Monday, 29 March 2010

why i'm a rent girl

So after about six months of househunting, I finally saw a house this morning that might work, in a pretty village with a great school. And it has a treehouse. So we could always live in that when the leaking roof gets too much.
But it's made me think again about renting. The hardest part of the downshift for me was selling our much-loved family house in London: we've been renting for six months in ruralshire, which makes us feel camped out here, permanently on the edge of flight. It's unsettling.
Unlike many Europeans, the Brits kind of look down on renting: it's something you only do when you're young or when you can't afford to buy. But it has upsides too. It's somebody else's problem when the boiler doesn't work, and it's cheaper than a mortage. We could just leave if we decide ruralshire is not for us. Why not rent for a bit longer? Doesn't look like house prices are soaring ahead any time soon.
In fact, the appeal of renting doesn't stop at houses. I read a really interesting blog by Brian Kaller recently about applying the library principle to other things. Do we all really need our own barbecue, or lawnmower, or cake tin, or anything else you use less than once a week but still feel compelled to buy and keep? Why couldn't there be neighbourhood 'libraries' for these things and we could all take turns borrowing them as needed?
Ok, maybe not the barbecue - we'd all want it on the same sunny Saturday night in August - but half the stuff cluttering up my garage is there because I might need it ONE DAY, not because I use it frequently. Think how much money I'd have saved by borrowing, not buying it.
The trouble of course is that stuff we acquire isn't just stuff: ownership of stuff is a way we demonstrate we've made it, a way we define ourselves, a source of pride even.
Ownership equals spontaneity and freedom - you don't have to book in advance, you just decide that morning you're going to have a barbecue or go for a bike ride. We're used to the convenience of ownership.
And actually ownership equals a healthy economy: it's more lucrative to get everyone to buy their own lawnmower rather than to have a central pool of it that everyone can borrow. Owning big assets like houses also makes sense because they can make you money, although the vast majority of stuff we have (from rusting barbecue to not-yet-rusting car) is actually losing value the longer we own it.
But maybe the recession is a chance to rethink renting. You can now rent designer handbags, jewellery, big-night-out dresses online - for those who want designer, but can't afford it. There are sites where you can hire your own expensive but rarely used things like ski stuff out to others who only need it briefly and don't want to buy.
We're used to timebanks letting us barter our skills: so why not neighbourhood asset banks, which would let me swap my (shamefully underused) lawnmower with you once a week if I can borrow your food mixer? It's the sort of trade that happens constantly in small villages, but not necessarily in inner cities, where people may actually own less and benefit more from asset 'renting'. It could even encourage people to talk to their neighbours.
And after all, if we buy this moneypit of a house we'll never be able to afford to buy anything else ever again. I'm going to need a communal barbecue. Swap you for a turn in the treehouse.


  1. Sounds like a similar principle to Lets schemes which seem to work well for some communities. Lets schemes are basically organised favour swapping i.e. I babysit for your children for an evening in return for the use of your barbecue. Or you swap skills eg I fix your shelves in return for you re-designing my website. Only they are organised throughout a whole area by a central facillitator. It's a nice idea I think, although perhaps a logistical nightmare?

    I rent my house from a housing association because I cannot afford to buy. I like it - like you say, I don't have to worry about not being able to afford repairs e.c.t. All the houses in my street are rented by young families and it's a really nice community. I don't think owning your own home is the be all and end all.

  2. I remember buying my first house when I was 25 (over 20 years ago) and my German work colleagues being aghast that I was actually buying - most people rent property there.

    I'd quite like to be able to rent-a-husband. Just for when I feel the need for a bit of company, and someone to mow the lawn, and then he could go back after a few days. Perfect.

  3. This is a great idea, but like you say the convenience and status of ownership can definitely be a stumbling block. Have you heard of the Zip car idea in some cities, car sharing, we have a friend who recently moved to DC and she loves it.

  4. Yeah lefties are always saying renting os good ...for other people. You will buy .

  5. We bought a money pit and I can't say I'm convinced by the maths, its value has decreased over the last three years and we've spent a fair amount on it, but it is our family house and we are fairly secure here but still ... we do owe an awful lot to the bank

  6. Have you seen Have you considered lending to others? uShare does what it says, it lets you lend and share your everyday items with people who live or work in your local community. It works on a points system so you don’t have to pay to lend or borrow items. uShare means there’s no need to buy something you may only need to use once. Simply borrow it, use it and return it. You could also save money and help the environment! Have a look

  7. You said "It's the sort of trade that happens constantly in small villages". Really? Not in any of the villages that I've ever lived in. It all comes down to relationships and, frankly, you're just as likely to get to know people in a city/town as in a village if you make the effort. Where you live is less important that the act of "networking" (goodness help me for using that word).

  8. I think I like the idea of lending and borrowing things more than I actually like doing it. When there's a set price for things, it takes away any unease over what's owed and buying something also means you have the right to lose or wreck it without hurting anyone's feelings or getting into trouble.

    The only major thing we've lent out a few times to friends is our tent. My partner and I really look after our things, but I'm not always sure other people take such care. I was ridiculously and disproportionately upset when it was handed back with its bag missing, although the bag soon turned up and was returned very speedily.

    Large car rental, or motorhome rental, for holidays, seems like a great idea.

  9. Dont have your email so re your words in the press

    Re immigration

    My wife is foreign, BUT we do need change

    Points based system is already in place but does not apply to Intra Company Transfer visas

    One of the biggest issues is Intra Company Transfer visas - used by Outsourcing companies to bring in tens and tens of thousands of mainly Indian nationals

    The points based system does not apply to these visas

    The outsourcers subcontract these staff straight into other large companies for less than market rates displacing Brits and other Europeans from the workforce

    Many ICT visa holders have gone on to get indefinite leave to remain and citizenship

    ICT alter the dynamics and firms do not have the incentive to train Brits that they would have otherwise

    ICT visa holders get tax breaks making it even harder for Brits to compete

    ICT holders can bring their families in, the kids get a free state school place often worth more to their parents than they are being paid, and the all get free NHS

    Its harder for a Brit to get a work visa to India than it is for an Indian national to come here on an ICT visa, and we sure dont get free healthcare and schooling for our kids

    The Telco and IT industries have been decimated by the massed influx of Indian nationals, sheer numbers have forced market salaries down

    There are lots of Brits with IT and Telco skills out of work we do not need them

    And of course the ones that go back to India take some of our leadingg edge techniques which damage our ability to compete as a 1st world nation, we cannot compete on a one way dive to the lowest wages with 3rd world nationals

    ICT visas and the slave ship captain outsourcers than often abuse them should be banned

    Go look at any large BT site and see how many Indian nationals and how few Brits are there, and many bank IT depts are similar

    Gordon Brown has announced nothing re immigration other than the status quo, points based system is already in place, but its not stopping swarms of ICT folk working here and distorting the market

    Re Europe the other thing you have mentioned its not as big an issue as Scotland, there is a limit to how much voters in England will put up with Scotland and the rest of the UK having such a disproportionate say on the running of the country, this needs sorting first

  10. People new to running tend to take it far too seriously. It's a big thing to start running but you must do it to enjoy it and in a lot of cases that means changing how you feel about it.

    You need to sit down for 10 mins, alone, and really think about why you want to run.

    Running is precious 'me' time and if you stick with it you will become fanatically protective of that precious time.

    For the actual running part the most important thing is to see running as a learning curve like everything else. It's a skill that comes to fruition when your leg joints learn to adapt to the impact of running; when your heart & lungs adapt to being used under pressure for sustained periods of time and, most importantly, when your mind adapts to running and you recognise and confront it's subconscious attempts to hinder you.

    And, therein lies a fundamental truth about running, no matter if you attend fun runs, 5k's, 10k's, half or full marathons, you're not running with or against the many other runners there but rather the hopes, fears, strengths and weaknesses of your own self, your mind.

    For the first 2 months you should run slowly and at a pace you find effortless. Only up this after 2 months and only gradually. This will prevent injuries to a body inexperienced to running, keep you motivated and you'll find it more enjoyable.

    As mentioned by one of the previous comments above, take music with you and good luck. There's nothing in the world quite like running :-)

    @epictrader (twitter)

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