Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Many Ages Of Renting

Every now and again, I receive an email asking why I don’t just buy a home. Wow. Great idea! The thought has never occurred to me.

The person cycling around your neighbourhood with a megaphone shouting ‘Hey Einstein: if it was that easy to buy a home, don’t you think I would?’ Yeah - that’s me. If not the for the restraining order…

Renting is a long term, fact of life. Even people who live in exclusive gated country houses do not escape the shackles of renting. Elsewhere, many start as children, surviving with a landlord who understands the needs of families, close to a good school. Ha.Ha.Ha.

Then it’s time to leave home - what an adventure: freedom, privacy, and independence. Also: damp, rogue landlords (who prey on the inexperienced) extortionate fees from letting agents like checks on guarantors (new tenants have no credit history). Say hello to bad furniture, relying on shabby sofas, stained mattresses and rickety tables.

Student housing varies, from grandly appointed ‘rooms’ at Oxbridge, to cell-like student blocks, and horrible houses in multiple occupation. The mushrooms growing close by are not going to make ‘soup’ of any kind (hallucinogenic or not) but are recorded for a lengthy complaint to Environmental Health, who are overstretched and anyway, know you will vacate in June.

So to saving to buy that first home. It’s usually a flat, and what joy it is. Until selling up to purchase the first family home – there might be kids on the way, the neighbourhood might be unsuitable. You try and move but become a forced tenant, reluctant, grumpy and unable to sell up because of negative equity, or saving for a deposit. You sourly scan the property ads and realise that it’s actually cheaper to pay a mortgage than it is to rent a house that meets your needs (ie a room for every child of different age and sex – perhaps even caring for elderly or disabled family.)

Then you might become a landlord: well, the mortgage is paid off, and you can afford a buy-to-let mortgage. Unless that is, you lost your job and were repossessed or never managed to get a foothold on the renting ladder, and are back renting. Or are separated.

With age comes downsizing, perhaps a city-centre flat, releasing equity to help adult kids buy homes. You aren’t renting, but are surrounded by tenants abandoned by amateur, untrained, unregulated buy-to-let landlords, tenants who hold loud parties, sublet the flats and move on regularly. It affects every waking day and every sleepless night. You are left living in a wasteland, as prices drop, and your investment has lost thousands.

Then maybe, a retirement flat, or sheltered housing, rented reluctantly, where residents must discard beloved possessions due to lack of space.

Renting touches everyone, and it is bleak. Even on holiday, in a home that is being let to tourists, rather than house locals, renting embraces and ensnares us all, like an octopus with a grip of doom. Some of us will never be free.

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