A new report says that a whole generation is unlikely to ever own a property. With wages remaining stagnant and the cost of living soaring, thousands of young (and middle-aged) people across the country are struggling to put together any savings. A huge chunk of every month’s income tends to go on rent and the privilege of commuting in a can-of-sardines like train or bus from home to workplace.
Saving for a deposit is low down on the list of priorities when you can just about live and have a little bit of fun to remind yourself that those are meant to be the best years of your life. And without a deposit, you cannot buy a home, regardless of the fact that in some parts of the country your mortgage payments would be cheaper than your monthly rent. Not forgetting about the NIMBYs pushing us to live far away, so they can keep the large, green fields in the backyard intact for the next generation (and avoid a future traffic jam or two along the way). Welcome to Rentland, aka 21st Century Britain.
Once upon a time, in the days before cable and Netflix, an evening watching TV at home meant that a fun property improvement programme would be showing in one of our five terrestrial TV channels. From Changing Rooms for the more DIY minded to Location, Location, location for those keen to knock down walls with a sledgehammer a la Kirsty, and even A place in the sun if you’ve always dreamt of a life in the sunshine, there was something for everyone. Never mind that without speaking the lingo the chances of getting your point across to a Spanish brickie were slim. Property programmes didn’t thrive on the reality, they were selling us a dream: invest and make money out of it. And so, we did.
Our love-hate affair with property ownership has been stretching over a few decades. Because our parents and grandparents, whose quality of life wasn’t so good, actually stood half a chance of owning their two-up, two-down version of a castle. Perhaps with no central heating and a toilet in the shed in the backyard, but a home, sweet home nonetheless.
Let me tell you how things are for a friend of mine. She came to the UK for a new future and to work. She has had some success climbing up the career ladder, graduating from two jobs to just the one, and from entry to officer level.
My friend’s attempts to get into the housing ladder in 2004 and 2007 were the stuff of nightmares. They resulted in her family getting stuck in a damp flat with ‘unsolicited gifts’ from neighbours appearing on the back staircase. Second owned home was another damp period house, with the floor dangerously tilting sideways, and hundreds of miles away from their family and friends in the UK.
So my friend decided to relocate back to her adoptive hometown, even though she had to rent. She was told repeatedly that it wasn’t possible to rent a flat with a child due to lease issues, but finally succeeded. She rented a flat the size of a shoebox, just shy of £1,000 a month, walking distance of the dreaming spires. Only that the flat (cold, no garden, unsuitable for her daughter’s needs) didn’t work for them.
Sometimes my friend looks at others who got on the housing ladder years before the 2000s with envy. She wondered if it was poor choices or bad luck that has made it so hard for them. With a small deposit together, she is ready to play the housing roulette of Help to Buy for their own chance of home ownership. And fingers crossed that inflating the prices without a long term plan for the future won’t cause another crash of the bubble.
Welcome to my life. And we are the lucky ones. We all dreamt of being landlords. We wanted the easy bucks, the prestige, the control over our own (and others’) futures. And payback time is now around the corner, as another generation who cannot dream of owning a property realises the mess they are in – and they won’t be happy about it. These people are going to be our teachers, our doctors, our geriatric assistants, and we are failing them.
So if you are a buy-to-let landlord and wish you hadn’t profited from our distress, read a book or eat some chocolate to make you feel better (works for me every time). Just don’t watch a property programme on TV. After all, you’ve got hundreds of channels to choose from and thousands of reasons to avoid them. I am one of them.