An Englishman’s home is his castle, so they say. Well it is if you can afford it, anyway. Us Brits have long been obsessed with home ownership. Turn on the telly and you’ll find no end of programmes helping people find that perfect home to buy. Now, I love those shows (probably because I’m really nosy and I can look at other people’s houses from the comfort of my sofa), but tears come to my eyes when they mention the prices.
We all know that house prices in the UK are at an all-time high. My partner and I rent a lovely Victorian house. We’d love to own our own home one day, but know we aren’t going to have our own castle (of any description) any time soon. Everything considered, we’re quite relaxed about it.
Last year, we tried to buy a shared ownership flat. Shared ownership properties offer first-time buyers the opportunity to get that vital first step on the property ladder. A housing association owns the property and leases a share of it to you (the percentage share is negotiable). You get a mortgage to buy your share and pay rent to the housing association for the rest.
Our experience was a disaster: the housing association took so long to sign paperwork or make decisions our mortgage offer expired, swiftly followed by our patience. We backed out, losing the money we had already invested in conveyancing and mortgage fees, but learning a valuable lesson. So anxious were we to get on the ladder we had jumped too hastily at an opportunity to finally (jointly) own a property.
The trouble with shared ownership properties are they tend to be poorly-designed, small new builds with no space to swing a cat (should you want to do such a horrible thing). The wardrobe in the master bedroom of our prospective flat offered enough space for some of my clothes, let alone my partner’s.
Wardrobe space aside, the flat wasn’t right for us for many reasons. It was a lucky escape!
Call me over-sensitive, but it seems like for many people in the UK, home ownership is a marker of success and maturity. Sure, it’s great to own a home if you’re financially secure or if you were lucky enough to get on the ladder before prices went crazy, but it’s not the be all and end all.
When conversation turns to where you live, the assumption that you own your home tends to be made. I suppose it’s a reasonable assumption; I’m in my 30s and am a successful professional. Eyebrows are raised when they discover that I rent and am happy to do so, for the time being anyway. We may not be able to choose the colour of the walls, but we live in a great area that we wouldn’t be able to afford if we bought. Moreover, our house is our home.
Ten years ago, house prices were rather more reasonable. My partner and I had a decent amount of money saved; enough for a house deposit, you might say. What did we do with the cash? We went travelling for two years. We don’t regret it for a second. Those two years offered more experiences and memories than bricks and mortar ever could.
The pressure to own a property landed more than a few people in a financial pickle in the days of 100% mortgages. What’s the point of overstretching yourself financially, often at too young an age, when the world is your oyster?
People see renting as throwing money away, or helping pay someone else’s mortgage. I can see their argument. But while house prices – and deposits – remain extortionate, I’m going to continue renting.
Yes, of course, I could go without luxuries and save like a demon hard to get that deposit. But where’s the fun in that? Should I get to 50, give myself a pat on the back and think “well the walls are the colour I always wanted and the kitchen and bathroom are terribly modern, but what happened to my flirty thirties?”
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge people of my age who have their own place, nor am I jealous. Different people have different priorities. Just don’t judge me for being a renter.