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Are We All Property Obsessed?

Author: Lauren Coleman

I caught the tail end of an interview on Woman’s Hour the other day with author Louise Candlish. The subject of the interview was Louise’s new novel Our House which was written with the premise of being ’the Gone Girl for the property obsessed’. While I can’t go in to depth about the actual book as I haven’t read it does sound rather gripping. The female protagonist returns to her beloved home, the four walls that define her to realise it’s been sold without her knowledge. I listened to Louise intently as she voiced her concern that in certain circles houses have become central powerful characters within the family and decisions are made based on the value of the property and whether or not the housing market is doing well.

I bought my first house aged 23. The colleague who sat opposite me had just had a Northern Rock mortgage approved and waxed lyrical that no deposit was required and how she was borrowing extra to cover some of her loans too. Within a month or so James and I had found a house and had been approved to borrow around 102% of the value. The day we picked up our keys we got a cheque for over £1K to spend on decoration. It was utterly ridiculous.
This was the mid noughties and the obsession seemed to be rife amongst my peers. Left, right and centre my work colleagues were grabbing Northern Rock mortgages and borrowing enough to get a new set of wheels too. The singletons were applying for part ownership deals and one by one we all ‘owned’ our own houses. We spent our lunchtimes talking about how foolish it was to rent and how friends who got on the housing ladder a few years earlier were making heaps of profit. This makes us sound like a bunch of greedy money-grabbers but in reality I think we were just really proud of ourselves. Naively we saw ourselves as financially independent and that we’d made a solid investment in our future. I was over the moon to be able to paint my own walls rather than make do with magnolia.

We all know what happened next. Then came the crash, the credit crunch and then the recession. The house which had risen in value from £125K to £165K in a couple of years was now worth just £4K more than we’d paid for it. Friends around us found themselves in negative equity but luckily we’d paid off a decent chunk of the mortgage and therefore had a hefty deposit to invest in our next property.
I realise we’re in an extremely fortunate position. Our friends in their twenties are finding it almost impossible to scrape together huge deposits and will no doubt live with their parents for many years to come as they struggle to weigh up whether to rent when they could save.

It’s fair to say all the team here have a passion for interiors and that we put importance on the concept of ‘home’. For me, my home is more than bricks and mortar and runs deeper than my interior choices. These four walls are my sanctuary and the place I love to share with friends and family. Though I’ve only been here two and a half years the place already holds a lot of memories. After two incredibly stressful house moves we are here for the long haul and we’re interested in adding monetary value only if it adds value to our lives. However I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about the impact of nearby developments and the knock on effect to our property’s value.

What are your thoughts? Do you think we’re preoccupied with our homes and their values or do you think it’s justified? Have you found yourself making life decisions based purely on the state of the housing market?

Lauren likes Paris, Prosecco and Paint Charts
Follow Lauren on instagram @mrslaurencoleman
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33 thoughts on “Are We All Property Obsessed?

  1. We’re in a similar, very fortunate, position to you and for that I’m very thankful. However, I do think something has to be done about the current rental market. It’s madness that rents are higher than even the largest of mortgages and it’s unfair that renters pay off the mortgages of second homeowners which in turn fuels house pricing means prices increase faster than they could ever hope to save which widens the gap between owners and renters,

    There also needs to be serious changes in the rights of tenants. I can’t imagine how stressful it would be to raise a family in a house knowing at any time your landlord could give you a few weeks (at best months) notice to move and if you can’t find somewhere close (and quickly) you risk uprooting your children from their school and friends.

    Finally, although it might sound trivial, renters should be given more rights to decorate. You say that your home is your sanctuary and everyone should have the right to make their home feel and look like it’s theirs. Surroundings can have an important impact on emotional wellbeing and living in a magnolia box where you can’t even hang a picture can’t be good for the soul.

    1. Hi Kat, yes I agree it does seem hugely unfair.
      Becky and I were talking the other day about renting with little ones. It’s even more difficult for them as they have a (well-behaved) dog that’s part of the family yet so many landlords don’t allow pets so it adds another pressure to moving too.

  2. My extended family in America cannot understand the obsession with buying in the UK. They have a healthy rental market and not ridiculous rent by greedy landlords. Same as a lot of people in Europe renting is the norm. I think Britain is still run by money people and renting long term is looked down upon.We are obsessed my property over here. I too was in my twenties when I got my first home…but youngsters have no chance today unless on extremely high wages and our rental market is a joke.

    1. Yes my Italian friends have commented before that we’re at odds with the rest of Europe when it comes to views on renting.
      While this post focuses on the last 15 years or so, Thatcher does have a lot to answer for when it comes to Britain’s obsession with home ownership.

  3. Home ownership should be a good thing but unfortunately we moved into our second home and the crisis happened. Our house is a new build style and on our estate the same style has just s6arted selling again at around what we paid for it 9 years ago. It’s not our dream home and we don’t want to stay here but it’s a catch 22 as it’s not risen in value. I do get jealous when I look at my parents and how the value of their house increases in the 90s

    1. Hopefully Helen in those nine years you’ve managed to pay off a bit of the mortgage though? It should help with the deposit if you do decide to move again,

  4. We too are in a fortunate position having taken an 100% mortgage in the early noughties and worked our way up from there. I agree there needs to be more control over rental properties, particularly in terms of security of tenure for tenants (and I say this as a landlord myself having rented to a lovely family for the past 3 years – yes, we let them redecorate and have pets). I think the values of properties are crazy compared with salaries, and I think one issue (amongst others) is that my parents’ generation (those in their late sixties/early seventies) are holding onto their properties longer than used to happen and there is therefore not as much on the market pushing values up across the board. That said, I am sure I won’t be keen on moving when I am that age!

  5. Such a good article. As a life long Tory voter I was swayed by Corbyn’s policies on home ownership and protection of tenants (if only he wasn’t such a moron about everything else). Something needs to be done to make the housing market more affordable, particularly in London. My husband and I were in the top 5% or so of income in London and we couldn’t afford to buy there. If we can’t, who can. You essentially end up with landlords buying up central London property and it becoming a dead zone as most people need to live outside of Zone 3 to afford a house for the longer term or even rent. Where do the people who work in Central London coffee shops live? Is it sustainable for them to travel two hours for a minimum wage job?

    I think the reason we are all obsessed with buying is because there is no stability for tenants. If they sort that out though, the bottom will fall out the housing market and there will be mass panic.

    In terms of negative equity, I think anyone who buys a house and doesn’t consider this is an idiot. Our house went to sealed bids, well over asking, but is somewhat protected because of our life plan. We had a 25% deposit (thanks London jobs) and it’s a big house and we’ll be there forever. The issue for our generation **SOAP BOX ALERT** is pensions (bear with me). I’ve been paying into a private work pension for years and I got my statement through and it equates to about £18 a week. Crap. That won’t even keep me in milk with inflation. This is important in the context of houses and mortgages because as well as 102% mortgages or whatever, people are getting mortgages for longer periods. My parents mortgage was 20 years, now a standard mortgage is 30-35 years. We’ve calculated our budget as needing to pay off our mortgage in 15 years so we can then start saving in earnest for old age. I realise we’re lucky to be able to say that but actually, it’s not luck it’s just sensible and we’re living in a less expensive house now to make sure we can do it.

    1. Good point about the mortgage duration as we had to take ours back to 25 years when we moved to this house. We figured as we’d got on the property ladder earlier than most this was acceptable but I do know people who have a 40 year mortgage which really isn’t ideal. Surely nobody wants to be paying off their mortgage when they’re 70?!

  6. We’ve just bought our first house and were only able to do so thanks to some inheritance. We also lucked out with the changes in stamp duty which saved us another 5k. Without that there is no way we would have been able to do so until well into our forties. The credit crunch hit just as I left uni so I missed out on the haydays of 100% mortgages. At that point the chance of owning a home was a mere pipedream so I didn’t think twice of moving straight to London and renting. It’s sickening how much we’ve spent on said rent in the last 10 years (We could have paid our deposit three times over… 🙈) but we were very fortunate to have a fab landlord who let us decorate and keep two cats. However he was making a mint out of a hundred properties in London and the South East so he wasn’t exactly precious about things!
    Moving back in with parents wasn’t really an option as it would have meant giving up established jobs as they live more than a commutable distance away. Maybe if I had considered how hard it has been to buy a house in the long term… hindsight is a wonderful thing!
    I do wonder what the future holds for youngsters- a change in attitude to renting and buying would be great but I feel we’ve gone too far and not sure what can be done at this point.

    1. I think renting can teach you some really important lessons Jo particularly if you plan on buying with someone else. I’m very glad James and I rented to start with while we got used to each others habits and also realised we definitely didn’t want to buy where we originally rented.

  7. I probably wouldn’t have been able to buy on my own but jointly with boyfriend (now Husband) we bought in 2009 and took advantage of the credit crunch/recession as it became a buyers market. We have since used savings/early small bits of inheritance to invest in additional property to rent out. Which long term gives me retirement security as I’m now self employed. When it comes to house buying you either buy carefully based on financial situ and state of the market for an investment (& understand all associated risks of investment) or you buy a *home*. Where you live should mean so much more than equity and resale value.
    In regards to the rental market …. the European rental market is drastically different to ours, properties are rented out not only unfurnished, but some without kitchens etc. It would take a dramatic shift to be in line with them.
    I’m often torn over the draft policies around rental caps etc but do agree better guidelines/law could be in place around contract terms, which has recently changed in Scotland where you can no longer set an end date.
    The reason landlords might not be keen for pets is due to properties being furnished associated damage. However if a property is unfurnished I see no reason not to allow pets.

    1. I didn’t realise the change in the Scottish law Sarah. Good point to raise around contract terms.

  8. I live in the East Midlands and am currently in the process of buying. My husband and I bought our first house ten years ago (aged 25) with help from his parents, due to living in several rentals that all had problems (landlord that let himself in whenever he felt like it, rising damp, and a boiler that constantly needed repairing). The cost of continually having to save for rental deposits (that you often risk not getting back) puts a lot of pressure on you and it is stressful having so many problems with houses that do not get sorted out properly. If my in-laws had not helped us with a deposit it would have taken us roughly 6-7 years to save a deposit to buy our two bed terrace. We are paying the in-laws back from the sale of our house and we feel very lucky that we are now in a position to put down a 25% deposit on a 3 bed semi, which will hopefully be our forever home. But without having help, we really do not know when we could have made the step up to a normal family house on our own, despite living in a fairly low cost property area.

    To me owning my own home feels like my security (not just in the financial sense), I love having a space that is all mine to do whatever I please with. It is especially important as I have ME and having a cosy, stress free home is important for my health. I do think that things do need to change for people who rent so that they can have a greater sense of security too.

  9. I have only ever rented student housing, and that put me off renting forever!

    We were fortunate to buy our home at 23 (7 years ago) with a 25% deposit. The mortgage and bills are easily affordable, but we are both on reasonable salaries.

    It is home now but we have spent *a lot* of money on it, far more than we will make back if we ever sell. I love our home for its character, the size of the rooms, the layout and the way the light falls throughout the day but really it’s not our dream house; with our first baby’s imminent arrival we will be at capacity, a second loo would make life much easier, we don’t have a garden and I’d love a utility room.

    I think you have to consider how much you can really afford and what you are prepared to compromise on. Financial security and and he reassurance that I won’t get turfed out is more important to me than the size of our garden. I see lots of my colleagues looking to buy their first homes and I dread to think what their mortgage estimates look like because their expectations are very high.

  10. Interesting read!
    I never went to Uni or have ever had a well paid job, even now I earn just over minimum wage. However, for myself personally I spent my wages before receiving them for about 5 years in my teens and early 20s then I had an Epiphany on my 22nd birthday. I split up with (for the most part) my long term boyfriend and thought I need to have a goal so started saving. Not just saving my wages I decided to buy and sell on ebay and put away 80% of my wages every week into a savings account(I lived at home with mum and dad). It became addictive! I really want to buy a house and my mind was set. I was into my 28th year…(also by that time met by now husband) and had saved £40,000 by myself! Super proud of myself I bought a (our of my budget) £160,000 terraced house, my parents gave me £10k as a loan and my hubby and I officially moved in nearly two years ago, I decided to rent the house out for a year and half to recoup some money for much needed renovations and paid back my family. I was fortunate that at the precise time I wanted a mortgage the government was trying to encourage first time buyers so there was about 3 months of a slightly more forgiving attitude.
    Most of my friends either rent, married and combined their money to get a place, had help off mum and dad or are generally on very well paid jobs and have more flexibility with being allowed a mortgage. It’s soooo hard for people to get on the property market! Im 31 now and know how lucky I am to own a house and how its quite rare to be able to have your own property in your 20s and 30s. Hopefully things will improve for future generations.

    1. Good on you Catrin!
      Saving becomes so addictive when you start to see the amounts mount up.

  11. Yes! I am 33 and spent seven years renting a flat on my own, not really saving hard enough because I just couldn’t see how I was ever going to do it on my own. It took a decent promotion at 30 to put me in a place to sort myself out, and with 9 months of decent saving I had a 5% deposit and used the Help to Buy scheme to get a 2 bed new build. I would have loved something with character but it would have been another 2-3 years of saving, paying rent in the meantime.

    I has now become we and we’re hoping to be in a position to trade up once my two year fix has run out. I’m constantly looking at my spreadsheet and the overpayments I’m making to the mortgage. I’m a bit scared that it will be hard to sell a new build. I’ve said to myself that as long as I don’t lose the money that I would have spent in renting in that time, that’s ok. I’ve kind of mentally blocked the extra £10k I spent on upgrades, integrated appliances, floorings, blinds, the garden etc!

    1. I was talking to my friend the other day about feeling unnerved when it came to selling previous houses. I think I actually lost sleep worrying about the day we’d come to sell our old cottage as it had deathly steep stairs and no parking. Then it sold on day one. Don’t worry at all Bunny 🙂

      1. Awwh thank you! I know I’ve made it very appealing to a young professional – high quality Amtico oak flooring, neat and tidy low maintenance garden with the fake grass we talked about last week (!) – so hopefully it will be ok! We console ourselves that if it doesn’t sell quickly, we could cope with one baby here and at least we will have a small mortgage payment!

  12. I think it’s so hard not to feel like you should own a house these days. People talk about rent being a waste and as others have said, it feels like a renters in this country get a pretty rough deal and have very limited security.
    But that said, personally I think there’s too much focus on having to have the perfect house, or forever house, and maybe there’s a need to rein in expectations a bit and not feel the need to be mortgaged up to the eyeballs. I’m sure Instagram and blogs don’t help with the envy, I know I’ve felt it! But I see a lot of negativity around things like uPVC windows and bog standard radiators that in reality most people have. Not everyone can afford to be doing huge renovations or have beautiful period homes, but you can still have a lovely, happy home even if you live in a suburban semi!

      1. Agreed!

        I hate the pressure to have an insta pretty home. Visual perfectionism has overspilled into all aspects of our lives and our mental health is worse off for it, in my opinion.

    1. I agree with this too- We are living with some really outdated decor and will likely be doing so for years to come, but we don’t mind as long as its clean and cosy we will keep improving it little by little over the years. Our joint income is fairly good too, its just that we would rather use our spare cash on holidays and trips out- would rather see as much as the world as possible rather than sit on the inside of a perfect Instagram home!

    2. Oh god, that’s me with the uPVC windows! I just think my next door neighbours look lovely.
      You are totally right Linsey. It’s all about having a happy home, not a show home x

  13. I’m with Jo G, my husband and I finished uni in 2008 and we struggled to even get jobs let alone buying a home. We both faced periods of unemployment over the next few years and have been renting for the last 10 years, so has taken us until last November to finally buy our first home. We both know this is a “starter home” but it’s ours and we do love it.

  14. I find this topic fascinating, especially as I am a ‘youngster’. I bought 2 years ago on my own at 23, I put down 17.5% deposit that I saved long and hard for, and I have 40 year mortgage (yes they exist!).
    I’d be lying if I said it’s been easy everyday, particularly the first 6 months to a year but now I earn a bit more than I did when I first bought it things are fine but I certainly wouldn’t say I’m flush with cash.
    I think my generation believe the best paid jobs are in London and because we’re all in search for that insta – perfect rooftop bar that sometimes financial security does get forgotten. I still adamantly believe buying a house is the best thing you can do with a bit of money. I’m not saying it’s right or easy for everyone but it is possible, even buying on your own.

  15. So interesting reading the experiences of different generations! We bought our first home in Manchester city centre in 2011 after spending two years at home with the parents to save a 5% deposit on a new build shared equity scheme. We were very lucky that prices rocketed and we made a very healthy profit allowing us to move to a “forever home” in the suburbs with a 25% deposit. I sometimes worry about the price we paid for this house and if we would make profit on it, but tell myself it’s redundant as we’re staying put now! I’ve recently come into some money and have debated investing into a second rental property, as even with higher stamp duty it is still a good investment, and many are still doing it as a safer bet than pensions. But I really disagree with the way this has helped cause a housing shortage and made prices rise, making it impossible for many people to buy their first home. I don’t think my conscience would allow it!

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