When I was a kid, I thought that owning an urbanesque bachelorette pad by the time I reached my mid-20s was simply a rite of passage. My favourite TV and film heroines Hilary Banks (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) and Bridget Jones managed it with creative jobs, so I reckoned I would be all right too.
But I am soon to hit 25 and have realised that I am no closer to that dream than when I was 12. Instead, I am further away – so far from that dream, in fact, that it feels like a mirage. But instead of trying to exist within a system that isn’t built for me, I have decided to kiss goodbye to the dream of home ownership and actually I feel totally fine about it. Honestly.
It is a fact that scrimping and saving for years isn’t guaranteed to result in your own set of keys any more. At the moment, some of my coupled-up friends have caught a case of housing hysteria and three others have already received keys to their first homes (purchased by their parents). But the odds are so vastly stacked against me – and anyone else who is single, self-employed, living in London and receiving little to no help from family – that I feel relieved I can’t compete with my mates even if I wanted to.
Last year, the housing charity Shelter revealed that first-time buyers will need a household income of £64,000 and a £46,000 deposit, to buy an “average home”. For most people this is comically impossible, but if you are living in London it’s even worse. If you don’t have assistance from family, the average UK buying age of 37 rises to 43, according to the National Housing Federation, and if you are able to save 5% of a typical monthly London wage (£28,000 a year) you’ll land your own £289,000 property after a mere 21 years.
So I have decided to choose renting. This allows me a level of freedom I wouldn’t be able to maintain if I were living from paycheque to paycheque to repay huge sums of borrowed money. And because I’m self-employed, travel frequently for work and am in a process of social, economic and romantic readjustment, renting is quite liberating.
I’m not tied into a contract, I have a landlord who permits redecorating, pets and subletting and I’m paying well below the capital average for a double-room in a zone 2 house. I love knowing that I can up sticks at a moment’s notice without stress or expense, and I am happy that it is somebody else’s problem if the boiler breaks down.
Of course, I am conscious of the lack of security involved in renting, but I am unable (and unwilling) to sell my 20s off to corporate life, force myself into an unhappy partnership, or forgo any kind of social life just so I can get a 95% mortgage that I will spend half a century paying back, for a house I’ve had to “make do with” in an area that I don’t really like because it was all I could afford at the time. And, after losing my father a few years ago to cancer, I am acutely aware of the fact that nothing in life is secure.
I vividly remember accompanying Dad in a taxi to the bank two years ago, to complete his final mortgage payment on our house. His bones were aching and the sweat was pouring off his face as he hobbled into the bank, his hand in mine, to complete the loan so that my mum, my brother and I would be OK after he left us.
I am grateful that his steely determination provided my family with some security and I save regularly on his advice. But I won’t sacrifice my life today in the hope that I will own some bricks and mortar in 40 years’ time. Because really, who knows how long any of us will have to spend in it anyway?
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