Phil Salter bought his house in Cornwall in 1989 by giving the previous owner £55,000 and his smaller, ex-council house up the hill, on a handshake. He lives in a 17th-century whitewashed fisherman’s cottage in St Mawes, now one of the county’s most desirable villages. When he bought it, it was valued at £135,000. Today, his small home, the oldest in the village, is worth more than £1m. He will never sell it: he loves it too much; loves sitting outside his front door with a gin and tonic, chatting with passers-by. “I’ll be going out of here in a box,” he tells BBC Radio 4’s Lynsey Hanley. But it’s a savage indictment of the cost of living in Britain today, where home ownership is once again becoming a privilege reserved for the very wealthy.
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A Home of Our Own, running over a fortnight in the 15-minute slot after World at One, explores how the housing crisis is affecting people across the country, starting in Cornwall. Salter calls those buying homes locally “house farmers”: they come into the village, buy up property, remodel or extend it, and put it back on the market at a significant mark-up. Hanley marvels at the cost of homes in St Mawes: “£1.25m for a three-bedroom cottage, once inhabited by fisherman and their families, lit by fish oil and filled with a tank of pilchards. I wonder what they would have thought!”
Across ten episodes, Hanley speaks to people who are shut out of the housing market. The picture is bleak. Rachel and Angus are determined to live in the beautiful village where Rachel grew up, Solva, in west Wales, but with prices inflated by second-home owners, they are stuck with a caravan. In Crawley, West Sussex, Dorine and her husband, three children and two sisters all live in a two-bedroom flat. And in Tooting, London, 32-year-old Danielle still lives with her mum, unable to buy on her NHS salary. She dreams of her own home. When she gets one, she says, she will drink her morning coffee while looking out of her windows, listening to Diana Ross’s “It’s My House”.
A Home of Our Own
BBC Radio 4, weekdays from 4 October, 1.45pm
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This article appears in the 29 Sep 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Spirit of the Age