A For Sale Sign Outside A Traditional Red Sandstone Tenement Flat (Apartment) In Glasgow

2B or Not 2B: The Buyer’s Dilemma

Nicola Biggerstaff – 18th August 2022

Earlier this month I discovered that the rumours surrounding my flat were true: my landlord had been attempting for months to sell my flat at auction without my knowledge, and now needed my help: could I let in a surveyor to conduct an up-to-date home report, and a photographer to take some pictures? While they have guaranteed that a sitting tenant will be in the sales agreement, therefore not making me homeless quite yet, my heart still sank. I am being reminded with every interaction with these people that this cosy little setup I had made for myself in the past year was never truly mine. I do not have a place to call my own no matter how many of my possessions surround me. I need to dip my toe into the buyer’s market, and the timing could not be worse.

Despite the forecasts, UK housing prices spiralled in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, rising by 11% on average between 2020 and 2021. A particular couple I used to work with come to mind, as they tried to buy their first home in the local (suburban/rural) area during this time. With offer after offer being rejected, and modest properties going for as much as £10,000 over asking price, they eventually found themselves a place at the beginning of this year. As a fellow first-time buyer, I knew I had a slightly more difficult challenge ahead being on a single income, and that I would have to make some sacrifices, but I hadn’t realised just how stark these would be. 

The first question: where to go? When I first began renting, location was a primary concern. It had to be commuting distance from my job at the time, but still close enough to my family that they wouldn’t complain about the distance (‘We just want to keep an eye on you.’). I struck lucky and found a place exactly halfway between. Now that I work from home, location isn’t as important. My heart was initially set on returning to Glasgow, where I lived for a time during university and undoubtedly spent the best years of my life. It’s the dilemma of the young buyer: you want to be close to the action, especially now having spent recent years missing out on our formative experiences. Then I saw the price for a simple studio and swiftly gave up on that dream. Giving this up, while not one of the more difficult obstacles, is definitely one of the more emotional. Accepting that those better days, those more youthful days of adventure and spontaneity are very much behind me. For the sake of getting value for money, getting a place that could fit more than a bed and a couch that also won’t bankrupt me in the process, I will have to settle for somewhere nearby, somewhere… quiet. Settling for suburbia, something I didn’t ever imagine having to do whilst still in my twenties. I can already hear you laughing at one of the ‘young yins’ yearning for times past, but I’m trying to buy a house here! 

What is it about this country’s culture that we feel the need to force our young people onto the property ladder as soon as they feel the slightest hint of independence or capability? We’re not given the time to develop ourselves or cement our life priorities before we’re tied into a decades-long agreement in a property we’ve most likely had to compromise on. This is so uncommon across the rest of the globe. In Latin America, it’s common to stay in your parent’s home until marriage or even later, not even thinking about buying your own property until your 30s at least. In Switzerland, homeownership is so uncommon (at less than 42%) due to the high standard and upkeep of rented properties available, that it becomes the preferred option. What makes us so different?

Some have pointed to the size of our properties. The UK has comparatively some of the smallest houses by square metres in the world, and we’re beginning to feel the squeeze. When my parent’s downsized back in 2018, it was noticeable. Suddenly, there was no privacy, and worse still, no space after any particularly heated discussion. We could hear each other constantly, feel each other’s footsteps through the vibrations of the floorboards. Even minus a sibling after he moved out, we were cramped. The need for a young person to leave and spread their wings under these circumstances is perfectly understandable, but is also just another sign that the whole system is set up for young people being forced into a massive commitment to buying property, and buying it quickly. With rent prices skyrocketing, there is a risk of being trapped in a dangerous cycle: move to a rental to save up for a deposit, realise that shockingly high rent makes saving next to impossible, and end up living paycheck to paycheck, with no chance of building up a high enough deposit to escape. This is the situation I could well find myself in if I don’t move quickly. I don’t say this lightly, or in a cheap attempt to gain sympathy, but the market has changed since the turn of the millennium, and none of it for the better.

Even my parents, my fountains of knowledge who have since committed themselves to guiding me through the process, had to admit that ‘things have changed since we did this.’ Buying their first flat in 1989, a 2-bed in the central commuter belt for £24,000 (a price that could make me weep), it was clear that their assistance would be relying on common sense rather than their own experience. This became apparent during an embarrassing ten-minute phone call to the bank, that I only made at their insistence to ‘get the ball rolling’… ‘Oh no no no, your decision in principle is completed online now, then get back in touch with us’. Young people are running blind into a market which looks like nothing seen previously, making the idea of generational social mobility, the idea that buying a house proves our parents raised us well enough to get this far, a mere façade for their entrapment into the market.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still in an incredibly fortunate position: I have a secure network of family and friends who can help me should the worst happen, and many people trying to do this on their own simply do not have these resources. While my own hubris will always get in the way, insisting I exhaust every avenue possible before turning for help, it simply does not compare to the hardships and obstacles facing some prospective buyers. We are on the cusp of facing the most financially paralysing economy in our lifetimes, and yet we’re being forced into this without the slightest hint of help from the government. Even the Scottish Help to Buy scheme, discontinued in March of last year, only benefitted those intending to buy a costly new build home; made possible by profiteering housebuilding companies and contractors, cutting corners with shoddy craftsmanship in the name of profit, leaving us with an influx of low-quality homes in this country that will not stop without increased government regulation.  

Here at Common Weal, we have produced numerous policy proposals, consultation responses, and articles highlighting these issues and more. We offer up our solutions to the inequalities the housing market creates, and are prepared to discuss these with any party which is willing to listen. It seems to be an unspoken rule that buying property in this country is a living nightmare, but it shouldn’t have to be this way. It’s time we called out the predatory behaviour of these markets and created fairer opportunities for all -renters or prospective buyers – when they’re ready for it. 

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