In the pub, at work, WhatsApp – property prices are all anyone's talking about. But with officials warning that Britain is teetering on the edge of a dangerous housing bubble, demand out-stripping supply and the average price of a property hitting £254k, has owning your own place become the new divide?
YES says Clare Thorp
‘Smug alert: I’m officially a homeowner,’ a friend tweeted recently. I hovered over the unfollow button before chiding myself. But as house prices replace The X Factor as small talk, I’m finding it increasingly hard to disguise my bitterness.
I’ve watched colleagues check Zoopla obsessively instead of Asos, heard stories of open houses with 100 buyers and know someone who doubled the value of her property thanks to the Olympic regeneration of East London. She’s earned more from her flat in six months than she has from two years’ work. Every time someone else manages it, it makes me feel more of a failure.
In my twenties I was happy to rent, but when I hit my thirties I craved more. As people around me got on the property ladder, I could sense them thinking, ‘Why haven’t you done it yet?’ When I moved to a new flat, several assumed I’d bought – it was about time, after all.
But as I started looking for one-bed flats I realised I might as well be trying to buy a penthouse in Chelsea. The average deposit in London is now £50,000. Even if I had that I’d struggle to get a big enough mortgage. If couples are struggling to buy a studio flat, what hope do I have? Now, I worry about not meeting someone not because I don’t want to be alone, but because it’s my only hope of owning a home.
But mainly, not owning my own place scares me because property is fast replacing pensions as the nest egg for retirement. What happens when you have neither?
NO says Christina Quaine
Last month, I finally became a homeowner. And while I’ve developed a feverish interest in soft furnishings, I don’t feel smug – I feel a massive weight on my shoulders. For years, I’d put it off. Owing all that money felt daunting, it never seemed a good time to buy and the brutal sport of competitive house-hunting sounded exhausting.
But having rented for years, I was fed up with paying off someone else’s mortgage. So my husband and I decided we’d try to buy. We’re lucky to have parents who helped us out a bit, but it also meant two years of extreme sacrifice to save a deposit. For the next year, most Saturdays were spent trudging around house open days with 20 other couples. We lost out on three places, spent a few thousand on solicitors’ fees and had to compromise. The flat we got is miles from where I wanted to live and it’s no nicer than the one we rented.
Plus we’re tethered to a mortgage we won’t pay off until I’m 60, and what happens if interest rates suddenly spike or my earnings plummet? All this anxiety means I’m much less footloose – I can’t stick a minibreak on the credit card because that’s now for emergencies like the boiler breaking down.
Yes, it’s easier to buy when you’re a couple and, yes, I have become that friend who dishes out advice on the latest property hot spots and may have even uttered the immortal line, ‘There’s never a good time to buy, just do it!’ But it’s tough buying and I’ve sacrificed a lot to do it. So no, being a home owner doesn’t make me smug, just sensible.