I will never own a house. And I am not doomed.

The media this morning (31 May) are very excited about a survey showing that nearly two-thirds of people aged 20 to 45 in the UK expect never to own their own home. Most of the coverage did not even mention that the survey also revealed that nearly a quarter don’t want to.

The Today programme gave the issue a prominent position on BBC Radio 4. Several daily newspapers reported it as a piece of alarming news. Even the relatively progressive ‘i’ newspaper (sister paper of the Independent), had a front page headline declaring “Generation doomed to rent for a lifetime”.

I am 34 and will never own a house. But I am not “doomed”. I am happy to rent. Happy not to have endless meetings about mortgages with banks and financial advisors. Happy not to have pay out whenever something goes wrong with the electricity or plumbing. Happy not to get on the “property ladder”, beloved of those who look forward to buying a house only so that they can sell it and buy another one.

The surprising thing about the survey is that nearly a quarter of people questioned did not say they wanted to own their own home. This is despite all the newspaper front pages about house prices, the TV programmes about buying homes and the constant barrage of messages presenting home ownership as an essential part of being an adult. Not only is ownership held up as the marker of success, but talk of the “property ladder” fuels the notion that the purpose of possessions is only to acquire more possessions.

The recent economic crisis has taught many people that we cannot rely on a fantasy of endless resources and that we need a radical overhaul of the economic system. Bankers, ministers and much of the media don’t seem to have noticed that anything has changed.

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8 responses to “I will never own a house. And I am not doomed.

  1. It strikes me as quite amusing that there is an advertisement on this page for BarrattHomes.co.uk – ‘5% Deposit, 80% Mortgage & a 15% Interest Free Loan For 10 Years’ – and I couldn’t resist commenting thus!

    But on a serious note, whilst I’m not sure I entirely agree with you about the merits of always renting, I am quite intrigued to look into the reasons given for people renting constituting a crisis in the mainstream media!

  2. I love the ad that came with this blog:

    Barratt Homes Offer
    5% Deposit, 80% Mortgage & a 15% Interest Free Loan For 10 Years
    BarrattHomes.co.uk

    It’s normal, Symon, like driving a car, it’s part of a rite of passage and if you don’t do it, you’re some kind of failure. So we’re told, anyway.

    I’m with you completely, btw.

  3. While I feel that home ownership is often a benefit, it’s not necessarily for everyone. It’s hardly inspiring for the media to announce that all those who prefer to rent are somehow “doomed”.

    On a related note, XKCD has a comic about home ownership. http://xkcd.com/905/

  4. Your point about the obsession with house prices is well made. For me, the ethics of the situation are a bit more straightforward. Given that the supply of houses is effectively limited, I resent being forced to subsidise rentier landlords. Other than monopolising the supply of housing and letting it back to us at higher prices, what value do they add?

    My ideal is a little place that I can live in in perpetuity with no bloody landlord. Your mileage may vary, of course.

  5. I was concerned with what you’d written here until I read “we need a radical overhaul of the economic system”.

    Actually, in isolation, I think it’s deeply concerning that wealth is being concentrated in this way. Property ownership in our current economic system is actually very important. It provides a great deal of security that renting doesn’t and it decentralizes wealth.

    I’d much rather see mass ownership of property than a class of profiteering landlords getting richer and more powerful.

    Housing co-ops are for me closer to an ideal “ownership” model, but because co-ops operate in isolation (they are surrounded by privately owned properties) individuals have to make huge sacrifices. Losing the ability to gain assets to move house being perhaps the most significant. The list of benefits might outweigh this, however: democratic living, and the skills and community that conveys, might make the sacrifice worth it.

    Given that housing co-ops are out of reach for a lot of people and the collapse of the welfare state (i.e., reduced social housing provision, reductions in housing benefits payments) and increasing job instability, seeking a mortgage seems like an entirely rational action to take.

    When you lose your job and something goes wrong, you have an asset which can provide you primarily a roof over your head, but also cash should you need it. If you’ve paid rent into a black hole, what security do you have?

  6. That’s fine for now, but won’t it be a problem when you’ve retired and your pension is having to pay market-rate rent, while those who bought have either paid off their mortgages or are making the small tail-end payments?

    Assuming retirement exists in the future, of course.

  7. I agree. I’m nearly 40 and very happy with my secure tenancy. I enjoy not having the overheads or stresses of owning my own home. I recognise I’m in a privileged position as I’m in a housing association flat, but then I strongly feel that more social housing should be built. And yes, I hear all the folks both saying how important it is to get on the property ladder and own your own place, yet also so stressed and unhappy precisely because of that! And I know plenty of older people in secure, affordable tenancies who are very happy with them.

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