The Good Old British Home Owning Dream Needs Some Serious Work…


My friend Mari purchased her first home (a three bedroom, extremely rundown bungalow with a fabulous garden backing onto beautiful fields as far as the eye can see) on the outskirts of Glasgow a little over three years ago… but getting to that point began a long time before that gorgeous July day in 2013 when she received the keys to ‘House Number One’.

Home ownership is a powerfully emotional issue in Britain and indeed across the globe, I’d imagine. Although, obviously the context of ownership alters with location, it’s more than a rite of passage, it represents core British values – a benchmark of the quality of life generations have taken huge pride in and worked hard to preserve. But it’s far from easy. In fact it’s rarely been harder for most. 

After years of signing short-term leases and a high turnover of flatmates, my friend Mari had started to think there simply had to be a better way. I understand why. Many of us – Mari and I included have grown up with parents who warned against the wisdom in renting. “Why pay off someone else’s house when you could pay off your own” is a phrase that’s been repeated many times in my family home and in Mari’s. 

So off Mari went… Looking at houses all over Scotland in a bid to stop the stupid practice of paying someone else’s mortgage. It was a depressing search right from the get-go. As she tells me now, “I couldn’t afford a shoe box, let alone a house in the areas I dreamed of residing in”.

Straight away, she had to dispose of any aspirations of a home with all the bells and whistles – “my first home was going to be a long way outside my comfort zone and it was going to need some work”.

What she didn’t know at that point, was that three years on, she would be living in the “lean-to” room at the back of the house that was destined as a large utility room and is now her “sleepout”. Neither did she know then that she’d be forced to have three (lovely!) flatmates to help pay the (sometimes crippling feeling) mortgage, and they’d all be sleeping in the lovely bedrooms upstairs that she worked so hard to buy and furnish in gorgeous White Company and The French Bedroom Company furnishings. Ahhhhh, the joys of owning your own home!

But as much as she complains about the mortgage payments, endless repairs and the purchasing of curtains – she really wouldn’t want it any other way. She’s just glad and relieved that she got in when she did! 

And she’s also lucky that she had a job where she lived in for a few years that enabled her to save frantically and successfully through her mid twenties. She was also looking in Scotland, a more reasonable alternative to many English areas – particularly London, it goes without saying…

The average age of first-time buyers has hit 32 in London thanks to rapidly rising house prices and escalating rents making it increasingly hard for tenants to save for a deposit.

I’ve surrendered to the fact that I will never replicate my parents home owning pattern. By the time they were my age they owned a lovely four bed detached. I don’t allow myself feelings of failure over this anymore, though there was a period of disappointment at the realisation I was part of a generation generally predicted to be less well-off that their parents. The pattern of wealth increasing with each generation doesn’t seem to apply any longer in the most part. Times have changed and my attitude has to as well. 

I am now happy with my reality and look forward to embracing whichever dwelling situation I find myself in, whether that’s with my parents, in a rental, in a semi with my husband or a tent with my cat.. 

Finances are obviously a major element in any home owning woe – and would probably be the primary factor in me living in the aforementioned tent with a cat for a roomy! 

Deposit requirements have changed and are more stringent than ever before. First-time house buyers in our capital are now putting down substantial deposits at an average of £96,000, per household, according to the First Time Buyer Review by Halifax.

This is almost three times higher than the UK average of £34,000, where first-time buyers are generally able to get on the housing ladder at the age of 30 – two years earlier than their first time buying counterparts in London.

In London, the average first-time buyer’s deposit was 25 per cent, and is said to be rising each three month period, compared with 17 per cent in the rest of Britain. This is thought to be because buyers in the capital are keen to keep monthly mortgage payments as low as possible, understandably when you factor in the extra expenses associated with capital city living. Although higher wages in the likes of London (London weighting) might account for first-timers being able to save a little harder, many are obviously getting more help from the bank of mum and dad than their counterparts in the rest of the country.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom in the first time buying front, seen as the recent research also pleasingly reveals the number of first-time buyers increased by 10 per cent over the first six months of 2016, compared with the same period in 2015. 155,000 lucky and hard-saving first-timers got onto the first rung of the property ladder in that six month period specified.

So it’s an improvement but it’s not good enough as far as most twenty and thirty-somethings are concerned. It’s not as easy as we were brought up believing it would be and it probably won’t be easy for a long time to come.

Until she purchased her own first home, Mari didn’t realise how volatile the market can be. It’s certainly harder than ever for first time home buyers to be cracking into the market, that’s for sure. But if you’re thinking about setting foot on the property ladder in today’s climate, you have to be prepared for the fact your first home won’t be perfect. 

Most of us can’t afford our dream room to rent in a shared house never mind afford the dreamy house in our dream suburb so stop dreaming! I certainly have had to. But I’m in the majority. 

You may have once had thoughts of an architecturally designed house with an ensuite, or a glorious Victorian townhouse, but the likelihood of that bring your first home or your second or third these days is doubtful. Get realistic by expanding your search to other areas you might not have otherwise considered. You could be pleasantly surprised – like I was when I recently went house hunting. 

I know a lot of people who are desperately trying to get into their own homes but don’t have the means. It’s not a nice feeling to be stuck on the renting treadmill but it may be time to revise your expectations of what you can afford. After all many of us can’t let go of the belief that climbing that first little rung on the ladder is better than not being on the ladder at all. 

Before Mari owned her own house, she was quite flippant with her money and had a damn good time. Now she has had to reign in her spending. All her money goes towards her house, but she loves it, it’s such a worthwhile investment and she beams with happiness as we discuss this. 

Of course there are other options. The Help to Buy Scheme is popular as is combining your savings efforts with a friend of sibling could well increase your chances of getting on the first rung of the ladder. And if all else fails you could try turning to financial aid from mum and dad.

Recent research shows a growing number of first-time buyers were making use of family funds to take the first seemingly vital step. Nearly half (47 percent) of those buying their first homes received financial help. That’s a lot of people!

But it still leaves over half who’s parents probably can’t afford to help, as much as they’d love to. 

So is it time for most of us to reframe our thinking around home owning?

Should we take a leaf out of our European neighbours books and stop vilifying renting. In France and Germany in particular, renting is seem as a perfectly acceptable alternative to buying – if not the preference in more than half of the population in some regions. After all there are many pluses – less responsibility, more freedom to move, offloading upkeep to the landlord, and so on…

There is nothing wrong with renting and the sooner some of us realise this, the happier we will be. Isn’t a mortgage just a rental from the bank really anyway? I know this is a bit silly, but you get my drift..?! 

If you disagree with me and are still dreaming of your own front door then just remember that, despite what we’ve heard, it is still possible for Brits to buy their first home, you just need some of that forgotten about good old British ingenuity, think outside the box, and make peace with the fact that even in the case of the run down shack; it might not be your dream house now… but if you give it time (and elbow grease), it very well could be one day!