I started to write about renting months ago. It was during another bout of school holidays and we had gone to stay with my sister for a few days.
We tried to use it as a mini holiday; we had different surrounding, a loving sister who made us dinner, and who didn’t allow us to wash up.
There was plenty of space for the girls to run around outside and make as much noise as they wanted.
I recently remembered that I had started to write this. It wasn’t published at the time as it didn’t feel that I finished. I think it was missing an ending, or a new chapter may be a better phrase. Perhaps it’s still not really finished now but I feel different than I did a year or so ago and can see things differently.
We are stuck. Stuck in a place that we can’t hang a picture of the kids without getting permission. We’re stuck paying rent and not being able to save as we don’t have enough left at the end of the month. Stuck not quite being able to plan for the future as things could change with a few months’ notice.
We’ve always lived in rented accommodation and are pretty used to it.
We have learnt many things while renting. Like being able to tip toe half asleep when we’ve had very grumpy and abusive neighbours in a downstairs flat who didn’t like us going to the toilet at night.
We are great at not touching walls to leave grubby marks on paint work. Plus we’ve become pros at cleaning the minutest bit of dirt out of the carpet so we don’t lose out on our deposit when it comes to having to move again.
It’s not our home but it’s where we live.
No matter how much we try to make it our own, we are always so self conscious about making a mess or doing something wrong. I just don’t want to give a landlord any reason to stop the tenancy or lose the deposit when we move.
What I don’t like is the moving itself. In the last six years we have moved a total of seven times, but have felt more settled recently as we’ve been living in the same place for about 12 months.
It got to the point after the third move that we just stopped unpacking our stuff, leaving it in boxes. What was the point in getting it out when it’d have to go away again in six months?
Looking back at pricing
In 2009, our rent was just £400 per month for a two bedroom flat. It was quite big and was kept well. After Naomi was made redundant, we decided to move to be closer to family and (looking back now it was a real risk) moved to a smaller two bedroom flat. Our rent went up though.
Then move after move happened to another two bed flat, then a three bed house, then a two bed flat, then a house share, then onto another flat.
Our rent is now £1,100 for a three bed terraced house. However, our neighbours are friendly, we feel safe and secure, and our landlords come back to us quickly is there are any issues (which there haven’t really been any).
The rent increases over the last few years have really taken a hit on us. Rent has grown quicker than wages without question, and all the other bills have gone up too.
What has really made me worry every time it comes to us having to move is the costs associated with it.
We are on a waiting list with the council to bid on housing association properties (but we have been for over three years now and are still not getting our bids in the top 20 so we can probably write that off as an option). This means we need to either look to private rentals or estate agents.
Move after move
One of the last times we moved we had really short notice as they house we were staying in sold quite quickly.
We were looking just in case but prices were high and we now had just three weeks left to move out.
At that time, we did go to the council to seek advice and were told to apply via the housing register (which got us nowhere) or wait until we were homeless and they would put us in emergency accommodation.
We were pleased for the bit of help they could give (although it would only come when we were going to be homeless) but it didn’t seem enough really.
Further panic set in as we found that the emergency housing would probably in south London. Please don’t think we have a problem with south London; the problem was that work and schools and everyone we knew were in west Kent.
If we moved, we could not afford to get to work and may risk losing our jobs. We definitely couldn’t expect the kids to do the trip every day from school.
Our lives would have to come to a stop and we be in a considerable worse off state. It was really upsetting so we tried to sort it all out ourselves.
We ended up finding a property through a private landlord. The house seemed OK. It was in a good area, the guy seemed pretty decent and the amount he was asking was reasonable. We were chuffed as we had really started to panic about what we were going to do otherwise.
Back at home, we started to pack up our stuff (again) and told family that we were OK, again.
Not as it seemed
Then about five days later we got a text message – a text message – telling us that the move was off, which left us just over two weeks to find somewhere. We were devastated. The last few weeks had been wasted.
We were angry and I nearly called him to tell him how angry I was (and not in a good way) but what was the point?
He probably wouldn’t answer and if he had made up his mind then my talking or shouting at him wasn’t going to make a difference. In fact it would only make things worse, and make me feel bad for being horrible too.
This led us to the only option we had left and that was renting through an estate agent.
We had already been looking and most of them were odd!
Renting through an estate agent
This one place we went in looked great from the pictures and was an amazing price considering. It was a different story when we got there.
There was paint peeling off the side of the house and it almost looked mouldy. Inside we found that the three bed house had been lived in by a family of 12 people; one room had a bunk and a double bed, two other rooms had three single beds and the living room was another bedroom.
The landlord had known about it and didn’t seem to think it was an issue! Maybe it’s just me who think it’s was overcrowded and not suitable?!
The estate agent has advised me that the occupants had found a new place and were moving out. I’m really not surprised.
It wasn’t good
The place was a mess. The walls were grubby, the floor was filthy and mould was growing from the windows. I don’t necessarily think it was the family who made the place a mess. It must have been hard to keep it immaculate with so many people living there but this was deep grime.
The estate agent assured us that decorators were due to “spruce” the place up when the current family moved out but I didn’t believe it.
We got out of the house and Naomi burst into tears! I was mortified. Is this the only type of place that we could afford?
It was so depressing to think that this was the only way this family could live. If we didn’t take this house then someone else would how may be in the same situation as us.
We gave house/flat hunting a rest that night, not sure what our next steps would be.
Looking the next day and we weren’t surprised that the property we looked at the day before had dropped off the site. The estate agent must have realised it was inhabitable.
Continuing to look
I told these home hunting companies what we were looking for – either a two bed, which has doubles as the girls will be sharing, or a three bedroom place. You wouldn’t think it was too complicated a description.
So then the call came for us to look around another two bedroom flat. Again, the price was good and we were told a family were living there currently.
It wasn’t what we expected – it was a one bedroom flat! In the bedroom the kids shared a room and the living room doubled as a bedroom – all for £700 per month.
I don’t think it’s that I want too much in life, or I think I have too high standards. Is it too much to think that people should be able to live in a decent place, with enough space to live, eat and sleep, without breaking their back to afford it? I was obviously naive.
We had been looking constantly and nothing had come up so we had no choice but to increase the price band that were searching in.
This did give us about eight more properties to look at and they were better, but we didn’t know how were going to afford them? Maybe we should have just stuck with the one bedroom place?
After checking three more places we visited the flat and it was amazing the difference. It was clean and there was enough room for all of us.
Nothing else about the place sunk in as I then asked the estate agency a million and one questions about when we could move and talked about our (lack of) credit rating.
The place came with fees:
- an admin fee for essentially copy and pasting our names into a contract and printing it twice (think that was about £60!)
- then the credit check (£60 each plus another for our guarantor)
- there was a fee for them doing an inventory the day before we moved in (just £30)
To be honest, I thought that was cheap vs what other agencies charge.
Plus 6 weeks of rent up front as a deposit, and the first month’s rent was due the day we moved in. Oh, and the cost of a man and a van to move all our stuff!
Just think, if we were moving every six months at one point, we had to pay this twice a year.
We found the money from selling loads of stuff and borrowing money from a few family members (thank you, you know who you are xx)
Somewhere new to call home
We lived in the same place for nearly two years. Our landlords were very friendly, even wishing us congratulations on our wedding day. They are just nice people who care for the well-being of others and if we’ve had any issues they have resolved them really quickly.
However, we only had two months’ notice if we had to move out. That time frame weighed on our minds quite often, it was usually something we discussed once a week. We worried that we will get a call to discuss a move date all the time.
I suppose the best way to relieve any worry is to just ask. I’m sure they’d let us know how long they are happy for us to stay, but I was concerned that if I ask they will only make my fears get worse.
I was on edge about our housing situation. There was no reason why, other than we had lived in the same place for longer than a year. Things had started to feel comfortable and we were relaxed in the place we were living.
Fears were realised
We were served notice to move. Two months. They were selling up. No fault of our own, they just no longer wanted to own the flat that we called home.
The panic set in again.
Flat hunting started all over; luckily we kept the majority of the boxes (although black bin liners are much easier to pack and unpack).
This time, having been running Skint Dad for a while, I had the opportunity to share my loss with readers and support came flooding. So thank you for your words of wisdom back then, they really helped.
We had to find somewhere within two months. I mean that sounds easy enough and there’s plenty of time really but not when you’re skint. It’s not when you have adverse credit history that follows you round and people can’t look you in the eye.
There is a real stigma about money in this country. Sure, people seem fine to talk about what happens in the bedroom, but if there’s a question about what someone earns or whether there is consumer debt, things go quiet.
House hunting again
We made appointments. Appointments, after appointments.
The first place we saw was perfect. Just one road over from where we were (Skint Mum was already planning to move all our stuff by hand!) but the letting agent was – well – rude and snooty. That’s really the best way to describe it.
We were clear about income (which could cover the costs), our back story and what we were doing/had done to change our lives. I mean it’s quite a positive upbeat journey when you look at how far we’d come. She just turned her nose up.
Not being put off, I called back the next day. I wanted to add how we would be really suitable and the landlord would have no trouble as we’d got references showing how we’ve paid our rent in full and on time for years.
Without saying much more, the agent made it clear that she wouldn’t even tell the landlord about us as there would be plenty of other people looking soon. So no more viewings yet but other people soon.
It was a smack of discrimination. Yes, there are nine protected characteristics when it comes to discrimination. Most of them are over the news often enough; gender, race, disability….but one that doesn’t get a shoe in is money.
If you’re skint then you get pushed down. I had really experienced it at this point. Made to feel worthless as we had little. Having a low socio-economic background had made me encounter discrimination and it was brutal.
I think that if we ever come into a massive wad of cash and can buy a place outright, we’d walk into that estate agent and pull a Julia Roberts from Pretty Woman!
Skint Dad: You people work on commission, right?
Snooty estate agent: Yeah.
Skint Dad: Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now.
Thinking about it makes me feel better. Although I’d probably wear trousers in the scene and not a dress…
More house hunting
The next place we saw was lovely. Bright, breezy, it would be fine. Perhaps a bit small but close to schools, close to a main line station and we could get by with the cost. So we started to explain our situation.
The agent recognised me! He was somewhat of a follower and had been reading about what was going on with our renting situation. It’s always odd to be spotted in real life but I thought this may help things.
While he knew my backstory, he had to “sell” us to the landlord. I felt that things could be on our side, other than the landlord went with another couple who had no debt and were “easier” to deal with. Karma comes around as I heard that the couple pulled out after a few weeks, leaving the landlord hunting again.
Let down after let down
Then the next place didn’t want kids, or did the next place. The next had mould up the living room wall and a second bedroom too small to fit a bunk bed for the girls.
Next up, the place we saw would have been great. We ended up visiting twice as we started to get our hopes up but the letting agent never called us back. We rang twice a day and left messages. I suppose I should have got the hint but, wanting somewhere to live with my family, I wouldn’t give up.
Finally, and perhaps worth being turned down so many times, we found somewhere. Having a chance to meet the landlord seemed to make a difference and they didn’t seem to mind about our colourful past when it comes to money.
Credit checks (although very bad) were accepted, money transferred and now we’ve been here over a year. Now and again that dreaded feeling does start to come over us but I think it will be better this time – touch wood!!
The place feels like home. We’ve actually unpacked, are making more of an effort with our community and the girls are getting involved with things going on around us.
Settled for now
There are so many worries about housing; being able to afford something decent for my family that will be secure and hopefully near to school so we can continue to walk in every day. If we have to go further, then by all means we would, but we still don’t have a car and it’s not something we can to add to our budget.
We always need to make sure we have money ready, just in case.
I also worry as the prices have all seemed to have gone up again. We negotiated the costs on our current place down quite a bit so we could probably do it again but I worry that they won’t. I seem to be worrying a lot.
The current places on the rental market are all very small. A two bedroom place isn’t much cheaper than we have now.
I am still concerned about our credit score. We will both have a low score and will need to see if one of our family will guarantor for us but, even still, any landlord may not even agree to take us.
At the same time, my worry is planning ahead for an event that may not happen, but I would prefer to be one step ahead and plan a little.
Renting is a game
This is just my story and I’m definitely not the only one who rents, who worries, or who has had issues – and I’m sure what we’ve been through is tame compared to what others have been through!
The council could never help us. They’ve always explained everything politely and we were clear with how we could be helped, but everything was last minute help when we were in crisis. Nothing could be done for us immediately.
Thing is, they may see others who say they are in the same situation, or play the system and become blinded to everyone, but is that fair to those who really need to use their services?
Shall we just up sticks?
A survey I’ve seen from SpareRoom has shown that 97% of renters think the government isn’t doing enough to make housing affordable and I agree with the panel! I wholeheartedly agree!
I know mortgages are high but my rent is extortionate. Looking at other parts of the country, housing costs are a third of the cost per month vs the south. Then cross checking job boards, the average pay is the same as where we live now.
Just look at this place. This costs about the same as where we live now, but it’s in a different part of the country. It’s like a mansion! Complete with 6 bedrooms, sun room, games room (including pool table!), fitness room and sauna room.
It makes us question if we should just up and leave.
Don’t get me wrong. We are privileged enough to afford to live, it’s just there is nothing left over.
I know people are in a worse position than me. I truly feel for them. It’s not just me I want things to change for; it’s all of us struggling.
Will we ever get a mortgage?
As the days roll by, so does our chance to get a mortgage.
Housing prices are going up. No matter how much is saved, a few months later and the prices go up, meaning any type of deposit is not enough.
Then will they even let me have a mortgage? With a rubbish credit file (which will improve over time) I don’t look like that good an investment from a bank’s point of view.
Plus, there is my age. Sure I’m not old (although my kids say I am!) but there aren’t as many years left in me to work. Will a bank even consider lending to me if I’ll be able to draw a pension and still have a mortgage owing?
But the thing is, if a person would look at us, instead of a computer, an algorithm making a calculated decision, we may get a mortgage.
We would be in a position where we would pay and it would make would be cheaper than renting. We would actually be better off.
But instead, we struggle to afford anywhere.
Other options for owning
So maybe we won’t get a full mortgage. We can go for a part buy part let. Great hey?! Other than, with poor credit, it doesn’t leave us any different really.
Our local council doesn’t build many new properties locally so it will really mean leaving our current home town behind.
So thank you to the government for setting up all these schemes to help people who struggle to get on the housing ladder, but they’re not really helping me. If they are not helping me I’m sure there are others who are worse off who don’t give them the light of day either.
To be honest, I don’t have a clue what could be done?
Other than making property more affordable, putting a cap on rental fees and building more property for a start.
There must be something more original and innovative than that? Although if the government could just get started on a few housing improvements it would help!
Do I really want a mortgage?
I know many of you have told me that I must absolutely get a mortgage. It will give us a home and make sure I don’t throw away money to renting. Our mortgaged home is there so I have money for my retirement.
Not owning a house means that we can stay in our home town. I could never at this stage contemplate buying in Tunbridge Wells. There is no way we could afford to buy where we were were born, where our parents raised us or where we are raising our own children.
Being able to rent means that we can stay here.
Also, although there is the uncertainty of being served notice, it swings both ways. If something were to happen and a chance came our way to, say, more to the other side of the world, by renting it’s easy to up and move. Nothing is really tying us down.
I just want somewhere to live
Right now, we are safe. We are comfortable. Although our costs are high and we are spending more than half of our income on rent (!) we are accepting that because that’s what the prices are like in the south east.
In a short week of sharing with my sister all that time ago, I realised more and more about how precious it is having somewhere to call home – somewhere that is yours – somewhere you are comfortable.
I just want somewhere to live.
I want it to be safe. I want our children to be safe and to feel secure. I want the children to be raised not thinking there is an issue, for them to get grumpy when we have to start packing again.
I want them to have outside space; a garden. I’d like the option to have a family pet, without worrying that we’d have to get rid of it if a future landlord didn’t want one.
I want somewhere I can leave a few things I call my own, I want to stay put for a good amount of years, I want somewhere where memories are made and remembered in years to come.
Are those things too much to ask for?
Ricky Willis is the original Skint Dad. A money-making enthusiast, father, and husband to Naomi. He is always looking for unique ways to earn a little extra.