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‘We don’t want to be generation rent’ – a first time buyer’s perspective

Not all 25 to 34-year-olds are happy getting stuck in generation rent - one would-be first time buyer explains why he'll make almost any financial sacrifice in order to buy a home

August 12, 2013

You shouldn’t have to own a property to call it home. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a home as ‘the place where one lives permanently’. But beyond squatting, sponging or vagrancy, my only chance of having a home is to buy.

I was born in the 1980s so I’m stuck in generation rent. Today, only 40 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds own their own home. Ten years ago two million of that age group were homeowners, now the number has fallen to 1.3 million.

In 1995, in an interview with The Idler magazine, Damien Hirst likened renting to freedom and buying a home to giving up that freedom. I thought he had a point: being able to pack up and leave at short notice and never having to worry about repairs can be appealing.

But, like you, I am not the richest living artist in Britain and paying the average British rent of £811 a month doesn’t feel like freedom to me.

There was a time when renting meant people could have a home without having to buy. In ‘The Common Stream’, a history of the Cambridgeshire Village of Foxton, there are accounts of peasants in the Middle Ages who paid annual rents of 100th of their earnings.

To put that into perspective, 100th of today’s average wage would be £267 a year – less than a third of the average cost of renting a residential property in Britain for just one month.

Renting’s not just expensive, landlords can regularly drive up rents; if you chose to make any improvements to the property you can only enjoy them until the landlord pushes you out; and short tenures mean renters can be thrown on to the street at relatively short notice.

Which is why, for people like me who are looking for a home to live in permanently, the only option in Britain is to buy.

Buying a home is expensive – too expensive for most. So we take out mortgages, which could mean spending more than double the asking price for our homes.

Why do we bother? I admit, the prospect of paying hundreds of thousands of pounds to a wealthy lender feels like throwing money down the drain. But, unlike renting, at least I’ll one day own that drain and be able to live there without the fear of being thrown out.

In the 19th Century the French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon coined the phrase ‘Property is theft!’. But even Proudhon later backtracked, writing ‘Property is freedom… [but] as of all economic factors, harm and abuse cannot be dissevered from the good’.

He was probably right, but I’ll take the harm and abuse of property ownership any day if that’s my only chance of a shot at freedom.

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