Why does ownership feels so satisfying, the English love owning their own castles and will even settle for a prison sized studio flat as long as it is theirs. There is something that is very grown up about having a mortgage, being able to paint the walls any colour you like and the ancient ritual of having to deal with plumbers (the correct way is to always approach them with a cup of tea). No one really knows why these things make you into a proper grown-up, maybe it's just because we remember our parents having to deal with the same thing and them having conversations about electrical wiring that seemed to actually interest them, so it is a case of déjà vu when you suddenly find out you are able to be interested in the same things now. When you see a wall and your first thought is not what can I draw on it and instead you wonder whether it is a supporting wall or not, you have to face facts and admit that you now have responsibilities.
But responsible for what? And how is it different from those footloose and fancy free renters, why is living on your own in a small room that triples as your lounge, bedroom and kitchen, better? The material differences are small whilst you might theoretically own your property, and you certainly inherit all the liabilities. When you have in fact only changed what you rent, instead of property, you're now renting money and the banks do tend to insist that you are going to return it whether you want to or not. Is it that the inherent respectability of bankers is social proof of your adult hood, that you are trustworthy enough member of society to deserve credit that gives your social status that is to be aspired to and sought out.
Worse than that, does this social convention distort your thinking as to what is actually a good asset to own. Whilst there is an argument that fixing your outgoings with a mortgage means you have an inflation hedge against the rising cost of rental, as the amount of money you borrow never increases (unless that is you choose to borrow more, bad idea unless you are buying income producing assets). It means you are protected and you have the chance in 20 to 30 years of actually having paid off the mortgage, then you get the massive windfall of having a property living that does not cost you anything apart from maintenance. It is certainly true that it forces you to save, and people are very bad at saving, but if you have the discipline there are better assets to investing in. The stock market has outperformed property consistently for over 200 years, but there are certainly peaks and troughs that can trip people up in the short term.
What really interests me is the difference in attitude between the two mindsets, when you are an owner you become more interested in both the fabric of your home and the community it is within, if you are a property owner you're more likely to join committees, volunteer scheme and begin to talk with your neighbours. Whilst renters tend to see themselves as passing by, if they are in a shared house, there might be an obligation to wash up the dishes more frequently, though this is often ignored as is any social responsibility, you treat your home and community as a resource to be used, a service to be consumed. There are so many young Londoners who are paying extraordinary rents for the privilege of being able to walk to work and earn huge salaries which in their turn fuels the price of rent, and they are fully aware that it is wages and location that requires them to effectively pass on the wealth that they are creating. It is no wonder they feel so resentful and they see property as a consumption item and treat it with the same regard as renting a seat in a coffee shop, which is what the majority of the price of a cup of coffee is actually paying for despite the illusion that you're actually paying five dollars for coffee.
It does set up a conflict of interest between owners and renters, the first one wants to invest in their community make it a safe, welcoming and vibrant place, full of exciting shops, beautiful coffee shops and friendly people. The renters on the other hand want to moving in to the community that has already peaked and matured, that is already all the things they want their community to be. It is hard that the place you rent will probably be nicer, bigger and have a better community than the first place you buy, so often people have to move to an affordable neighbourhood which always happens to be up-and-coming, because that's the dream of any owner, to be on the first cusp of a property boom.
And that is perhaps the common ground, to accept we all want the same thing and that is just our life situation that decides whether we are investing or enjoying our returns. It is just that renters get to enjoy those returns first and then have to invest later on, and maybe it is down to owners to enjoy their community as it is now rather than hope it gets better in the future. Which is probably the right attitude to have for the really big things in life, the stuff we never actually get to own, which is in its own way an illusion anyway, as we never truly get to own our lives, we just rent them, we get to enjoy the investments in our communities that hundreds of generations have saved for, have invested in and even died for, we inherit societies that have a sense of decency, order and customs that protect us and make our lives better, even when we are just renting them.