Much has been made of the company 'Capital Living' in the news this week, in preparation for a fly on the wall documentary with e4. Capital Living offers a flat share matching service for young professionals and has been described as being for "rich kids who want to be bankers". The headline in one newspaper said "Flat mates wanted: only the young and posh need apply". But not only is this headline misleading, it shows the huge disconnect between established homeowners in London and those young people moving here for work.
The founder of Capital Living, Adam Goff, established the company after moving to London to begin high flying career in the City. He found the flat sharing process unpleasant and the social aspect of living in London not all it was cracked up to be. Having moved to London myself a year ago after almost nine years serving in the Army, I can empathize with him. Flat sharing, especially in your 30s after you are used to living in your own place, isn't exactly a lot of fun. But when it comes to prices in London, there is little other choice, with a pokey studio flat usually costing well over £1,000 a month not including bills. A flat share on the other hand allows you to live in a much more pleasant flat and location, but costs are still high and expect to be paying at least £700 - £1000 a month. Yep, that's right, for a room.
The company isn't about taking in a bunch of rich kids on trust funds, you have to be a working professional to move into one of their houses. About 20% people who apply get through to interview, which is quite a small number, but most of those are unrealistic about their budget or are the kind of person who you wouldn't want in a share. I had some horrifying experiences looking for places to live myself, including one very strange man who continues to text and email me asking me to move in, a year after I visited, so knowing this vetting is taking place can only be a good thing.
However, there is one major downside to all of this. The properties I viewed with his team were big properties, housing 6-7 people each. That's a potential six other people who you have to get along with, fight for space in the kitchen with and battle for the bathroom with. Not only this, but many of the properties don't have a living room, having been converted into another bedroom, the purpose being to make every single room in the house a bedroom and squeeze them all in under one roof. Being a bit touchy about my own space, this is deeply unappealing. It's also more people who you are likely to clash with. Living with 6 other people can cause all kinds of conflicts and the vetting process can never uncover every odd thing about a person.
Now I'm not blaming Adam for doing this, as it's quite common in house and flat shares in London. If anything, it is a symptom of the chronic housing shortage in our capital which is driving prices ever higher and causing landlords to turn every space into rental potential. Those of you in the North of England no doubt laugh at us Londoners paying £1000 a month for a room, when in the north that could get you a four-bedroom house. Ok fair one, but the number of jobs in the north where you have the potential to hit six figures is significantly lower. I'm not being judgmental, that's just how it is.
The reality of London living isn't quite what you expect it to be. Housing is obscenely expensive, the weight of travel around the capital can weigh you down and the general cost of living can be extremely difficult. Worst, is that you can really be all by yourself going through this. While I know people who live in London, the city is so vast they could be two hours away and the experience really can be quite lonely. But vilifying everyone here who pays £1000 a month as posh and rich is certainly unfair; it's just the cost of living in London.
But this cost is starting to erode what London is. It should be about adventure, excitement and exploring a fantastic city, with young people coming here to live, work and grow in experience and knowledge. This is beginning to end; when a one bedroom starter flat in Brixton (BRIXTON!) is £440,000 you know that your capital is soon going to become the stomping ground of only the very rich or those paying huge rents.
It is critical for the government (which party it will be) to look at this renting problem in London and the rest of the UK. While I do not want to see rental control, the obscene charges put in place and unscrupulous methods employed by landlords is driving good, hardworking people to despair. Help-to-buy and home starter ISAs are not the solution, as more and more people will have to rent. Allowing pensioners to use their retirement fund to buy flats and rents out to young people will only exacerbate the problem.
Houses are no longer homes, they are investments. And no Englishman can call their investment their castle.