A flatshare at 50?

Posted on August 5, 2016 by Eleanor McKenzie
Mature flatmates preparing dinner

Traditionally, a flatshare has been a rite of passage for the younger generation. Most often it is associated with university students and young professionals who have yet to acquire the funds to buy property. In the 80s, the flatshare was sometimes the hook on which TV dramas were hung; The Young Ones and Men Behaving Badly being two very successful dramatisations of the lifestyle. The Young Ones may have taken the theme to an extreme, but undoubtedly anyone who had ever shared student accommodation recognised some of the more outrageous antics as an amplification of their own flatmates’ behaviour. In this current decade, young people are severely tested by the UK’s high octane property market and are unable to get even a small toe on the property ladder, but this new “Generation Rent” is being joined by a significant number of those aged 50 -64.

Surprised? The Telegraph headline “Over 50s driven to renting due to housing shortage” certainly grabbed my attention. I rent, but then I spend most of my time in a European country where renting for life is quite the norm. However, we all know that property ownership is very important in the British Isles and I include long-term social housing tenants in that category. So, what has happened?

Downsizeable housing shortage

According to Nick Freeth, the MD of Retirement Homesearch, quoted in the Telegraph article, it is “down to a lack of affordable or suitable housing for downsizing,” and he predicts this is growing trend that will see more over 55s choosing to rent rather than buy in 2016. This is a trend that his company has been observing since 2012 and it is supported by research from Weroom, specialists in finding flatshares, conducted in 2015. It discovered that 27% of those aged 25-35 “expect to raise children while in rented accommodation.” And at the other end of the age scale, 29% of those aged 55 and over will be in rented accommodation at retirement.

One of the explanations is cost. Price rises make flatsharing an “increasingly common option” says Thomas Villeneuve of Weroom, and added that this inflation was making “older Brits turn to flatshares in later life – something unheard of a generation ago.” Recent government data on home ownership from the Office of National Statistics also reveals that 25% of people aged 50 – 64 in England and Wales are renting, but we must remember that this undoubtedly includes long-term social housing tenants.

 

Woman looking out of flat window

Flatshare on the rise for over 55s

SpareRoom, another property listings specialist, also reports that over the last five years the number of people in the 55-64 age bracket living in flatshare accommodation has risen by 343%, and the percentage of over 65s has increased by 600%. SpareRoom’s director, Matt Hutchinson, captured this landscape when he told a reporter, “Whether we like it or not, we’re being forced to rethink out aspirations of homeownership as Britain moves towards becoming a nation of renters.”

Some of those people in their 50s who are challenged by the price rises in UK property are people returning after years of working abroad. For many different reasons some returners don’t have a UK property to come back to and find that buying a property in this new economic climate is impossible. Renting is the only option, and even this is a problem as renting a property solo, especially in London, is a huge drain on resources. Flatsharing is then the most viable option. One lady in her late 50s who found herself in this situation told The Telegraph that she was then faced with being seen as “too old to live with” by many of the flatshares she applied to. I suppose it would seem like having your mother move in to twenty-year-olds.

Help for mature first-time buyers?

Yet, she has much in common with the youngsters. She is working but can’t save enough for a deposit on a property because of the cost of renting, which now accounts for 50% of earnings on average. The property market keeps shifting out of the reach of the typical first time buyer and, according to Post Office Money, “the average age at which non-homeowners expect to get a foot on the property ladder has increased to 36,” based on data for 2015-2016.

Yes, there are schemes to help first time buyers, but most have a cut off age that excludes older people and the housing charity Shelter has criticised the government for overlooking the issue of older renters who want to enjoy the stability of having their own home.

But, in case there is no governmental shake up of the market, it’s good to remember that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with being a renter at 50+, although a flatshare with The Young Ones might be more than any of us could handle.

 

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.