“Hey, Alexa! Find me a news story that illustrates intergenerational tensions over housing.”
“OK: ‘Notting Hill homeowners angered by a stream of Instagram influencers posing for selfies outside their front doors’ .”
If you missed this story a few weeks ago, type #nottinghill into Instagram. You will find endless images of young people posing on the steps of homes in the smart west London neighbourhood, their outfits chosen to match the brightly-coloured stucco façades. My favourites go the whole hog: flashing smiles as they reach unconvincingly for the door handle, in an I’ve-just-got-home kind of a way.
The captions can be witty. “Have you ever seen that episode of Friends where Joey stands next to a Porsche all day in the hope that people will think it’s his?” reads one. “That’s what I’ve been doing with these colourful houses.”
It is a fitting analogy: in their youth, Gen X-ers fantasised about owning supercars; today, millennials want terraced housing. A snap of themselves outside someone else’s front door may be the closest they will ever get.
Sophie King — a 30-year-old influencer who goes by the handle Soki London — has posted several times from Notting Hill, where the average property price is £1.9m, according to Zoopla. “It’s like Disneyland,” she says, “full of tourists”. She is pragmatic about young people being shut out of the local property market. “Central London is one of the most desirable places in the whole world to live. And I don’t think it’s reasonable for the average person to expect to live there.”
She is right. Most millennials will never earn enough to buy a home here, not only because prices are too high, but also because the UK housing ladder — that combination of rising wages and modest house-price growth that allowed generations of homeowners to trade up from a flat to a house to a bigger house — is broken.
Last week, Housesimple, an online estate agency, calculated that the jump between the first and second rungs — from the average cost of a flat to the average cost of a terraced house — has more than doubled in the past 10 years. If that does not strike you as robust, Lucian Cook, director of Savills Research, has more detailed numbers. He calculates that, on average, a family in London trying to move from a three-bedroom house bought 10 years ago to a four-bedroom house today, would require a household income of £163,000 — 136 per cent more than they would have had to earn to buy the house they currently own. A similar trend may be happening in the US. In February 2009, the value of a single-family home in San Francisco was 5 per cent higher than a co-op or condo, according to Zillow. In January this year, it was nearly 20 per cent higher.
In the UK wage growth has tailed off — especially for millennials. Last year, the Resolution Foundation found that people born between 1981 and 2000, earned roughly the same as those born 15 years before them did at the same age. The same research found that — much like in the US — UK millennials are 20-25 per cent less likely than Gen-Xers to move jobs voluntarily, meaning they miss out on the big wage increases needed to trade up.
Recent UK policy has been based on the assumption that the housing ladder is still upright and stable. Help to Buy, the government’s starter-home scheme; stamp-duty cuts for first-time buyers and more than £25m in investment by the Mayor of London into Pocket Living — a developer of smaller, cheaper homes — all encourage people to buy on the understanding that they will sell on.
The end of the housing ladder is a favourite subject of Neal Hudson, director of Residential Analysts. He describes it as a kind of accident of history, a combination of rising wages and increased access to credit in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
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“The end of the 20th century, that period when the ladder really worked, was unique,” he says. “Most policymakers assume that’s normal, and see no reason why the property ladder wouldn’t continue into the future. And that’s not necessarily true.”
That is not just a problem for Instagrammers on the streets of Notting Hill, it is a problem for the area’s angry homeowners, too. Who else is going to buy those colourful houses when the time comes to downsize?
Nathan Brooker is deputy editor of House & Home