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Housing

5 women on the reality of getting on to the UK property ladder

Can cutting out gym memberships and ditching subscriptions help young people get on the property ladder? Five women reveal their experience of trying to buy a home in the UK right now.

It’s no secret that young people are struggling to buy their first homes and have been for years now. Add in a cost of living crisis that is creating a perfect storm of unfavourable economic factors and the uphill battle to get a foothold on the first rung of the proper ladder seems steeper than ever.

Housing charity Shelter reported that out of 13,268 adults in England, 39% said housing issues makes them stressed and anxious. It’s no wonder why.

A maelstrom of factors, including soaring energy bills, inflation rising to its highest level in 30 years and a planned national insurance hike in April, has left many young people wondering if they’ll ever make it onto the property ladder at all.

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The latest generation attempting to get a mortgage now has to contend with rocketing house prices and stagnating wages: the average house price is 65 times higher today than in 1970, but wages are only 36 times higher.

All the while social housing shortages have forced people into the private rented sector, with renters paying £969 per month for their homes on average – a 13 year high. Mortgage deposits have also increased across the country, with first-time buyers needing an average deposit of nearly £59,000 – £12,000 more than two years ago.

As factors like buying in cheaper areas of the UK or cancelling Netflix subscriptions, gym memberships and other living costs to save more for a deposit are spotlighted on social media, Stylist asked five women who are trying to buy or have just bought their first home what the experience is really like.  

“Buying a flat was the most stressful thing I’ve ever done”

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Lucy Gornall, 31, personal trainer, lives in south London. She carefully monitored her spending to buy her first property.

“I bought a flat in London when I was 28. I was the health editor for numerous women’s magazines. I was earning less than I am now but my deposit was big thanks to a lifetime of saving.

Each month I saved about half my income. It goes into shares, savings accounts and ISAs. I cut back on cabs and my nights out became nights in. But it wasn’t for long because I watched my spending like a hawk and knew exactly what was going where and when.

Buying a property was hands down the most stressful thing I have ever done. I felt very isolated and alone, despite having plenty of people to turn to. It just felt like I was being pulled in every direction and solicitors’ contracts were so hard to understand. I was constantly turning to my dad or my few friends who work in property to decipher certain things for me.

It took about five months from start to finish. I definitely didn’t realise how much the costs would continue to come. It’s not just buying a home. It’s the boiler replacement, the bills, fixing things. It’s all on your shoulders.” 

“I’ve given up my own place to get onto the property ladder”

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Cerise Woodhouse, 30, trainee social worker, lives in Greater Manchester. She re-entered education for a higher salary to keep up with living costs.

“I am currently saving for a home and opened a Help to Buy ISA account over four years ago. Since returning to full-time education I have had to dip into my savings which has set me back. 

The main reason for re-entering full-time education was to obtain a master’s degree in social work to have a higher salary to maintain a property. To save a £15-20,000 deposit, with conscious saving and my new salary, will take up to three years, I think.

I am currently renting with a friend and once the bills are split, we pay £337.50 a month each. I have taken out a credit card with a £4,000 limit. 

In preparation to get onto the property ladder, I had to give up my own place to move in with a friend to reduce costs. The cost of houses and cost of living has risen, yet the wages don’t match, the only way to easily get onto the property ladder is with inheritance or help from family.” 

“Owning a home is impossible for disabled people like me”

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Chloe Timms, 33, writer and author of the Seawomen, lives in Birchington, Kent. She is terrified of not having a secure future.

“To me, owning a property means a secure future – something of paramount importance as a disabled person. I have a genetic disability called spinal muscular atrophy. I will get weaker as I get older. The thought terrifies me and my family. Currently, I live at home with my parents. They’re both on minimum wage incomes so they’re unable to support me financially.

Renting is difficult because you can’t make necessary adaptations to make your home accessible. I need to use a hoist to transfer out of my wheelchair which means installing a hoist in the ceiling. I need a property on the ground floor with no steps at the entrance, with a wet room and enough space in the bathroom. This restricts my options even further.

I’m unable to save for any future – my savings are capped. Social services cover the cost to help me get washed and dressed. However, if a person has over £14,250 in savings, they will have to contribute to care costs. More than £23,500 and they’re entitled to no help at all. This means I would have to pay for basic care needs. Owning a home for disabled people like me is impossible.” 

“Cutting out my coffees and Netflix doesn’t mean I can suddenly afford a home”

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Helen Femii, 26, lives in north-west London. The podcaster and freelance journalist says she has been forced to consider moving away from her home town because she is being priced out of her area. 

“I live with my parents and want to buy a property soon but there’s absolutely no way I can afford to live in my area. Gentrification and foreign investment have out-priced locals. There’s no protection for those born and raised here like me. I have considered moving outside of London which is a massive sacrifice. I feel safe and comfortable here. As a person of colour, I feel like I have to carefully consider moving to an unfamiliar area.

Even if you have a good salary, the properties on offer aren’t worth the money. They are poor quality and the rooms are small. Good quality housing is a human right.

Since transitioning from a nine to five job to a freelance career, I noticed self-employment looks less attractive to mortgage providers. The questions they asked became much more difficult for me to answer and I was offered less.

Cutting out my coffees and Netflix subscription doesn’t mean I can suddenly afford a home. Also, why should people sacrifice life’s enjoyments just to be able to afford a bad quality property?” 

“I only spend money on necessities but I’m still struggling to buy a home”

Nora Hashad, 24, customer associate, is renting in Dorset. Despite cutting back on luxuries she is still struggling to save for a home.

“I’m looking to buy a home. I’ve had to sacrifice subscriptions like Spotify, Apple music and Birchbox. It’s very rare I treat myself and I only spend money on necessities. 

What older generations don’t understand is that young adults like me can’t afford to buy a house because three-quarters of our wages go on rent and bills. My husband and I pay £1,000 a month on rent and energy bills. We even use a smart meter. 

I am managing to save a little bit every month because we split bills but there’s no way I’d be able to do it alone.

During our property hunt, we realised that the cheaper properties we looked at were often in more rundown parts of the UK. 

I lived in Manchester for a while and although on average it’s cheaper up north, for me the quality of life isn’t as good as Dorset. I don’t want to sacrifice my quality of life to live in a cheaper place.”

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Images: Lucy Gornall, Cerise Woodhouse, Chloe Timms, Helen Femii and Nora Hashad