As you may expect, the following is a New Zealand and particularly Auckland-centric perspective…and yes, it is a rhetorical question.
Look, for many of us home ownership is beyond reach. That ship has well and truly sailed. Things may change in the future, but then again, they may not.
Can you really afford NOT to buy a house?
I’ve managed to scrape into my own place, but I worry about those who haven’t, who won’t.
Buying a house (as in the actual transaction) boils down to nothing more than money – albeit at levels that are wayyyy beyond reach for the average person, seeing as an Auckland house makes more than anyone working an actual job. But owning a home is not just about the money.
New Zealand: where you can’t afford to buy a house … and yet you can’t afford NOT to, either.
What’s your health worth?
Our housing stock is shite and our rentals are the worst. Cold and damp, they are literally making us sick. Renters in NZ have worse health outcomes than homeowners. What’s good health worth? $50 a week? $100? $250?
My house isn’t perfect. In the worst of winter it still gets too cold and the windows mist over. Yet it is many times better than the rentals I’ve endured. I can actually breathe. And that is priceless. More importantly, now I can install insulation, a heat pump, whatever I want.
Fixing renting needs to start here. Longer tenure is pointless if the property still sucks. But that does bring us to…
Can you afford the instability?
Renters have to move. (Often at the most inconvenient times.) Pay nonrefundable agent fees. Pay for the cost of moving (trucks, cleaning, double rent etc) over and over again. Sneak away from work to view houses because viewings are only ever during business hours. And you’ll have to do it many, many times because there’s so much competition for rentals.
That’s before we even try to quantify the stress involved with this lack of tenure. If you want a family, add kids into the picture and imagine how much harder it gets.
And after that…
What will you do when you stop working?
Retirees still need a place to live. Housing is a critical part of the retirement puzzle.
Rents keep going up. In my childhood suburb, my parents’ house has tripled in value, and the price of a 3 bedroom rental then is now the price of a 1 bedroom. Who knows how much market rents will be when it’s time for us to retire, and how much they may rise between then and when we die?
A project that I have been peripherally involved in around retirement policy is generating some discussion here in NZ. One particular submission sums the current situation up quite well, and I paraphrase it here: The political approach to housing is totally dysfunctional, favouring the old and wealthy over the young – and will cause huge problems for the currently young when they come to retire. A key theme among financially secure retirees, or those who are on track to be, is that they own their own homes. They are – or will be – free of a housing payment.
That’s going to change. Even now, there is real concern among renters about what their lives are going to look like in retirement. Moving is expensive, tiring and emotionally draining. Landlords are only going to continue to cash in on their capital gains – I know I would – and who wants to be forced to move at age 70 or 80?
Personally, I didn’t think I could afford to save enough for retirement to make up for not owning a house. I didn’t think the difference between (ever rising) rent and a mortgage payment would actually put me ahead (particularly if I was to try and rent somewhere decent). And there’s definitely something to the ‘forced savings’ discipline of having a mortgage.
But again, this is a choice that is available to fewer and fewer people as time goes on.
Us homeowners have lucked into a huge advantage. And it’s horrendously unfair. Once more with feeling: New Zealand: where you can’t afford to buy a house … and yet you can’t afford NOT to, either.