THE BLOG

I Became A Greedy Baby Boomer, And I'm Sorry

04/04/2017 16:01
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We paid off our mortgage this week. We haven't won the lottery, nor have we inherited any money. Our mortgage simply ran its course, some 30 years since we bought our first home.

It should be a cause for celebration, for it is not every day that one is released from the tyranny of monthly mortgage payments. But I feel almost apologetic, guilty even. Now we are officially members of the generation of greedy baby boomers who gamed the property market and caused the housing crisis that has brought so much misery. So instead of rejoicing I want to say that I'm sorry. I'm sorry that we appear to have become conspirators in a plot to deny young people, including our own daughters, the opportunity to ever enjoy the same good fortune, condemning them to a life of financial insecurity. We have risen by climbing on your shoulders, and then refused to throw you a line.

Of course, it wasn't meant to be like this. We bought a house to make a home and bring up our kids. We have never speculated in property, never raised a mortgage on a house that wasn't going to be where we lived. The house we now own outright, in the heart of Sussex, has been our home for almost 18 years, and we have no intention of moving now.

Although it is fashionable to think that people our age just signed a cheque for the house and then sat back as money filled our bank account, it really wasn't like that. Even in those days, London was too expensive for us. We held down multiple jobs to raise the deposit and relied on the goodwill of our building society to stretch its lending criteria to give us a mortgage. The Bank of Mum and Dad lent us £500 to pay our legal fees. Our monthly payments routinely exceeded our joint income yet, somehow, we got by, doing as much overtime as was physically possible and living frugally.

Our mortgage history tracks the ups and downs of the UK economy. We have lived through three recessions, a financial crisis and a collapse in house prices. During the first half of our lives together, interest rates were in double figures. We have known redundancy, restructuring and relocation.

We remain scarred by negative equity, when outstanding mortgages were higher than the value of the actual property. Some friends simply handed back their house keys and walked away. But we soldiered on. On infamous Black Wednesday, when base rates were indicated at 15%, I was certain that we would lose our home. In the event, the Chancellor took a different course of action and we kept the roof over our heads. Conversely, we have been unwitting beneficiaries of the financial crisis of 2007, which saw interest rates plunge to a level we thought was impossible. To take advantage, we increased our monthly repayments, convinced that this situation would not last for as long as it has.

I don't need to look at the property pages to know that our home is worth so much more than we paid for it. Mostly, this is due to the absurd increase in house prices. But I like to think that a fraction, at least, is due to the way in which we have restored and extended the property over the years. It was almost uninhabitable when we moved, which is why we were able to afford it in the first place. The extension, completed some years ago, made it possible for us to become foster carers, and to provide a temporary home to sibling groups who were taken into care. Since then, our home has been a sanctuary to more than a dozen children, most of whom still come back to visit. So, perhaps, fostering has become our way of repaying our good fortune, in some small way.

These days my work allows me to engage with young professionals in different sectors, and I listen to their conversations with colleagues. Bright, hard-working and well-qualified, they tell of unaffordable rents, abusive landlords and insecure tenancies. Already in their 20s or early 30s, they are sharing small apartments, even bedrooms, with random people, because this is all they can afford. Wages have simply not kept up with the price of property. Some are earning little more than I earned as a young reporter back in the early 1990s. That's before adjusting for increases in the cost of living. Small wonder that so many young people feel angry and disenfranchised, and blame people like me.

So, once again, I say that I'm sorry, I truly am. It wasn't meant to be like this.

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