Fame at last. Dovecot Towers and other similar developments are all over the media, illustrating some depressingly common tales of negative equity and bankrupted amateur property speculators.
Rentergirl is occasionally asked to contribute to TV and radio programmes about the property downturn, but when I mention that I have no chance of buying a home, the interest fades, and if I suggest that alternatively, reporters could highlight problems encountered by renters (aka landless peasant scum) the line goes quiet. The trauma endured by desperate owners is presented as a national scandal, but I wonder when anybody is going to remember this stark fact: for every buy to let repossession, a tenant is evicted.
I was chatting to my neighbour who explained that he had moved urgently from one flat to another the previous week. There had been a frantic banging on his door one evening: it was the letting agent, who explained he’d have to vacate his home, right NOW! The flat was due for repossession the very next morning!
So move he did; that night, all alone, rushing to shift everything he owned down the corridor to an identical flat allocated by the agent. He admitted to resenting the fact that he’d been struggling to pay rent to a landlord who blew the money, not on the mortgage, but booze, pies, or hats, never condescending to inform his benighted tenant about his precarious pecuniary circumstances. Fortunately, neighbour was dealing with that rarity – a sympathetic estate agent. He’s settled now, but still shaken.
The post-room, and often my post-box is often crammed with someone else’s letters, all opened, including mortgage forfeitures discarded by someone long gone from here. Gary didn’t know he was being evicted until he opened one of many angry red court orders ignored by his landlord. The flat - his home - was repossessed, after which the letting agent still pursued him for the final month’s rent, despite the building being flooded out, and when the landlord had clearly been pocketing Gary’s money. Mortgage brokers often don’t even know that flats are rented out.
Mortgages featured recently on an excellent edition of C4’s Dispatches. The games played with our money are so bafflingly complex, ‘blue sky’ and out there (if not downright stupid) that it took a wise old banker roughly twenty minutes to explain the fundamentals. Basically, banks lent money to customers so poor that even fiscal morons could predict they would struggle with repayments. Panicky lenders then tried unsuccessfully to claw their money back when borrowers defaulted. You don’t need to be a mathematical genius of the kind who can zip through equations which cover a wall to realise something fishy is going on, and it’s tainting my world by association.
Life for tenants is already uncertain. Landlords are an elusive bunch, and communicate with gnomic missives, ignoring emails, and rarely answer the phone. Tenants may suspect something is awry, but have no solid way of predicting whether their lord and master is prospering or dancing with bankruptcy. If the latter is true, they could end up homeless, and nobody will even notice; they’ll move silently and unnoticed to another buy to let property with a six months lease, hoping that too isn’t suddenly repossessed underneath them. Moving is a costly, miserable and unsettling nightmare with one beneficiary: removal companies.
Property speculation is a gamble. Investments might go down as well as up. I sympathise with owners who lose their life savings and pension plan, but the plight of tenants, booted out through no fault of their own is being ignored. As usual.