Kirsty McLuckie: Never mind the netflix

It can’t be easy being an aspiring first-time buyer these days. Not only are prices prohibitively expensive, but you are constantly bombarded with well-meaning advice from people who managed it before you – in totally different circumstances.

Picture: Adobe
Picture: Adobe

TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp is the latest commenter to feel the ire of the internet after she seemed to suggest that would-be homeowners are just not trying hard enough to purchase a home.

The presenter said she feels “enraged” when people complain they can’t afford to buy a house, while living a “Going abroad, EasyJet, coffee, gym, Netflix lifestyle”. She said to afford a property: “I used to walk to work with a sandwich. And on payday I’d go for a pizza, and to a movie, and buy a lipstick.”

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Kirstie advises those looking to buy property to scale back, live with parents if possible and consider buying in an area that is more affordable, even if it means moving.

I can see that such advice can rankle. But does she have a point?

Things have changed since the time when people Kirstie’s (and my) age bought their first properties.

The affordability gap between prices and wages is wider than ever. All 100 per cent mortgages have virtually disappeared, and to be sure of accessing the best deals you need 15 or 20 per cent for a deposit. With price rises, the target can increase faster than the nest egg.

To visualise the difficulties, the company GoodMove has published an image of the average deposit, stacked up in pound coins and measured against UK landmarks.

At £40,500, the height of the coin stack would be 118 metres, 18m taller than Big Ben. If first-time buyers happen to be in Edinburgh, they might lift thine eyes to St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, whose spire at 90m is still 24m lower than the height of the stack of coins needed.

Contemplating that is enough to make anyone give up and blow their savings on something a lot stronger than a takeaway coffee.

But it is true that representing the process of buying as a Sisyphean task is not helpful. The average deposit quoted is not that needed to secure a starter flat. When we read that UK house prices equal many multiples of salary it can also give a false picture of local economies.

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Scotland’s prices can be eye-watering. First-time buyers without considerable family financial help will find it hard to buy in the Capital, the West End of Glasgow, the more select suburbs of Aberdeen, or in desirable parts of East Lothian.

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But there are success stories and the picture is – I think – brightening, despite price rises.

There aren’t many upsides of the last couple of years, but the huge transition to working from home may eventually be good news for first-time buyers. Being able to earn a city salary and live elsewhere is becoming increasingly possible.

Advice to cut down on the few pleasures you can afford is pretty galling, and it will probably never be easy to buy a first-time property if you aren’t already wealthy – or related to someone who is.

But Kirstie is right, the constant focus on how difficult it is clouds the possibility that it is achievable.

First-time buyers just have to work a lot harder than the generations before them ever did.

- Kirsty McLuckie is property editor at The Scotsman

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