"I always thought buying a house was something that people do when they’re married and have kids," says 24-year-old Paige, who bought a £350,000 two-bedroom house in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham with her best friend of five years, Tarina. "I didn’t really ever see myself doing it just because I thought it was really out of reach," she says.
After renting together for two and a half years and saving a huge chunk of student grants and wages from their jobs as teachers in local schools, Paige and Tarina each stored away £35,000. They split the 10% deposit down the middle and saved the rest for fees and renovation.
"We’re only paying £14 more monthly [for a mortgage] than our rent was," says Paige, who is the first person in her family to buy a house. "We’re investing in ourselves."
So it tracks that many young people seem to have internalised the idea that the best route to homeownership is with a romantic partner, so much so that people aged 18 to 24 now consider buying a house as more important than marriage, according to Halifax. A byproduct of this is that splitting property in the case of a breakup has become the 'millennial divorce'.
Tales of the millennial divorce are bleak. Couples are forced to navigate dividing up their assets and many are left living with their ex. Is it any wonder that buying with a friend appears to be a much safer option?
At 26 years old and after six years of friendship, the university friends invested £26,000 in the deposit for a dilapidated two-bedroom house that launched them onto the property ladder. They gained 470k followers after sharing their journey online.
Cullen and Ola admit that they started to panic the moment they got the keys to their £452,000 house in Waltham Forest, east London. "We tore off the wallpaper and realised the wall was falling down," they remember — and that was just the beginning of their unexpected DIY experience.
While Ola lived at his mum’s home in London, Cullen moved straight into the crumbling property as he couldn’t afford to pay rent alongside his half of their £1,300 per month mortgage. "It scarred me," he says of the experience. "I’ve been impacted forever. There were no doors and we were sanding everything down… You can’t get dust off your skin with cold water."
Ola never told his mum that they were pulling 15-hour days of labouring to make their purchase liveable after they discovered it was in disrepair. "I’d just come home dusty and shower and sleep," he says. "That’s all I had time for. Then we were back out. I don’t know what she thought I was doing."
Like Paige and Tarina, the boys bought their home without financial support from their families. "The best we could get mortgage-wise [alone] was a houseboat," remembers Cullen. "Then we started thinking, Can we just do this together? We worked out how much we could borrow and were like, Actually this makes complete sense."
"We were under the impression that you can’t get a mortgage if you’re freelance," adds Cullen. "But our broker said: 'You just need to rephrase. You’re not freelancers, you’re contractors. All you need to do is show you’ve been working regularly.' Within weeks of even thinking about it, he was working out a mortgage in principle," Cullen continues. "We were like, Damn."
"I was quite surprised when we got the mortgage," echoes Paige. "I thought maybe they wouldn’t take us seriously because we’re just two young women who haven’t got any ties to each other apart from friendship." Yet after talking with a broker they were able to secure a 90% loan and are excited to move into their first home in July.
Paige's shock is understandable. First-time buyers are currently facing one of the most unwelcoming housing markets of all time. Over the past 50 years, the price of the average UK home has increased almost twice as much as the average UK worker's wages. At the start of 2022, Office for National Statistics figures showed that the average UK house price was £274,000 – that’s £24,000 more than the year before. Right now, the housing market is experiencing inflation not seen since before the 2008 crash.
Combine increasing property prices with the devastating rise in the cost of essentials which is also taking place as 2022 gets into full swing and the dream of becoming a homeowner starts to look depressingly unachievable. That is, unless you pool your money with somebody else, just as Paige, Tarina, Cullen and Ola have done.
Experts warn that you still need to protect yourself with all the correct paperwork, even if you are buying with your best friend. "It’s a good idea to have something drawn up which sets out your clear intentions from the outset," says Nicki Rundle, a solicitor at Baldwin & Robinson.
"Your terms of agreement should not only include details of how much you’re paying in at the start and throughout your ownership but what you’re expecting to get out at the end," Rundle explains. "You should think about what happens should one of you want to sell or need to move away for work – will your room be let out? Who gets to choose the tenant? What if the worst happens and you fall out? If you have a pre-agreed document to refer back to, this will save a lot of headaches in the future."
The easiest way to avoid disagreements is to have a Deed of Trust or Declaration of Trust drawn up that clearly outlines what each person is contributing to the deposit, legal costs, property maintenance, insurance and bills, as well as what will happen if one person wants to sell their share or move out, advises Rundle.
Cullen and Ola and Paige and Tarina have protected themselves by making a five-year fixed plan to match their five-year fixed mortgage. After that time passes, the boys have agreed to remortgage and turn the property into a rental where they split the income between the two of them. However they admit that they’ve fallen in love with the house and now see themselves staying for longer after putting blood, sweat and emergency savings into the renovation.
"The kitchen floor was the biggest slap in the face," says Cullen. "All we had to do was pull out this one cupboard because there was some damp behind it and we thought the kitchen floor was solid concrete but that was just an old chimney breast. The walls were brick but the floors were just mud. Within that same day, we’d ripped out the entire kitchen."
While both on furlough, they were granted a mortgage holiday and started spending every penny they had on materials. "We literally had to pay for things by waiting 'til the end of the month," says Cullen. "We were getting paid 50% of what we normally were and as soon as we got that we’d go and buy wood and just live off jam and bread."
If you have a pre-agreed document to refer back to, this will save a lot of headaches in the future.
"It felt special because we were building something," he continues. "In the early days, the smell of the rubble was quite pleasant but by the end it just reminds you of hell."
If you can afford it, there’s also the option to buy a new-build property that doesn’t need renovation. Childhood friends of 13 years Alice and Amy bought a £505,000 two-bedroom flat in Walthamstow last year on the Help to Buy scheme. They used redundancy payouts, inheritance money and savings from their jobs as a Metropolitan Police officer and wine bar manager to put down £21,250 each for the deposit.
They were granted a two-year fixed mortgage and with the Help to Buy plan, won’t pay back their 40% government loan for five years. Until the end of 2023, their monthly mortgage payments are £410 which, like Paige and Tarina, is less than what they paid in rent. "You have to be on a lot more money every month to get onto the Help to Buy scheme so having two people’s income was a lot better," says Alice. "We won’t make much money on it. It’s just to get on the property ladder."
"If we move out, it will just be the fact that we don’t want to do the same thing with the house anymore. It won’t be because we don’t love each other," she adds of their future. "[Moving in] was amazing. The freedom we’ve got. It’s been fun."
It’s a common narrative that millennials should forgo their 'indulgent' lifestyles for the sake of buying a house. Location, Location, Location’s Kirstie Allsopp famously claimed in February that all young people have to do to get on the property ladder is give up Netflix, short-haul flights, coffee and the gym.
This doesn’t sit well with Ola and Cullen. "This idea that you have to go months, or years, separated from your friends and families to save the money to get a house is part of the problem," says Cullen. "There’s no relatable content out there about home ownership because that’s not what it’s like. Realistically, you need Netflix."
Ola acknowledges they were 'fortunate' to be able to freelance within their industry. Combined with furlough, this gifted them time to save thousands by renovating their property themselves while their mortgage holiday eased their living costs. Paige and Tarina saved a chunk of their student grants. Alice and Amy had redundancy pay and inheritance. "In short, we made it work for us," says Ola. "But we think it’s possible for a lot of people. You can balance [life] and not kill yourself trying to achieve your dreams. But you have to ask yourself, Why do you want these things?"
"We want to be a voice for a younger generation of working-class people and give them hope and show the fun side of it," says Cullen of their TikTok channel. "Property isn’t just business, business, business, money, money, money," he emphasises. "It’s about fun," adds Ola. "Going on a journey, learning and sharing what we learn with people."
And after everything they’ve been through – discovering dry rot, uncovering asbestos, bartering for plaster during a critical materials shortage – their friendship is unscathed. They still work, live and have fun together. "I think we’re both quite understanding people," says Ola. "We’re completely aligned, which is a very strange thing. For years we’ve always had the same goals. We’re both hard workers and we like to try."
"The underpinning thing that stops us getting too stressed is that we just make fun out of everything," adds Cullen. "Even when we were in the most disastrous point, we never let ourselves get super stressed or take it out on each other. Within minutes we’d be laughing at how ridiculously stupid the situation was… We’re very optimistic people."
"We understand that this wouldn’t work for a lot of people," says Ola. "But for us it’s very peaceful."