Sunday, 7 September 2014

Wherever I Lay My Head, That's My Home: House Renting

Maybe we just did life all wrong...

This is my thought for the day as I look through yet another property catalogue, breezing through the pages at more houses we are never going to buy.

Well, maybe we did.

At 23 and 22, we had our kids comparatively young, we both left home young at 17 years old, and funnily enough, the graduate employers who we were told would be battering down our door to offer us graduate placements after completing our humanities degrees, on all-singing, all-dancing graduate schemes seemed to have missed our graduate announcements.

Maybe life did a number on us?

Returning home from visiting a mortgage broker this recently, we had renewed hope in our eyes.

Well, kind of.

We know that the ability to buy our own home isn't completely out-of-the-park unrealistic, it's just that, well, let's just say it's not going to be happen any time soon.

Unless, you know, we win the lottery.  Or we discover that we have a long lost rich relative  who dies suddenly, inexplicably leaving all of their fortune to us.

It was a slightly scary affair.  I'd made the enquiry a week earlier, and before I knew it, a man had phoned me, asked me to look out all of my grown-up paperwork (bank statements, pay slips, National Insurance numbers) and meet for a two hour appointment.

It was all very official.

I still don't feel old enough to be allowed a mortgage.  As someone who, at nearly 30 years old, is still getting I.D'd at the corner shop for beer, I have a hard time feeling like a grown up sometimes.

And little wonder.  Our generation have not been allowed to grow up.

A few of my friends have managed to buy their own homes, but it must be said, a lot of them have had help to do so - parents willing to let them live at home, pay student expenses while at university, gifting that first ever-elusive deposit for a property.  Very few have managed alone.  And a lot of those who have, don't have children.

Thanks to the recession in 2008, the year Thomas was born, and coincidentally, also the year I graduated, jobs became like gold dust.  The kind of jobs that folk with degrees had been doing, kind of disappeared, as graduate schemes disappeared, job positions vanished and suddenly, we weren't only competing with the other saps who graduated at the same time as us, but also a lot of very qualified and very experienced people who had lost their long-term jobs.

The market was fierce.

By the time Dave graduated in 2009, we had one child, one full-time student job and a lot of rent to pay.

Since 2008 our small family has moved house six times - the same age as our oldest son will be in October this year.

I am on my 15th house move in the 30 years that I have been alive.

I am very used to a life of unsettlement - yet something I crave more than anything else, is to be settled in a home I can call my own.

But while I am very used to it - to packing up boxes, to the ins and outs of renting and looking and landlords and letting agents - I have to confess, it is really not something that I am keen for my own children to experience.

However, that seems to be the world that we live in today.  With the average age of home ownership in the UK being 38 years old, the 'home' is no longer someone's castle, but rather an expensive and stressful experience where we are not allowed to decorate or get too comfy.

There are positives and negatives to renting.  There's a positive in that you get to try out lots of different places and areas to live.  If you don't like where you live, then you can move on after a relatively short amount of time, and you don't have the responsibilities that come with home ownership, such as roof repairs, boiler replacement or clearing the gutters.

But man, what I wouldn't give just to be able to plan more than a year ahead at a time.

This year I feel we have reached our limit in terms of house move.  Having moved slightly further away than we would have liked, to a town outside the catchment area for the school which Thomas attends, we stand little chance of Ethan getting into the same school. He goes to a school in a very good area, which is so over-subscribed that they have had to add whole classes to each year group.  It's also the area with the highest rental prices in our city - almost double of what we currently pay for a similar sized property, simply based on the 'quality' of the area.  Not to mention the higher council tax rates.

We will be faced with a dilemma by the end of the year; move closer to the school and try to hash it out in an area where rents are a lot higher than we can realistically afford, or stay where we are and try to build a life, in the hope that if for some reason we can't stay in the house we are in, that we can easily find one of a similar size and price in the vicinity.

It's a tough call.

Of course, another option is to move away completely, to start again in a new area completely, one where we can afford to live and where it won't be such an issue to move if we have to.  Which opens us up to yet more things like area, neighbours, costs, letting agents, landlords, costs of moving, moving schools, upsetting the kids again etc etc...

It's certainly not easy.

But we're in no way alone.

Feeling quite despondent one morning, I typed out a couple of lines on Twitter: 'Do any of you rent your house?  How do you get on?'

The feedback was amazing.

There are so many people out there in letting hell, and it is so very clear to see that things need to be simpler.  From one lady whose brother had accepted a house 8 weeks previously and still had to get a moving date settled, to the lady who had had really awful financial problems with her landlord, it is obvious that renting, although a reality for millions, is not an easy process.

It is indeed not a choice for many; I would say that the vast majority of us simply want to settle in an ideal place, decorate it as we wish and be in control of if and when we move to the next location.  But life is not that simple.

I received some really heartfelt emails from all over the world about rental cultures similar to ours up here in Scotland and the same issues translate across the board; and it seems to be intensified when you have children, especially small children.  There's such a strong sense that all you want for your children is that they should have a 'home' rather than just a house.

One lovely lady wrote of her experience:

'I didn’t mind renting at all. We don’t know where we want to lay our roots down yet, so we felt like this was a good choice for now. However, my feelings changed a lot when my son was born. I started to feel more and more like my house wasn’t really my house. Someone else owned it, and guess what? He could potentially come over anytime he wanted. He’s a professional and nice landlord, but occasionally he would (unknowingly!) come over when the baby was sleeping or I was trying to take a very-necessary-new-mom-nap.

I also didn’t like the idea that any decoration or design I put into the house wouldn’t be here forever. I started to get very, “what’s the point?” about decorating the house. I didn’t like that feeling. I want my son to grow up in a house full of art and beauty! It’s also hard raising a kid in a house when you feel like someone is always watching over you. Our landlord comes by a lot, and reminds us to water the plants, and empty the dehumidifier; it sort of makes me feel like a kid again, and I don’t like that!'

She then went on to say:

'However, the house is our home for now, and it’s the only home my son knows. I have decorated his room, and his toys are scattered throughout. We run around the backyard and take walks around our neighborhood. I have to remember that just because we are renting, it doesn’t mean I can’t love my house (which I do), or make this house a home (I’m trying!). I really did not expect my feelings to change so much when my son was born, but I guess it’s that mama bear instinct kicking in. I want my son to know he’s safe and comfy wherever he is, but I also have to remember that wherever his mom and dad are, is home to him.'

It's something Dave says to me time and time again - usually when I'm fretting over our latest house-move and the impact that it will have on everyone, yet again; 'They won't care where they are, as long as we are there with them. Wherever we are, as long as we are all together - it doesn't matter'

My worries travel with me all the time, and they range from totally crazy, to a bit scary really.  Things like:
  • What if I can't find a house where my lovely new couches (that I just nearly finished paying off!) will fit? (It's so important for me to have my own things)
  • What if we have another child - where will he/she fit?
  • Will Ethan get into the school Tom is at?
  • Will we end up moving somewhere else completely?
  • Will the next place accept our elderly dog?
  • Will we ever have a garden?
  • Should we move out of this town completely?
  • What if we can't afford to run a car any more?
  • What if we get turfed out and have to find somewhere quickly?
  • What about nightmare neighbours?
  • Where the hell is our Xmas tree going to be put up next year? (every time I take the xmas tree down - that tree must think it's on some kind of magical mystery tour. Every time the box opens, it's somewhere new!)
  • What happens if one of us gets ill and can't work?
  • Will the boys always have to share a room?
  • What if we don't get our deposit back?
  • What if we end up with a crazy, horrible landlord?
  • Storage space, storage space, storage space...
Where will we be hanging our stockings next year?

We had a shot at being settled, but we couldn't take it.  The house belonged to Dave's dad and there were far too many complicated issues surrounding it.  Sometimes the whole family thing is too difficult - it caused a lot of tension and a lot of friction.  We were extremely unhappy; the house had some issues, stuff happened and we had to move.  I'd never wanted to move there; I knew about these things before we did, but I was in a bad place when we moved and by default we ended up giving up a house that we absolutely loved. It caused problems between us and the overall stability of our family unit was threatened; it came to the point where we knew what we had to do. We had to get out of there.

The man at the mortgage shop basically told us we had about seven years to wait until we could buy a house.


Seven years, if nothing financial went wrong, and if suddenly our debts disappeared overnight.

He offered us life insurance, to which we shrugged and said we'd think about it, he showed us a list of houses we could buy with a mortgage if we could in any way, shape or form get one now, and it choked me up.

We have no problem paying a shit-ton of money in rent every month, but no broker will take that as a guarantee that a mortgage would be paid.  And so we remain in eternal house-renting-limbo.

Maybe we did life all wrong...

 Well, we probably did.  But that doesn't make it fair.

Tonight I wandered into the kitchen, head in hands, after yet another conversation with a friend about whether we are going to have to move again or not.

'Where are we going to end up?' I sighed.

Dave grabbed me by the shoulders, and in his ever-loving manner, pulled me close and said:

 'Happy.  We'll end up happy.  Don't you worry about that.  Wherever we go, as long as we are together, we'll be happy'


  1. We rent too, and it is bloomin' frustrating so often! We could afford to pay a mortgage, and have a big deposit - but house prices are high where we live and noone will lend us enough to buy somewhere of our own, even though the resulting mortgage would be lower than the rent we pay! Add to that that after 8 months of househunting for a new rental property, one with a garden for our kids to roam, we have had no luck. There is such a lack of 3/4 bedroom houses for rent in our area that each one is inundated with interest, meaning the landlord gets to pick from the interested parties- thus far 5 of the 6 we have applied for have gone to couples with no children, and the last one went to a family with one child (we have 3!). I have now given up looking as it is miserable getting your hopes up to get them dashed repeatedly. I hadn't realised that even if you have a bit of cash (for the first time in my life!) it is still impossible to find a nice family home in our expensive part of the country!

    I agree with your OH though, we are otherwise happy, so I am not going to dwell - but I think us girls find it harder as we have a natural nesting instinct that is hard to shake!

  2. We were lucky enough to have someone be a guarantor for us when we were mortgage shopping so managed to buy a house that was little over priced, but in decent area not too far from where we would have liked to be.
    We are constantly skint because when things go wrong, we have no choice but to pay for them, some months even the financial responsibility of having a pet it a little much.
    We are mums. We are strong. And we CAN and WILL do whatever we need to do to keep our families together (elderly dogs and mad cats included) because Dave is right, what matters is that you are all together. And that your little boys are so lucky that they have both parents under one roof together and that they love each other.
    Keep going and the answer will come xxxxxxx

  3. Renting an apartment does not mean that one cannot build, or even buy a house. Renting an apartment can be very beneficial to a person.


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