Wherever I lay my hat…

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.


2 thoughts on “Wherever I lay my hat…

  1. Great post Jenn!

    When I lived in Cheltenham I was of the same mind as you. At the moment I absolutely cannot wait to buy somewhere of my own. It’s not just that rentals always have dirty carpets, marked walls and a landlord who suggests coming round on a Sunday evening to fix a light, three times! I also object to forking out over a grand a month to line someone else’s pockets!

    We’ve always been excellent tenants and have treated properties like our own but at the end of the day, the landlord is the one with all the protection as it’s just assumed that tenants will break things and not clean.

    As well as “property developers” on HUTH there is another breed making renting the only viable option for most young people. We went to look round a new built development the other day and it was full of middle aged couples clearly looking to buy a rental property. It’s people like that, snapping up the smaller stock, that push up house prices! And they’ll be the first to complain that their children can’t afford to buy a house!

    Right, I’m off to look at rightmove!

  2. An interesting blog Jenn and thought provoking! We rent our place at home but many of our friends out here don’t, they just stand empty most of the year. Swings and roundabouts, ….It is good to have the extra monthly income, but we have found that most tenants don’t look after it as they would their own home and each time we see ours it looks just that little more sad and unloved.
    When we were starting out together our first home cost £10,000, saving A deposit wasn’t too onerous, these days its scary! I think the fact that house prices appear fairly stagnant at the moment affects things, as well, if the house prices were doubling again like they did at that time then maybe their would be more urgency for youngsters to buy! But how does one get started when one needs such a worryingly high deposit. I am not sure what the answer is……..

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