I don't envy anyone who has to pay a ridiculous amount of rent, or take on a ridiculously large mortgage, just to get a decent place they can call their home.
This topic came up when seeing my cousin R--- yesterday. Her son has been house-sharing for the last four years. He has turned thirty, and is yearning to have a home of his own. He has a very good income from a job in a computer-based company, but of course that job is in London, and London has bucked the trend for the property market. In most other places, the market remains flat and (relatively) affordable. In London, or at least in the parts of London favoured by young professional people with aspirations, prices for flats and houses are sky-high.
Her son is looking at Tooting Bec, an inner suburb in south-west London. It was only a so-so place to live when I was myself living in London in the 1980s. A sea of somewhat tired Victorian houses just off the traffic-choked A24, but at least very handy for the Northern Line, that would whisk you up to the West End or City. Now it is smart and cool, as many other inner suburbs have become.
R--- and her son had been checking out the property websites for weeks. You had to look daily, as no property hung around for long, such was the demand. If you wanted to buy a two-bedroomed flat in one of those Victorian houses, you were presently looking at an asking price of at least £425,000.
My cousin's son had actually made an offer (which had been accepted, but of course it's not a done deal yet) to buy such a flat for £450,000. It had four 'extras': it was the upper of two flats; it had a small third bedroom; it had a study; and it had its own small paved rear garden - perfect for entertaining his friends, some of whom already lived in similar flats nearby. Although he was presently single, a flat like this would be big enough to accommodate a partner, and even a young family, so it would remain suitable as a home even if his personal circumstances changed. And if the job folded, or relocated, he could sell up quickly with the expectation of making a profit - something one hasn't been able to count upon in most other parts of the country, not for a long time.
The flat was also immaculately presented, though in that regard it was by no means the best you might buy in the area. An especially ultra-modern, minimalist interior seemed to add at least £25,000 to the price. Some Tooting Bec streets had a slightly better cachet, and so you would add still more if you wanted to live in one of them. And some flats (with a scruffy look to them) commanded an unusually high premium, so that you might pay at least £500,000. R--- said those were likely to be in the very limited catchment areas for the good schools, for of course parents would pay whatever it took to get their children into the right school.
But I was staggered to look at her laptop and see these prices for myself. Half a million pounds for a flat! A place with no more accommodation that I had in my little bungalow, no off-road parking, no garden to speak of, no country views, no village atmosphere, and no background peace and quiet. Just to be close to central London, and to have dead easy commuting. Apparently the particular flat that R---'s son was buying had doubled in value in the last four years, and that was not unusual for flats in the right location.
I would value my own house at no more than £250,000, by the way. Tops. It's attractive, clean, tidy and well-equipped, and for my purposes very well located, but the decor is looking ten or twenty years behind the times. And it really needs a new kitchen and bathroom to break through the £250,000 Stamp Duty barrier, and command any price closer to £300,000.
It is however a proper house with a proper garden that really gets the Sussex sunshine. And more and more I'm coming to the conclusion that whatever tugs Devon or Dorset may exert on me, I'd be mad to move. It's in the country. It's got local facilities. It's comfortable. It's future-proof - I could become very incapacitated by old age and infirmity and yet still be able to live here. Better insulation, and a more efficient boiler, would diminish my domestic fuel bill somewhat, but even as it is, it's very affordable to run, and mortgage-free. What is there not to like?
Of course, at his time of life, R---'s son wants the
buzz and convenience that a London location will provide. Working hard, playing hard. In
your twenties and thirties, a great life. But if I had a high income,
I'd resent spending most of my hard-earned cash on accommodation. In
fact, when I lived in London, I did resent it. But there was nothing to
be done. Live out in the sticks instead, and you were stuck with an exhausting
commute and couldn't see your friends in town on weekends.
My friends in Brighton also pay a high price for the conveniences and buzz of a city location. One of them pays £800 a month in rent for a one-bedroom basement flat, pretty typical. It's close to the sea and she can enjoy absolutely all the things that Brighton offers to a person who wants something to do every day, at any hour of the day, throughout the year. With her bus pass, getting around is a doddle. Just as well. Parking is a total nightmare. She's not alone in loving the life. I wouldn't want it though. £800 a month rent? And the rest? A small place with no garden? Nowhere reserved for the car? City noise, city grime, city crime, city aggravations? No thanks.