“Now what you have to do, is to just imagine what this property could look like,” said the estate agent. “Just think,” they added, tottering into another room, arms outstretched, “this could be your bathroom.” Sure, I thought, except it has neither running water nor electricity. In the spot where the shower should be is a solitary can of Pepsi. The hunt for somewhere to rent will continue.
My boyfriend and I are moving in together and it is supposed to be an exciting time – so I’ve been told. The problem is that I’m 25 and live in London. Conversations about how many throw pillows should live on the bed have quickly given way to less romantic calculations. How close to the Tube station can we afford to be? How essential is a dishwasher? The high of finding somewhere on Rightmove in the evening turns to crashing disappointment the following morning, when the estate agent informs you that it was let at 8am.
Part of all of this is simply life – or “adulting” as my generation calls it, somewhat ironically. But it doesn’t seem reasonable to me that finding a home should be like searching for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. According to the ONS, the number of people who own their own homes has dropped by half a million in the last decade. All the while, the number of those renting has soared by 1.3 million.
On Tuesday, I texted a friend living in Bilbao – from his perspective, London’s housing market looks even more absurd. He swapped life in the capital to rent a 3-bedroom property a short walk from the central plaza and a commutable distance from the beach for just shy of €400 a month. “The idea of dedicating 60% of your income on rent here is almost laughable,” he messaged me back.
Last summer, a visiting friend from Auckland asked the forbidden London question: “What’s so bloody great about it here?” Before I could answer, she told me about the 4-bed she’d rented just outside New Zealand’s capital, with off-street parking and a spacious garden – a garden! – for just shy of half of my rent.
Thursday brought another flat viewing. As I entered, a builder was, sheepishly, leaving. Once inside, my eyes were guided away from his handiwork, ensuring me that the window he had obviously just been fixing “doesn’t always have damp”. Viewing concluded, as I left the property I passed a queue of nine other potential tenants. As a fellow renter, I wanted to warn them to look under the sitting room’s far left window – but as a fellow competitor, I stayed silent.
The next day, I read the following from the historian Ed West: “The world’s most effective form of contraception is the London housing market.” I snorted and immediately took a screenshot on my phone to forward to my boyfriend. Before I hit send it dawned on me that the remark wasn’t actually funny – not funny at all.