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SOCIETY: My home is my castle

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Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 6/2019 vom 08.05.2019

lt@In Großbritannien dreht sich alles um Hausbesitz. Man spricht darüber bei der Arbeit, beim Abendessen, man schaut sich entsprechende Fernsehsendungen an und beobachtet das Auf und Ab der Immobilienpreise im ganzen Land. LORRAINE MALLINDER hat die Daten für Sie zusammengefasst.


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@@Home sweet home: rows of terraced houses in Ilford, East London

Back in the 1960s, builders renovating an old house in North London made a rather surprising discovery. Hidden behind the fireplace, they found a basket with two shoes, a candlestick and a drinking vessel, as well as the skeletons of four chickens. This ...

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... offering to the house gods, described in The Making of Home by Judith Flanders, dated back to the 16th century, making it a very early example of the close relationship the British have with their homes.

Home is truly a national obsession in Britain, even if we no longer make bloody offerings to the house gods. Instead, we watch endless hours of strangely addictive television programmes devoted to buying and improving houses. We worry about the value of our houses, on which our children’s studies and our future retirement plans are staked. We analyse the market, fantasizing about selling our houses at a massive profit or investing in new property that can be rented to someone else as a home.

If Britain has been transformed from a nation of renters into one of owners, it is largely because of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s “right-to-buy” revolution in the 1980s, which enabled tenants to buy their government-owned properties at a discount. This policy, which benefited a lot of working-class families, allowed them to move up the social ladder and changed attitudes. Nowadays, for the majority of Brits, owning your own home lies at the very foundation of a fulfilled life. This is in sharp contrast to a country like Germany, where more than half the households are rented.

In Britain, home is not only where the heart is. It is who you are and what you might become. It is a marker of social status, separating the haves from the have-nots. Little wonder, therefore, that in the middle of today’s housing bubble, in which house prices have increased by 50 per cent over the past decade, the concept of home has become controversial. Those who do not own their own homes often find themselves renting substandard properties from private landlords under very precarious conditions. Getting on the housing ladder is impossible for young people, unless they can access “the bank of mum and dad”.

It’s not that Brits lack a soul connection to their homes. After all, most of us still spend much of our leisure time watching telly, reading or listening to music, presumably curled up on a sofa. According to researchers, we also spend 104 hours every year on DIY and 493 hours cleaning — that’s a lot of beautification. Our anxieties today, though, are a long way from the warm nostalgia of “Our House”, the 1980s hit by Madness. As the song, a tribute to everyday suburban life, put it: “Our house, was our castle and our keep…” The “castle” alluded to in this song is a powerful symbol in British life. It goes all the way back to the 17th century, when lawyer and politician Sir Edward Coke established the legal right of citizens to do whatever they liked in their own homes, declaring: “The house of every one is to him as his Castle” (homeowners were always male back then). Later, in 1763, this maxim was extended by future Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder, who famously said: “It may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it. The storm may enter. The rain may enter. But the King of England cannot enter.”

Homes in figures

In 1918, as the world emerged from the trauma of the First World War, only 10 per cent of households in Britain owned their homes. These days, it’s around 63 per cent, down from a high of 71 per cent in 2003.

At the end of 2018, the average house in the UK was worth £297,527 (€342,751), according to figures from the property website Rightmove.

The value of all homes in the UK is an enormous £7.14 trillion (€8.23 tn), making it one of the country’s largest non-financial assets. If this bubble bursts, it could be messy.

@@The high life? Blocks of flats in Glasgow

Perhaps nobody has understood the Anglo-Saxon passion for domesticity more than Hermann Muthesius, a German architect, author and diplomat. In his 1904 classic, The English House, he offered an analysis of the psychology behind the English household: “The Englishman sees the whole of life embodied in his house. Here, in the heart of his family, selfsufficient and feeling no great urge for sociability, pursuing his own interests in virtual isolation, he finds his happiness and his real spiritual comfort.” Times may have changed, but in a nation where the terrible weather drives us all to the comfort of our homes after work, this phrase still rings true. There really is no place like home.

History of an obsession

Housebuilding on a large scale really began with the Georgians (1714–1830), who introduced hundreds of town planning laws. Before then, if you wanted a house, you just bought a piece of land, made some bricks and got on with it. In the 18th century, however, rows of beautiful houses were erected, classic in design and with big windows.

The Victorian Age (1837–1901) brought the Industrial Revolution, with millions of workers moving to the cities. Generally, they lived in rows of cramped buildings built back to back, which turned into disease-ridden slums. The wealthy lived in terraced houses, built in the revived Gothic fashion of the day, with porches and bay windows — still very popular with homebuyers. In the early 20th century, in answer to the dirt and misery of city life, the suburban dream took hold. It began with Letchworth Garden City — the idea of an Esperanto-speaking social reformer called Ebenezer Howard — a model of “new town” living in leafy Hertfordshire, with bay windows, a place to park the car and morals as tidy as the gardens. Howard’s ideas led to more new towns up and down the country — some more successful than others. Milton Keynes, for example, is very des res. On the other hand, Cumbernauld, near Glasgow, turned into an unemployment black spot.

Homes on the telly

As the supply of affordable houses goes down, demand for TV shows about property seems to go up. It seems that people like to fantasize about what they would do if they could afford their dream home.

Location, Location, Location

No floorboard is left unturned as two property experts take clueless buyers shopping for their dream home. Some accuse this show of single-handedly being responsible for Britain’s property lunacy. Running since the millennium, it has produced a number of spin-offs.Relocation, Relocation anyone?

Grand Designs

With a housing crisis in full swing, the idea of building your own home has started to seem, well, possible. It’s a simple format, with cameras following people risking all for the dream. Expect rows, divorces, bankruptcy and some incredible designs — a glass house on a Welsh cliff being the one that most people remember. It’s compulsive viewing.

The £1 Houses: Britain’s Cheapest Street

If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is! In this 2018 mini-series, Liverpool City Council sells derelict houses for a quid to lucky buyers with spare cash to spend on renovations; only they have to do it within a year or they lose the house and the investments. Add burglars and guns and you have the makeover show from hell.

Homes Under the Hammer

As house prices climb higher, why not try bidding at auction? It’s never been easier — apparently. In this show, TV cameras stalk buyers from the auction house to their battered purchase, zooming in as they get stuck into some serious DIY, then zooming back out to see if they’ve made shedloads of cash. Irrelevant factoid: Meryl Streep once admitted to being a fan.

@@Street smart: Pelham Crescent in London’s South Kensington

After the First World War, the government played a bigger role, building homes fit for heroes — on leafy streets and with their own back gardens. After the Second World War, the age of the government- built council estate really saw a boom. The post-war Labour government built more than a million houses to replace those destroyed by bombing.

The boom in government building continued in the 1950s and 1960s, with the rise of the tower block. Le Corbusier’s dream of “machines for living” later turned bad, though the initial intention was to free ordinary people from the cramped slums of the previous century. Today, many complain of the lack of innovation in housing, with builders either creating bland designs to appeal to a mass market or insisting on redundant features like chimneys. Where British housing design will go is anyone’s guess.

An expert’s view

Henry Pryor, one of the UK’s most outspoken and influential property experts, is frequently heard and seen on radio and television, commenting on the state of the market. As a “high-end personal shopper”, he can find himself purchasing properties worth up to £50 million for clients. So, how would he define Britain’s obsession with owning a home? “Unhealthy,” he says with a laugh. “People talk about it incessantly, in pubs and at dinner parties.”

Brits, he says, have a reputation for being polite and quiet. But, when it comes to buying and selling property, their behaviour changes. “If you come to buy a house in the UK,” he says, “don’t assume it’s all tea and cucumber sandwiches. It can get incredibly aggressive and emotions run high. It’s every man for himself.” Pryor believes that British governments have encouraged homeowning for a reason. “If you help people to get a stake in the economy, you can achieve all sorts of things. People are more forgiving of fiscal ineptitude if they feel warmer in their wallet,” he says.

It also suits governments to have people creating their own safety net and viewing their homes not just as places to live, but as investments that can be used to buy products or to fund retirement. Homeowners are less likely to rock the boat. “People are less likely to a make a reckless choice at the ballot box,” says Pryor. “They’re less likely to say: ‘Let’s give Mr [Jeremy] Corbyn a whirl’.’

All in all, the UK’s homeowning culture has created a very conservative way of thinking. Except, that is, when it comes to Brexit. Many, including the governor of the Bank of England, say that Brexit will bring about a crash in house prices. “It’s an act of self-harm,” says Pryor.

Songs about home

The Kinks: “Dead End Street” (1966) The troubles of renting on a dead-end street. Dread, debt, tea and toast. Manfred Mann: “Semi-Detached, Suburban Mr James” (1966) So you finally named the day. But will you really be happy living in suburbia with the very mediocre Mr James?

The Beatles: “She’s Leaving Home” (1967) The most moving song ever? She left her parents for a man in the motor trade. They are heartbroken. She is free.

Gerry Rafferty: “Baker Street” (1978) Drifter in the big, bad city dreams of home — all to the melancholy sound of a lone saxophone.

@@Very “des res”: a cottage in Wanborough, Wiltshire

But he believes that British property laws remain the envy of the world, imitated far and wide. “Our housing market is much more transparent than in many parts of Europe,” he says. “You can buy, sell and let property with a huge amount of confidence that you’re not going to get ripped off. It’s all legally documented, and if something goes wrong, there’s a system of redress you can rely on.” Still, it can be a rough ride. During his 35 years in the business, Pryor has witnessed the extremes of the housing market up close. “[In Britain], property is not just something you buy for a roof over your head. It’s far more complicated and exciting as a result.”

Henry Pryor: A property expert and commentator who understands the British housing market

Homely expressions Home is a powerful symbol in the Anglo-Saxon consciousness. It appears in many English expressions.

“Bring home the bacon” Meaning: To earn a wage that allows you to put food on the table and pay the bills.

“Home is where the heart is” Meaning: Your home is simply where you feel most comfortable and happiest.

“Home sweet home” Meaning: An expression of relief at finding yourself back at home.

“The lights are on, but nobody’s home” Meaning: Used to describe someone who is not very clever, comparing their mind to an empty home.

“Home truth” Meaning: An unpleasant fact about oneself that is difficult to accept.

@@Foto: London Aerial Photo Library/Alamy Stock Photo; Stock Ninja Studio/Shutterstock.com

@@Fotos: Kenny Williamson/Alamy Stock Photo; iconim/Shutterstock.com

@@Fotos: Peter Scholey/Alamy Stock Photo; Mark1987/Shutterstock.com

@@Fotos: Anna Stowe/Alamy Stock Photo; SVIATLANASHEINA/Shutterstock.com

@@Fotos: Johnny Greig/iStock.com; Roman Sotola/Shutterstock.com; privat