is buying a house part of growing up?
And how does one decide they’ve reached grown up land? 21st birthday parties don’t really count anymore. We seem to have a picture of someone who has yet to grow up (moves house a lot, has that too-long-between-haircuts look, is forced to live with parents for several months after backpacking through Europe, gets drunk often), with someone who has reached the realm of adulthood (has kids/is planning for kids, drinks sophisticated wine, spends weekends at baby showers and homewares stores and gardening centres).
It seems that to be able to define ourselves as fully functioning adults in our society, we have to be able to tick several boxes.
Drives/owns a car reasonably free of dents/scratches
Can arrive at appointments on time
House is reasonably tidy
Is married/in long-term monogamous relationship
Does not play in rock band
Has steady full-time job (and therefore earns substantial income)
Puts that substantial income towards a mortgage
It’s as if at some point, maybe in our mid-twenties, maybe a year or so after finishing uni (the rite of passage for middle-class Australians), we’ll give up our ragamuffin ways and swap them at the grown-up shop for a skin that manages our calendar successfully and cooks regular meals and drives our reliable car in a careful manner. And that is when we decide to ‘set ourselves up’ and start saving for a deposit on our house.
It’s a common expectation emanating from the collective concern of older relatives; aunties and uncles who hear information about your life choices (change of jobs/tertiary graduation/adoption of pet llama) on the familial grapevine. They will accost you at Grandma’s 70th birthday or a cousin’s engagement party to ask you aggressive questions about your next move.
‘Congratulations on your graduation!’
‘Thanks Uncle Graham.’
‘Dad mentioned you did an internship at one of the mining companies.’
‘Oh, I went for a tour day, but I’m thinking of volunteering for an environmental—’
‘There’s a lot of money in mining! That’ll really set you up. Did you know Matthew bought a nice two-bedroom home in the Eastern suburbs?’
And it’s not just your parents’ generation whose obsession with stability permeates conversations – there’s that government ad on bus stops inferring you can’t make your own choices if you continue to rent, and those conversations with friends who have decided to become property owners and relate the joy of renovations over dinner.
Last week, Clementine Ford wrote a piece in the Guardian Australia about the fading relevance of property ownership.
‘For decades, the great Australian dream has supposedly been to own a house; to purchase a three bedroom property with room for the kids that you’ll eventually have and enough garden space for them to play in.’
Part of the ‘contract of adulthood’ is providing a solid foundation and comfortable family home for the little ones.
Unfortunately, this essential portion of adulthood is no longer so attainable.
When our parents were our age, they were able to buy a modest home for two or three times their annual income. Nowadays it’s more like nine or ten times what we would earn in a year – Ford’s article reported that the median Melbourne house price is roughly $530,000.
This means that a huge portion of weekly income goes towards repaying the bank – not to mention council rates, water, and more.
So to be honest, this cuts out the possibility of homeowning for me and many other fledgling grown-ups. Because of the choices my partner and I are making in our careers, I literally cannot foresee a time when we will be earning enough. And if the desire to buy a house is about ensuring the kind of stability that will last decades, perhaps we can make our marks as adults in other ways.
Instead, I choose to breathe calmly into the fact that I will not know where I will be (geographically or financially) in forty years’ time. I choose peacefulness in the state of uncertainty – surely that is the mark of a grown up.