A house used to be somewhere to make a home. For too many it's now just a cramped, overpriced box

We need to build a housing market that focuses on buyers rather than sellers, that sees houses as places to live rather than as assets to make money

Share

Over the last few weeks I and my partner have been engaging in that most quintessentially British of pursuits; no, not dogging, but house viewing.

And what a strange pastime it is. You walk around someone else’s property nodding solemnly at boilers, staring profoundly at fittings and sockets and uttering pseudo-knowledgeable tosh about catchment areas and storage space. I must have used the term “load-bearing wall” more times than the rest of my life put together, a fact which makes me feel strangely soiled.

At first it was a reasonably interesting way of spending a Saturday afternoon, a bit like being in your very own episode of Location, Location, Location. However as the weekends wore on and the viewings gradually racked up, my enthusiasm began to wane. Soon I’d begun to see one too many cupboards described as ‘third bedrooms’, one too many ‘south-facing’ gardens, one too many teenage estate agents drive off in cars with four exhausts, worth twice the value of our entire deposit.

More than anything, something began to slowly register in my mind. It was this thought – in no other field of human retail is so little given by so few, for so much.

And it’s not just how little you get for your money, it’s that you’re expected to get excited about it. You’re looking around a house that could cost you more money than you’ve ever spent on anything before, by a factor of twenty, and it’s about the size of a squash court. And somehow you’re supposed to feel a ‘connection’ or a ‘wow factor’ or a feeling that this could be ‘the one’.

“Ah, this could be my office’” you’re supposed to think as you take it in turns to step into a box room which is only big enough to admit one person at a time. “This will make a nice room for our first born,” you’re supposed to coo at each other as you peer into what you at first took to be an airing cupboard. “I could do something with this,” you’re supposed to sigh in a moment of quiet reflection as you look out over a back garden as narrow as a bowling lane.

But you don’t, and not because you’re ungrateful to finally have the chance to get on the property ladder. Quite the opposite.  It’s because you’ve never spent anything like as much money before that you’re so stunned at how little actual house it buys. I mean, if you were buying £200,000 worth of beer or eggs or hoover bags, that would be a lot of stuff, right? It would cover several acres or fill a swimming pool or a small warehouse. It would certainly look more impressive than a kitchen-lounge-diner and a bit of off-road parking.

And to top it all off what you can afford is getting less by the day. UK house prices jumped 2.4 percent in February, the highest rise since October 2007 and an uplift which one analyst described as “approaching madness.” 

It seems that once again the UK housing market is becoming a seller’s market (if it ever stopped) and we all know what that means – speculators ruling the markets, second homes and sublets forcing first time buyers off the ladder, house price rises rocketing, ridiculous lending, the rich getting richer, the poor being forced to make do with less and less and, ultimately, another bursting of the bubble and a crashing of the system.

We can’t let this happen again. We need to build a housing market that focuses on buyers rather than sellers, that sees houses as places to live rather than as assets to make money. We should be looking to examples like Germany’s where tenants have greater rights and long-term leasing has made it pretty much the only place that hasn’t had a horrible property bubble in the last ten years. We should be doing anything rather than maintaining the status quo of an asset-driven, boom and bust housing market.

One of the houses we viewed was for sale because the previous owner, a man in his eighties, had recently passed away. At one point I found myself alone in the cramped back garden. It was peppered with oddly jarring reminders of his presence – a bird bath, a creaky greenhouse, a squat apple tree in the centre of the lawn. It was early February and the first crocuses were poking through the earth.

It might have been a moment to reflect on the rhythm of life, of the cycle of birth, death and renewal; of the legacies we leave to the next generation. It could have been a touching affirmation of the circle of life but, as I thought about it, I couldn’t help feeling worried rather than touched, disillusioned rather than optimistic.

What legacy, I thought, are we leaving to future generations with our treatment of houses as money-making assets rather than places to live and seek some form of comfort and happiness? Will it be a legacy of reverence and love for cherished homes passed on to future generations or one of cold-blooded economic reckoning; of young people being shown round ever smaller spaces trying ever more desperately to feel some kind of excitement about the cramped boxes they’re about to invest their lives in?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£120 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: The Humanities Department of this ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Music Teacher

£120 - £180 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: Newham Position: Music Start dat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science teacher

£120 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Sutton Position: Science teacher S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A residential tower block in an area of Southwark with a high concentration of social housing  

We desperately need to solve our housing crisis, but rent controls are not the answer

Mira Bar Hillel
Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras  

Syriza's victory in Greece might not be the radical revolution you were hoping for

James Bloodworth
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee