Reports that Britain will become a nation of renters thanks to high house prices and restricted mortgage lending may be right – but we’re worried about this for all the wrong reasons…
A generation of Britons is close to giving up hope that they’ll ever own their own homes, according to a report out this week. It’s a depressing finding – but if it surprises you, you must have had your head buried in the sand (or a very interesting and long book) for the past few years.
The claim, from a study conducted on behalf of Halifax, found that of 8,000 20 to 45 year olds, more than three quarters who do not already own a property would like to. However, 64% of the would-be homeowners put their chances of ever buying a house at nil.
If it sounds as though I’m being glib about these statistics, forgive me: this is a serious issue, and one of those would-be homeowners is me.
But I can’t help thinking that our national discussion of ‘the first-time buyer problem’ is focused on entirely the wrong issue. It seems we’re worrying about the emotional and psychological impact of people’s failure to step foot on the property ladder, rather than the practical implications of millions being stuck in poor quality private rented accommodation.
The trouble with renting
I’ve lived in rented properties since the age of 18, and have had unequivocally zero positive experiences with the various landlords I’ve known. I’ve lived with a rotting, crumbling bathroom in a flat that cost £1,000 a month to rent. And before that, I co-existed with a squirrel who scratched in the attic of my first-floor apartment, the owner of which stole £400 of my deposit when I moved out.
Elsewhere I’ve put up with mice, insecurity of tenure, rents that can rocket yearly on the whim of landlords and – when problems have arisen – ineffective, unreliable and unhelpful ‘handy’ men. Quite frankly, the state of much private rented accommodation in Britain is abysmal.
The industry is unregulated, and whilst there are many scrupulous landlords there are also lots whose only interest is in making money from their second property. To them, renters are glorified squatters, handing over wads of cash each month for ‘borrowing’ properties that are destined to become pension funds. They aren’t customers deserving of a service, or consumers who have solid rights in return for all the money they pay.
A ‘two tier’ housing system?
Nobody seems able to answer the question of how we help more first-time buyers onto the property ladder. Loosening mortgage lending doesn’t seem to be an option – and even the young people frozen out of the market seem to agree that restrictions on lending are needed, as I recently reported for Which? Money online.
A house price ‘correction’ seems the best case scenario for people in my position – but with house building apparently at a standstill, I can no longer see the promised crash happening.
The gut reaction prompted by the thought that Britain could become a nation of renters is horror. But it’s horror at the thought that people won’t enjoy the comforts, privileges and pride that go along with home ownership – when it should be horror at the state and expense of the properties many will be forced to pay through the nose for if they remain renters.
More people renting their homes in future doesn’t necessarily mean the creation of a Dickensian ‘two tier’ housing system – in fact it could see conditions improve for some renters, if we act to regulate the private rental market appropriately.
It’s time we woke up to the facts. If property ownership is going to be the preserve of fewer people in future, renters need to be in decent, secure, properly-managed places they can truly call home.