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Renting a home: what every tenant should know

By Penny Anderson
Read the Full article on The Guardian Website

During my seven years of blogging as Rentergirl – and decades renting – I have experienced the joys and woes of the UK’s broken private rental sector – from soggy sofas to sudden eviction. Here’s what I’ve learned…

I‘ve been a tenant my entire adult life, which is hardly unusual. After all, there are currently nine million renters in the UK. We all rent property at some point in our lives: as students; when saving to buy (which, for many, is rapidly transforming from stopgap to permanent); while on holiday; and, finally, when we are elderly, in sheltered housing.

For seven years I’ve written a blog about this vast, fascinating subject. I began Rentergirl as a lodger, after a landlady who regularly drank three bottles of wine per evening, and who roundly admonished me for using the lounge, gave me one hour’s notice to “get out of her house”.

My weekly posts about the experience of being a tenant proved extremely popular, consulted by owners and tenants, charities, academics, councils and even parliament.

I have experienced the various joys and woes offered by the UK’s broken private rental sector: revenge eviction, disastrous shared homes, being a lodger and social housing. I suffered in the buy-to-let boom and subsequent crash, when my rented home was repossessed because my landlord went bankrupt, and, in common with many tenants, have occasionally been homeless (once, just hours away from the street).

As a result, I loathe the inappropriate, semi-aristocratic terms “landlord/lady”. Given the servile nature of renting, “Your Majesty” might be more appropriate. I prefer the term rentier.

Now I’m ending Rentergirl. There are several reasons: one of which is that I plan to write a book about it, but also because renting is now firmly on the political agenda. Campaign groups such as Hackney Renters, Edinburgh Private Tenants Action group and, nationally, Generation Rent argue that renters could sway election results in several marginal constituencies next May. Wise politicians will court the renter vote.

During my rollercoaster years of writing Rentergirl and decades renting, here’s what I have learned:

London is property’s wild west

It is where common abuses and scams are born. Supply is limited, causing rents to soar out of control (reintroducing council rent officers who set fair rents would be useful). Scandals such as beds in sheds (greedy owners place beds in fire-hazard, freezing outhouses), rent-to-rent (property is divided then re-let for more money, perhaps without the owner’s permission) and sealed bids for rented flats all begin in London (but are less lucrative outside such a cut-throat and febrile market). London renters routinely suffer from having no communal area, because all rooms are converted into more profitable bedrooms. Tenants dry laundry in minuscule bedrooms, while eating meals and entertaining guests in that same, tiny, damp, inadequate space. Worst of all are the accompanying insecurity and overseas buyers snaffling all the new buildings. I’ve lived there. It was hell.

Wear and tear is inevitable

Letting agents and owners expect renters to float like fairies on gossamer wings or else dangle, suspended on wires, like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, never touching the floor so we don’t erode the carpet. We must not ruin the incongruous white carpets certain villains insist upon, likewise cream sofas that invite coffee stains. A portion of our rent pays for use of the furniture, which could never be returned in pristine condition. One of my friends had their deposit withheld when ancient, decaying velvet curtains disintegrated after being dry-cleaned as mandated in their post-exit cleaning regime. Owners, you need to accept something. There will be fraying. There will be stains. Just like there would be in your own home – if you were foolish enough to put cheap, white carpet in the kitchen.

Tenants and owners hate letting agents

Bad blood festers mostly because nobody is entirely sure what letting agents do. If tenants request repairs, they are usually referred straight back to the owner, and owners wishing for help with delinquent tenants are left to cope alone. Growing animosity is fuelled by the enormous fees paid by both tenants and owners, sometimes for the same service, such as £300 for photocopied contracts. I know from contacting previous landlords that expensive references are frequently not pursued, and yet we still pay for them. I’ve paid a “continuous affordability assessment fee” – that is, the agency charged to see if I could afford the rent I had been paying. Thankfully this was in Scotland, where charging fees to tenants is illegal, so I swiftly reclaimed the money. My favourite ever charge by a letting agency: the “finance fee”. It was a fee for collecting all the other fees. Seriously, the nerve of these people.

Furnished flats are the pits

Consider what the reality entails for tenants, lumbered with kitchen cupboards crammed with chipped glassware, and the owner’s treasured collection of string, or half-empty paint tins blocking what storage space remains. Then there are biohazard mattresses. When I recoiled in revulsion at one especially decorative and lively example while viewing a house, the owner shrugged: “Yes, I know – art students.” I’ve endured saggy sofas with troubling damp patches, wonky tables and white plastic wardrobes. One friend’s landlady supplied (and so she had to keep) two rickety hostess trolleys, both sprayed gold.

Flat-shares are hell

They are. Tense bathroom rotas, passive aggressive notes about “borrowed” carrots and rows about musical differences (one former flatmate was an ardent Barry Manilow fan) will be with us for ever. Where renting used to be a rite of passage, it has now become permanent for many people, affecting tenants into their 50s and 60s (if they can find anyone share with). Mortgage restrictions, benefit cuts, lack of supply and the decline in social housing compel desperate people to share homes. Renters could queue for the bathroom next to abusive bullies with chaotic lives and severe behavioural problems, subsequently threatened or even assaulted. There’s nowhere to turn for advice or mediation, and the only remedy is to move out. Sometimes, communal living works. But it’s no way to live when homelessness is the only alternative.

Landlords should be licensed

Anyone can become a rentier – people with a bad credit rating might be refused finance but could still let inherited property, while tenants buckle under the weight of the references they must provide. I’ve been fortunate with landlords who are kind, supportive, and diligent; my current rentier is a star. Elsewhere, they’ve been negligent and threatening. Remember: these occasionally dubious strangers possess the key to your home. They could be convicted sex offenders but can let themselves in whenever they please (I’m not being melodramatic – rentiers could be violent ex-offenders). A properly funded, efficiently enforced register would solve this. As happened with the man in Edinburgh who threatened to shoot his tenants, and was eventually banned.

Owners should stay away

Renting is a form of temporary ownership. Rentiers must not, as happened to my friend, let themselves in and cook breakfast because their own kitchen is crowded one busy Saturday morning. Let it go.

Buy-to-let flats are a nightmare

Buildings designated “ideal for investment” are often precarious hovels (nicknamed euroboxes or “twat-flats”). They dominate cities across the UK, and are practically identical. Containing no more than two bedrooms, they’re tiny, sometimes with hardly enough space for a double bed. These flats are insulated thoroughly by law for heat, but not so carefully for sound (one developer omitted double glazing in flats on a main road, since the fine for not doing so was cheaper than the windows). In the block I christened Dovecot Towers, I could hear the man upstairs every time he coughed.

Buy-to-let owners are the worst

They sometimes live hundreds of miles away. Consequently, many struggle to organise repairs and supervise problem tenants. Often, they are the most resentful of all, regarding tenants not as the poor souls subsidising pension plans, but as vermin infesting their delicate, porcelain piggy bank.

We need long-term tenancies

Renting spawns parasites

It is a profitable, growing and unregulated industry, with many attendant businesses including “tenant eviction specialists” – AKA thugs. They are often former nightclub bouncers, and intimidate renters into vacating quickly and without resistance. Elsewhere, specialist firms supply buy-to-let owners with furniture, and there are inventory checkers. Next, we have costly removal firms, storage centres and hostels used if we act on the advice: “If it’s so bad, why not move?”

Discrimination is rife

Not overtly – few letting agents or owners are stupid enough to shout: “We don’t want your type living here.” But bigotry, prejudice and unreasonable, capricious aversions affect the housing of not just lesbians (one correspondent met a leering potential landlord who liked “to watch”), gay men and black or other ethnic minorities, but also: disabled, working and unemployed claimants, single parents, manual workers (why? just because) part-time employees and students (for or against). See also applicants with a less than spotless credit record (just one late-paid utility bill), freelancers, people with beards (one correspondent was told he looked like “a bloody hippie”), the armed forces. People just back from living abroad. Older people. Younger people. Couples with children; couples without.

The list is endless; it’s a wonder anyone can find a home. Tenants must pay for references from employers, banks and previous landlords. We are often required to supply a guarantor (no matter how old we are, and those in their 60s can hardly ask their parents.) It used to be that we would view a place, decide if we liked it, pay the deposit then move in (and yes, I know tenants are not always perfect).

Occasionally, the system works

Many tenants are content – or I suspect subdued by the futility of their predicament. Others are fortunate, blessed with angelic rentiers who are well-funded, responsible, compassionate, reasonable and just. The homes they let are spacious, warm and well-furnished. Renters can stay securely in long-term homes, permitted (indeed encouraged) to decorate, and rent is fair. Flat-mates are quiet and peaceful but friendly. The birds sing, church bells chime, and it’s sunny all the time.

I’m dreaming, aren’t I?

It’ll all add up: the house buying fees you might not have budgeted for

By Felicity Hannah
Read the Full article on homesandproperty.co.uk 

Saving up a big enough deposit, securing a mortgage and getting your offer accepted may feel like the end of an expensive, stressful process, but there’s more to come.

Make sure you’ve budgeted for fees, taxes and moving costs too, or the next phase may be even more stressful.

The last thing you need is to misjudge how much it will cost and end up with an unexpected bill that gouges a hole in your decorating fund or plunges you into debt.

Being realistic about the cost of buying a property and moving — on top of the deposit and mortgage — is important.

Here’s what you need to know about who will expect payment and when.

Mortgage Fees

On top of your deposit you will need to consider any fees and charges that your mortgage provider will demand to process your application.

These can range from valuation fees of a couple of hundred pounds to booking fees and even mortgage arrangement fees from anywhere between £99 and £1,999.

Not every mortgage adviser charges arrangement fees so it’s essential you factor them into your sums when comparing deals.

Also, bear in mind that you may be offered the chance to add these costs to your loan rather than paying them up front. That might make the move more affordable, but it means you’ll pay interest on those fees for potentially decades.

Stamp Duty

Stamp duty is a tax on purchasing property and the amount you pay depends on how much you are paying for the home.

As of November 2017, first-time buyers purchasing a home of £300,000 or less will be exempt from stamp duty. Those buying a home costing up to £500,000 (which is likely if it’s in London) will have their payment reduced, paying only five per cent on the portion of the house price above £300,000.

For anybody else buying a primary residence (not buy-to-let or second homes, which are liable for an additional three per cent stamp duty) the following rules apply.

If your home costs more than £125,000 you will be required to pay stamp duty, with a higher percentage charged progressively with the price of the property.

Property priceStamp duty rate
Up to £125,000Zero
£125,001-£250,0002%
£250,001-£925,0005%
£925,001-£1.5million10%
The remaining amount 12%

As an example, if you buy a house for £275,000, the SDLT you owe is calculated as follows:

  • 0% on the first £125,000 = £0
  • 2% on the next £125,000 = £2,500
  • 5% on the final £25,000 = £1,250
  • Total stamp duty = £3,750

Surveyor’s Fees

This is not an area where you want to skimp so it’s important to spend some money on having a surveyor check the property. That way you understand whether the home needs any extra work, making it less likely you will move in and suddenly have to pay for a new roof.

You can get a basic survey for as little as £250-£300 but it is a really good idea to pay extra for a homebuyer’s report or a full structural survey, which may cost between £400 and £1,000.

If anything is discovered then you may be able to renegotiate the price with the seller to reflect the extra work you will have to do.

Legal Fees

You’re likely to use a solicitor to deal with the legal checks and paperwork. This is likely to cost between £1,000 and £1,500, although it can be less.

A solicitor will also carry out searches on your property (designed to tell you if there are plans to build a high speed railway through your garden, for example) and bill you for those. These will not usually cost more than £250.

Estate Agent Fees

As a buyer you won’t pay anything to the estate agent overseeing the sale of your new home. However, if you are selling a property as well then you will need to include them in your budget.

Prices are negotiable but are typically between one and three per cent of the final sale price, with VAT on top. If there is a lot of demand in your area then you might be able to haggle, perhaps to as low as 0.75 per cent of the sale price.

Another option is to look at online estate agents, which typically charge lower, fixed fees. However, they may not do as much to help you sell.

Electronic Transfer Fee

It doesn’t seem fair but you will also need to pay the lender for the cost of moving so much money around. This is often about £50 although, as always, it can vary.

Moving Costs

Unless you want to rent a van and move all your stuff yourself, you will need to pay some professional movers.

They often charge between £400 and £600, although obviously that may be higher if you are moving particularly valuable belongings and need a specialist.

 

Inheritance News – Millennials to secure ‘inheritance boom’

By BBC News UK
Read the Full article on the BBC News Website here.

Millennials will benefit from the biggest “inheritance boom” of any post-war generation, but it will be too late to solve housing struggles and wealth inequality, a report says.

Those who have parents and grandparents in the “baby boomer” generation will be left record sums of wealth, the Resolution Foundation said.

But they will have to wait – until, on average, the age of 61, it suggests.

The think tank defines millennials as those currently aged 17 to 35.

The Resolution Foundation said that inheritances were set to more than double over the next 20 years, and this will peak in 2035, as the generally high-wealth baby boomers progress through old age.

Almost two-thirds of young adults have parents who own property, which they may get a share of in the future, the report said.

By comparison, only 38% of adults born in the 1930s received an inheritance.

‘Not silver bullet’

The report also noted millennials were only half as likely to own their home at 30 as baby boomers were.

Laura Gardiner, senior policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Older generations have benefitted hugely from the big increases in household wealth in Britain over recent decades.

“While the millennials have done far less well in accumulating their own assets, they are likely to benefit from an inheritance boom in the decades ahead.

“This is likely to be very welcome news for those millennials, including some from poorer backgrounds who in the past would have been unlikely to receive bequests.

“They have the good fortune to benefit from the luck of the baby boomer generation.”

But she said inheritance was “not the silver bullet” that will get the generation on the housing ladder or address growing wealth gaps in society, as it was unlikely to come when they are trying to buy a family home.

25-year-old Rachel Hosie, a lifestyle writer for the Independent, says the proposed inheritance boom is not much comfort to her generation.

“We have student debts, we don’t have guaranteed pensions, and we’ve had tricky financial times to have been entering the world of work.

“We were really told for a lot of my generation that if we were ambitious and worked hard then we’d get a good job after studying hard, then we’d earn money and be able to buy a house and settle down – and we’d have this life that we saw a lot of our parents have, and now we’re struggling,” she said.

However, Cari Rosen – who’s the editor of Gransnet, an online community for the over-50s – says the report misses out an important factor.

“Half of women and a third of men are going to have to pay for care at some point. And actually one in four people who pays for care runs out of money,” she said.

“So we have said to our own millennial there might well be nothing left for you,” she added.

She said: “Of course we want to give our children an inheritance, the thought that what we’ve worked really hard for doesn’t go to our children to help them through their lives is a really terrible one – but we don’t know and there is no way of preparing for that or insuring for that.”

Family News – The financial implications of divorce

By Kevin Peachey

Read the Full article on the BBC News Website here.

The emotional upheaval of divorce can be difficult to deal with, but so too can the financial implications.

The process, were it to go all the way to a contested final court hearing, can in itself cost more than £30,000, money experts suggest.

On top of that, the settlement may come with its own financial pressures.

Lawyers and charities say that there are ways to keep the cost down, but that irreconcilable couples must also go into a divorce or dissolution of their civil partnership with their eyes open to the potential financial squeeze.

“For anyone embarking on this journey, there’s no nice way to put this: it’s likely to be a rough road ahead, which takes its toll both emotionally and financially,” says Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at investment platform Hargreaves Lansdown.

“Even with careful planning and a sensible approach, it won’t be comfortable.”

Research by insurer Aviva suggests 16% of couples who separate also buy a new home, spending an average of £144,600. Money matters take an average of 14.5 months to settle after a split, it adds.

A do-it-yourself divorce

The most obvious way to keep down the cost of a divorce or dissolution is to come to an agreement without the use of solicitors or other professionals, particularly if it is an amicable split.

In Scotland, the do-it-yourself option is set out in law and called “simplified” divorce or dissolution. Only certain couples can use this procedure. For example, it is not available for those with children aged under 16.

In Northern Ireland, couples have to appear in person before a judge in either a county court or a High Court. However, they can appear in court as a “personal petitioner”, without having to use a solicitor.

In England and Wales, couples can do it themselves or use a low-cost online service.

However, Katie O’Callaghan, of Boodle Hatfield lawyers, warned that anyone failing to get final, legal approval on their financial deal from a court – known as a consent order – can find themselves subject to a claim from their ex-partner in the years ahead.

“It is not enough for couples to agree between themselves on a handshake and think that this will protect them in the future,” she says.

Avoiding solicitors

Legal costs can easily stack up, and even solicitors when first consulted will check whether separating couples have tried cheaper alternatives.

The most popular of these is mediation.

This is not relationship counselling. It can help people to agree on how to divide assets such as money, property, savings and investments. Legal aid is available to help those on low incomes with the cost.

Following mediation, a solicitor can draw up the consent order.

Couples with more complex issues, or who fail to agree, will go to a solicitor.

The costs involved can range from £2,000 to £3,000 for a negotiated financial settlement up to £30,000 plus VAT if a contested case goes through court, according to the Money Advice Service.

Couples in the process of a divorce or dissolution can apply to a court, at a cost of £255, for a financial order.

This covers areas such as a lump sum payment, ownership of a property, regular maintenance payments to help with children or living expenses, and a share of a partner’s pension payments.

Ultimately, in many cases, a judge will decide how the couple’s assets are divided between the couple.

The decision will be based on the length of the marriage or civil partnership, the ages of the parties involved, their ability to earn, their property and money, their living expenses, and their standard of living.

The roles played, such as breadwinners or primary carers will also be considered.

The judge will make arrangements for any children first, especially their housing arrangements and child maintenance, if there are not enough assets to go around.

There can be tax implications following these rulings.

Common issues

Ms O’Callaghan, of Boodle Hatfield, suggests that after a split it is important for couples to maintain the financial organisation in the household that they had prior to the separation.

So, for example, if the husband pays the mortgage, he should continue to do so. That is because keeping the same financial arrangements will make the court proceedings simpler.

She adds that courts have wide-ranging powers to find any hidden assets, so individuals should not squirrel those away, however acrimonious the split.

Individuals can also find themselves worse off than they expected if they cohabit with a new partner. If they are living together, the finances of the new partner can be taken into account during a divorce settlement with the ex-partner. If they are not cohabiting, then such finances will be ignored.

Ultimately, if a couple’s finances are more complex, it is likely to cost more – in both time and money – to reach an agreement.

Inheritance News – Two heterosexual Irish men marry to avoid inheritance tax on property

Author Pádraig Collins

Read the Full article on the Guardian Website here.

Matt Murphy, 83, intends to leave his house to his carer Michael O’Sullivan, 58, but it would have left him with a €50,000 tax bill

Two Irish men have married in Dublin to avoid paying €50,000 in inheritance tax on a house.

Best friends Matt Murphy and Michael O’Sullivan are both heterosexual, but decided to get married when they discovered how much tax would have to be paid on the house Murphy, 83, intended to leave in his will to O’Sullivan, 58, who is his carer.

Same-sex marriage was legalised in Ireland following a referendum in May 2015.

“I’ve known Matty for 30 years. We became very friendly after my second relationship broke up,” O’Sullivan, a father of three, told the Irish Mirror.

“I have been bringing Matt out in my car to various parties and all that kind of thing. He became friends with all my friends, they all loved him.”

Each man went through some tough times, with O’Sullivan becoming homeless and Murphy suffering from giant cell arteritis, which affects the optic nerve.

“I stayed over with him for a while and eventually Matt said ‘Why don’t you come and stay here?’ I would go over and stay with him the odd time but never full time.”

Murphy could not afford to pay O’Sullivan as a carer. “Eventually Matt said the only way he could pay me was to leave me the house. He said he would give me the house so I have somewhere to live when he goes.”

However, O’Sullivan knew that would mean a huge tax bill and the house would have to be sold to pay it. He said Murphy “was chatting a friend down the country in Cashel, Co Tipperary, and she jokingly said we should get married.

“Then one night he turned around and said it to me and I said I would marry him.”

O’Sullivan paid tribute to Ireland’s LGBT community. “The equality gay and lesbian people did for this country, that they fought hard for, they were discriminated against for most of their lives, they got equality for themselves but also for everybody else.”

The couple got married in a former hospital on Dublin’s Grand Canal Street, followed by a meal for five at the nearby Gasworks bar.

O’Sullivan was previously married to a woman. It is Murphy’s first marriage.

During the wedding ceremony O’Sullivan spoke of his husband’s great kindness, the Irish Times reported, while Murphy sang Willie Nelson’s Let the Rest of the World Go By: “With someone like you, a pal good and true / I’d like to leave it all behind and go and find / A place that’s known to God alone.”

O’Sullivan said after the ceremony: “I love Matt and he loves me, as friends.”

Property News – Six factors influencing the UK property market in 2018

Author Patrick Collinson

Read the Full article on the Guardian Website here.

It could be a better year in Britain’s dysfunctional housing market for first-time buyers and tenants

  1. Interest rates will stay low

Another 0.25% hike is expected in late spring, taking the Bank of England base rate to 0.75%. That will add £22 to the typical £175,000 tracker mortgage, but with more than half of all borrowers on fixed rates, it will probably go unnoticed by most homeowners. With the economy weak, the market does not expect any further hikes across the year. Mortgages will remain cheap although, with inflation outpacing wage rises, will still very much feel like a burden.

  1. Housebuilding will rise

New home building has picked up with 217,000 homes coming on to the market in 2016-17, up 20% on the year before. But that only brings the total back to levels seen before the financial crash, and a long way short of the 300,000 target set by the government. If “Brexodus” migration numbers continue to fall and construction activity picks up further, the supply side of the housing equation will be less pressing than in previous years.

  1. Landlords will lose out to first-time buyers

First-time buyers should be in the ascendant in 2018, with lending for buy-to-let in retreat. As recently as 2015 landlords snapped up 120,000 houses using buy-to-let finance, but the Council of Mortgage Lenders expects this to fall below 80,000 in 2018. Rising taxes and tougher lending criteria are slowly tipping the balance in favour of homebuyers rather than property speculators.

  1. Stamp duty cut and help to buy will continue propping up developers

Philip Hammond abolished stamp duty for all properties up to £300,000 bought by first-time buyers with immediate effect in the budget. The move will save four out of five first-time buyers up to £5,000. But the Office for Budget Responsibility predicts that it will raise prices by 0.3%, with the increase coming in 2018. Meanwhile, the help-to-buy scheme has been given another £10bn boost, providing financing until 2021, although critics say it has been squandered in chasing up the price of new-builds.

  1. Tenants may find some relief, at last

After years of galloping rent increases, landlords are finding they can’t squeeze tenants any further. Average UK rents rose by less than 1% in 2017, and fell in London. With salaries under pressure from inflation, few expect real rent increases in 2018. Tenants will applaud the new ban on letting agency fees – when it eventually arrives. There is still no date fixed for the ban to come in, but the government insists it will happen some time in 2018.

  1. The rich will go higher and higher

The 56 storeys of One Nine Elms will race up London’s skyline during 2018, with the first buyers (prices started at £800,000 at launch) moving in in 2019. But its crown as the city’s highest residential tower will be swiftly grabbed by the Spire in Docklands. It will have 67 storeys housing 861 suites (many at £2m-plus) and will be completed in 2020.

Property News – Is the property ladder just a myth?

Author Coco Khan
@cocobyname
Read the Full article on the Guardian Website here.

The theory is that a couple owning a starter home and considering children could afford to move into a bigger property – but with household income falling, that idea is increasingly unrealistic

Estate agents are sure to emphasise a property’s suitability for a certain customer: “the perfect starter flat”; “lovely family home”; “suitable for someone looking to downsize”. But is the property “ladder” – the idea that, in an average lifetime, homeowners will own different homes according to their needs – a thing of the past?

In theory, a couple owning a starter home and considering children would find they could afford to move to a bigger – and most likely more expensive property – because their household income would have increased through salary growth and career progression. But with household income falling at the fastest rate since 1976, wage stagnation and the squeeze on the cost of living, the option for many may be dwindling.

A solution might be to remortgage to a longer term to bring monthly repayments for a pricier property down, but with the average age of a first-time buyer at 32, this would mean making repayments well into retirement.

That’s a trend that is growing – nearly four in 10 people who were planning to retire last year owed money on property – and many will use their pension payouts to manage the debt. But with 44% of millennials having no pension provision whatsoever, that window of opportunity may also be closing.

And even those moving “down” the ladder may struggle, particularly pensioners looking to downsize their home. Research suggests that nearly half of over-65s want to live in a smaller property, but can’t due to a lack of suitable housing stock.

This all might explain the homeowner trend to “improve not move” – in every region of the UK (bar Scotland), planning applications have gone up.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink the term “property ladder” – because if you’re fortunate enough to own your own home, you’re probably staying put.