Many things distinguish us Brits from Continental Europe but one of the biggest is our obsession with home ownership.
This obsession was fuelled throughout the 20th Century. When it began, only 23% of the population owned their own homes. By its end that figure had been turned on its head with just 35% living in rented property.
Today, however, home ownership in the UK is falling for the first time in a century. We find ourselves crammed into the smallest homes in Europe. Should renting really be so undesirable?
The Europeans certainly don’t think so as many nations consider it a vital part of their housing markets.
Germany, for example, is admired for its efficient economic management but has the lowest rate of home ownership in the European Union. Rents take up just 23% of the average net wage and since 1957 it is estimated that apartment sizes have doubled.
In the Netherlands rental properties are on average 52% larger than in the UK but rents are 30% cheaper. Nearly half the population rents property through housing associations.
In Switzerland they have home ownership rates even lower than Germany’s. This is in part due to the fact that only the Swiss can buy property, thus preventing the horrendous rates foreign ownership of property that we see in London. In contrast, two-thirds of the admittedly highly priced property in Zurich is owned by the city or co-operatives and rented out at affordable rates.
The Swiss clearly acknowledge that their busy city needs cleaners, transport workers and shop employees as well as bankers and company CEOs.
So while home ownership is a nice ideal, it need not be our one lifelong aim. Renting fits today’s transient working patterns too. There are plenty of people happy to move around the country with their work and are keen to rent.
Let’s hope we can follow the European blueprint and build a vibrant rental market in the UK.
Charles Carter Lettings
Independent – Specialist - Local