Renting your home is a demoralising Faustian pact in the UK. Due to a combination of the high house prices here and various broken relationships, I made my way through most of adult life renting my home. Recently though, thanks to the generosity of my father (and stepmother) I was given a lump of money to use as a deposit. This brought the mortgage payments right down and made the jump on to the housing ladder much easier, so I found myself owning a mortgage on a home back in January.
In effect, I had gone from renting a home off a landlord, to renting the money to buy a home off of the bank (who never actually had it in the first place, but that’s another story). After the initial blustery circus and brouhaha of purchasing the place and moving had died down, I noticed a number of unexpected changes in my life.
More settled and grounded
Once moved in and settled, I felt more relaxed. Not just in a ‘phew, glad that’s over’ sense, but a more fundamental way. I now knew with a good degree of certainty I wasn’t going to get kicked out of the place with two month’s notice, and so I felt as if after 20+ years, I finally had a home rather than simply inhabiting someone else’ building for a monthly fee.
A few months later, I started to feel generally very grounded and connected with the community and my neighbours, more so than I had ever felt when I rented. I even took an interest in local history.
For example, I found out that my house had been built over 100 years ago to house agricultural labourers on a nearby farm (which is now a branch of Halfords, some car traders and a chunk of ring-road). The area across the road from me was used for archery practise and various mediaeval frolics, including riotous and anarchic games of football. There was a sense of ‘solidity’ in owning the place, a feeling of finally having a proper stake and investment in the society around me.
An unexpected change in social status
People seemed to treat me differently as well. I had always felt a subtle dividing line in our society between homeowners and renters, one which becomes apparent at any dinner party or barbecue when people start discussing gardening and having their kitchen done. As a tenant I could only stand around and nod, whilst looking for an opportunity to talk about something else or find someone else to talk to. This wasn’t out of envy or jealousy, more that these were things I could not relate to as a tenant, like having children for example, or liking football.
In any case, I now felt as if I had claimed a rightful place in wider society.
The fun part: DIY!
Having rented all my adult life, I’d never really done much DIY or painting and decorating. The landlord had done it (or rather, his guys had). The place I moved into required some work, and so I had to upskill myself. I had to invest in a set of good quality tools, and learn how to do things like fit carpet, replace light fittings, prep walls before decorating, apply paint effectively (including ‘cutting in’) and so forth. Youtube, my local library and the combined wisdom of my freinds and family were a big help here.
I found working with wood, tools, and ‘real’ items very satisfying after my day-job working on web code, which has a spritelike ephemeral quality. Plus, like gardening and having kitchens fitted, this was another point of bonding with the Homeowner Classes at work and outside.
But more fundamentally, it’s bloody good fun building things, making things and generally dicking around with drills.
In conclusion, I have felt a shift in my life in terms of practical responsibilities, and a sense of security and belonging in society. I now feel a greater sense of belonging and ease within myself. I no longer have anxiety dreams about getting a Section 21 Notice to Quit on the doormat, or of the landlord turning up and concreting over the garden to make a car park.
It is to my regret though that the circumstances behind my buying a home came down to luck on my part, and generosity on the part of my parents to whom I feel a very deep gratitude. I fully understand my privilege here – I am very much a ‘have’. Many of my peers, including my friends and colleagues, are not so lucky, and may never own their own homes.
The UK housing market is well out of reach for many people, leaving them in a very precarious situation as tenants in the private sector with an Assured Shorthold Tenancy: a landlord can chuck them out, with no reason given and just 2 months notice. There’s no protection against this, no appeal.
The thought of an entire generation of people in England and Wales* being unable to put down roots, to live with constant anxiety of being kicked out is chilling.
- How can they plan for having children or working?
- How can they ever hope to connect and feel a real part of their neighbourhoods and community? They are already saddled with university debt, phantom jobs on the gig economy, and the potential disruption of the workplace from AI and next-generation automation.
Berating young people for liking Avocado Toast as per property mogul Tim Gurner is an underhanded diversion, an attempt turn the issue of inequality into a moral issue rather than an economic one: previous generations enjoyed much lower house-price-to-earnings ratios, lower property prices when adjusted for inflation, and lower deposit-to-earnings ratios (whilst at the same time enjoying their own small luxuries). It hasn’t been tenants that have driven these trends, and if they’re irreversible, then we need to move to a more sustainable and secure rental model for the younger generation. Reform of the private rental sector is urgently needed to bring it into line with the European model, where tenants can keep pets, redecorate and refurbish under the protection of long term tenancies.
This will, I believe, give tenants the ability to plan for their lives longer-term, build connections with their neighbours and communities, and give them the stability enjoyed by out European cousins.
Meanwhile, in the six months since I have moved in, inflation has already knocked a few hundred off my mortgage, and the value of my home has risen by nearly £10k. Earning money from investments is not ‘hard work’. Plant money, it grows. But you have to have the seeds and the soil, the opportunity and resources to invest in the first place.
*Scottish law is different to English and Welsh law in this regard. The Scottish Parliament has already passed a law to restrict evictions.