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For as long as bricks and mortar has existed, Britain has been obsessed with home ownership. Rather than be satisfied with the freedom and flexibility of renting, almost every young Brit includes ‘own my own home’ on their list of things to achieve by the time they turn thirty.

But why is this?

The UK alludes home ownership to status and success, a belief we share with another property obsessed nation: the USA. We also like the feeling of security that comes with the knowledge that our home is entirely ‘our own’ (something that of course, doesn’t actually happen until the mortgage is done and dusted with).

Yet the truth is, buying equates to great risk and serious commitment. A new job in another area of the country means selling-up and finding somewhere new – a costly and potentially prolonged experience. A job loss puts homeowners at great risk of losing everything they have scrimped and saved so hard for.

Doesn’t everyone the world over strive to home ownership?

It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that the fact we’re so obsessed with home ownership means that everyone else is too. This isn’t so. Across the pond in many parts of Europe, the percentage of working adults choosing to rent rather than buy is far higher.

For instance, in Berlin 90% of the residential market is made up of rentals. In Hamburg (a city known for its wealth) 80% of its residents are still renting. Renting is also greatly prevalent in Italy and Spain amongst other European nations.

Why?

Renters in Britain are, as a general rule, treated very poorly. Rents are expensive, most lets are short-term and we’re rarely permitted to house pets or adapt the property to our tastes. Essentially, renting is treated as a stop-gap on the route to buying. We’re usually discouraged from ever seeing the property as truly ‘our home’.

Attitudes in much of Europe are very different. Five year lets are not uncommon while it’s most unusual for renters to not redecorate their new homes.

Britain also enjoys a rather lax approach to the regulation of letting agencies. Anyone can set up a letting agent and a licensing scheme was only introduced in 2009.

Is that all?

While we’re encouraged from all corners to buy in Britain, in many other parts of Europe, buying when you’re not entirely financially secure is actively discouraged.

In Germany for instance, most lenders require a 20% deposit plus proof of earnings dating back several years.

So should we forgo our buying dreams?

Not at all. The fact is: no-one wants to be renting in retirement, and it simply is a great feeling to ‘own’ our own home; to be able to do what we want with it whether that’s building a conservatory, installing double glazed windows, replacing the roof or even changing the front door. o

It would be nice however, to see a move away from this obsession with buying as soon as it’s feasibly possible: something that might just happen should the way we treat renters continue to evolve.

In reality, we don’t need to be buying in our twenties or even our thirties. Job loss, change and relocation are common at this age, not to mention the fact that most of us will be far more financially stable in our forties and fifties – thus greatly lessening the stress of dealing with broken boilers and spiralling mortgages.

Thanks to digitalart and jscreationzs for the images.