Housing today is very expensive, yet landlords in Italy and Germany have a good reputation as most people rent, and mortgages are far smaller, as families often live together far longer, to save up much bigger deposits. In his book Mortgage-Free (involves building your own home!), Rob Roy once wrote how he was flummoxed how so many young couples back gratefully out of the banker’s office, having just signed up to decades of debt with interest to make him rich, and them struggle forevermore. Are there better ways? Yes there are, if you think outside the box.
Some ways to buy a home are not always what you think:
- Downsizing is one idea, depending on whether it suits your circumstances. For instance, if you live in a tiny cramped London flat and are stressed out, you may find a nice home to do up on the Northumberland coast that costs less, and gives you a better quality of life.
- Renting is sometimes preferred. You may not get the ‘nest egg’ in retirement, but you avoid all the hassle of repairs, mortage payments, buying and selling, furnishing, and non-stop fees. Many minimalists just prefer it this way, and think that the ‘you must buy your own home’ rhetoric is overrated. Most people on earth don’t own their own homes, so why are we so obsessed?
- Extended family homes are more popular in ethnic groups like India, but it’s a good idea if you all get on. It means everyone selling up or pooling together to live together. If that sounds cramped, here’s an example: a young couple with two children and a dog are struggling with mortgage payments and child/pet care and work two jobs and have no garden and live in a crummy area. They also miss both sets of parents (grandma/grandpa). An extended family home idea would mean that the couple and both sets of parents sell up and buy one big property with a large garden in a nice area (often with no mortgage) and you then get quality free time and free child/pet-sitting on tap. The grandparents are happier as they see their family, and the ample space means everyone likely gets more freedom anyway, and can go off exploring local areas when they want.
- Different kinds of mortgages. In Sweden, JakBank is popular. It’s a social bank that pays staff, but all other money goes back into the pot to help people. So rather than spend 25 years paying off interest on a mortgage to make your bank rich, the 25 years are spent paying off the house. Then at the end, you get back the interest that you have spent, which has helped other people. Sounds good, yes?
Buy or Sell Your Home (without going insane)
Estate agents are unfortunate in that the industry is often touted as being one of the most unethical. There are of course many honest estate agents. But in an age when 93% of people find their homes to buy or sell on Right Move, in the current financial climate, it makes sense to look at alternatives to conventional estate agents, if you on a budget. Because for the simple acts of visiting your home to take measurements and a few photos, then sticking the listing on Right Move, most estate agents take thousands of pounds from the sale of your home, at a time when you likely can’t afford it.
You can find lots of online agents who will cost less and still put your home on Right Move. But many do not have very good reviews, and most also make you pay upfront (or tie you into paying a large sum), so that if you don’t sell your home, you are worse off as you then owe money, whereas conventional estate agents usually work on a no-sale, no-fee basis that may be more expensive, but is safer long-term. So what are the alternatives to both conventional estate agents and some of the bigger online estate agents. Let’s take a look:
- First, do a lot of the legwork yourself. Removing stress and the costs of moving and selling your home can be made easier by simplifying your life. Sell, donate or recycle items you don’t need, give the place a deep eco-clean and carefully arrange furniture and furnishings to make the place look good enough for photos, before estate agents arrive. If you are using an online agent and are good with a camera, taking photos yourself can save money.
- You could advertise your home locally in shop windows, though you likely won’t get many takers. Alternatives to the bigger online agents include:
- If you have an offer but are iffy about the buyer, know that you are well within your legal rights to ask to speak to the buyer, and also can ask for a goodwill deposit, so that either of you would have to pay if dropping out. This helps to stop gazumping, again your agent should know about this, but be sure to ask.
- Brickworks London is not restricted by geographical boundaries, and has an ethical reputation. There are no cold calls, and the basic sales package is the same percentage for everyone, whatever the value, location and type. And 1% of the fee goes to homeless charities.
- Doorsteps is a new type of ethical online estate agent. You can sell your home for around £500 compared to the average of £5000 and everything is done for you, plus they have deals to keep the conveyancing in-house for speed and savings. They also offer simpler online auctions (though be aware that homes that don’t sell at auction plummet in price, which many agents don’t tell you).
Affordable housing does exist, though it’s not done in the most modern way. In Sweden, IKEA builds BOKLOK homes tehat are light and airy and use every square inch of space to provide lovely apartments and houses, with outdoor green space, and furniture all built in. They also have very low energy bills. Here they exist, but often it’s not easy to find land to build them on. Most ‘affordable housing’ involves going to council sites and then multiple people getting stressed bidding for properties that are not always in the most desirable areas to live.
Could You Live in a Tiny Home?
One of the newest ideas in simple living is a tiny home. This is again a small home but often beautifully designed and you can buy one on wheels and then take it with you, when you move. Again the main issue is finding land. There are also many newer versions like MAPI, which is a beautiful home kit from Italy that you can assemble yourself, and has all mod cons, it looks more luxurious than most normal homes!
Homesick is a highly reviewed book by Catrina Davies, who was living in a shared house in Bristol. homesick for the landscape of her childhood in west Cornwall, she decides to leave the box room in a shared house where she worked several jobs to pay the rent, and instead makes a tiny dilipadated shed a home of her own. With the freedom to write, surf and make music, she rebuilds the shed and piece by piece, her own sense of self. On the border of civilisation between the woods and the sea, she discovers the true value of home, while trying to find her place in a fragile natural world. Grapping with class, economics, mental health and nature, this book shows housing can trap us or make us free, and what it means to feel at home.
Gray to Green Communities is a call to action on housing and the climate crisis. Residential buildings in the western world account for around 20% of greenhouse gas emissions, and is not just bad for the planet, but also putting the physical and financial health of residents at risk. And the modern housing system means that a renter who works 40 hours a week and earns a minimum wage, often cannot afford a nice safe and healthy apartment.
This book is a manifesto on building green affordable housing. Her work resulted in the first standard for green affordable housing in the US, and the book could do the same here. Giving examples of developments already built, people are housed in better housing, while helping their health and the planet at the same time. Dana Bourland is Vice President for the Environment at JPB Foundation, and has been involved in creating several affordable green housing projects.
The Affordable City is a book about making housing affordable for everyone. Although written for US readers, it’s relevant everywhere, and offers 50 policy recommendations on housing policy. Author Shane Phillips is an urban planner and policy expert whose solutions include:
- Adapt solutions to community needs
- Plan for the most vulnerable
- Pick one (rising house prices or affordability)
- Don’t reward ‘idle money’
- Encourage mixed-use zoning
- Speed up renter approvals
- Offer free help for those at risk of eviction
- Enforce housing & building codes
- Don’t sell public land (lease it)
Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing looks at solutions for housing stability, safety and financial help, all while reducing environmental impact. Solutions include supportive housing, net-zero coastal apartments and home ownership for people who live in deserts (the book is American).
Sites like Home Hunt have more affordable housing for those on low incomes. Social housing was invented to provide affordable homes, yet a better idea is to use the straw bale (that is presently burned) to easily create 250,000 new cheap affordable warm homes each year.
Right to Buy?
This was set up by Thatcher’s government, who let people buy their council houses. Sounds a good idea in theory, but it resulted in many people buying up council homes and making huge profits, while people without money ended up homeless. Help to Buy can be good, but it’s not very visionary.
Other countries in Europe have higher ownership, but less mortgages. How so? Because countries like Italy tend be more family-orientated. It’s not unusual for a couple to be engaged for 10 years to save up a big deposit, with the family chipping in the rest, then they often live in the same apartment building. No Italian market for dodgy brokers.
The Council House is about our heritage that is part as Big Ben or Buckingham Palace, and why is it so much harder to find books that capture these often architectural beautiful estates? Over the last few decades, we’ve seen council houses fall into disrepair and defamation. This book by Jack Young (who spend 2 years visiting London’s most unique structures) features beautiful images, personal interviews and design that celebrate some of our most vital urban buildings. A photographic celebration of some of London’s most important and innovative council housing.