There’s So Much Pressure to Become a Homeowner — And I Won’t Give Into It

published Nov 14, 2021
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Blossoming wisteria tree covering up a facade of a house in Notting Hill, London on a bright sunny day
Credit: Getty Images/ Alena Kravchenko

For as long as I can remember, there’s been this notion that homeownership is the ultimate life goal. Renting is “dead money.” What are you doing with your hard-earned cash if you’re not saving a third of your income every month for the eventual purpose of investing in property? And then there’s the trite refrain: you must be buying too much avocado toast!

To me, it feels like this conversation has become kind of stale. I bought a house around my 23rd birthday, and in hindsight I know now that I was just giving into the pressure of this rhetoric. I wanted to own a home before turning 30 (like 30 is the definitive celebratory deadline for any sincere life achievement, and nothing good can possibly happen thereafter!). I wanted to get ahead of my friends and prove to everyone that I was a grown-up, that I could save and manage my money well, even if it came at the expense of my social life or travel. I wanted a dog and walls I could paint green without having to ask permission. 

But this kind of “Grand Designs” tunnel vision didn’t allow me to see the bigger picture. I was so focused on expectations that I couldn’t see the reality — that buying and owning a home is hard. Selling a home when it all goes wrong is hard, too. Hard enough that I turned my back on the property ladder altogether and put my experience down to experiment. And with renting as a reliable, safe alternative, is it really such a bad thing after all? 

Becoming a homeowner is no walk in the park.

Homeownership peaked in the UK back in 2003, with the US witnessing a similar trend in 2004 before the onset of a gradual decline. There continues to be a huge lack of affordable housing, with property prices in the UK averaging at £255,535 in July 2021 and $308,220 in the US. It is clear that the prospect of owning a home has become increasingly unattainable, with the pandemic throwing in an extra hurdle. I sympathize with many determined friends of mine who have horror stories of uphill battles trying to purchase their first home over the last couple of years, the likes of which would be enough to put anyone off the grueling process altogether. Their commitment to finding ways around these challenges is beyond admirable. 

Yet for a generation of hardworking, underpaid young people — is the added societal pressure to achieve the unachievable really helping? What cost does this outdated attitude have on mental health, or the way that someone can experience life and their relationships with others? Being a renter by choice eases some of those woes. Danielle Bayless, chief operating officer at Quintain Living concurs, “As we have seen in the US, there has been a shift in attitudes towards renting for some time and this is now transpiring in the UK, too. We are seeing the rise of renters by choice — people who could afford to buy but are choosing a rental home for the lifestyle, freedom and flexibility that it offers in comparison.”

Both renting and owning involve risks, however.

By no means am I sugar-coating or dismissing the fact that malicious landlords exist, nor do I deny the negative impact of poor-quality housing, disagreeable housemates, and overpriced rents. I don’t intend to downplay any of this, and unless you’re very lucky, the fact remains that when it comes to housing, most of us have at least one or two nightmare tales to bring to the table. But my line of thinking is this: Owning a home isn’t the right option for everybody, and certainly for those with the means to buy, there’s a real risk of only figuring this out when it’s too late to back out. 

Everything about buying a home is a risk. In a world where negative equity exists, I don’t know how anyone with a 30-year, 90 percent loan-to-value mortgage can sleep soundly at night. For every evil landlord, there’s also an equally evil bank manager ready to pull a mortgage offer out from under your feet at any stage prior to completion. This could be due to the results of a homebuyer’s report, for example, which you’ve also had to pay for at this stage just to find out that the property isn’t structurally sound, or in my case, too close to a vacant mine shaft. You can save for years, missing out on experiencing the things that I’d argue make life worth living, just to end up with all your money tied into a property with nightmare neighbors or poor insulation. 

Credit: Photo by Gleren Meneghin on Unsplash

Think of all the money I’d need to save — and for what?

On the topic of cash, don’t forget that money saved and set aside for a life-changing holiday or a shiny new car can be used up in no time, swallowed by the cost of a broken boiler or fixing some dislodged roof tiles. A homeowner without the safety buffer of a few thousand in savings is always at real risk of having to deal with and pay for a costly home emergency, perhaps through unforeseen, extreme solutions like a high interest bank loan — another huge financial commitment that has the potential of tying us down to a place or a property that we might not even enjoy so much once the novelty wears thin. 

The flexibility of renting feels priceless to me.

On the contrary, despite all its challenges and downfalls, renting is flexible by its very nature. It offers a clean break whenever you need it and assumes minimal responsibility from you as the tenant if you’re respectful of the space. What’s more, it allows for an easy change of scenery if you ever wanted to relocate to a new part of the world or seek a new pace of life, whatever that may look like. 

“Renting is undergoing a rapid evolution from being a necessity-born stopgap to an enriching lifestyle choice,” Bayless says. “Being at the heart of that shift and providing so much more than just a home is really exciting.” 

Antisocial neighbors have an expiry date, only hanging around for as long as your tenancy lasts. Some folks don’t want to be tied down, and it is increasingly important to normalize the fact that renting doesn’t need to be a temporary state of life. We should stop putting “only” and “renting” in the same sentence and ignore the pressures of “leveling up” the property ladder, because the sentiment really doesn’t reflect the world we live in anymore. In my view, material investments will bring you a lot of things, but they won’t guarantee happiness.