Monday, 24 May 2010

And Around We Go

The property market is like Groundhog Day without the gags. It’s an eternal, infernal cycle where people buy piles of bricks and mortar, either to live in or to charge others for the privilege. The value of these bricks subsequently soars off into the troposphere, or plummets to the very centre of earth’s molten core. Bystanders must then either celebrate or commiserate, as the news reports bang sonorously and portentously on about this situation being either really, really bad or very, very good.

Meanwhile, tenants watch helplessly from the sidelines, wondering how this will affect their lives, hearing talk of something mythical called Capital Gains Tax which may (or may not) compel their landlord, aka the de facto owner of their immortal soul to sell up or hang onto their investment. This means they are either homeless or housed – either really. It’s all so tenuous and fanciful.

Astonishingly, the Housing Minster no longer sits on the cabinet, and something which sent the economy spiralling into disaster like a vast tornado devouring public funds, forcing thousands out onto the street as novice landlords went bankrupt, forcing the state to take steps to stem the first run on a bank in hundreds of years, is regarded as an distraction, not a vital economic, or a basic human need, namely: a safe home and security of tenure.

Sometimes I wonder if I am engaged in my own life: or am I at the mercy of a huge game of piggy-in-the-middle crossed with monopoly, with giants flipping coins and throwing rubber balls over our heads to decide where ordinary people will get to live, and for how long they can stay. I want a home, a permanent home. I do not want to live in a piggy bank, but once again, I am.

What’s bought this on? Well, commercial property is cranking up for a new boom, with mothballed sites being reactivated. Buy-let-mortgages are back on offer and soon, building will begin again.

Again. And again. Which means: speculative short term investment in shabby, toy-town new build dovecot, with the private rental sector entrusted with housing us all, and no improved regulation of letting agents, building standards and no end to the dire renting culture here in the UK, with renters hanging on the end of fraying rope, with landlords and letting agents tugging furiously at the other end.

I suppose the saturation of one or two bed flats might help us still, as landlords are desperate to rent, and anyone who bought in the recent ‘fire sales’ might not expect to crank up the rent to cover an extortionate mortgage with a gifted deposit.

Except – except… that’s all staring to happen again – soon we’ll see re-animated Inside Track staffers staggering around like zombies, promising vast inflated profits before eating neophyte investors and saving the best part (their beating heart) for last.

Have we learned from the recent past? No. We didn’t. And so it goes - around and around we spin, back on the speeding hazardous carousel again…and again.


Dazzla said...

I finally blew last weekend.

I've been letting since the age of 17, mainly from agencies. I'm pretty much at the mercy of landlords or agencies now because I work freelance and have work in companies as widespread as London, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester. In the time I've been renting there is no doubt at all that tenants' rights have been eroded at the expense of the freedom of business to make a quick buck. There are people in Indian slums who have better security of tenure than UK renters paying £800 a month. How did we get here? I would say that it's the aftertaste of Thatcherism, but that's for another blog and another time.

In London, I endured parties (and not tedious, brittle suburban dinner parties - I mean real ones with spilt beer and gurning) full of people discussing the value of their house when they bought it, the value of their house now, how much tax they would have to pay on their second homes...well, you've all heard it.

I've heard it, too many times, and it's fucking boring.

I tried to avoid these people and these conversations, firstly by telling them that they were boring, and then by pointing out that the notional value of their house was akin to the state of Schrödinger’s cat: they would never know how much it was actually worth until someone paid them for it, and that they wouldn't own the money in any meaningful way if they just used it to buy another, bigger house near a fucking school or something.

I got so bored of this that when I moved in to a new flat in London, I made a rule at all my parties: if you talk about house prices, mortgages, estate agents or anything related, you will be asked to leave, no exceptions. There is something actually, materially insane about the way we view houses in the United Kingdom, as though owning one is something to aspire to in itself, as though not owning one is in some way a symptom of failure and as though a house were something less than a home, but just a financial vehicle for accumulating wealth. I will still not use the word 'property'. Do you want to live in someone's 'property'? It sounds as though you're tucked into their purse. Which, I suppose...

I was thinking about this on the train last week (yes, I use public transport too. Outside London. It amuses me when people assume that I can't afford a car) and I became so dispirited I actually shed silent tears. I realised that this is not my country, that I don't belong here

I still had three months left on the work contract I have at the moment. I needed some temporary accommodation.

So I decided to go outwith the agency route.

I used a peer-to-peer website to find a nice self-contained flat in an unfashionable area of Liverpool with a lovely Scouse pensioner, who had split up a huge three-storey Victorian house, as my landlady. She offered me bedding, the password to the WiFi hub and 'any crockery you might need'. When I visited to sign the contract, she mentioned that her computer wouldn't connect to the internet. I fixed it before I left.

I'm paying less than half what I paid in Manchester - this includes bills - and it's a nicer way to rent.

I’m still leaving the country though.

RenterGirl said...

It drives you crazy, doesn't it?

Dazzla said...

It does.

Just re-read that. Sorry about all the subordinate clauses. You can probably see how fractured my rational processes are at the moment.

I just don't understand why we can't have a secure rental sector in parallel with the system of delusional idiocy that leads to some people imagining that buying houses is going to make them rich: ok, some do, but I'm not convinced they're in the minority, and like all investment, risking more than you can afford will put you in a cardboard box eventually.

I do actually believe that agents are to blame. It's more profitable to turn out tenants and bargain with the next lot than it is to maintian a tenancy and when the landlord is absentee, there is less incentive for him or her to think about the wellbeing of the tenants.

Congratulations for keeping up this blog, btw. It has been a touchstone of sanity in this atomised, middleman-infested private sector rental world.

MattW said...

I have the joys of renting privately to come. I have had an offer accepted on my flat and now looking to go into rented.

I still can't get over how much more expensive private rents are over council rents. And to add insult to injury, an insecure tenure of 6 months. And pay for you own credit reference.

RenterGirl said...

Dazzla - I don't care about grammar, but it is a nightmare, and yes agents are to blame. I try and avoid ranting too much about them, but some recent communications mean that they are developing even sneaker new tricks. And Mattw - good luck with new adventure into the land of horror ie renting.

Techno Mystic said...

I originally started getting involved in politics in 2006 over the housing issue - I'm a permanent tenant too - hoping that I could change something. Unfortunately the vested interests here seem to be too powerful. It should be Labour who protect tenant's interests really but this gravy train happened on their watch so they aren't interested.

I am furious and I have e-mailed an influential MP and made a scene at work - can't go into the details here - but there is going to be no change in the short term unfortunately.

However, my political activity has inadvertently got me involved in education so I am at least feeling a bit more useful now.

But since I will probably now spend the rest of my life in rented accommodation this is not something I will leave alone if I ever get into a position to do something about it.

Stu said...

I think you're wide of the mark in your comments on CGT. I doubt anyone would actually be homeless as a result of a landlord selling.

The upside of higher CGT is less property barons, reduced desirability of property and consequently lower prices so that we can actually buy instead of eternally renting.

RenterGirl said...

Stu - like I say CGT "might or might not" rise. This affects my life, and I have no control over it. Many of us will never be able to buy, no matter what happens with CGT. But getting rid of large scale property barons - is that a good thing? In my experience (and others might disagree - I'd like to know) they offer cheaper rents, and more efficient repair services. Sometimes...The problems I have seen arise with small scale owners. What do other readers think?

Dazzla said...

My only experiance of large-scale owners has been via agencies and I've only rented direct from small-scale owners, so I don't really think I can reliably infer any cause and effect from this, but I've far preferred the second-home letters. They seem to care more about their houses, their being more than just an entry in a portfolio.

I'm not sure that an increase in CGT will deconcentrate housing: it might have the opposite effect. Small-scale landlords might be put off, whereas larger, corporate landlords are more likely to have the schemes and legal resources to offset or avoid the increase in CGT.

I think that the richer the individual, the more discretionary actually paying tax becomes, and I don't see how it'll be any different here.


"I doubt anyone would actually be homeless as a result of a landlord selling."

No, but plenty have become homeless as a result of their lets being repossessed.