Obvservations from the U.K.

Zoe B. wrote an interesting comment on my post from yesterday about house hunting. I thought I'd post it here to see what people think.

After reading many American interior blogs I've been struck by two things

1) SO many people rent properties. Is this because home ownership is prohibitively expensive or is there a culture of renting?. In the UK people seem to buy as soon as possible even at the moment when the financial situation isn't great and house prices are high.

2) Your houses are HUGE even the cheap ones ( not taking into account central homes in large cities)

She's totally right. When I lived in Boston, I envisioned being a renter as long as I was single (I'm an academic, after all). If I had been interested in moving outside the city, I probably could have saved more money and possibly bought, but I'm a city girl and city digs are expensive in some major cities.

In the suburbs, homes are generally very large compared to those in Europe. I don't know why some of us like to take up so much space. I laugh when I see a newlywed couple on House Hunters saying they need a four bedroom house with a finished basement and a three car garage.

Now, this blog is about living small, so I'd like to think that I'm not taking up too much space and I'm not consuming too much with my 785 square foot condo. But as I've written before, my NYC aunt pointed out that my place is spacious the last time I complained a little bit about space. It's all relative.

What do you all think? Why are we more apt to rent? Is it a cost thing or is it just part of the culture that we rent? What do you think about home sizes? Perhaps there's a reason the term McMansion was coined in this country?

I bought my rental unit here in a condo conversion


  1. I do think that people tend to rent in their single years and think about buying as they get married or start families. I also think that generalizations are made about a society based on what they see in larger cities. It's important to remember that the whole country doesn't function that way. Where I live in the Great Lakes region, people do try to buy as soon as the possibly can. Renting is seen as throwing money away. People here also like to spread out. They like grass and trees and yards. The newlywed couple may be looking for a three car garage because they also have a boat, atv, or snowmobiles to store. There seems to be a greater connection to the land than in cities. I think the "pioneer spirit" of having your own land and homestead is still alive and well here. It is a source of pride. Just my point of view from my little corner of the world:)

  2. My husband and I recently moved a smaller city in Central Virginia. We had to move pretty quickly for my job, and at the time really didn't think about purchasing a home because we 1. Didn't think we had the money and 2. We didn't know how things would work out here. That being said we took what we could find, at that time there were not too many rentals. We ended up with a rent payment of $1,400 for new construction. We loved our space, neighborhood, etc. But, as the money ran out, we realized we were in over our heads, and with that nice tax credit we decided to go for it. Now, I am happy to say that after 5 months of homeownership we own something and pay almost half as much for a mortgage!

  3. I think it's completely different now. For the past decade, I've seen more and more "kids," straight out of school, wanting to purchase a home instead of renting. I do know that there is a cultural aspect to being a home owner ASAP! It's the ultimate American dream for most immigrants....

  4. As for the renting, I think it depends on where you live. For instance in the suburban area I live in the southeast most people buy as soon as they can. Renting isn't common definitely not for families. As for the size, Zoe is 100% right. Everything in America is bigger. I've traveled in Europe some and I always noticed that their homes are so much more functional. Most of my friends have multiple extra bedrooms, large offices, art studios, etc. I think our emphasis is on having more and more and functionality of getting what we need isn't necessarily the focus. That's my two cents.

  5. While I now enjoy owning a co-op, I rented for many years. At the time, renting allowed me more flexibility when I wasn't sure if I might need to relocate for my starting career. Another benefit was having more time to put together a sizeable down payment. The buildings in the nice neighborhoods in my city tend to co-ops (vs. condos) and many limit the size of the mortgage. My building is not uncommon in mandating a 50% down payment (the building next door to mine doesn't allow mortgages - the purchases must be all cash). I needed many years to save for the home I now have.
    About the size comment, I have many relatives in Italy, Germany and Switzerland and have been in their homes as well as those of their friends. Every person is what I would describe as middle class and all happen to have nice size homes/apartments but they do tend to have smaller kitchens. Friends in Bath, England also had comfortable, spacious homes. I have no idea what the average size is and will ask my step-daughter if there are any statistics for the city where she lives in Prato, Italy. I agree that it is sometimes funny to see a young newlywed say they need to have 4 bedrooms, probably because I can only dream of that.

  6. I am like you... my current house is about 900 sf, up from 600+ at my last one, which was 9.5 feet wide! I am looking at buying a place that is 1100 sf, and can't imagine what I will do with all that room. I am a city gal, too and would not know what to do with so much space.

    When I lived in the UK, I got very used to spaces that are normal-sized, not these honking huge American McMansions. Not terribly energy-conscious.

  7. I guess I never took into account the whole big city vs little city thing in regards to renting. I always thought those who rented did so due to financial or committing to living somewhere long-term reasons.

    Our last condo was 624 sq ft. Yep. And it was perfect for us. Living in that place taught us to only own/buy things that we need.

    I don't get why so many Americans want a McMansion. Unless you're a diplomat, who needs a formal sitting room?! What is THAT?! Who needs a great room w/ monstrous vaulted ceilings?! Hello, heating bill.

    I've noticed that people are buying at a younger age now. I had no clue about owning when I graduated from college. People these days are so knowledgeable about real estate, IMO.


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