,000 was accepted, and we were at it again. To keep life from becoming too simple, Colin decided to put his real estate knowledge to work and sell our house himself.

After seven aggravating weeks and $959 spent in advertising, we sold our house for $76,000. After all settlements costs we had $41,768, $40,000 of which was put down on our third and, we hoped, final home. We spoiled ourselves this time and were professionally moved to our fashionable new address by a small moving firm for only $275.

Alas, our problems were only just beginning. We took out a home improvement loan for $9,000 to have a bathroom ripped out, three rooms of tile flooring removed, termite-infested boards replaced and basic plastering and painting begun. Of course, the floors were to be sanded before we moved in. As the floors were being sanded, the water pipes on the third floor broke, causing an interior rain storm. On the day we moved in, during a typical Washington humid summer, the floors which had just been refinished stuck to our feet. The sealer had not dried entirely.

Now, we have lived here for six months - it feels like years. We have spent approximately $7,703 on house improvements. We have spent approximately $7,703 on house improvements. We have had bookcases and corner cupboards installed, and we only have two rooms left to paint.

How do we feel? Fortunately we have done this while the children are young, and haveing moved all three times within a mile's radius has had an advantage because we didn't really have to lose old friends. Colin, our 4-year-old, has been able to stay in his same nursery school. Courtney, our first grader, has had a little more of a transition but is now adjusting well - although she often claims to prefer the old house.

Despite the struggle and some hardships, it has not been all work. We have been to England, improved our tennis game and even joined a country club. But above all, we feel proud and self-satisfied in setting out to do all, we feel proud and self-satisfied in setting out to do something which seemed quite out of our bounds and succeeding. We have also learned a lot from our adventures. Certainly we have made money. We have a lovely home. We are still married. And we are still young. We can now sit back and discover what to do with free time. That is, if I can channel Colin's mind away from real estate. CAPTION: Picture 1, The campbells' first Alexandria residence, an older home on Commonwealth Avenue in "moderate condition" for which they paid $26,000 and sold less than a year later for $37,000.; Picture 2, The Campbells' present home on Mansion Drive in Alexandria.