Guest blog: Generation rent still want to buy

Are you renting? Frustrated? Quite like to buy somewhere but can’t? Unsurprisingly, you aren’t alone. All too often, it seems like there’s a yawning gap between what we’d like and what we can realistically afford.

Yet even when the economy is fragile and when buying a home seems totally out of reach, research suggests that the vast majority of us still aspire to be homeowners. Here, our guest blogger Ben Marshall of Ipsos MORI digs a little deeper into public attitudes to buying and renting, with some interesting results…

Ben Marshall is Research Director at Ipsos MORI.

Compare these two extracts, the first from a speech, the second from a report:

‘There are young people who work hard year after year but are still living at home. They sit in their childhood bedroom, looking out of the window dreaming of a place of their own. I want us to say to them – you are our people, we are on your side, we will help you reach your dreams.’

‘The balance of tenures in England is changing… Mortgaged home ownership has been falling… If the economy remains weak, there will be far more households in private renting both through choice and through constraint.’

The first was made by Prime Minister David Cameron during his Conservative party conference speech last month, the second comes from Housing in transition published by the Resolution Foundation and Shelter four months earlier.

Our polls show that economic reality has been biting since 2008. For example, the British public are much more likely than they were in 2003 to expect the quality of life of their children to be lower than their own. In terms of housing, private renters are more and more pessimistic about their chances of getting on the property ladder – 59% think they will never own property.

But Britons remain steadfastly attached to home-ownership. On behalf of the Halifax, and supplementing our quarterly tracker of confidence in the housing market, we used a variant on the tenure preference question asked in the British Social Attitudes survey, which was last put to the public in 2010.

We found that more Britons, ‘regardless of their current situation’ and ‘if they had a free choice’, would choose to buy their accommodation rather than rent it by a margin of more than five to one. 76% would choose to buy and only 13% would choose to rent. Just 7% answered ‘Neither’, the rest ‘don’t know’.

Confined to those choosing buying or renting, the margin is 85% to 15% in preference of buying. It is the favoured tenure among those buying on a mortgage (92%), those owning their property outright (93%), private renters (79%) and social housing tenants (64%). It is the preference among all age groups, and 79% of 16-34s currently renting in the private sector would choose to buy in preference to renting.

Our polls also show that younger age groups are also most worried about affordability.  The same Ipsos MORI/Halifax survey found 32% of 16-34s wanting to see decreases in house prices with 26% preferring increases. Meanwhile, among 35-54s, the equivalent figures were 22% and 39% in favour of increases.

Such sentiments echo findings from surveys over many years. They tell us how many would prefer to buy but other research indicates why. For example, security of tenure, a surer investment and more control are seen as key benefits of owner-occupation.

While reality is biting, the preference to buy remains rock solid. Will housing come to epitomise dashed social aspirations in the years ahead and who, if anyone, will get the blame?