Saturday 18 November 2017

To realise that having your own castle might be an impossibility is a bitter pill to swallow

We know families are struggling but why are ­single people left out of the housing ­conversation, asks Leslie Ann Horgan

Leslie Ann Horgan
Leslie Ann Horgan

Leslie Ann Horgan

Ihave decided to start a matchmaking agency. To sign up there's no heavily-filtered selfie or witty/flirtatious description of your interests required. Instead, I'll be looking for people who are in full-time, permanent employment with a clean credit rating and no loans. Those with a history of regular rent payments and a steady build up of savings are highly sought after. Sensible spender to boot? That's the new sexy.

Being 35 or under would be of benefit to those looking for a lengthy relationship. And let's be clear that this is not the place a casual fling - not that there will be any romance involved, either. Instead, my matches will be bringing people together for the sole purpose of house purchasing. Forget arranged marriages, I intend to usher in an era of arranged mortgages. After all, what other options will single people have when it comes to the property market if prices continue to rise at current rates?

In the unending discussion about the country's current housing crisis there is, quite rightly, much concern for families and couples who can't afford to buy a house, or can't find one even if they have the money. We hear a lot about the chances that the fictional unions of nurses, guards and teachers have of buying their own homes.

But what if all those anti-social hours, overnight shifts and weekend work meant that our nurse and our guard never managed to clap eyes on one another across the dancefloor of Coppers? What if our teachers couldn't risk setting up an online dating profile lest their pupils get hold of it?

Single people - or 'single income applicants' as those hoping to secure a mortgage are termed - are absent from the housing conversation. That's somewhat startling when you consider that, according to Central Bank figures, the largest share of first-time borrowers in 2016 were single borrowers, accounting for 56pc of mortgage loans.

More startling still is the fact that the same 'Economic Letter' on residential mortgage lending shows that the average salary of the first-time buyer was €67,287, and the average loan drawn down was €185,939 to buy a property with an average price of €250,361. While I understand how averages work, those figures bear no relation to the reality for me and my Dublin-based friends. The salaries are far too high, the house prices laughably low.

In a blog about securing a mortgage on its website, the EBS says that for solo buyers: "The steps involved in buying on your own are essentially the same as buying with a partner. The harder part is expectation management, saving the deposit on your own and finding a house you like in your price range." That certainly rings true of my own experience of buying a house as a single person.

Having spent the guts of a decade in rented apartments, I knew that, long term, I wanted a dwelling free from noisy neighbours and management fees, and with the possibility of drying my washing outdoors. I wanted a house - and if I was to live alone, then preferably one near to my family in the north Dublin suburb where I grew up. It's impossible to guarantee that you'll find true love, or even a stable relationship, in life. However, I thought that by working and saving hard I could at least guarantee myself a modest house.

We're fond of telling millennials that they need to readjust their life expectations these days, but it's not just the snowflake generation who are falling short of what they feel entitled to. As I know from personal experience, it's hard to accept that your prince or princess isn't coming along and start down the road of being a solo purchaser. To then realise that having your own castle might also be an impossibility because you're single - and therefore can save, borrow and repay less - is a bitter pill to swallow.

Emotion not logic

No doubt many will argue that, given the current dearth of houses, single people should be buying apartments and not family homes in which they leave vacant rooms. That's a valid and logical point - but it's emotion, not logic that drives our craving for property in this country. In my case, at age 34, I didn't want to end up in the kind of Tiger-era apartment, unsuited to long-term living, that so many of my friends were desperate to offload. Why should I have to settle for less just because I was single? Besides, committing to a one-bed flat felt like forever closing the door on the possibility of meeting a partner and having children.

In the end, I was lucky enough to be able to buy a house, albeit one smaller and further out of the city than my ideal. That was two years ago, before the lending rules required a 20pc deposit which would have ruled me out of the market for houses altogether. Today, as I see my friends - in couples - being outbid as properties sell for tens of thousands over the asking prices, I shiver to think what I would do if I were house hunting now. There could be a future in arranged mortgages yet.

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