“The floor is wonky.” My boyfriend is the first to point out that the floor is wonky. “Hmm,” says the estate agent, a man who has been professionally trained to pretend the floor isn’t wonky. “Well, you could always get a home inspection before you buy,” he says, hopefully.
It’s hard to imagine that there is a home inspector who would not place “floor at an angle that floors should never be” in the column marked “Bad”.
However, it turns out we needn’t have worried, because as it quickly becomes apparent, we cannot afford this flat. It may be cheap (see: floor, wonky), but it turns out that the online mortgage calculator lied. The real mortgage calculator – a man in a tie – was not as kind.
I have now been forced to accept that I am part of what is colloquially known as “Generation Rent”. (We have also been called “the new young fogeys” and “digital natives”.) This nickname makes lifelong renting sound like a quirky choice rather than a state of perpetual economic insecurity, but it sums up the current state of affairs well. Home ownership in England is at a 30-year low, and the government was recently forced to admit in a white paper that the housing market is “broken”. In the past 12 years, the proportion of people aged 25-34 who buy a house with a mortgage has decreased from 53 to 35 per cent.
I wouldn’t dare paint myself as disadvantaged, but it is hard to come to terms with the fact I will probably never own a house. As a child, the idea of owning a home was such a given that my fantasies focused instead on owning one with a slide, and a ball pit, and a secret room hidden behind a bookcase. Now any house at all is a dream.
Many members of the older generation like to call my age group “entitled”. Though I mostly disagree, on this one matter I will concede that they are right. I am entitled. I am entitled to own a home if my partner and I work hard every day, if we never rack up a single penny of debt, if we save and budget in an attempt to secure a deposit. Despite doing these things, however, we can’t afford a place to call our own.
What I can’t forgive older generations for is the myth that we millennials simply need to give up our luxurious habits in order to become homeowners. Aside from the fact that these “luxuries” they speak of seem to be our £3 supermarket meal deals (the only suitable reply to “What’s wrong with a soggy spam sandwich?” is “Everything”), this is the basest propaganda, designed to make us feel guilty for the economic mess-ups of the generation before us.
Last month, the BBC broadcast a story titled “How to own a home by the age of 25”, featuring four couples who had managed this feat. The tricks and tips seemed to be: use the government’s Help to Buy mortgage scheme (now discontinued), and don’t buy anything, ever. I resent the lie that young people just need to “give up our posh coffees”. I don’t even drink coffee.
Help to Buy is no big loss, because this mortgage scheme, which enabled buyers to get a mortgage with just a 5 per cent deposit, favoured the affluent middle classes and could be exploited by the already privileged. Although various elements of Help to Buy still exist, many claim that they do nothing to resolve the underlying crisis.
Our one flat viewing was part of a pipe dream (the pipes, by the way, were peeling and rusty). Short of finding out that I have a long-lost relative who wants me to stay in a haunted house for one night to prove I deserve a million dollars, I stand no chance.
And I still haven’t come to terms with our position. The bowls would match the plates, you see, and the plates would match the cups. The only dirty housemate I would have to worry about would be a chocolate cocker spaniel named Ludo, and – because dogs don’t have the ability to turn on the hob – we’d never run out of pans. There would (and I am especially keen for this) not be a landlord who, upon the news that actual human waste was coming up into the kitchen sink, threatened to evict me for complaining about it.
I imagine that this dream can still happen because I imagine that eventually my finances will change. But if they do, the house prices will have changed, too. In 2016 the average British home increased in value by £56.57 a day – a day! – totalling £19,348 in the year. I will never catch up with this. I am stuck in an impossible game of tig.
So hey, let’s be more like the French and the Germans, who are happy to rent for their entire lives. The only problem with this attempted attitude adjustment is that the situations are so different. Renting in Germany is a widespread and safe experience, with an array of legal protections for tenants. In the UK, it took a seven-month campaign for the government simply to ban letting fees – a policy that hasn’t yet been put into practice.
Coming to terms with not owning a house is, therefore, coming to terms with a lot of other things. A life of renting means a life where I live at the whim of a landlord, where my home could be taken away at any minute. It means a life of housemates, and a life where it takes weeks to fix leaks and boiler breakdowns. I won’t get to paint my own walls, or even stick pins in them, and I won’t get to see Ludo’s little paws scramble across the (wonky or not) floor.
PS: If you want to help buy me a house, please feel free.
Amelia Tait is a digital culture writer for newstatesman.com
This article appears in the 08 Mar 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The return of al-Qaeda