The one where they all live next door

Having good friends nearby is now more important than ever for first-time buyers, says Gwenda Brophy
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The Independent Online

Neighbours who will take in a parcel, keep a watchful eye while we are away or who are happy to have a coffee and chat can indeed become good friends. However, for many young buyers, it's good friends who are often becoming good neighbours.

Take Rebecca Small and her husband who moved into a house at Badger's Dene, a Miller Homes development in Kidderminster, West Midlands, where Rebecca's long-time friend since senior school and bridesmaid at her wedding, teacher Kim Brooks, has recently purchased a couple of doors away.

It's a story echoed in a growing number of locations. Brian Thomson bought a three-bedroom semi-detached house with his girlfriend at Victoria Park Gardens in Airdrie, and now Graeme Thomson (no relation) who knows Brian from university has bought a two-bedroom property at the same development.

The trend should come as no surprise. Numerous sociological surveys have documented the growing importance of friendship as working lives mean greater mobility with many people finding themselves far from family, with the result that they are choosing to live near friends. It can be a win-win situation. "Rebecca's husband works away during the week, so I'm looking forward to lots of girlie evenings," says Kim Brooks.

House-sharing has always been an option, but American sitcoms such as Friends conveniently glossed over the downsides of personality clashes and arguments about shared bills. For many it was a decision borne of financial necessity as spiralling prices conspired to keep them out of the property market. Significantly, the plethora of shared equity schemes is playing a role in the decision of many young buyers to obtain the keys to their own front door since the schemes work by lowering the entry threshold to the property market.

Buyers typically provide around 70 per cent of the purchase price, usually in full or partly through a mortgage. No interest is payable on the deferred proportion or there can be an interest holiday for a period. The loan is payable as a proportion of the selling price, usually after 10 years, or sooner if the property is sold. Both Graeme and Brian Thomson were first-time buyers, and used shared-equity scheme MiWay to purchase their respective homes, while both Rebecca and Kim used HomeBuy Direct at Badgers Dene, where a two-bedroom apartment cost from £77,665 to £106,950, through the scheme.

In Kent, Jay Parsons, aged 29 and wife Gemma used the Fairview New Homes' "Flying Start" shared-equity scheme when they bought their home at The Mill in South Darenth, purchasing a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment overlooking the river for £131,250, £175,000 without the scheme. "After moving back to Kent from Southampton we were living at my parents' home, then started to look into buying our own place", says Jay. "Gemma works in Tilbury and I work in Canterbury and we liked the transport links."

The development, which is selling new and converted apartments, houses and duplexes on the site of the former paper mill, will soon also be the home of their friend Martin Gibbard who is also buying using the shared-equity option. He decided to buy after seeing Jay and Gemma's apartment, part of a growing phenomenon of purchases resulting from social contacts.

Sometimes though it is just a happy coincidence when friends buy nearby. Emma Lucas moved with husband Ben to Maple Tye, a Crest Nicholson development a mile outside Stowmarket in Suffolk. With Norwich 32 minutes and London Liverpool Street just over an hour by train, it is attracting young buyers. Their new neighbours are Jon Prentice and Nicole Callan. "Ben knows Jon from school and they remained friends – Jon was also Ben's Best Man," says Emma. The couples discovered they had decided independently to move to the development where prices start at £132,500 for a two-bedroom coach house.

"It won't last forever but it's a nice period in our lives before we all inevitably go off in another direction, and it's lovely knowing friends are next door-but-one," says Emma.

Familiar faces

Bethan Rees, aged 22, recently purchased a three-bedroom terrace house – and now her neighbour is friend Vicky Fry who bought the house next door. "It's great. Being a nurse I have anti-social hours and so house sharing isn't ideal. This way I can live my own life, own my own house – and when I feel like company there is always someone around."

As more friends in their circle visited each other at Maes Y Ffynnon, a Barratt Homes development 15 miles from Cardiff, it had a knock-on effect with nine friends now living within a two-minute walk of each other.

One of these, Rhys Northam, 25, bought a two-bedroom house with girlfriend Kaylea Lawrence. "Setting up a first home can be quite hard work but having my mates practically next door has been great. We've been helping each other decorate and do each other's gardens. We play rugby together so we share lifts and recently we have been taking it in turns to watch the Six Nations matches at each others houses," says Rhys.

He bought through a shared ownership scheme, paying 85 per cent of the purchase price. Prices at Maes Y Ffynnon start at £100,995 for a two- bedroom house with parking, and £186,995 for a four-bedroom house with garage. "No one wants to share a house with friends given the choice. The fact that we all own our own home but can still see each other whenever we like is the perfect situation," he says.

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