IT was a no-brainer for us.
Our first house cost less than twice our joint salaries. We took out an affordable mortgage and watched the debt shrink in proportion to the rising value of the property. If our generation rented they were pouring money down the drain.
It's the opposite now, even for a young couple in good jobs and earning above-average pay. I did a property search in our old neighbourhood just to see how close they would come to buying a house like the one we started in. It would cost them more than 10 times their joint salaries: an impossibility.
Today a typical young couple paying rent and looking for a toe-hold on the property ladder will struggle to raise a high enough deposit to qualify for a mortgage. Then they face the prospect of sinking it into a home which may flat-line in value. The way the economy is poised it could even fall. And monthly repayments must be met, which brings us to job security.
It's not as if a couple with two incomes today can predict what their employment will be like in six months or a year. If one of them is "let go" or has their hours cut they can move quickly to a cheaper rental. If they start having trouble meeting mortgage payments they may have to sell quickly. With the housing market depressed that might not be possible. And if the house doesn't sell, they could risk their deposit.
Anyway, why would young people invest capital in a house when prices may not rise for three to five years? Even with tiny interest rates available elsewhere, they could make a better and safer return on capital.
So it is that parents who prided themselves on being home owners will increasingly have children who are long-term renters.
Does it matter? Will our society suffer from the rebalancing?
It will certainly change. At the moment 65% of households are owner-occupiers. By 2020, the Scottish Government expects the majority of those aged 35 or under to be living in the private rental sector.
They will have no choice. Should they be downcast? Possibly not. In a fast-moving world renting has advantages. Instead of being anchored by bricks and mortar, people can maintain a light footprint. They're able to be flexible and fast off the mark when opportunity arises.
The world has shrunk. The next best job opportunity could be in Australia, China or Russia. In 2012 ambition is less a matter of getting on your bike than catching a flight.
But it's an unsettling lifestyle. It stops people putting down roots and starting a family – and that affects us all. Already we have too few earners to meet the needs of an ageing population. The last thing we need is for the next generation to shrink again.
Many are delaying having a baby because they don't feel secure enough. They don't have landmark achievements like job security and home ownership. They recognise that children need stability and security and a home near their school but realising they will never afford it, increasing numbers are having babies while renting.
A new report commissioned by the independent Resolution Foundation and the housing charity Shelter says in London 25% of families with children are renting from private landlords. It's expected to rise to 33% by 2025.
In Scotland the figure has more than doubled to 14%.
That raises an instinctive shiver in my generation. When I worked on a local newspaper I regularly came across families with children living in cramped, damp, privately rented housing. The children were inevitably unwell with chronic chest conditions. The parents, near despair, would point to mould on the walls. Rents were high, conditions lousy and landlords exploitative. The challenge was to help the tenants leapfrog the council housing list. But the right to buy policy has removed 92,000 Scottish council flats and houses from the rental market. At the end of March there were 156,000 people on waiting lists and a further 38,800 waiting for a transfer.
Shelter in Scotland says it can take seven years to get to the top of the list. Seven years is a childhood.
New public sector house building is needed along with shared equity and rent to buy schemes. The good news is that the Scottish Government is filled with virtuous long-term intentions. Meantime, it seems that the private rented sector is going to be the only option for tens of thousands of families and individuals in Scotland.
Will it once again breed insecurity and misery? That depends on how it is controlled.
Traditionally there has been a view that the home owner has a stake in the community. He or she will carefully maintain their property and its environs. It is in their interest to protect what is their largest investment, their home and their security. The renter, by contrast, has been painted as a tad feckless; someone who will call the landlord (often the council) rather than change a washer in the tap or put a lick of paint on the door.
But these stereotypes, like the exploitative landlord, must be consigned to the past. Private-sector renting is the norm across much of Europe. There it is respectable, secure, civilised and desirable. There's no reason why we can't make it as good an experience here. We must settle for nothing less.
Graeme Brown, chief executive of Shelter Scotland is optimistic. He says we already have more than a quarter of a million households who call the private rented sector home. He praises the Scottish Government for "leading the way in the UK by creating a private rented sector fit for the 21st century".
It is true that the Government has already introduced landlord registration and a tenancy deposit scheme. These should "bring fairness and security to the sector and protect both landlords and tenants", according to Brown.
But he warns that there is work still to be done. He wants to see a form of private renting that "offers tenants the chance to make a house their home, with all that implies – stability, security and affordability".
It is a laudable aspiration and a glance at the Government's stated strategic vision would fill his and any other heart with gladness: affordable homes for all by 2020. But it has been promised in the run-up to a referendum and aspirations are cheap.
Forgive my scepticism but I'll reserve judgement until decent homes for all have been delivered. What's clear is that politicians will have to pay close attention to the rise in renters. A young and growing constituency is being created.
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