I had a horrifying realisation this morning; our closeted middle class life is highly coveted and people must think of us as the Joneses!
Neighbours of ours are selling their home; although it needs some little work it has 4 bedrooms and a garden, lovely large rooms and it’s in a nice neighbourhood. It’ll be a shame to see them leave as they are a Gentleman’s Family like us with kids just a bit older. I’ve now spoken to a few people who know that we live nearby and want to know about the house, what’s it like (nice), is it cold (yes) and is the price a good price (I think yes). The people looking to buy have young families and all of them are renting at the moment. In two cases, I felt a sense that the price was a factor and they felt that it was too expensive – maybe due to deposit or a fear of getting into too much debt or maybe the bank won’t lend them enough.
Speaking with the owner and she’s had a lot of interest and a lot of viewers. There’s even been a few drive-bys including 2 people who go to our nursery. The property market is crazy around here right now and considering this house was previously on the market for almost a year before it sold last, it’ll be very interesting to see how long it takes to shift. My guess is that it’ll be gone by the time this post goes to print (edit, it’s under a closing date)
Property as the Ultimate Status Symbol
The social world of nurseries and childhood more widely is probably just as interesting for the parents’ behaviour as for the kids’. Be it birthday parties or jumble sales, it’s fascinating. So much of what we do is for how we want to be seen to be or have high expectations. I spent £10 on books in Oxfam last week and most of them had never been opened – we don’t buy new books, we buy them off others for pennies in the pound. (Note: whilst saving money is important, supporting book shops is also important – so keep buying but not reading kids’ books please!)
But what surprised me about the two drive-bys that I saw was that both of the people appear to be much better off than us. One drove an Audi Q5 and the other a Highland Coyboy mobile (beloved by those who need something extra large to overcompensate for something small in their lives). They both dressed cleanly in expensively branded clothes (unlike GFF who wears the battle stains of fatherhood on all items of clothing).
What I don’t get is why they would be aspiring to slum it in our street? I always thought that if they can afford to spend the money that they do and always drive to nursery, that they are living the dream out in the country in a large detached house with plenty of space. Could it be that they (despite appearing to be rich) are actually skint?
Two of the other potential buyers are people quite like us, one couple drives a 9 year old golf and the other don’t own a car. Neither couple are flash but suffer from being blow-ins to the area and are working at the university – highly skilled but not highly paid – the sort I’ve talked about recently. One guy seemed interested in buying but daunted by the whole process and unsure if the price was good value or not – for those who are not intimately in tune with property prices, it’s hard to know what is a bargain and what is a rip-off. For a bit of comparison, the other house near us that went under offer recently is 30% more expensive, 20% smaller but has full gardens and is detached. How to value those differences? In my mind our neighbours house is a steal but I’m not in the market for buying more houses than I need.
Urban/Rural Property Values
Where we live has a curious phenomenon.; the closer you get to the city, the less expensive a property will become. Unlike most other places, especially London. In our street, houses sell for about £1250/m2. It’s cheap and that’s one reason why we bought back in 2016, because we could get a lot of house for our money. Whilst the UK and Scotland is expensive for property, it’s not as bad as around London – so where we live, someone on an average salary might be able to afford an average property. It doesn’t make property cheap and for many the stability that can come with home ownership is out of reach – made worse if their spending is out of control.
When selling your home through an estate agent in Scotland it is unlawful to discriminate against someone because of their disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. This includes refusing to give them the home report. It is however perfectly legal to discriminate against someone based on their wealth (or perceived wealth).Facts from GFF
This happened to me once as the estate agent didn’t think that I could afford a £300,000 house. That agency lost my commission and that’s how I found out about permitted discrimination based on your wealth. But GFF is a bit different, I’ve never judged a man by the size of his MORTGAGE!
For a bit of a read about wealth discrimination the book Chavs by Owen Jones is a good read – if you can keep up with him that is. But is it possible to be self-content with one’s own life without making everyone else jealous of your own smugness and of how perfect everything is for you?
We liked our area we moved to in 2016 and like it even more now and we’ll possibly be here for many years to come, so the current value/cost of our house isn’t material. We are also well enough off to not need to worry about the mortgage too much and impressing others is low on my list of priorities. Because house prices are low here, I was able to afford a lovely house for the price of a tenement in other Scottish cities.
And it was my avoidance of trying to impress people that made me feel very unnerved by the fact that people clearly must envy us and wish that they had what we had (of course you can’t see one’s paper assets). The idea that you can spend your way to status must stick in their craw. As @playingwithfireUK on Twitter pointed out, classism is clearly displayed in property terms.
The funny thing about status anxiety is that whilst we all wish to have higher status, you can’t easily change it and it’s something which others give you. Trying to keep up with the Joneses will never work but we all still play along with the game one way or another. My own approach is to try to be the millionaire next door, someone who gets rich because of all the status symbols that they don’t have and who is like a graceful swan who glides through the choppy financial waters of life with his money paddling hard to keep things steady.
GFF’s Status Symbols
If I’m honest, our house is probably our biggest status symbol. But we have others as well, like I would like to think that our kids are well dressed and shod – a legacy from scouring baby clothes jumble sales when they were running. The Master has a Frog 40 bike that cost us nearly £300 – something which is too expensive for many but since he can now cycle himself for miles on end (no stabilisers) it’s money very well spent.
It just sort of surprises me that people would aspire to have what we have – is property is primary differentiator in terms of your wealth, status and class? In any case, my own wishes for who moves in down the street are for more people like us – the owners of the biggest cars have kids that are not so nice, that’s been my observation. Maybe it’s snobbery or reverse snobbery or something different but I just hope that the real Joneses don’t move in because it’s something I could do without in my life.