The Emperor's New Clothes (24/03/13)

Buy your property, don't waste money renting, we're told. But Matthew Bell finds life is much less stressful if you don't own your home

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Enough has been said about the Budget by economists who, as the Queen pointed out, may or may not know what they're talking about. But there is an ideological myth, festering in that red briefcase, which is that life is better for those who own a home.

In an ideal world, like the one into which my parents were born, young people would buy houses. They would save money by making the occasional sacrifice, like eating in instead of going out. Then, after a few months, they would have a small deposit, and their weekends would soon be spent scraping Artex off ceilings.

But that world has gone. The housing market has exploded so disproportionately to the salary index that no normal earner can save £66,000, the average deposit needed for a starter home. No amount of packed lunches and Saturday nights in will fatten your piggy enough.

Once you realise that, your quality of life shoots up. You can eat out whenever you want, and take the occasional taxi. You can flit between short-term lets, trying different neighbourhoods, or even cities. They learned this long ago in Europe: no one dreams of buying a flat in Rome or Berlin. Why do we think we can in London?

A few months ago, I left the capital. I gave up a house shared with four people for a remote cottage, at a saving of £100 a month. As I'm a London-based gossip columnist, it wasn't a good career move. But as an exercise in trying something new, it has been unbeatable. Next month, my lease is up and I will be back to sharing with friends. Country life has been fantastic. But then, so is a party when you don't have to worry about trains.

One day, it would be nice not to fritter thousands on rent. But if you value quality of life, it's not such a waste. I know one family who choose to rent a luxury farmhouse, arguing that the thousands they spend is a fraction of the millions they'd need to buy it. Sensible people, like economists, will counter that repaying a mortgage is putting money back into your own pocket. You have something to leave your children. True. Until the taxman calls and takes half of it back.

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