Tuesday 22 August 2017

Trends that break the bank

A luxury property mogul has told millennials to lose the avocados if they ever want to own their own home

Going green: Avocado toast is beloved of the Instagram generation
Going green: Avocado toast is beloved of the Instagram generation
Actor Brie Larson tucks into brunch with avocados
Tim Gurner

Tanya Sweeney

Want to buy your first home? An Australian mogul has the answer the world has been looking for: cut the superfruits.

The avocado has emerged as a particularly dangerous fruit in the past fortnight. Last week, doctors called for a safety warning after an increase in cases of 'avocado hand', where people were accidentally stabbing themselves while attempting to prepare a delicious brunch, and now the humble fruit has been cited as the reason why millennials (those born between 1981 and 1995) cannot afford their own home.

Luxury property developer Tim Gurner (35) presented his solution to such housing problems - one that has invited no end of public derision - during an interview with current affairs program 60 Minutes Australia. The kernel of his argument? The profligate spending by his fellow millennials on pricey weekend brunches and overpriced flat whites is hampering their chances of getting a foothold on the property ladder.

"When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn't buying smashed avocado for $19 (€13) and four coffees at $4 (€2.50) each," Gurner said.

Actor Brie Larson tucks into brunch with avocados
Actor Brie Larson tucks into brunch with avocados

"The expectations of younger people are very, very high. They want to eat out every day; they want to travel to Europe every year.

"The people that own homes today worked very, very hard for it," he went on, adding that they "saved every dollar, did everything they could to get up the property investment ladder".

It transpired in the aftermath of the interview that Gurner, now worth an estimated €308m, had bought his first house with hard work, determination... and some €22,800 he had inherited from a grandparent.

Despite its bold tones of 'let them eat cake', there's a certain well meaning (if mangled) sentiment to Gurner's wisdom.

For generations, it has been thus: live well within your means, curb fiscal excesses, watch the savings pile up into a neat house deposit, pick out your couch.

To a lesser or greater extent, there has always been an element of sacrifice, sense and ascetic living involved in saving up for a roof and four walls of your very own.

"When I had my first business when I was 19, I was in the gym at 6am in the morning, and I finished at 10.30pm at night, and I did it seven days a week, and I did it until I could afford my first home," he is quoted as saying. "There was no discussion around, could I go out for breakfast, could I go out for dinner? I just worked."

But Gurner's comments have landed at a particularly specific juncture in economic history, and Internet commenters were quick to point out that he had overlooked a number of factors: the gig economy, lack of parental help, intern culture, plummeting wages and soaring property prices.

Others went on to do some simple sums, noting that if one were to forego a daily spend on avocado toast, they might indeed scrape together a deposit. Within about 60 years.

Gurner's detractors responded on social media in their droves, with one posting: "Taking the advice of Tim Gurner, instead of eating #avocadotoast this morning, I spread an affordable two-bedroom home on an English muffin."

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Tim Gurner

Yet Gurner (pictured above) isn't even the first pundit to suggest that young people's love of brunch was causing them fiscal strife.

Writing in The Australian newspaper last year, demographer Bernard Salt suggested that young people curb their spending at 'hipster cafes' if they want to purchase a home.

"I can afford to eat this for lunch because I am middle aged and have raised my family," he wrote. "But how can young people afford to eat like this? Shouldn't they be economising by eating at home?"

What's likely bothering Gurner's critics isn't just the cold, hard reality of simple economics. Rather, it's his blithe and generalised assumption about their generation that appears to grate. By Gurner's reckoning, millennials are the proverbial swallows that sing all summer, refuseniks of deferred gratification and a good old hard slog, who will be 'saved' with an inheritance anyway.

Entitled, workshy, imprudent, married to the 'aspirational' Pinterest lifestyle… these are criticisms that have long been levelled at the under-35s, whose minds seem to be so preoccupied with racking up Instagram likes on their Valencia-filtered snap of a Unicorn Frappuccino or a plate of cloud eggs that they couldn't possibly fathom the demands of real work.

But Gurner's summation has scant reference to the social, cultural, political or economic events that have contributed to low rates of home ownership among the under-35s.

According to US research, only 32pc of American homeowners were first-time buyers in 2016, while in Gurner's native Australia, about 28pc of millennials own their homes.

In Ireland, 2011 census figures show that just 6pc of under 24s had bought their own home, while the number still renting in their late 30s/early 40s has stretched to almost 20pc.

With so many problems already on their plate, do they really have to give up their avocado toast too?

The millennial response

Sophie Donaldson

Great news, guys. To get your foot on the property ladder all you need to do is stop brunching. Well, that's according to a 35-year-old millionaire developer who made his money gentrifying urban areas with high rises… the type of areas that prospered with the influx of cafes and restaurants filled with young people eating brunch.

Let's put the avocados aside for a moment, as delicious as they are, and consider this: did young adults in the 60s stop going to the cinema and instead use that money as the down payment on a house?

Did twenty-somethings in the 80s stop buying records and instead keep their change in a piggy bank, proudly upending its contents as they signed their mortgage agreement? No. Like young people of this generation, they still enjoyed life's small fripperies while studying, working and saving with the hope that it would all amount to them owning a home of their own.

And for those generations before us, it generally did. But that opportunity simply does not exist for most young people today and it is nothing to do with avo toast. Stock has dwindled severely, house prices have inflated and our salaries haven't.

Comments like those made by Tim Gurner imply that millennials don't know sacrifice. The general belief is that our penchant for flat whites supersedes our ability to say 'no' to daily luxuries in order to achieve a long term goal.

But the issue is not that we are averse to sacrifice, or saving. It's that there simply isn't enough affordable housing, whether you are in Dublin or Dulwich Hill. A mortgage is both a sacrifice and a privilege, but for most young people it's a pipe dream. Can you really blame us for drowning our sorrows in Saturday morning mimosas?

All in good toast

 

The concept of an 'avocado on toast' recipe is a somewhat laughable one - can a recipe for fancy toast even be called a recipe? Nigella Lawson came under fire in 2015 when she dared to do so on her TV series Simply Nigella. For the uninitiated, here are some simple tips for mastering the brunch favourite.

Ingredients

1 ripe avocado

Juice of half a lime

Extra virgin olive oil

Pinch of dried chili flakes

Sea salt and pepper (to taste)

2 slices sourdough bread, toasted

Few sprigs of fresh coriander, chopped

Method

Halve the avocado and scoop the contents into a bowl. Add the lime juice, olive oil and chili flakes, then mash together using a fork. Season to taste. Toast the bread, then spread clumps of the avocado mixture on and garnish with the coriander.

Irish Independent

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