Sunday, August 6, 2017
What I was getting at yesterday, when I mentioned Dave and I debating whether to stay in our current flat, is that age-old question: Should we buy a place of our own?
We've been talking about it. We're committed to our current flat until next July, so there's no need to make a quick decision. But in my mind there are some barriers that have me thinking it's actually better to keep renting, at least for now.
One of them, as you all pointed out in comments yesterday, is the garden. We've put a lot of work into this space and we have some more ideas for things we'd like to do. And the simple fact is, wherever we buy in London, we would never be able to have a private garden this big -- not on our budget. This garden is immense by London standards, at least at our socio-economic level.
It's also very likely that as buyers, we'd have to move to another part of the city, which is perfectly feasible but not as convenient. It's nice to be able to walk to work. It's amazing to walk the dog to Hampstead Heath. I would hate to give those things up, but West Hampstead is a relatively expensive area.
There are the practical concerns -- as buyers we'd be responsible for maintaining a house, and given London's housing stock it would quite likely be 100 years old or more. We'd have to buy insurance. We'd have to budget for major repairs. We'd have to get a mortgage, and as two 50-year-olds, that could be a challenge, with our working lives abbreviated to the next two decades or less.
And finally, we'd have to put all our eggs in one basket. London housing prices are astronomical, and buying something here -- at least in our area -- would mean liquidating some or all of our stocks and other savings and pouring the money into a downpayment. Dave and I were looking online at half-a-million pound properties -- which, in theory, we could just barely afford -- and in our region that gets us a ground-level two-bedroom flat on a busy road. That is a hell of a lot of money to pay for something that is, frankly, uninspiring and not nearly as nice as where we live now.
Obviously, buying would be an investment and theoretically, at least, we would get all that money back and then some when we eventually sell -- whereas renting simply sends money down the drain. But when the real-estate options are as high-stakes as the ones in London, uncertainties rankle. What about, for example, Brexit? There's a lot of debate about whether London is poised to continue its international role when Britain exits the European Union in a couple of years. Is now a bad time to pour all our savings into London real estate?
Renting, on the other hand, gives us freedom. And we could say we're pouring our money away by renting -- or we could say we're buying that freedom. There is a purchase being made. By renting we can live in a convenient area in a house that we would otherwise never be able to afford. (If this place went on the market I'm guessing it would fetch, maybe, £900,000? Or more?) And we don't have children to educate or any need to build a "nest egg" to leave to the next generation. We only have to pay for our own retirement.
Dave is frustrated because the interior of our flat is showing some wear and tear -- not from us, but from previous tenants -- and trying to get anything repaired tends to be a time-consuming (if not entirely futile) process. But I think we should simply renew our pressure on the management company to fix what needs to be fixed -- and perhaps continue to overlook some of the cosmetic issues, like the cracked floor tiles in the bathroom and the fact that the bathtub's enamel has worn down to a dull coating that is frustrating as hell to clean.
Dave gets itchy for change. He likes to refresh and renew his surroundings. He wants to put more stuff on the walls and to paint, for example. I think we need to find ways to accommodate Dave's need for a fresher environment (which I, frankly, do not share) while staying put. Meanwhile we continue to build up some savings, we wait out Brexit, we enjoy our garden and we see where the future leads us.
But who knows. The discussion continues!
(Photos: From my walk with Olga in the cemetery yesterday. The middle picture is a common blue butterfly -- that's actually its name -- in the cemetery's butterfly meadow.)