To buy or not buy?

What with me leading Shelter’s policy work on the future of the private rented sector, it was a surprise to my colleagues when I told them I was buying a flat. ‘That’s it, you’re out of the private rented sector!’ was Toby’s response.

The thing is, I am fed up with renting. I hate the magnolia walls in my flat, the worn laminate floors, the slope in the kitchen that means the cooker is wonky and one side of the pan always cooks faster than the other, the green carpet, the uncared-for communal areas.

Having set up home with my partner in a previous flat, we were given notice after a year because our landlord wanted to sell the place. After that, there was always a smidgen of uncertainty in my mind – would our current landlord give us notice again? Would we get a ‘to market’ rent increase of £250 a month (that’s how much one bed flats have gone up in two years in my area!), scuppering our saving plans?

It’s by no means rogue landlord territory, and I would probably fall into the government’s oft-cited 85% of private tenants ‘satisfied’ with their accommodation. Yes, it is satisfactory, I like my area and it suited me well for a while. But it’s not great for me now – I want a home, and what’s the point in making it your own if you can be given two months notice or priced out of your home at any time?

So I chose to buy. It’s not a decision I took lightly – every day our advisers help people struggling with unaffordable mortgages, we see the fallout of reckless lending, we worry about the interest-only timebomb. I’m all too aware that house prices can go down as well as up, and that I could end up owing the bank more than my home is worth.

I know how incredibly lucky I am to have that choice. It wasn’t easy, but our combined income allowed us to save hard and get the mortgage we needed.

As I get stuck in to my DIY project, Shelter and Resolution Foundation publish
a report which projects that private renting is going to become the norm for more and more people. Just one in four households will own a home with a mortgage by 2025 if the economy continues to stagnate – down from just under half of all households in the 1990s.

We need to wake up to the fact that private renting is here to stay. For the one million families with children who now rent from a private landlord, it may well take decades to get to the point where they can actually ‘choose’ whether to rent or buy. But unless the Government acts to make renting more family-friendly, it is only going to be the relatively well-off who can afford a stable home through homeownership. And that just doesn’t seem right.