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More middle-age people still don't own their homes in Belfast

Published 04/12/2015

Paula Montgomery
Paula Montgomery
House proud: Brigitte Anton
Gerry White

Rented digs are no longer the preserve of student days, as more middle-aged people here still don't own their own homes. Kerry McKittrick reports.

Soaring house prices, relationship breakdowns or recession pay freezes are just a few reasons why many people here might struggle to get on to the property ladder.

It seems now that some people who aren't able to buy property are giving up on the idea of owning a home of their own, according to the latest findings from a major lender.

A report from the Halifax Building Society has revealed that four out of 10 renters, aged between 20 and 45, are now actively saving for a deposit to buy their own property. Just one year ago this figure was five out of 10.

In a report called Generation Rent, the mortgage lender said that more of us are getting used to the idea of renting in the long-term, with no hope of setting foot on the property ladder.

Although the Government has introduced schemes to tempt first-time buyers, such as the Help To Buy initiative - low incomes and hefty deposits required by lenders means that, for many, owning their own home can be a pipe dream.

In previous decades, most people would aim to buy their first house in their 20s or 30s, scrimping together enough cash for a deposit while house-sharing or living with their parents.

Now, though, the average age of the first-time buyer has crept up steadily to 37 from 29 almost a decade ago, the lender's report has indicated.

We talk to three people in Belfast who are renting, and find out why they have never bought their own home.

‘My poor credit history will affect my ability to get a mortgage’

Paula Montgomery (39) is a retail store manager. She lives in east Belfast and says:

I rent a two-bedroomed house by myself at the moment. I've never owned my own home. I spent most of my 20s working around Europe for a holiday company. I could have bought a house and rented it out during that time, but I never thought of it. It's not something you think of when you're 25 and working in Spain.

I came home when I was 30 and moved in with my parents for a year, then I house shared. Before I realised, 10 years had passed and I still don't have a place to call my own.

I came home from abroad with little money saved and find it hard to save now that I'm renting.

I've started thinking about buying a house recently, particularly as I'm renting on my own now. It's expensive and my rent is money that I'll never see again. It also means that I end up in houses or areas that suit my budget, but aren't necessarily places I would choose to live in.

When it's not your own house you can't really do anything like fit a new kitchen or make it your own, which I find frustrating. I can't really put my own stamp on a rented house.

I find saving for a deposit difficult, as my savings tend to get spent on other things such as holidays. As a single person you spend more money - you tend to go out at the weekends more or on holiday more, instead of staying in with your other half.

I turn 40 next year and it worries me that I am not on the property ladder. I would like to think about retiring at the age of 65, so I really only have 25 years to pay off a mortgage. I want to be able to rely on myself and not anyone else.

As a single person, the amount of money I can borrow is limited. I've looked into mortgages, but I haven't been able to get a big enough mortgage to buy my own property.

Part of the problem is that over the years I've shared houses with friends or partners and the property was in their name, not mine, so I don't have a good credit rating. Also, because I lived abroad until I was 30, there's a big gap in my credit history. I wouldn't mind sharing a house again with a friend in order to save some money. It's hard, though, to find a house mate among friends, as most of them are my age so they are married and settled or they already own their own home. Despite the difficulties, though, I plan to speak to a financial adviser and find out how to improve my credit rating and start saving for a deposit."

Rent: £475 a month

Property: two-bedroom terrace house, off Ravenhill Road

'My amazing neighbours are one of the reasons that I want to stay put'

Gerry White (57) is the general manager of the John Hewitt pub in Belfast. He lives in Belfast with his partner Claro Guerrero. He says:

I've rented the same flat close to Queen's University for nearly 30 years now. About 20 years ago, all of my friends were buying houses.

They told me it was the thing to do and it would be a nice pension for me when I got older. I did think about it and looked at a few houses, but in the end I decided against buying.

I live in a social home, which is overseen by a housing association, and they are brilliant landlords. If something goes wrong with the apartment, then I report it to them and it will get fixed.

I like where I live and love my neighbours. If I move I could end up in another street with different neighbours, so I've never felt the need to move. I was given the option to buy my apartment a few years ago and again I thought about it, but decided against it.

The Housing Association is so good to rent property from, as if I bought the apartment and took it out of their hands, then someone who needed somewhere to live wouldn't get the opportunity to have it after me. I have plenty of friends who bought houses and are now in negative equity.

Also, if something goes wrong with the apartment, I would have to be responsible for that. Currently, the housing association has responsibility for maintenance and repairs.

The rent is also quite low, especially given that I live in south Belfast. I don't think I'll ever buy a house - my amazing neighbours are one of the reasons I want to stay put. We have a wonderful community here."

Rent: £240 a month

Property: one-bedroom apartment, University area

‘I love the area I’m in but I could never afford to buy here’

Brigitte Anton (48) is a historian and web designer and lives in Belfast. She says:

Originally I'm from Germany, but I always had an interest in Irish politics and history. My university degree allowed me to go abroad for six months and I decided to come to Belfast, then six months turned into a year. After I finished my degree I did a PhD in history and never left. Belfast is now home to me, as I've been here for 27 years.

I rent a flat in south Belfast and I've always rented.

I think it's because people on mainland Europe tend to rent instead of buy - my parents always rented, too, because it is very cheap (in Germany) and that's what everyone else did.

I've never been tempted to buy and I think that's because I'm from a country with a culture of renting.

In Germany, the regulations for buying a house are much stricter, so if you want to get a mortgage you need to have a lot of money in the first place.

I never thought of myself as having enough money to buy a house. I might be able to get the deposit together, but then I would need furniture and a bit of cash to do it up.

If something goes wrong, like slates coming off the roof, then I would have to pay for that, too.

I live in south Belfast and I like my neighbours.

While I love the area, I would never be able to afford to buy a house here due to property prices.

I like renting. I've been in my flat now for 17 years and when it was refurbished last year, I chose the colours for the paintwork.

I'm not that fussy about design or buying expensive furniture, anyway. I don't feel the need to change things that much or put my own stamp on where I live.

I see friends with their own houses and they might have more space or extra rooms, which seems nice, but owning a property has never been a priority for me.

While I don't have the capital of a house behind me, I don't think I would invest money in property if I had it anyway.

I don't have an investment back up plan for my old age, but then again, I know people who have lost their house due to personal circumstances.

There doesn't seem to be any real financial security, no matter what you do."

Rent: £600 a month

Property: one-bedroom apartment, off Malone Road


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