Property Voices: Living at home as a graduate

PUBLISHED: 12:37 21 September 2017 | UPDATED: 13:37 21 September 2017

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Archant

Trainee journalist Amy Gibbons is back living with her parents in St Albans after completing her degree.

As I surveyed the setting of my new training course – a brightly lit classroom full of brightly lit faces and round tables crowded with plush red chairs – I overhead a classic first-day conversation to my left.

“So, where are you from?”

“Brixton – you?”

Suddenly the room was swimming with the names of London boroughs: Islington, Southwark, Barnet, Kensington and Chelsea, Haringey, Westminster, Harrow… After Tower Hamlets zoomed by my right ear, I drew breath at the sound of my name.

“How about you, Amy?”

Knocked for six, I almost told the room I was from Waltham Forest.

“Erm - St Albans,” I said. “Do you know it?”

I am 21 years old, I graduated with a degree in English Literature three months ago, and I – like so many of my peers – have come home to roost.

It’s not unusual to live at home after university, but it’s certainly become more common. The Office for National Statistics found last year that one in four adults aged between 20 and 34 still live with their parents, up from one in five just 20 years ago. And while young women are more likely to be independent than men, all figures are still up significantly on the last generation’s data.

In my experience, living at home as a graduate is rather like getting a new television and figuring out the mechanics of the accompanying remote control. Everything is familiar – you’ve been here before – but the same buttons trigger different outcomes, and you feel somewhat like an intruder in your own living room.

“What’s for dinner?” I ask Mum, perhaps a week after my return to the suburbs of St Albans – as if I had somehow hit pause on the eve of my uni experience and sat on the remote three years on, resuming the recording. I would grab something from the fridge but I don’t want to accidentally use the pasta earmarked for tomorrow.

“Oh my God, the dog’s just been sick all over the carpet!” she replies. “Can you make Esther’s soup for me?”

I blink. I am 13 years old again.

Young people are faced with a kind of paradox on graduating university. We’ve lived away from home for the best part of three years, yet in a disorientating turn of events many have little choice but to shack up with their parents again after the student loan dries up and repayments are coupled with mind-boggling levels of interest.

Thousands of qualified adults straight out of education stumble at the threshold to independent life as their dummies are smacked back into their mouths, and a torrent of graduation caps fall into parents’ laps. Self-sufficiency is both demanded and denied.

Stirring the chicken and sweetcorn broth on the hob, checking an email from work and pondering how I’ll fit the dog walk in after tomorrow’s commute, I wonder: how are we supposed to work with that?

The truth is, independence is largely the product of education and opportunity – and young people are caught somewhere between the two. While more youngsters than ever are going to university, according to the Evening Standard UK house prices are 42 per cent higher than the low of £155,000 recorded in April 2009. More locally, The Guardian found earlier this year that house prices in St Albans have risen by an average of 65 per cent in the past decade, the highest inflation of any city in the UK.

As a result, we are left occupying uncomfortable ground. To resent our parents is to be ungrateful, to sacrifice it all is to be naïve – and reckless. It makes for a guilty conscience. What would you rather in your 20s: to provide, or to be provided for?

Living as a graduate at home is therefore rather like perpetually sitting in a window seat. You’re quite safe and warm – but you’re an observer, a moocher. You’re both a burden and a ball of potential. You’re stuck.

The answer perhaps lies in somehow striking a more realistic balance between the two markets of graduate pay and property rental – bridging the gap between starting work and affording to live independently. However until such a solution is found, we have little choice but to learn to live together - quite literally.

So the next time you see a young person tucking into their smashed avocado on sourdough toast, remind yourself it’s probably the most exciting part of their day. It’ll take the edge off.

Follow Amy on Twitter @tweetsbyames

Do you have any strong opinions on the local property market? Maybe you’re worried about escalating prices, or relieved that the St Albans area remains more affordable than much of London? Are you concerned that your kids won’t be able to afford to buy locally, or simply glad that you were able to purchase property when you did? Please contact jane.howdle@archant.co.uk if you have a story that you’d like to share.

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