It’s a very important question we needed to ask ourselves because, why would we buy a home, when renting gives us flexibility and non of the stress or cost of maintaining a home? Is it because our pre-conditioned bygone ways say we need to be married, bear two kids and have some land to build a fire on?
We hesitated before writing this blog, because we thought surely there are enough books out there to help people navigate the minefield of purchasing a home, but when we really looked there just weren’t any that tell it like it is. You’ve got Phil from TV show Location Location giving you the score about ten years ago in his book and then that’s it. It’s like the whole publishing world suddenly got terrified of covering what seems like an impossible task. Yes, it feels utterly impossible in London to buy a home but people still are, and we were amongst them and boy did we learn and test and go all out and discover what worked and we just felt why wasn’t anyone sharing the horrors and revelations with each other? As a human race we tend to not like to share our methods with others, because maybe we want to maintain that competitive edge.
I actually knew a guy who owned several sports cars but, no one realised that they were all on lease and he had a pretty average salary by London standards, he’d never bought one and to me one day “Can you imagine how expensive it costs to fix a Ferrari rather than lease one I can give back when it goes wrong but no one else needs to know that!”. That’s what the Kardashians do too if you didn’t know, but then again the media don’t help convey the real truth either!
Newspapers and magazine articles in general that cover house buying as a subject are generic and currently cover the fearful post Brexit house price future. It seems to be the one area in life, people just don’t seem to be willing to throw out the lifesaver to others on. Maybe everyone keeps their cards close to their chest when they buy because they don’t want to tell you how much they bought the house for (well you can check on land registry within a few months anyway). I’ve lived in London most of my life, bought and sold houses and probably lived in about 14 different homes in London alone since I was born. I also know how hugely lucky I am to now be able to own a home and I feel enormously sympathetic of those trying harder than any generation ever has, to simply own a home. No generation has ever struggled as much to do this task. Not only does one require an outrageously huge deposit that exceeds easily many annual salaries, one has to borrow an amount that just doesn’t equate in any way to their professional salary. We are talking doctors, lawyers, bankers who cannot afford to own a home anymore. Those that were told that if you did really well at your exams and went to university and got a good job then you’d make it. But hang on “I’ve done that” I hear people say and even have a partner equally working as hard and we both barely afford to pay rent in this city called London. We are now talking about very high earning couples, with kids who cannot afford to own a postage stamp sized home, despite nearly two decades of working in London. This is the new demographic of struggling house buyers that we’ve never seen before.
I recently had to question why owning a home was so important, when the digital nomadic lifestyle now tempts us to just work from wherever we like. I mean who wouldn’t want to be a life blogger cruising the waters of the Pacific with young kids free of school. The reality for many is that their jobs prevent them from that freedom and with kids especially many people want to feel to grounded with their family within the community they live within. This is okay too and can be equally rewarding for many as long as you don’t end up comparing yourself and benchmarking life again Mr & Mrs Jones next door. Well for me the reality of balancing a laptop on my knees and typing a blog while the waves gently lap at the bow is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. I don’t mean the occasional sea sickness, I mean the type that ended up with me on a cocktail of Chinese prescription medicine (the Captain said I wouldn’t survive if I didn’t pop the pills on his deck from that jar despite my homeopathic beliefs) on a 7 day boat scuba diving trip in the Indian Ocean vomiting and delusional for weeks to follow. I think that was the week I knew I could never live on a boat, travel on boats or even bob on a limo in any way and since most of our planet is made up of water, I suddenly had an innate need to ground myself for life on dry land. Don’t get me wrong I want to travel the world, but there is something very comforting to me about walking back through my front door and walking into my home, closing the door and being able to escape the crazy mad world we now seem to live in.
Having lived abroad as an expat for 6 years with my young family we returned to the UK and found our children were relishing a red brick house with a front door (like you see in kids books) opposed to the sky high expat living we had become accustomed to. My husband said he wanted a “I’ll be carried out of this place in my coffin” kind of a home allarmingly. We never strived though for a huge home because we wanted to spend as much as we can of our money on travel and the time spent cleaning a bigger home (if you can’t afford a cleaner like us) is mind numbing, insanity inducing hell with two kids. We knew London was our home, it was the place my husband wanted to work for life and I’d grown up as a child and wanted our kids to grow up.
I do think its slightly cheating settling in London, because London is far from grounding or consistent, it changes and evolves so fast, new places come and go and people leave a lot and I was surprised to return and find it as transient as expat life had been abroad. London has taught me so much, most importantly, tolerance of others as growing up in London makes one so oblivious of everyones differences that every person here is just the norm. It also exposes you, despite all the media noise, to some incredible ideas, creative experiences and unbelievably talented people. We just knew we would always be happy to call London our home so we decided to buy.
However, I hesitate here still as one can rent and still feel at home and still get that sense of feeling settled, so why buy? Don’t buy if you want to sell and move within the next twenty years because the way the statisticians are going, you just won’t get the return anymore. Don’t buy just for the sake of it, the money you save is just as well off in a savings account. Don’t buy with a view to flip it and make money, prices aren’t going anywhere fast (Land Registry records do show accurate signs of a plateau)! What with Stamp Duty and the maintenance costs the main reason for buying your own home to make you richer because it increases in value is long gone.
So, why did we decide to buy? Well we actually decided to sell first. We were fortunate enough when we came back from living abroad to be able to live with London based family in the area we wanted to settle for a whole year to find our feet and assess our situation. We had been renting out our two bed garden flat in an area of SE London where when we had left you wouldn’t have drunk draught from the taps at our local pub. We returned 6 yrs later (2015 so 2 years ago now) to find award winning farmers market, cocktail bars, hipster cereal shops and a frenzy of crazy house prices. We had a lovely set of tenants living there but we knew we needed the funds from the flat to put a deposit down on a house. As our home had increased in value substantially it did work out more financially affordable to pay a mortgage than rent. Our other huge advantage was also we had my father who had just retired after decades of renovating houses in SW London and tradesmen that were like gold dust available should I need trustworthy people to work on the house.
“Always try and buy the worst house on the best street”
I read this somewhere and thought what an interesting idea, the worst house being the one that has the potential to make as nice as the others of course. This clinches it for me but easier said that done.
Buying a property works well when you have a good deposit, a fair monthly mortgage repayment (that doesn’t leave you living of bread and water) and the prospects of a home that can really be renovated extensively enough. These are the ideal conditions for buying a home as the rest is just a gamble. Of course you can fall in love with a home and be fortunate enough to buy somewhere that is beautifully ready to move into, but expect to pay a premium for that luxury as more people still habitually fall in love with homes that are ready to move into. Always be careful of “show homes”, I remember my mum saying to me
“I’ve seen people buy beautiful homes in pictures, but when the sellers move out and strip it bare of all their possessions be careful you haven’t just paid a lot of money for an Ikea kitchen and a lick of paint.”
It is very hard for young Londoners who can just afford to rent in an exciting area of London to then be left with an area to buy in that takes them away from everything they enjoy about London.
I feel exceptionally strongly about how difficult it is for my fellow Londoners to own and wanted to write this blog so that when the situation feels right for, you make the most of every penny and learn how to not let your heart rule your head. Whether you’ve got somewhere to sell, you’ve managed to save a deposit or the bank of parents decides to pass on some inheritance money earlier than planned, The Naked London aims to strip bare and expose the truths of house buying so the impossible is a little more possible.