Is It Really So Bad To Be Part Of Generation Rent?

19/10/2011 13:19 | Updated 22 May 2015

I've recently discovered that I'm a fully paid-up member of a club I didn't even know existed.

Halifax, one of the country's biggest mortgage lenders, are calling us 'Generation Rent' because we're the professional 20-and-30-somethings who can't afford to step onto the property ladder and are facing a future in which we may never own our own property.

I'll admit that I'm surprised to be in on this hot new trend; among my group of friends most are home owners and this sometimes makes me feel like a bit of a loser.

Every few weeks I'll listen to them discussing complicated lighting, exciting colour schemes, loft conversions and handmade kitchens - conversations to which I can contribute precisely nothing.

And when I mention that we rent, new friends assume that we're just waiting for the market to pick up or taking our time to find our dream home - the idea that we simply can't afford it seems inconceivable.

Sometimes I struggle to understand it, too.

Is it really so bad to be part of Generation Rent?Is renting really so bad? Photo: Getty

I grew up in the 80s, and it never occurred to me that I'd get to my 30s without owning a home of my own - I just assumed that I'd be mortgaged-up sometime in my 20s.

But I didn't leave full-time education until I was 25 and, when I started out in journalism, I barely earned enough to survive in London, let alone save for a deposit.

By the time I met my boyfriend when I was 30, it didn't take us long to realise that it would be a while before we could afford to buy a flat.

Unlike some of our friends, our parents couldn't help out and we didn't have any elderly relatives who could bequeath us the money for a deposit. A combination of student debt and the high cost of living in London meant that we didn't have the savings to get onto the property ladder and, thanks to recession, we still don't.

Even if we saved every spare penny, it would take us years to accumulate the necessary cash to enable us to take out a mortgage. And, given the state of the economy, worries about interest rates and property prices, and the financial uncertainty that goes hand-in-hand with being a freelance writer, I've come to accept that we might be better off this way.

After living in rented property for almost two decades, I'm well acquainted with all the drawbacks.

Our house, although it's very nice - nicer than we could afford if we had a mortgage - is painted magnolia throughout. We're not allowed to change it and every six months a letting agent comes round with a camera to make sure that we're not painting the ceilings black and spraying graffiti on the walls.

Just in case our landlord is reading this, I should probably point out that we're not fans of black paint or graffiti. But it would be really nice to redecorate.

Then there's always the nagging worry that our landlord might suddenly decide he wants to sell up. This has happened to us before - I was pregnant at the time and we had a month to find a new place to live.

And, now that there's such a demand for rental property, we have to swallow huge rent increases every year - if we don't pay up then someone else will.

But renting does have its good points, too. When the central heating packs up or the roof leaks, it's not our problem. We call the letting agent and someone comes round to sort it out.

If we decide that we want to move, we just have to give four weeks' notice - and then we can leave.

And we have the opportunity to live in property that we could never afford to buy, in a part of town that we could never afford to live in.

If I'm honest, then yes, I would prefer to own my own home - and I'm sure plenty of others feel the same.

According to the English Housing Survey, the number of people renting property has soared by 40% in the last five years while the number of people who own their own home has fallen from 14.8 million in 2005 to 14.5 million in 2010. Just 176,900 people got onto the property ladder in 2009 compared to 402,800 who bought their first home in 2006 - which suggests that it's twice as hard as it used to be to buy your own place.

Either that or, as some estate agents believe, more of us see renting property as a lifestyle choice which means that we don't have to commit to the financial burden of a mortgage and enjoy the flexibility that renting brings.

If the current trends continue, then by 2025 the percentage of home ownership could be below 60 per cent, which is lower than most other European countries - and almost half of the 8,000 people aged 25-45 surveyed by Halifax predicted that Britain would become a nation of renters within the next generation.

The National Housing Federation predicts that the average age of the first time buyer could soon rise from 37 to 43, which means that many of us will, like me, be facing at least 20 years as a tenant.

So maybe it's about time we stopped being so hung up on home ownership and embraced the perks of being part of Generation Rent.

I may not have painted floorboards, statement walls or a dream kitchen but, unlike most homeowners I know, I'm never going to lose any sleep worrying about the state of my boiler or negative equity.

And for that I'm very grateful.

By Ceri Roberts


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