“I got on the property ladder at age 26 and just two years later, I had no choice but to sell”

One writer shares the complexities of owning a flat — every millennial’s dream’ — and what happens when it becomes a financial and emotional deadweight.

In December 2018, aged 26, I finally closed on my first property. After several months of battling with solicitors, banks and the very impatient seller, I was handed the keys to my very own flat. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, two storeys, a balcony with a view of the park. 

Ideally located on the edge of Manchester city centre, I couldn’t quite believe my luck. After moving 10 times in eight years as a renter, I finally felt like I was able to put down roots. Now, I’m faced with the reality that I have to sell it and return to the world of renting.

It had been a long hard road to get there; I had saved a little money for the deposit, but the majority was my inheritance from my father, who died when I was six. I barely qualified for a mortgage with my income, and in the end, my mother came on the mortgage as a guarantor. I thought this was the start of a new, more stable phase in my life. I thought everything was about to change for the better.

An unexpected outcome of buying a flat was the backlash from people my own age. I knew I was incredibly lucky to have made it onto the property ladder so young, but whenever I brought up my flat in passing, the resentment was palpable. Only one person ever actually said anything, a sarcastic, “Did Daddy buy it for you?”. My response was yes, he did pay for the deposit, by dying aged 36. I refuse to feel ashamed for having enough savings for a deposit; I would swap the money for my father in a heartbeat. 

I got on the property ladder at age 26 but two years later, I’m having to sell as it’s become a financial and emotional deadweight
Bethany at her dream flat months ago before she was hit with the reality that she couldn't afford it.

2019 may have been the worst year of my life, but by the time the clock ticked over into 2020, my circumstances had completely changed. In many ways it was for the better: I was minus one abusive boyfriend, minus a job I hated where I had worked with him, and I had gained relief from the oppressive weight of that incredibly toxic relationship. This year was going to be my year: I was going to become a freelance writer and actually enjoy my life. Then, of course, 2020 threw us all a curveball.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate so far but eight months into the year I’m being forced to finally admit that I can no longer afford the mortgage payments on my dream flat. What was meant to be my safe haven had been tainted by my abusive ex, and became a financial and emotional deadweight. It was always meant to have two people living in it and was completely unaffordable for me alone.

I feel like I’ve failed. For so much of my life, owning my own home was the end goal. It was above the other traditional milestones of getting married or having children — this was about me, not someone else. And now, having succeeded, I’m forced to accept that I bought a property I couldn’t afford alone, and so became dependent on others; ironic, considering that the purpose of buying my own home was to become independent.

I’m dreading Christmas, and having to tell my family I’ve given up on what I worked so hard for. I can already picture their confused and concerned faces. I told one friend the other day that I was selling my flat, one of the ones who I’d always suspected was a little jealous — she looked almost smug. 

I felt guilty for buying my flat, and now I feel guilty for selling it. It truly feels like I can’t win. The reality is though, that I haven’t given up. I bought the flat based on my circumstances at the time, and it made sense then. I had no way to know just how much life would change in the next year and eight months. And now, in a very different situation, I am forced to make another decision. Once again, I have decided based on my current circumstances, and what I can and can’t afford. If I look at it like that, I have nothing to be ashamed about.

Despite that, I hate that I’m returning to the world of uncertainty and renting once again. I’ve been lucky enough to meet someone new, so I’m moving into the house he owns. I’m hoping that I can feel secure enough to put down roots as I did in my flat. I know I’ll miss the independence of my flat, but financially it was crippling me. Now, I can actually afford to live.

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For anyone who’s in a similar position to me, of which I imagine there are many in this time of redundancies, furlough and economic uncertainty, I’d say to take each decision as a new opportunity. I’ve been forced to put my feelings to one side and ask myself about the life I actually want to live. Do I want to keep my beautiful flat but be constantly living on the edge, never sure if I’m going to have enough money? Or do I want to be able to actually live my life, and save up for another property again one day? The choice is clear to me.

There’s no shame in making the decision that’s right for you or having to backtrack on a past decision. The only shame is in refusing to make a decision at all and letting yourself drown.

Image: Getty and Morgan Barfield