In writing this post (the first on here in many months), I’m hoping that I may be able to externalise some angst that will help me alleviate my occasional boats of Zoopla or Rightmove addiction. In the midst of the world news and the horror of world violence that infiltrates our everyday lives, the issue of first time buyers and the ‘generation rent’ movement seems somewhat trivial, yet the social injustice that is currently being meted out onto generations of young people in the UK does deserve some mention. The reality of the current housing situation is that more and more people are facing debt (and once interest rates rise, risk of serious financial hardship), increasing rents are crippling many individuals and families, low numbers of decent social housing and increasing rates of homelessness mean we *are* in a housing crisis. And I do think that, whilst many aspects of the housing market (increasing prices, problems with government policy) are well reported, others are less well heard – and a lot of these problems rest with poorly regulated estate agents and even vendors themselves.
There’s been a lot in the press over recent months about the well-documented problems in the current housing market. The government’s ‘Help to Buy’ (also termed ‘Help to Buy-to-Let’ by some commentators) hasn’t worked as well as previously hoped. Shockingly (please sense my sarcasm here) fewer than expected numbers of young and first time buyers have entered into the scheme (where you can now buy a home with a mere 5% deposit, the government adds some more and then the buyer clobbers an extortionately high rate of interest on the rest). According to the Telegraph, over the past year, only 3% of buyers have been aged between 18 and 30 (down from 12% the year before), so the government’s plan has not really made it easier to buy your first home. Or perhaps potential first time buyers (like us) have just lost confidence in the market. This is Money reported earlier this year that the majority of traditional first time buyers (typically aged between 25-36) are driven to make use of the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ to help them buy their first home, and those who can’t fall back on such help don’t expect to own their home before the age of 35. Then there’s the Generation Rent crowd, young people and families generally in their 20s and 30s who have been completely priced out of the market – who are demanding a fairer deal from the rental sector, based on the European model of longer term tenancies, and better rights for renters.
All these stories are well and good – and they deserve reporting. Yet, from my own (admittedly small) set of experiences, I can identify other factors relevant to these discussions which often go underreported. We have spent many months looking for our ‘perfect home’ (then we gave up on perfect, and went for ‘home’), we’ve spent years saving our deposit, hours looking around houses, nervously placed offers, met with the bank – before deciding that, ultimately, we are priced out of the market. Actually, perhaps ‘priced out of the market’ isn’t the right phrase – it’s more a case of no longer being prepared to play games with estate agents, pay over the odds (or quite simply, way over the asking price), or to utterly cripple ourselves to live in a home about three times smaller than we can rent. We’ve lost trust in the market.
Despite my occasional urges to paint a room yellow, to thump a nail into the wall to put up a picture, or to rescue hoards of cats, I do consider us lucky. We have a home (albeit owned by someone else), fairly low rent and our letting agent does (most of the time) make the repairs we ask it to. Unlike many renters, we do feel it is our home. But it is frustrating. The press reports the young buyers who can’t save deposits (and this is a genuine problem, especially when you end up spending your earnings on rent) – but they report less the potential buyers who have saved, but who meet a set of different difficulties. For us (and many of our friends) what we’ve come up against is a market that is dictated by unscrupulous estate agents, buy-to-let landlords, vendors who bought when prices were cheaper and now want to make a profit and this unsquashable drive to see houses as ‘property’ and ‘investments’ – not the homes that we are looking for. This is especially true in towns and cities considered desirable and expensive, where the significant demand for housing leads to a booming rental market. Estate agents will accept the offers of those who are in the best position (often landlords, with higher deposits) – first time buyers who are looking for a home just aren’t as desirable to them.
We have a few friends who are in similar positions, and we share stories which are remarkably similar. Offers refused, landlords outbidding us, ‘best and final offers’, ‘sealed bids’, accepting offers only to withdraw them later and demand more money, houses removed from the market and then added again six months later £20,000 more expensive. Then on top of that, landlords who refuse to maintain their properties – despite asking for high rent. We have friends who have bought ‘shared ownership’ houses, only to find that the council regularly puts up the rent, but refuses to help with maintenance costs, or to deal with cheap fixtures and fittings that inevitably break.
So, this leaves us all as ‘generation renters’. And in the circumstances, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. If we can campaign for better rights for tenants, and a situation closer to that in Europe (where renting is common) this will provide future individuals and families with expenditures that they can more easily afford and with the security of a home (and homes are important, as many people with children now rent – so being able to ensure children can continue to attend the same school is essential). As well as the flexibility to adapt to the ever changing job market. In the meantime, perhaps campaigners should lobby MPs and the government to crack down on estate agents who have no desire to help to contribute to a sustainable housing market, and see no problem with outstripping young peoples’ budgets. Also, perhaps current and future vendors could think twice before selling to a landlord.
So, yes, ‘Generation Rent’ may (as one paper recently reported) walk through front doors owned by landlords each day after work. But that doesn’t mean that that these doors don’t open into our homes. And yes we should have greater rights. And I do genuinely check my occasional desire to ‘own my own home’ with the realisation that, in the violent and increasingly uncharitable world we now live in, having a roof over your head makes you fortunate – you don’t have to own it, and the walls don’t need to be painted yellow. But, if we’re still renting (as are many of our friends) who is buying? And if we stay renting, and the rental market continues to grow, if it goes unregulated, and the numbers of social housing don’t increase and improve, things can only get worse for renters (as well as buyers, and most importantly those who can’t afford either).