Our content manager Christina Neal talks about how she thought she was too old to be renting and how she got back on the property ladder in her fifties.
I’m still waking most days unable to fully comprehend the fact that I’m a property owner again. My house purchase completed on 30 June. I’d been off the property ladder for four years, renting the house that I now own. Having bought the place, I feel so much more settled because I know I can stay here for as long as I choose. I hated renting, mainly because I felt like I wasn’t in control of my living arrangements. I knew that my landlady could claim her house back if she wanted and I’d have to go through the upheaval of moving. I didn’t like the fact that the choice to stay or move wasn’t mine. Now it is, and it’s such a relief.
Freedom to renovate
It may sound daft, but I envied people who owned a property. During those four years of renting, I used to look at how other people had decorated or renovated their places courtesy of endless before and after pics on Facebook and think: ‘I can’t do that because the house isn’t mine’. Now I can do pretty much whatever I want.
I also felt that I shouldn’t have been renting at my time of life. I’d been a homeowner in the past and felt like I’d gone backwards. I bought my very first house – a modest two-bedroom terraced property – at the age of 19. So how did I end up renting in middle age? To cut a long story short, stuff happens in life. Long-term relationships come to an end – as mine did – and we have to adapt and move on. And for some of us, that means selling a house and starting over.
I knew that but it still didn’t make me feel good about my situation. In my view, renting was for students and people in their 20s who were saving up for a house deposit, not mature people like me in their 50s who should have it all sussed out. Yet after a bit of research, I realised I was wrong. Although we tend to associate the phrase ‘Generation Rent’ with younger people, more older people are renting. According to the Office for National Statistics website, 28 per cent of 35-44-year-olds were privately renting in 2017. People in their mid-30s or mid-40s are three times more likely to rent now than 20 years ago.
More older people renting
There’s also been an increase in the number of retired people renting. The number of over 55s renting has more than doubled in the past decade according to the website This Is Money. In an article published last year, it was revealed that there had been a 118 per cent surge in those aged 55-64 renting since the turn of the last decade. This was attributed to pension incomes dropping and later life divorce becoming more common. My situation was clearly not unique. If you’ve found yourself having to start again after a separation, and are keen to get back onto the property ladder, here’s some things you can do…
Tip 1: Stay positive about becoming a homeowner in future
Don’t give up. Even if it seems impossible that you may own a place again. At the age of 53, I honestly thought I’d left it too late to get another mortgage. It was only when I started working for MB Associates and began researching mortgages and speaking to our advisers that I realised it is possible to borrow in your 50s and beyond. (You can read MB Associates’ free guide to getting a mortgage when you’re older here.) If you give up on the prospect of being a homeowner again, you’re likely to be more casual about your finances. You’ll be tempted to spend rather than save. And of course, the more you save, the higher your deposit.
Tip 2: Keep an eye on house prices in your area
Despite thinking I might be too old to become a homeowner, I was a regular visitor to Rightmove’s website, checking out prices on comparable properties to the one I was renting. I kept an eye on the housing market and even though I thought I might not be able to buy again, I felt like it was important to know what properties in my area would cost. I just didn’t want to give up on the idea completely.
Tip 3: Do the maths carefully so you can plan ahead
Even if you think your earnings or savings may not be sufficient, arm yourself with information. Know what you need to be earning in order to get a mortgage. Lenders will typically lend a maximum of four and a half times your income, but there is some variation. Don’t be too heavily influenced by mortgage calculators you find online – they are only a very rough guide to what you could borrow. It’s far better to speak to an experienced mortgage adviser – even if you’re not sure you could get a mortgage as they can look closely at your personal situation. You may be pleasantly surprised so it’s definitely worth a conversation.
Tip 4: Save as much as you can
Even saving small amounts every week or month can make a difference. I’ll admit that, like a lot of people, during the first few lockdowns I ordered more takeaways and drank more wine – but sooner or later that had to stop. I still have the occasional takeaway but every time I felt tempted to take the easy option and order in, I thought about how I could save £20 or £30 by not spending that money. I have estimated that cutting back on takeaways alone has saved me around £200 per month.
Tip 5: Plan a timeline
If you speak to a mortgage adviser, even if they think you can’t afford a mortgage right now, they might be able to give you an idea of when you would be able to buy a property if you need a bigger deposit. Keep saving, plan and prepare for the future, and have a rough idea of when you might want to buy, allowing for the fact that prices may continue to rise. In other words, have a rough idea of timing and try not to leave it too long.