A few weeks ago, I was at an event on affordable warmth. During the coffee break, I was chatting to a senior colleague about how we could encourage tenants and landlords in the private rented sector to install energy efficiency measures (cavity wall insulation, etc.) and I started to talk about my experience as a tenant.
“Oh. You still rent?” She seemed genuinely surprised. “Why haven’t you bought a house yet?”
I can’t remember the reason I gave at the time but I get asked that question a lot and I usually say one of the following:
- We’ve just not got round to it
- We like the flexibility of being able to move at the drop of a hat
- We can’t really afford the deposit
- We can’t afford the kind of house we’d really like to live in and aren’t willing to compromise.
All of those things are true but, this week, it occurred to me that there’s another reason. I have lived in rented properties for the vast majority of my life and I’m just used to it.
I was six when my parents separated and my mum and I moved in to rented accommodation. We lived in four different rented properties until I was 13 and she and my step-dad bought the house that’s still in my phonebook as ‘Home’. (I often accidentally phone it when I’m trying to get hold of my husband.) Then I left home for university at 18 and, since then, I’ve rented six different flats and houses.
That’s twelve addresses, plus the houses my dad lived in, which I visited at weekends. I’ve lived in every kind of property you can think of.
Despite the surprise of my colleague and others, my husband and I feel under no pressure to buy a house. We’ll do it at some point but for now, we live in a fantastic house, in a desirable area, with a good landlord and letting agent who do what they need to do but are otherwise pretty hands-off and don’t charge a fortune.
Sure, we’ve experienced some of the drawbacks to renting. There are little things that you’d change if it was worth the investment; the visits from bailiffs and police officers looking for previous tenants; the extortionate letting agent fees for renewing six monthly contracts; the house inspections; the visit from your landlord to give you your notice because he needs to sell the house. A particular low point in my life as a tenant was the day a previous landlord took DIY matters in to his own hands in order to save money and our dining room was filled with raw sewage. I can still remember that smell.
But I could live with all that if it wasn’t for an attitude that is summed up every weekday morning on BBC1, when the presenters of Homes Under The Hammer suggest that significantly less effort and money should be put into a property because it is “just a rental”. Now, I’m not naïve enough to think that there aren’t tenants who trash properties and that landlords are going to ensure the finest and most expensive fixtures and fittings for a property that is not their own home. But, when they do a shoddy job because they don’t think tenants deserve better, they are missing two important points: firstly, that without good tenants, their buy-to-let investment is worth a lot less and, secondly, that when you put shit in, you get shit out.
When it comes down to it, the house I rent is my home. I don’t own the bricks and mortar (let’s face it, the landlord probably doesn’t either) but I live out my life in it every single day and so I care for it as though it is my own. We’ll make the leap at some point but, in the meantime, we’re just not that hung up on ownership and that suits me.