How to deal with housing uncertainty?
August 8, 2018 3:02 PM   Subscribe

I live in a city where many people rent - those my age who have bought only did so if family money was available. Yet, despite renting throughout my 20s, now I'm 36 I find myself consumed by the uncertainty of it. How do those in high cost cities manage to stay relaxed about it?

Like a lot of people who grew up in the UK in the 80s/90s, we assumed that, like those before us, we would enjoy free university education and simply be able to buy a house once we got a Proper Adult Job. I thought, like my parents and the generation before, that by my 30s I'd have somewhere to live and not have to move out of it ever again unless I decided I had to do so....and I'd get to have cats. (No pets if you rent in the UK, you see.) But because of the housing market, property speculation, or just not being financially informed in my 20s, it didn't come to pass.

Right now it seems there's a definite divide, at least with people I know at work/socially - those who were born a few years earlier when student loans didn't take 10% of your salary each month, and housing was only 3x your annual salary; those my age who inherited money or were able to live with family rather than renting privately to save for a deposit; and people like myself, who are reaching middle age and still don't know if they will be able to afford/renew their lease next year. I house-shared in my 20s, and despite most house-shares giving about a month's notice when you/they had to leave, I never worried about it too much. (I didn't even know that people had to actively save for a deposit!)

Now I seem to end up feeling really anxious about it, and I feel it's a level of uncertainty that I don't want to have at this stage of life. BUT, save finding a bag of Nazi gold, it's not going to change - we are saving, but it's unlikely to ever be enough, and we're unlikely to inherit enough for a deposit (I'd also rather all our friends and family lived forever tbh). We are in a nice flat, at a rent just below market rate, with a decent landlady (important when renting in the UK is really not in favour of the renter) and unlike many people here whose landlords have realised that UK property isn't the investment it once was, we probably won't get evicted so the landlady can sell. I can't stop focusing on the fact, though, that the power isn't in our hands. I end up thinking 'what's the point of tidying/improving things if we might get priced out next year?' or 'What if we have to move and go through a letting agent and have to pay £400 for pretty much nothing?' or 'What if we end up being given two months' notice and can't find anywhere?' Or even 'is it OK for me to do this slightly expensive thing when I should be trying to save for something that will be more out of reach by the time we've saved for it?' (Also, with a lot of people I work with falling into the former categories above, I do feel a bit like the poor relation sometimes. That's probably just my mindset, though. And a consequence of what were once considered 'starter flats' being 10x the average salary.) It's getting my partner down, and it's not helpful for me either.

I know that our city is not unusual, and we are not unusual. So how do you deal, psychologically, with being a long-term renter? How do you actually relax? Is relaxing ignoring the reality of uncertain housing, or is it possible to accept the reality of it and still live your life?

(NB: Our jobs are very centred in the city we live, so while I would like to move to a different city in the next few years, this will take a bit of planning - assume that we can't move for now. Moving to a commuter city and commuting in would cost us £4k a year each, as public transport on commuter lines is obscenely expensive, and just not viable!)
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I mean...I don't know anyone who manages to stay actually relaxed about it? On a background level, I am legit losing my shit about my housing future 24/7/365. Luckily (har har) everything else in my life is also a constant horrorshow, so I don't focus on the housing thing constantly.

Things that help a little:
-Remembering that nothing is permanent. I do not delight at the idea of another huge recession. But the fact is, housing right now is a bubble, and bubbles pop. You'll never go wrong with saving as much as possible and looking for ways to improve your credit and shore up your employability. If housing prices drop, you'll be ready to jump. If they don't, you'll be better prepared to weather rent increases or relocations.

-Spending more time around people who are in the same boat. It might be a delusion but it is somewhat comforting to think, "well gosh, there's a lot of us. They're gonna have to put us SOMEWHERE."

-Investing *just a little* in my living space. I draw the line at things that are definitely the landlord's job, but I deserve pleasant paint colors and clean floors and nice smells and comfy chairs every bit as much as someone whose parents could buy them a condo.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:53 PM on August 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

Sigh. This is an increasingly common problem here in the US as well. I live in a very high cost rental area, with housing prices beyond the reach of all but the very wealthy.

I'm not happy about it, especially as I assumed when I moved back here that the salary I could make would allow me to purchase a home at some point in the next 5-7 years. However, housing prices have soared over the last several years and even at my earning range I am priced out of the market. Failing a complete collapse of the market my dreams of home ownership will have to be fulfilled elsewhere.

Renting in my area is a bit less fraught than the UK judging by your ask, but there is still the ever present risk that the owner will sell and you'll have to find a new place to live at an even higher cost. I am actively saving for a deposit, which means I live with roommates. I actually don't mind this, as I enjoy their company and the trade-off for sharing space is that I can actually afford to save.

But my plan is no longer to buy a home here. I will probably be buying a vacation property somewhere else to rent out, and later buying property in another country. Having an exit strategy keeps me relaxed(ish) about the rental situation as well as keeping me focused on my long term goals. I do invest some money into making my rental a nice place to live. I'm even redoing my entire backyard myself. I think it's worth it to have a place you are happy to come home to. Maybe you will have to leave, but until then, you can have a place you enjoy being in.
posted by ananci at 3:57 PM on August 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

But my plan is no longer to buy a home here. I will probably be buying a vacation property somewhere else to rent out

Oh! Yeah, I forgot. My plan ... C? or D? is to purchase a lake house with property in a cheaper area to rent out, and once rural internet access is more reliable/affordable, live out there myself and (continue to) work remotely.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 4:12 PM on August 8, 2018

Hello! I rent in the uk and I am 36 too, old enough that my peers are all buying their own places, which I will never be able to do for various reasons. It gets extremely depressing. However!

The things I focus on are the positives about renting: if something goes wrong, I just call the landlord and they have to fix it. Some (lots? Tho I’ve been lucky so far) landlords are crap, yes, but if you have a good one then they should fix plumbing, roofing, heating, all those extremely expensive things that otherwise I would be on the hook for. My friends who have bought places are often left with less actual disposable income than me on a monthly basis as something went wrong in the lift in their building (a recent example) and all the owners were liable to chip in to fix it.

Again it depends on the landlords, but I’ve also always had clauses about pets or art on the wall “that will not be refused within reason” so have a look at your contract and see what it says. I have a cat, and always have for 20+ years of renting in London, so it is possible. I look for little inexpensive things that make my rented flat feel like a home. And yes you should absolutely do slightly expensive, maybe what you or others might see as frivolous, things like holidays or a nice piece of furniture or nice bottle of your favourite tipple, depending on your budget & so on, you need to live & enjoy your life as much as everyone else!
posted by conkystconk at 4:34 PM on August 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I owned a house in a previous location. I moved somewhere more expensive and I have rented for the last six years. I am now pushing forty and I am quite relaxed about renting. This is because I can compare it to home ownership.

Think of the cons of home ownership:
  • Stressful to sell the house, can lose money selling if you are forced to sell due to life circumstances
  • Upkeep is more demanding and harder to keep on top of should you have a disability
  • Stress of mortgage payment and losing house during periods of unemployment, can't discharge the obligation by seeking shelter with family/friends/cheaper accommodation
  • Typically a longer commute to work due to affordability reasons
  • Hard to diversify portfolio due to large real estate holding
  • Requires large emergency fund for repairs (larger than the one you need to move if the landlord sells out from under you or you are renovicted)
  • Can't just move to get away from shitty neighbours, HOA, strata, or other external annoyances that make the property less livable
  • Have to find your own repair persons on short notice

    Every day I enjoy my shorter commute. Every time it rains in the dining room and I call my landlord to dump the problem on her I am grateful. There are pros to renting and I dig them.

    I would consider ownership again in the right circumstance. I would want my life to stabilize and understand its direction before I would buy again. Yes, even at almost forty life is changing enough that I can't figure out the proper location and required number of bedrooms for the next 10 years.

  • posted by crazycanuck at 4:56 PM on August 8, 2018 [9 favorites]

    I have the same issue and live in an area where just owning a home makes you minimum wage. Sigh. I get through it by listing All the terrible things about home ownership like crazycanuk. For instance, my coworker had an invasive burr species move into her yard, making it unliveable. She had to re-sod it, which cost over $1000. Nothing she did could have prevented it. I feel bad for her; I also keep this memory close to my heart when times are bad in my apt.
    posted by tofu_crouton at 5:14 PM on August 8, 2018

    Remember this as well: if you're not frittering them away, you are either putting your extra savings into some kind of investment or you are putting them into your house. A house is a highly illiquid investment. At least under present systems, seniors have less need for ready cash in the UK than in the US (e.g., you're not having to fund your own hip replacements), but the fact remains: if you're house-rich and cash-poor, you can't just sell a window or door to pay for something. A lot of people plan to "sell and downsize," but to where? If you're already in a small one-bed, where are you going to go that's better than the place you were going to be displaced to as a renter anyway?

    Due to various historical freak circumstances, some people who have bought real estate have done very well out of it. But, speaking generally, the U.S. stock market, at least, has routinely outperformed the housing market.

    (There are counterbalancing concerns, of course, but I'm just pointing out these issues, which are often overlooked.)
    posted by praemunire at 5:16 PM on August 8, 2018

    I'll never be able to own a home and I am totally fine with that, for the reasons crazycanuck mentioned. I know enough people with house issues of late that it just doesn't seem worth it to me, plus I'd probably have to live something like an hour or two away from my life just to find something I still can't afford, so fuck that.
    posted by jenfullmoon at 7:03 PM on August 8, 2018

    Hear hear, crazycanuck! I’m nearly 63 and have never owned a house. Never even dreamed that much about it. I see all the expenses a homeowner needs to be concerned about and say “nope.” If I win the lotto, maybe. Until then I am a happy renter.
    posted by lhauser at 9:20 PM on August 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

    Your council may have a let to buy or subsidised home purchase scheme. You should find out more about what's in your housing authority and GET ON THE LIST, even if the waiting list is seven years.

    No pets if you rent in the UK, you see.

    Umm, that's not true. Your landlady may not allow cats but that is certainly not universal.
    posted by DarlingBri at 1:18 AM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

    As well as let to buy options there are other schemes like help to buy, shared ownership, help to buy isa, lifetime isa, family mortgages. People have shared above the advantages of renting but if you really want to own a house then do fully explore the possibilities, including extending a commute - I worked in the city but could only afford to buy outside so got the train in each day, annual cost of £2800 or so but most employers offer interest free loans for this and many people living closer still ended up getting the tube.
    posted by JonB at 2:16 AM on August 9, 2018

    So how do you deal, psychologically, with being a long-term renter? How do you actually relax? Is relaxing ignoring the reality of uncertain housing, or is it possible to accept the reality of it and still live your life?

    I tell myself that if things go very, very south in my life, I can go back to living with roommates. It's common for people in my very, very expensive city to live with 4 or more roommates in "group houses" (not to be confused with group homes for residential medical care). The stereotype is that you do it when you're a 22 year old intern, but I know plenty of people who are much older than 22 and live in group houses, intentional communities, and other nontraditional arrangements. I've come to see it as a normal thing, and I can tell you off the top of my head the first five people I'd contact if I knew I needed cheap housing quick.

    I think the greatest safety net I have in this city is that I know people who are unbelievably kind. Even if they're just casual acquaintances or if I've annoyed the pants off them at some point, they have the personality where they'd find help for me if I came to them in need. So figure out who those people are in your life and I think the anxiety starts to go away.

    That, and like many others in the thread have said, if you are feeling really anxious about being a renter, find your nearest homeowner friend and ask them to detail everything house-related that they've spent money or labor on in the past year and you will automatically feel much better...
    posted by capricorn at 6:42 AM on August 9, 2018

    Some anecdata from Singapore, which has a slightly different system because of public housing:

    - friends who are in a stable relationship are talking about marriage before 25 so they can apply for government-subsidized housing (you have to be 35 to buy new if unmarried/ divorced.) (I have Feelings about both of these facts.)
    - friends who have older and/or richer parents stay at home until they inherit or are given their flats
    - the rest of us assume that our lease will be renewed and rent will not be jacked up suddenly, because there's no way to stay sane about it otherwise, I guess? I just put away a larger cushion of money I will not touch, above/beyond the standard X-months-living-expenses.
    posted by ahundredjarsofsky at 8:16 PM on August 9, 2018

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