No Country for Young People

Working from home is a curious phenomenon. I’m now in my second job with the option of remote working, and apart from the more complicated technical setup in the current one, I’m pretty convinced that it’s the future. No commuting, the option to adapt your working environment (excellent if, like me, you get bored working in silence) and the kind of flexibility that boosts productivity – it’s good for businesses as well as their staff, and it’s only going to grow in popularity. It’s already enabling a wave of professionals to get out of cities and move to the countryside.

This week, however, it’s been largely imposed upon me. A mid-afternoon GP appointment followed by mid-afternoon blood tests the next day made it impractical for me to go into work. I’ve lost far less working time than I would have if I’d been travelling, but I’ve also possibly lost a little productivity. I’m not always alone in the house, you see, and when someone else puts the TV on in the living room where you’re working, it’s easy to get distracted by the odd line from Escape to the Country.

The kind of people who are using Escape to the Country as a vehicle for major lifestyle changes are rarely planning to work from their new rural homes. In fact, they’re usually retired (sometimes early), and by definition they have generous budgets for their new abodes that will come from selling homes in sought-after urban areas for which they’ve usually paid off the mortgages. It goes without saying that we don’t have much in common.

My dislike of Escape to the Country is quite deep-seated, and I don’t think I’m the only one who will feel the same way. In fact, I think the way I respond to Escape to the Country is a microcosm of how a large part of my generation feel about the demographic looking for £450,000 cottages with no neighbours and “character”.

There are some quite fundamental issues with their approach to home-buying that I don’t understand. Perhaps it’s just a matter of preference.

After all, I’m a city girl who grew up in a tiny house 15 minutes from the city centre in a densely populated corner of the country. Why would I understand the logic of a couple who don’t want to live on the outskirts of a village, because apparently they don’t really want neighbours?

I mean, they’re getting old and will eventually be more likely to need the help that comes with community, not to mention that they’ll only be able to live independently for as long as they can drive, but maybe when you’ve spent 50 years living next to people you just get sick of it. I’d go crazy living in the middle of a bunch of fields, but maybe I’m not old enough to get it.

What confuses me more is their understanding of what they need. Again, having grown up in a small abode I may be used to a lack of space, but there are couples on this show walking into kitchens bigger than my living room and kitchen combined and saying:

“It’s a bit smaller than I was expecting…”

What are you planning on cooking for the two of you that will exhaust your half-mile of worktop space? Are your meals so elaborate you can’t fit them in an Aga?

Couples who want annexes for the husband’s model train hobby, who insist they need three or four bedrooms so that their grown-up children can come and stay for two nights once a year, who say a house isn’t right for them because there’s only one bathroom (two people can’t co-ordinate their bathroom usage? Or who are you inviting round if you don’t want to share the same facilities?) – or the pair in today’s episode, who wanted a separate living space for their six large dogs.

It feels like they are the only people in the world who think that they need so much, and it’s the sense of entitlement that baffles me.

We have a massive housing shortage in this country. For decades we have failed to build enough houses – this Buzzfeed article sums it up really well – and the result is that according to the Office for National Statistics, UK house prices rose by 10% in the year to November 2014 (or 7.1% excluding London and the south-east). In that same month, the average UK mix-adjusted house price was £271,000.

That’s generally around the lower end of the budgets on Escape to the Country, but the spectrum is wide – the maximum budget is often double that or even more. But for the demographic to which I belong, that seems like a distant dream – we’re mostly still shacked up with the parents or sharing rented accommodation. With rental prices continually rising, even those who can save for a deposit will need years to reach their goals.

I say this as an urbanite. But if you grew up around the corner (or down the lane) from one of those properties on the show, the chances are you can’t afford to buy a family home in which to raise your own children because the prices have been inflated by an influx of retired townies buying houses bigger than they need. If they’ve got empty guest rooms and you can’t buy a house to put your family in, how are you going to feel about those people?

I don’t personally resent anyone on the show. I don’t know them. But as a generation, I think my lot are within our rights to look at them and be reminded of how badly screwed over we are.

Ultimately we approach the property market differently. For Escapees to the Country, owning a house is a given; it’s the luxury, the lifestyle to which they really aspire. So they can pick and choose and quibble over “character” (seriously, what is that?). My demographic dreams of owning a house at all. Probably why it’s on when we’re at work.

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