Location, location, location or impractical, unrealistic and impetuous?

I’m sure you’ve heard about Kirsty Allsopp’s recent comments on young people buying a property. If you’re not inclined to read the article, lemme break it down for you:

  • Kirsty stated that young people could easily afford to buy a property if they cut out luxury expenses such as Netflix, gym membership, coffee and going on holiday
  • Kirsty believes that we’ve fallen into a trap of saying buying a property is impossible for everybody, when it’s more a case of ‘where’ you can buy, not ‘if’ you can buy
  • Kirsty herself bought a property at age 21 with family help whilst living in an era of 15% interest rates, low salaries and modest expectations of lifestyle

So is she right?

I have many, many opinions on this that are all very differing! But first, a bit of context – I spent a large portion of my career working in financial services (some of which was as a mortgage adviser) and am pretty cautious about budgeting/spending most of the time. However, like Kirsty, I bought my first home at age 22 with help from my family whilst earning a fairly low salary. I also live in the Hull/East Yorkshire area, which is widely touted as one of the most affordable places to live in the UK.

There’s a lot to unpack within Kirsty’s comments, so I’m going to take them point by point. A reminder that these are my personal opinions; based on research I’ve done on this case, my industry knowledge and the experiences of myself and those around me.

1. People could afford to buy a property if they cut out luxury expenses

So, to read that as a standalone statement is arguably 100% correct. If we’re trying to buy something expensive and we’re not the secret millionaire, we need to budget and save to do so. We know this. But, if we taking a deeper dive, the examples and generalisation of the comments are where some of the argument starts to unravel.

I think that Kirsty could’ve been trying (not very successfully you might argue) to levy her comments at a group I’d refer to as “champagne lifestyle on a lemonade budget”. These are the folks who curate an image of an outwardly ostentatious existence – head to toe designer attire, VIP table at the hottest nightspots, driving a top of the range car and jetting off to the latest trendy destination. All of which, is documented on social media. Potentially spending all of their disposable income in a manner that in no way contributes towards being a future homeowner. And that’s their choice to make. Everybody has their own set of priorities, and for some this doesn’t include owning their own home from a young age (or maybe at all). There are many places around the world where renting for the long term is a standard practice and view the innate desire to buy a home as quite unusual. Maybe some young people just want to have a few years of being young; going out, making memories and learning a bit about the world, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The main misfire what Kirsty’s saying is the examples she’s used when describing luxury items – streaming services, coffe-shop coffee, gym memberships and holidays. These are things many of us have and do, but not always to excess, and are things most people would re-assess or reduce if they were saving to buy a property already. However, I geuinely believe that completely cutting everything “non-essential” is not only unrealistic but unhealthy. Going to work day in, day out and not having ANY kind of release to relax and enjoy your downtime a little? Because that’s all it is in a lot of circumstances, a little bit. As I said earlier, everyone has priorities – for some this means hitting the gym a few times a week, a weekly coffee date with pals or having an hour with your family each evening to watch your favourite Netflix series. All experiences that contribute towards having a happier and more fulfilling life. A house should be the icing on the cake to your life, if it’s what you want, not your whole reason for being.

My personal opinion has always been this – what’s the point in buying a house if all you can afford to do is sit in it?

2. It’s not a case of “if” you can afford to buy, but “where”

Again, the statement said by itself does hold a ring of truth. I know lots of people who have bought their first property in an area they can afford rather than the one they would prefer to live in. Their priority was to get on the property ladder as soon as possible, so to them it was a sacrifice they were happy to make. But, being from a very affordable area of the UK, the difference in location was very short. In other areas of the UK, it be not be quite so simple. There are other things to consider in when you’ve move – the location of your support network, your place of employment and how you can get to and from the places you need to. If you rely on family for childcare and they live 50 miles away, is a change of area likely to be feasible? I have an example of this in my own family. 3 years ago, my mother decided to move to the next county. There, she was able to buy a large property for much less than it would’ve cost where she lived before. The new property is 20 miles away, across a large bridge and hidden in the depths of the countryside, vs the 5 miles away she was before. She’s the primary carer for a family member who, in the event of an emergency (and there have been a few since she upped sticks) is now a 45 minute drive away with the risk that the bridge could close in the event of damage ir bad weather. That move, although it seems minor on paper, has caused difficulty within the family support network that she’s part of.

3. Buying a property with family help

Simply put, It’s just not that easy. I’m know that I was fortunate to have had help to buy my first home, and I’m very aware that it’s not something everybody is afforded. Some families can’t afford to help, some may not want to help.

And it’s not just getting on the property ladder; its making sure you can afford to live there too. Once you’ve bought the house there’s monthly bills to pay, furniture to buy and the cost of fixing things that break, such as the boiler.

In conclusion – I think that Kirsty’s comments were a bit too general and lacking in any context to the present day experience of being a young person or buying a home. My understanding is that the people she helps on TV are presented to her and ready to go: deposit saved, know what they can afford and a set of criteria for her to work with. Perhaps it would be advisable for her to concentrate on the area that she’s the expert in and leave the financial and mortgage advice to those expert in that area.

My final thoughts are these: it’s not your age, it’s your stage. There’s no set age by which you need to have bought your first home, getting married, have kids or do anything life changing. Why rush into the most expensive purchase of your life just to keep up with an imaginary timeline of what your choices should look like by a certain point? Goals are great but make them to suit YOUR life and YOUR terms, then make the best decisions you can to help you achieve them.

Thanks for reading,

J xx

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