Where do expats buy homes?
Shelter is right there above food on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s a pretty important business, having a place to lay your hat. Groups that traditionally don’t have fixed abodes are marginalised: Ireland’s traveling population, the Romani, “trailer trash”, people in housing estates, refugees, the homeless. Twelve years ago when I was in my early 20s and working in South Korea as a teacher, we all found something slightly…unsavoury about older men and women doing the same thing. Didn’t they have families, homes? Didn’t anyone love them? Why were they so rootless?
Homes are linked to security, but also to identity and the self. Anyone who’s had their home broken into knows the sickening feeling of violation and the subsequent uneasiness and mistrust. We even say: “I’ve been burgled.” People become obsessed with fences and boundaries, and will poison trees or even neighbours to get a better view. A mortgage is probably the largest loan people take out in their lives, and in some countries takes generations to repay.
So it makes perfect sense that I want one. That it’s my mark of adulthood. It’s always seemed like such an impossible dream to me though – how could I ever save enough money for a deposit? Would that mean I couldn’t travel anymore? Where would this place even be?
The last question is the hardest for me. My German teacher asked me to describe my ideal house once. It was simple: Light-filled, big windows, high ceilings, white walls, lots of greenery, a big kitchen centred around a long wooden bench table, a garden. (Which I outlined in flawless German, of course.) Then she asked me where it would be. I was totally stumped. I’m still thinking about it.
My “country” is Australia, I guess. But it’s Germany right now, and in some ways I feel more settled in Munich than I ever did in my hometown of Newcastle, or in Sydney where I spent 10 years before moving here. Certainly having a UK passport makes it a lot easier for me than it is for other expats – my staying here is not contingent on anything but my own whims. Still, I don’t think I would ever buy here. For one thing, Munich is outrageously expensive and the rental and real estate markets are competitive to the point of brutality. There are good reasons most people here rent forever, outlined in this piece: Most Germans don’t buy their homes, they rent. Here’s why.
So if Munich is out, then where? Newcastle is the place I grew up, for the most part. It’s certainly the longest I’ve ever spent in one place. And it has the incomparable bonus of being home to my best friend – my little sister. And my darling Mum – the best in the world, my awesome stepdad, my cool brother in law and my scrumptious baby niece. My grandparents, all the way from their tiny village in Southern Spain, are buried there. My father lives nearby. And it’s the gathering place of my university friends, most of whom now live overseas but find themselves gravitating back.
Real estate there is reasonably-priced. The beaches are world-class. There are art galleries and crossfit and restaurants that cook gluten free (I have coeliac’s disease, something almost completely unknown in Germany).
But there are other aspects to life there that I find incompatible. For instance, public transport is virtually non-existent. You genuinely need a car to live there. There are no cycle paths. There’s often alochol-fueled violence. There are drug problems. It’s comparatively “white”, often racist, sometimes homophobic. It’s a town that worships the local football heroes. That kinda place. And it’s also just so damn hot. I can hear the cicadas ringing in my ears whenever I think about it.
I’m also in a state of despair over Australian politics. Our stance on asylum seekers, on the environment, our approach to infrastructure, the way wealth is redistributed, even the way our politicans behave during question time. I find it all mortifying. Is Australia really a place I could live again? Should I buy there, in my hometown, just to “have” some property? Can I really not go back?
It’s also somewhat scary. A home is pretty permanent. It’s a huge committment, and I have problems committing to a sofa colour.
But when I think of saving, when I think of why I am going to try this whole experiment, I think it comes down to being able to pull a deposit together to one day buy my own place. Or at least get myself into the right financial mindset for it.
To eventually buy myself the freedom to knock out walls, put some posters up, paint. Do all the things you don’t have the luxury of in a rental place. Know that four walls are mine, and nothing short of default or war can take that away from me.
But if the first part of my goal is crystal clear, the second part is equally murky. Where – exactly – is home?
Posted on July 17, 2014, in My Purse is Closed, Preparation and tagged ambitions, apartment, australia, balance, browsing, buy, comedy, costs, expats, finance, germany, goals, history, home, house, humour, life, living, money, mortgage, munich, newcastle, rent, saving, security, spending, sydney. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.