How to be gracious about not owning a house?
July 18, 2016 5:56 PM   Subscribe

Everyone I know has bought a house. Every one of them has bought a house because they received an inheritance or a massive influx of cash via other familial mechanisms. I do not have a house or an inheritance. How to deal with this?

I am 40 and despite working and saving for the better part of 15 years I cannot afford to buy a house. This is because I live in London and have never quite managed to keep up with the rate at which house prices have rocketed in the 7 years I've been here. All of my friends (in and out of London) have houses that they own, which is fair enough, but every single one of them were able to do so through an injection of cash that came from family. Some didn't save at all, yet still, here they are, house a-go-go.

I thought I'd made my peace with this - they are my friends whom I love so hey there you go. However recently it's become harder to deal because people will not stop banging on about their house or their mortgage or that improvement they are about to begin etc. And then they remember that I rent, and I get that weird sympathetic smile, and then the conversation switches. Or, even worse, I get this whole spiel about how much freer you are when renting - great! I say, so sell your house and rent then! Surprisingly there are no takers.

In my 30's I could deal but it's now beyond the pale. What's really killing me is that members of my own staff are excitedly talking about their home purchasing activity as one has just made an offer on a house for which parental support is contributing 60% of the asking price! It's really, really hard to make nice, but I do. However it's churning me up inside that people patronise me because I don't have a house when neither would they if someone else hadn't damned well paid for it. I'm not so much jealous of the house-having as the lack of recognition of privilege, yet I'm aware that thinking this way makes me the wrong-doer.

So counsel me dear mefites, how do I just suck this up without secretly seething over other people's good fortunes and feeling shitty about my own lack of likewise resource?
posted by socksister to Home & Garden (42 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I would consider discussing your feelings with a therapist.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 6:18 PM on July 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

It's really not fair. I suspect the therapist suggestion is only because this is such a hard problem.
posted by amtho at 6:24 PM on July 18, 2016 [7 favorites]

It's frustrating to feel this way. I am your age and also rent, though I'm in a different kind of market and could buy if I wanted to - real estate is much cheaper in my city. But life is still full of unfairness - because my family is working-class and rather than getting an inheritance I expect to wipe out any savings caring for my parents when their money runs out.

Maybe this is an opportunity to ask yourself some questions. Do you want to buy? How important is it to you? Important enough to leave London? Have you run the numbers and looked at what you might possibly be able to afford? Sometimes gathering all the data and thinking it through means you're able to make a call and find some peace with yourself.

I also suggest looking for friends who are in similar circumstances to yourself (not ditching your current friends). Sometimes it's easier to be around people who don't inspire that kind of anxiety.
posted by bunderful at 6:27 PM on July 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

my answer below assumes you have to keep interacting with these people and can't just avoid them.

one way to deal with this might be to acknowledge the privilege directly. ie, "congrats on the new place! what a privilege to have a family with the resources for such an opportunity." directly acknowledge their financial privilege, express some congrats to be polite, change the subject.

also, people are not talking about their home improvement or remodeling projects to patronize you, it's just a natural extension of talking about something that consumes a lot of your free time and money. if you want to shut that down you can say, "oh i don't know much about (choosing flooring/decorating/windows/gardening/whatever); that was never really a priority for me/i never had to worry about that," and change the subject so that it becomes awkward for them to keep coming back to it.

if they're talking about a small project, maybe you can chime in on that conversation if you've done something similar in your home, painting, choice of furnishings, whatever.

i think that sometimes people will go on and on about their home improvement or buying furniture or whatnot because they're seeking validation from others that these hugely expensive decisions they are making are in fact wise and well-suited. maybe they are worrying out loud a little, not with the intention of making you feel inferior to them.

think about it, if you bought, say, a really $$ painting, or you planned a BIG trip, you'd start telling people in your life about it out of excitement, and also because it calms the system after taking a financial leap to hear your friends and family respond with, oh yeah, that painting IS something you'd love, i can understand why you spent so much on it. or oh yeah, that trip totally sounds like it suits you, and it will probably be a great experience for you.

especially if you're telling someone who knows you well - when they say it suits you, you are less likely to feel anxious about your choice.

this: "And then they remember that I rent, and I get that weird sympathetic smile, and then the conversation switches." I know what you are talking about, and this is uncomfortable and irritating. you can confront it directly in a joking way and prevent it from happening over and over again. "why are you looking at me like that? i like where i live now! and besides, it's london - no plans to buy unless i suddenly realize i'm related to a rich dead guy." imo, people who cannot take the hint from this correction, delivered in a dry humorous fashion, are rude.

in general though, congrats, you are in the advantageous position of being able to spend 0 free time doing home improvement bullshit and $0 on property taxes, and if your neighbors are irritating or actively hostile, you can move away from them.
posted by zdravo at 6:29 PM on July 18, 2016 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I feel your pain. I live in a similarly expensive city across the pond, but I'm a decade or so younger than you and was hearing about this home ownership nonsense when I was barely into my mid-20s*, so there's that.

I think you just need to accept that middle-class folk are going to middle-class and buy houses with family money and gab about it as though it should be an achievable goal for everyone. That's what they do, but we're not them. Having to listen to this stuff is part of the price you pay for inter-generational mobility - no one tells you this before you go to uni, but there it is. I go home at night knowing that I've made my net worth entirely on my own through scrappiness and shrewdness, and I can be proud of that, even in a rental.

I've found that the easiest way to make piece with this is to maintain friendships with people who, like me, aren't going to cash out from the Bank of Mommy and Daddy. Don't get me wrong, I love my solidly-middle-class friends, and I love their housewarming parties, but if I'm feeling crummy about my circumstances, I don't always love having to deal with the fact that they aren't ever going to get it. So do make sure that you stay close with people who can keep it real, but ultimately, just relax about it. As amtho says, it's not fair, but it's life doing what it said it would on the can.

*There's this annoying assumption here that (a) Baby Boomers who didn't become homeowners are something of an urban legend, and that (b) virtually all middle-class millenials won the intergenerational wealth transfer lottery thanks to (a). And I work in a profession where you'd expect people to not assume (a) nor (b), yet they mostly casually do.
posted by blerghamot at 6:30 PM on July 18, 2016 [14 favorites]

You could think about how you feel about things, and maybe reframe it that way. What I mean is, some people are really invested in their things. In the US, the analog would be young people who get married, but a house, buy a boat and two cars, buy a bigger house, etc etc. and at some point you have to wonder if the enjoyment of owning all of those things and all of the work that goes into those things is really worth it. And a lot of those young people are just modeling the "success" that their parents had apparently achieved, while being sheltered from the reality of ownership, without ever questioning it.

I think that what you can do is consider if you want a house because it's right for you or because it's what everyone else is doing. If owning a house is being true to what you want, then make it happen on your own and revel in your strength. Choosing to act based on what you really want is, like, super adult, and definitely more adult than buying a house because Daddy said you had to. Try not to judge those on a different path too harshly though, everyone's figuring out life at the same time and all that.
posted by cabingirl at 6:31 PM on July 18, 2016

I totally understand. Your feelings are completely valid. But they're messing you up and making you feel kind of shitty and less-than. Can you see a therapist a couple of times, or even once, to help you frame this in a way that lets you feel good about yourself?

I realize that's what you're asking for here, but the mechanism that makes this bug you might be very personal.

You're not nuts; and it sounds like your friends are aware of having won the family lottery. There are good things about renting, especially in a major city. I hope you find a way to make the situation less annoying for you.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:31 PM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

The green monster never ends. Once you get a house, then all you notice is how your house is the worst house, and everyone's house is nicer than yours. You have to find satisfaction within. It's super hard.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:35 PM on July 18, 2016 [46 favorites]

It may help if you think about it this way. Whether a house is a better investment in the long run than a mix of securities is far from clear. London real estate is obviously an extreme case, but no one knows what the future will bring. You can certainly tell yourself with reasonable confidence that by investing your own earnings elsewhere, you have a decent shot (based on the historical record) at ending up financially better off at the time of retirement than if you overstretched yourself to buy, or moved elsewhere to do so. So. You're earning your own money and investing it where you think best. What's to worry about your friends' houses?

Also, your friends are probably thinking far less about your renterness than you think they are. When you're sensitive on a point, it's hard not to feel like others are pressing on it on purpose.
posted by praemunire at 6:38 PM on July 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

My advice is meant to be helpful and responsive, and I hope it is. I have a situation where both my wife and I came from lower class families and so started out with very little. Over 38 years we have built up to the point where we are upper middle class but between the low starting point, college education for our kids and our advancing age we are not as prepared for retirement as we need to be. It is hard to go to high school reunions and see the people in family businesses such as car dealerships or law firms and wonder how easy they may have had it, and how plush their retirement plans may be.

I often tell people that nobody is "back-stopping" me. Other family members may approach me for help, but I know it cannot go the other direction. So I have a responsibility to be fiscally conservative and risk averse. No Audi cars or international vacations for me, nor any fancy new kinds of investments in the hope of "catching-up" on my retirement.

So what I'm saying is the "story" I have spun for myself is that I have clawed myself up to this point and, knowing how hard it was, keeping my family secure is more important than status or luxuries. But I do play $10 / week in the lotteries just on the off chance the astronomical odds come in. Hey, it's cheaper than therapy!
posted by forthright at 6:42 PM on July 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

What makes me feel better is reading Apartment Therapy and running numbers through the NYTimes Rent vs. Buy calculator - and stuffing money into our retirement and vacation funds. And knowing that we're debt free and don't owe anybody anything.

I don't mind renting actually; just that due to the crazy real estate market we've ended up moving every year. I mind the moving. Part of my frustration/envy is just that we haven't been able to unpack properly, that we can't buy furniture that fits the space we're in (or we do, and then we move!), etc - esp the last two moves which were made with a 3mo old and 18mo old. There's still boxes around, and awkward furniture, and no time... we both feel sort of crappy about our space instead of relaxed in it; and on edge because a 1 yr lease isn't very long.

We live in Sydney and are in the exact same boat. MeMail me anytime you want to vent!
posted by jrobin276 at 6:54 PM on July 18, 2016

It's a really sucky situation. I sympathise and I don't think it makes you a bad person at all. Therapy might help, having friends who are more in your circumstances would too.

one way to deal with this might be to acknowledge the privilege directly. ie, "congrats on the new place! what a privilege to have a family with the resources for such an opportunity." directly acknowledge their financial privilege, express some congrats to be polite, change the subject.

I really like this suggestion. Great to have family that can lend or give you insane amounts of money but not everyone does - point that out to them. You're not a renter because you're a lazy slacker. If someone lent/gave you a hundred thousand pounds or so, you'd be buying too.
posted by kitten magic at 7:29 PM on July 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

anybody who can afford to buy a house because of an inheritance is enjoying a house in lieu of a live loved one. I realize you can have the worst of all worlds and most people do, e.g. dead parents and no inheritance either, but even so, unless all your friends inherited their wealth from distant great-aunts they never met and had no feelings for, they are not so much enjoying luck as making the best of a tragedy's silver lining. maybe that will make you feel....better?
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:30 PM on July 18, 2016 [9 favorites]

I own, but I have never ever looked upon a friend with pity for not owning or thought they were somehow not succeeding for renting. It's worth considering whether these pitying looks are really happening or if you might be projecting your feelings on the matter onto others (suggested in the kindest way).

Owning isn't the status thing it once was. And at least in my world, there is not a stigma attached to renting. In some housing markets, it's not common to own and most people rent. It can also be a burden to own with repairs and maintenance. And sometimes it makes better financial or lifestyle sense to rent over own.
posted by cecic at 8:04 PM on July 18, 2016 [13 favorites]

Don't be fooled by how well off your friends appear to be.

People in general tend to live well beyond their means. Miles beyond even.

The average American household carries 15K in credit card debt, $168K in mortgage debt, $27K in auto loan debt, and about $48K in student loans.

In the UK things are bit more restrained. The average debt for a British household was £54,740 in May.

The visible prosperity you see is often an illusion. Even your well off friends are nowhere near as well off as they seem.

[also people buying a house in London may be making a huge mistake buying at the peak of the market if the Brexit effects on real estate investment funds are anything to go by]
posted by srboisvert at 8:05 PM on July 18, 2016 [16 favorites]

This absolutely is hard, but there are hundreds of variations. Parents talk about their babies in front of parents who've suffered miscarriages. Couples talk about their relationships in front of the unwillingly single. People talk about their Ivy League colleges in front of people who went to state schools. People either complain about their parents or talk about how wonderful they are in front of people whose own parents died young. A beloved relative helped me buy a condo, but several of these others apply to me and they are hard and infuriating and I don't always handle them well inside my head (I'm always super gracious on the outside, even when I want to say, I wish MY mother were around to call me all the time.) People don't talk about their houses to make your life hard. They talk about them because that is part of their lives. But if you're anything like me, you have your own privilege that you hardly ever think about. (Here's my own doozy - I once complained about my child's below average test scores in front of a parent whose own child will never be capable of taking a written test.)

You are not a bad person for feeling this way, but it is not good for your own happiness. I know it's a cliche to tell people to count their blessings, but a version of that is my strategy. I read a lot of history, particularly World War II. It puts things in perspective to remember that people my parents' age literally lost everything - including not only their homes, but all of their family. That might seem like an extreme way to deal with envy, but it is what works best for me.

Good luck.
posted by FencingGal at 8:08 PM on July 18, 2016 [35 favorites]

Here's an article about young professionals buying houses with parental support.

Is there anything you can do as a renter that you couldn't do if you were a homeowner? Like live an a really fantastic part of town, rent a condo with a sauna and a great rooftop, or travel more? if so, maybe see if you can focus on those kinds of benefits, to remind yourself that each choice comes with plusses and minuses, and your situation is fine.

Also, being around people who have more than you is a recipe for dissatisfaction. If you were to spend some time with people who have less than you (perhaps volunteering alongside people who have less material luck, or less good health, than you have), it might become easier to feel grateful. I don't think volunteering should be a self-serving project designed to make the volunteer feel lucky and better-off than the people they serve, so I won't recommend it straight-out as it's really not for everyone.... but if there were a cause you cared about, now might be a good time to engage.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:34 PM on July 18, 2016

Here is a list of things you don't have in your life because you don't own a house:

- Time- and money-sucking home upkeep and repairs (as a renter, your toilet breaks, you call the landlord; as an owner, your toilet breaks, you better learn how to fix and/or install a damn toilet)
- Yardwork. Which never, ever, ever, ever, ever stops needing to happen.
- Property taxes (yes, I know they're baked into your rent, but that's vastly preferable than seeing your bill every year and seeing it increase every year)
- The nagging feeling, while you're sitting on your couch having a beer, that there's something you should be doing around the house right now and the guilt that comes with not doing it
- anxiety about what your next house needs to be, rooted in what your current house is not

Honestly, if you are happy renting, rent forever - home ownership is OK, but it's not the be-all and end-all of life's happiness by any stretch. Don't believe people when they tell you that owning a home is the smartest thing you can ever do - it is not a bad financial move if you can make it, sure, but it's absolutely not detrimental to your quality of life if you can't.
posted by pdb at 8:38 PM on July 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

If some validation would help, I agree that "the lack of recognition of privilege" really can be infuriating. If people would more often say "we were incredibly lucky that ... and are so grateful, and it sure sucks that we live in a world where you need a big inheritance to consider owning," it would be nice. I don't think correcting them or pointing this out is likely to feel good. I'm sorry I don't have better suggestions than to take satisfaction knowing you did it all on your own.
posted by salvia at 8:58 PM on July 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Consider the possibility that after Brexit, house prices might take something of a dive. And that using a house to fund retirement is a "delusion."

When you're in the middle of a housing bubble, not being able to ride that train is painful. But jumping on that train at the top of the bubble is even worse, so, well, consider that your friends with houses are going to have to deal with whatever insanity the market deals out in the next couple of years.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:00 PM on July 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

It sounds from your message that your issue is the envy (particularly about the inheritance thing) rather than the house itself. But surely you are going to come up against all sorts of people in life who have things better than you, whether it's their face, their success, their car, or whatever.

If it's about the house, then just keep saving until the next bust. I've been in the London market, and buying a house whenever it all goes to rats (1980, 1988, 1994, 2001, 2009) would have been a great plan. House prices go mad and then back off. If you wait for the next one you'll do fine.

If the problem is that you can't afford to buy a house as nice as you're used to (and by the age of 40 I can completely understand this), have you thought about becoming a "rentvestor"? Continue to rent where you want to live, and buy a property somewhere else and rent it out. It is pretty simple to find a property in which you can do this where the rent easily covers the mortgage (and sometimes it feels like half of UK TV output involves this). At least in that way you can be sure that you own at least one roof over your head by the time you're 65, which is kind of the point of the whole exercise.

I can't help with the other thing, as I don't think I know anyone who's owned property because of an inheritance. In fact, I don't think I know anyone who's received more than a few thousand as an inheritance. I wonder why that is? I can see how it would grate that someone you knew suddenly "came into" a house, but there's no point in anything other than graciousness.

I can assure you that your friends who switch the conversation when they remember you don't have a house are probably feeling at least as uncomfortable as you are.
posted by tillsbury at 9:23 PM on July 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do not say "congrats on the new place! what a privilege to have a family with the resources for such an opportunity."

That's a very passive aggressive comment, assumes a lot about their background and how they got the house, and puts a damper on something that they are excited about. You are spreading your own negative energy.

I agree with ThePinkSuperHero that you're living your life through the eyes of others. There will be always someone with more. Focus on yourself. It's hard, but mediation, working with a therapist, etc. will help you get there.

Finally, it may be useful to take a step back and think about a moment that the house purchase is a Western societal construct. In many ways it's perceived as this moment when "you made it" but in a lot of ways that's BS. Even if you were a millionaire there would be a lot reasons why you should invest your money in a mutual fund instead of sinking into a house purchase (which is a risky investment). I mention the last point as something to consider as you are envying something that is a social construct and does not measure your worth in any way. Worth is about how you treat others, what you contribute to the world, and how your perceive yourself.
posted by pando11 at 9:30 PM on July 18, 2016 [14 favorites]

Life ain't fair. Not to be glib, it's true.

Consider what you do have, not what you don't.
posted by so fucking future at 9:33 PM on July 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh goodness, yeah, avoid the "congratulations! Must be nice to have rich relatives" type comments! They will know you're envious, you will know they know, and that's humiliating.

If they rabbit on about home improvement, I like the suggestion of telling them it's not your thing, and changing the topic.
If they address the fact that you don't own a home, how about honesty? "No, I'd love to, but I don't have any backers so it's not in the cards. I'm super envious of you guys!" I find that kind of emotional humility with friends makes it paradoxically less humiliating and freeing. Might not work for you, though.

Also maybe free yourself of the idea that home ownership is part of the natural progression of things and a marker of age and maturity. That's a cultural assumption but it's simply not true anymore.
posted by Omnomnom at 10:56 PM on July 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

Advice from someone in Finance - stop fixating on the idea of the binary state of house / no-house.

If someone has $100,000 in assets, it doesn't matter if they have it as $100,000 in a savings account, as $100,000 equity in property, or $100,000 in the stock market. All 3 financial instruments perform at varying levels depending on the state of the economy. A person buying a house doesn't magically make them richer.

I've always dedicated half my income to what I call "long term" asset building, so at any point in life at least half my income is either building my cash fixed deposits, stocks, or property equity, depending on which one seems most logical at the time. It's possible to live at virtually any level of income: when I started out I slept in a store-room without a door, I took public transport for a 1 hour 20 minutes commute.

If you're ever feeling down, I find it helps to consider how fortunate we are - and the opportunities afforded us - compared to our peers living in third world countries. Resolve to make the best of the opportunities you're given and not waste them! One of the things I will never take for granted again is the simple privilege of having access to clean, drinkable water, at any time I want.
posted by xdvesper at 11:30 PM on July 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

You can also perhaps just try to widen your social network a little to include more people who are not so priveliged. There are, after all, hoards of people who cannot afford to buy in London who instead live outside of London- some in houses they own, others in houses they rent. It feels to you like you are the minority but even within the UK your situation is far more common than that of the small number who can afford to buy in London because of an inheritance.

I think constantly rubbing up against those who simply have more than you can be a recipe for ongoing frustration (and there is research to back this- on phone but will look later). Can you live/socialise elsewhere or more broadly?
posted by jojobobo at 12:20 AM on July 19, 2016

I would treat it the same as one might treat news from friends who are having a baby: congratulations! And then congratulate yourself on being able to look forward to uninterrupted sleep at night.

Because buying a house is like having a baby. Some people will never recognise you as an adult until you do (screw them; I have neither). And it's expensive and a whole lot of trouble, you're covered in puke and your conversation becomes incredibly tedious.

My husband and I are a couple of years younger than you and we don't own, whilst all our friends in London do, invariably thanks to help from their parents. We are therefore completely free and can, and do, move across the world as soon as we find work. When in London we can live in amazing locations where we can just about afford the rent but could never buy. We can't hammer nails into walls, but if the roof falls in, it's not our problem.

Your envy is your problem not theirs, and it may be that it comes not so much from envy of their privilege but feeling that you are not seen as a proper grownup, when actually you are the one who doesn't stand on your parents' shoulders to succeed. This is especially pernicious in London's ridiculous market. Others have suggested therapy, but simply recognising the roots of your envy might help you deal with it.
posted by tavegyl at 12:43 AM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I empathize as all my family's time in the rental market was spent in substandard housing. About half the rental housing stock in the UK is substandard. If the OP has a really high income maybe he can afford to rent great places in amazing locations, but that's not reality for most people, and certainly won't be the OP's reality after he retires and rent costs more than 100% of his income.

OP, all I can suggest is that you focus on being able to fully support yourself across the lifespan, which many people who are obsessed with houses won't be doing.

In fact, if you save like a lunatic between now and retirement you might be able to grab a bargain after all from someone who was going "my house is my pension!" all this time and gets a surprise when it turns out they can't saw off and sell half their garden shed when they need grocery money.

The only reason you need to own a house is to assure your own housing across the lifespan. Since you can't do that by buying, you're going to have to do it by saving and investing to the best of your ability, and (I know this is obvious) shopping around the rental market for the absolute nicest place you can get every time you move.
posted by tel3path at 3:31 AM on July 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: There's a lot of commenting going on in this thread that might make it seem like your emotions about this are your problem, or a character flaw, and that you need to suck it up etc. I think this reflects a US outlook more than a UK one (I have lived for substantial periods in both countries). The US is still more or less fixated on the idea of meritocracy, bootstraps, self-actualization etc., and complaining about socioeconomic inequality is seen as whining by many there.

I own a flat in London. Until a few years ago I, like you, had absolutely no prospect of ever owning a home on the fruits of my own efforts, and this made me angry, because it is unfair. Then a big chunk of money pretty much fell out of the sky (long story, ex-boyfriend with rich parents) and suddenly I was able to buy. THE SYSTEM IS STILL UNFAIR. It is ABSOLUTELY privilege that I was able to buy and I am ABSOLUTELY conscious of it, and how completely freakin' ridiculous it is that money had to fall from the sky to make this happen and that all but the most affluent folks in their 20s, 30s and even 40s cannot save up enough from their honest labo(u)rs to buy a home instead of paying rent to someone richer than them.

I would say the best way to exercise your feelings about this is not to seek therapy necessarily, but to get involved. Get on your MP's back about housing reform. Get involved with Shelter. Agitate politically. That kind of thing. Housing in London is in crisis, politicians know that it is in crisis, they are still dodging doing anything about it. It may not help you buy your own home, but it will stop you feeling quite so impotently ragey about it.
posted by stuck on an island at 6:40 AM on July 19, 2016 [10 favorites]

I mean, there IS government help to buy, but it still largely benefits those who are wealthier. This is dumb and it perpetuates inequality and you're absolutely right to be upset about the larger situation and how it affects you.
posted by stuck on an island at 6:44 AM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I know this feeling; for me it has a lot to do with feeling insecure (not in the sense of feeling bad about myself, but more literal insecurity as in 'what's going to happen to me when I'm old?' and 'am I going to be okay in life?') So unless living in a house is something that you badly want, I agree with the suggestions to build up a really healthy amount of savings/investments and/or possibly, if you're able, buy a rental property somewhere where the math works out (which in its own way can be a kind of perpetuating the system, but that's another question).

You may also have very important reasons for living in London, but if not this could be a good time to start thinking about whether there are places where you could be not only happy but also more secure.

Basically, it seems to me that it's easiest to deal with crappy things of any kind when you know that your situation is not actually precarious.
posted by trig at 8:02 AM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

There may be a cross-cultural difference here (I'm US-based) but if it helps, the "weird sympathetic smile" you get when they realize they've been prattling on forever about their house is almost 100% more likely to be "oh crap, I am now monopolizing this conversation with a topic that socksister has no interest in, oh jeez, just smile and move it along" rather than pity for renters.
posted by amicamentis at 9:00 AM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I rent a room from one of my friends who owns a house because I cannot afford an apartment. She can be pretty dense about going on about how expensive the house is, how it's not the house she wants, and how horrible the housing crisis in our city is in front of me. I directly asked her not to complain about her finances to me (she makes about 3x what I do), and that's helped - might be worth asking close friends to not bring up the topic. It's also kind of a joke among our friend group that homeowners only want to talk about their mortgages and home improvements, so it's possible to redirect without seeming bitter. Sometimes I'll just excuse myself and go to the bathroom to wait out the house talk. Living in the house does help me appreciate how often things break and how many problems keep cropping up (it was literally raining in the breaker box last year). Houses are a lot of work.

The point above about feeling insecure in general showing up as house jealousy is spot-on.
posted by momus_window at 9:16 AM on July 19, 2016

I almost didn't submit this response for fear of making you feel like I'm rubbing your face in my house situation. I hope that doesn't happen, I don't intend it.

All of your friends who have houses have inheritance or family support? That's impressive, but I suppose not too startling. In my limited experience, very few people buy homes completely by themselves. I've been a homeowner for about three years, and I wouldn't have been able to do so without my partner and his good credit.

I get the impression that owning a home is a very important personal goal of yours. It's something you desire. Desire, the poets will tell you, can be a sublime motivation just as it can be a dogged albatross. Desire will complicate compromise, which can be hard to deal with. Anguish results, as you've experienced.

There are upsides to this, though, if you can find and focus on what part of your desire is flexible and what part isn't as a path toward fulfillment as opposed to being motionless in this state of teeth-gritting anger you describe. If the musts are +house +London, but the flexibles are -neighborhood -size -condition and so on, then you've got room to explore just how possible your goal of owning a home can be by getting out there and looking for homes that are at least nearer your budget, or are attainably within your budget in the next X years.

I make very little money, and that always had me convinced I'd never be able to afford a house. But my partner knows finance, and he showed me how a mortgage could be less than our rent. He showed me how to structure savings and assets to build a downpayment. All these things that formerly seemed so unatainably alien were actually managable things to plan for. We went to the bank about five years before making our first offer on a house just so we could start getting our ducks in a row. And in those five years we got in the habit of going to open houses in random neighborhoods to understand what's out there, where and what we wanted to save for, how we could be flexible, what we didn't want to compromise on, and soon. It was a sobering process, but it was helpful to part with illusions when trying to buy a house in a big, expensive city. We were able to buy a very small place (on the order of 600 square feet), one that's old and has complicated financing because of the lot it's on in a neighborhood we'd never heard of (all things we were flexible about), but we have an actual small yard and the one bathroom we have is spacious (things we didn't want to be flexible on).

So I don't mean to demean when I ask, if owning a house if what you're aiming for, are you out there looking for compromises that will get you into a house? I don't mean touring dream homes, I mean looking through the low end units for something that surprises you.

I don't know if there's a way to assuage the resentment you're talking about without convincing yourself that you're working toward a goal of your own. Even if it's a nebulous idea instead of a concrete one (we have a neighbor who bought his house during the last dotcom bust for an absurdly low figure, which is a reminder that markets never stay the same forever). I'd advise you to focus on the vacations and concerts and meals your friends can't afford because it's all going into their homes, but if these folks have family reserves of cash then that might not be the case and might make you feel worse.

If nothing else, you know you aren't alone. These are very difficult times for people who want to buy homes in big cities.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:55 AM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

late afternoon dreaming hotel, to get 600 square feet in one of the cheaper areas of London (SE25) the OP would need £240,000.

The monthly commuting costs from there will be into three figures, so the OP will also have to add that into her calculations, on top of the rent she's already paying.

The median London salary is £30,000 per year, and you need to earn £140,000 a year to afford the average apartment.

The OP also has about 25 years of working life left to repay a mortgage, so has to be careful about taking risks by skimping on a deposit, even if a mortgage lender would let her.

I spent a lot of time in my late 20s retraining for a career that would pay me enough to save for a modest place of my own outside of London, but in the span of five years the prices had increased by leaps and bounds, certainly more than double, way out of reach. Britain is a low-wage, high cost of living economy, and I wouldn't assume the OP is spending money on vacations and concerts and meals either.
posted by tel3path at 10:46 AM on July 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, note the average size of a UK house.
posted by tel3path at 11:04 AM on July 19, 2016


Unless this is some British class thing that I am totally unaware of, nobody gives a shit or probably even has taken note that you don't own a house. If they do they are insane and petty, and you have no reason to care if they pity you. Even if it some British class thing, it's insane and petty.

However, the fact that you apparently perceive this constant stream of sanctimonious homeowners indicated that you have some kind of personal deal about not owning a house (which, seriously, not a big deal. few own in New York or Chicago, and nobody cares). So, yeah, therapy or psychedelics or something.
posted by cmoj at 11:30 AM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

You've gotten some great advice and insight here. Would it at all help to hear comparison from across the Channel? Here in Paris vanishingly few people own. It's prohibitive; much the same story as tel3path wrote – median salaries are very similar, and you have to earn between 50-60K€ in order to purchase, say, a 30sqm fixer-upper apartment in Paris proper. And that would be a 25-year mortgage with minimal deposit. That salary miiight get you 50sqm in a suburb. 60sqm if you don't mind commuting 3 hours a day. And for reference? That's an upper-middle-class salary. As in, less than 10% of French households earn more than 50K€/year. So, practically everyone rents.

There was an interesting shift here about ten years ago. Before that, people my age (I'm now 40) in their twenties mostly had family who were able to help them purchase their first apartments with down payments. But 10 years ago it was like a valve shut off. No one has that kind of money any more. I too am surprised to hear you're around so many people who still have that privilege, but London has a different history from Paris. Over here it's been a big reason behind the real estate slump. I've paid for that slump – I'm a homeowner in spite of myself. My place in Nice simply won't sell, because no one wants to buy. Everyone in the middle class, with very few exceptions, wants to rent. They see homeownership as a trap now (always interesting how narratives change depending on possibilities).

Here the main upside to buying is getting a place with a short enough mortgage that it will be paid off before retirement, thus "saving" you housing payments on a reduced retirement income. (We can't purchase retirement incomes as linked to in an earlier comment.) But of course you do still have to pay for upkeep and repairs. Also keep in mind, we rarely know how mobile we'll be in our retirement. I've seen so many retirees in Nice who had bought homes, then got caught in vicious cycles of having to go into care, trying to sell, the market being terrible for sellers, trying to rent, falling on bad luck with renters... It all makes you realize, so long as you're doing the best with what you have, then you're already ahead of the game.

Nthing people who've commented that you never know what others' budgets truly look like either. I've also seen a lot of people who seemed lucky ten years ago, end up in rough straits because they had never really had to work for anything. Stories that would surprise you. I know very few people who are genuinely living the good life. Those who are, are actually people who worked hard and played things carefully; they aren't from privilege. They're happy with what others used to see (ten years ago) as a modest life.

Anyway. If you're happy where you live, genuinely happy based on your preferences (not just what society says we should want, though yes it is powerful, not denying that), have money to treat yourself from time to time, are saving up for a healthy retirement – you're doing great. Life is a river, for everyone. Again, not diminishing your feelings at all – I struggle with this too. I happen to work around a few upper-strata people and for me, it's hearing about their vacations in Cuba, China, Japan, South America... that make me sigh wistfully.
posted by fraula at 3:29 PM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's a lot of research on how the home ownership ideal was deliberately cultivated, in ways that sought to construct "good citizenship," create obedient workers, and of course, benefit the real estate industry and building trades. I don't know if it will make you feel less grouchy, but as a renter, I think a lot about how much ideology we have wrapped up the idea of home ownership in (and the mortgage tax breaks!). And while for sure, buying a home if you can afford it is often (not always) a good financial decision, we place way too much emphasis on it as a sign of adulthood. There are huge swaths of the developed world where the rates of home ownership are much much lower.
posted by spamandkimchi at 3:51 PM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I worked as a bank teller for 7 years and was friends with countless people who built & analyzed websites, designed apps and art, made a popular board game with the offensive cards you all like, etc. I listened to them talk about their cool jobs all the time and endured a lot of pity and condescension from people with significantly more money than me.

For me, it always helped to have my freelance work and side projects to talk about. Sure, sometimes these people were still oblivious to how rude they were sometimes being, but in my head I knew my bike gang was as cool as their whatever even though no one paid me to do it. Figure out what your "house" is - the big thing in your life that you're proud of - and steer conversation there when people start turning the sad eyes on you.
posted by Juliet Banana at 4:23 PM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

IDK, get better friends? Are people genuinely that interested in whether or not those they know have a mortgage!? Bizarre.

You could afford a house, it's just that you live in London. Most of the country can't afford a house in London, that's why we don't live there. Overall i'm happy to have an okay house in a lovely area for £800k less than my friends paid for their similar house/not as nice area in London, "even" if it means i live in Scotland and not London. There was a 2-bed terrace for sale around the corner (into a less nice area, ex council house) from me for £74,000 the other week. I bet you could afford that. If not then there's a 3 bed upper cottage flat i know of which is in an okay area and though it needs updating it is liveable, it's only £38,000. See? Houses aren't all one price.

In addition there are thousands of homeless people in London, why not think about them instead of your friends-with-inheritance when considering your situation. It's all just a trick of perspective after all. You are better off purely being able to afford ANY HOME in London than vast swathes of the country. If you so desperately want a house it's the only thing that matters you can have one, but not in London. And then friends would discuss stuff that happened in London and your envy would shift focus. Envy is a habit you have allowed yourself to indulge in. I know how hard it is NOT to (for different reasons - i have been desperately jealous of people who's kids aren't disabled) but it's the only way forward. You have to FIND the things you're grateful for. You can get perspective if you go looking for it. Not everyone can change their life, but everyone can change their perspective.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 1:07 AM on July 20, 2016

Best answer: The housing situation in London right now is shit. It just is. And I'm not sure all the 'wow renting makes you so much more free!! :D' people are fully cognisant of the horrors of renting in London; because supply outstrips demand by such an amount, landlords and estate agents are able to issue all sorts of shakedowns - tenancy renewal fees every year (which also keep you in a precarious situation contractwise), bans on pet ownership and hanging up pictures and doing much of anything, terrifying rent hikes. And 'you don't even have to sort out repairs yourself!!' isn't so exciting and liberated when you've been waiting for your landlord to fix the light in the bathroom for six months so that you don't have to light a candle to have your morning shower by.

I'm saying this not to bring you down further but because I think maybe what you need here is a bit of validation. The situation is desperately unfair, not only on you but on countless people, many of them young but many of them also not, across the capital. What surprises me, more than anything, is that your friends don't recognise this. I'm going to admit something I don't often admit, because I'm honestly a bit embarrassed by it - I kinda-sorta own a flat, and like some of your friends it's because of parental help. But I don't talk about it all the bloody time, because a) I am aware of the injustice of the situation, and of the bigger injustice that this is a part of, which is a society where wealth is unevenly distributed and those without wealth are treated remarkably badly; and b) there are far more interesting things for me to talk to my friends about. Honestly, even people who also own houses aren't much interested in other people's extension work. Anyway.

My advice to you would be as follows. Firstly, stop trying to convince yourself that this is all okay. You're not the problem here, the problem is decades of terrible housing policy and class divisions. Secondly, if you do insist on hanging out with these insensitive bores (:P I am mostly joking here), remember that they are also not personally responsible for this crisis (depending on their voting record - feel free to cut the Thatcherites out of your life altogether). They may be being awkward with you, and cagey about admitting how much they owe to luck and privilege, because they feel defensive about it. Get them on your side by inviting them to whinge about London's shitty housing market together! Make some jokes about how you've been saving all your life and you might possibly have enough now for a shared-ownership shed in Leytonstone (I assume you've looked into shared-ownership schemes, by the way - I know some people who've made those work very well for them, but I know they're difficult to come by and still require considerable outlay). If they feel like you're not setting them up as The Enemy, they're more likely to admit the realities of the situation. Thirdly, turn your energy outward and look at groups that are trying to address this serious issue, such as Generation Rent. Active anger is far healthier than suppressed seething resentment, and much easier to aim at the appropriate targets.
posted by Acheman at 2:09 AM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

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