06 February 2020

Tiny Houses, but Not By Choice

Where I come from (originally Florida, USA), we think of the UK in terms of great country houses and castles...

or cute and cosy country cottages built of stone and covered in thatch.  The view from every window is beautiful country scenery. 

Everyone is happy and hey, this is 2020, so everyone must have all the modern conveniences, right?

This is a market photo of a bedroom in a new build house.  Tiny, isn't it?

Well, the truth is Britain has the smallest overall house size of any Western European country.  In fact, one analysis in 2017 discovered that the average three-bedroom house is only 947 square feet, which is 53 square feet smaller than the regulatory minumum.  That even includes new builds!

View this article, which is actually from 2014, if you are unsure of the verity of my statements!

When I first moved here twelve years ago, I was amazed at how small the houses were, and how tiny and unworkable the individual rooms were.  Not only that, but the house prices are astronomical.  This is combined with annual incomes being much smaller than what the average American brings home.  I read and heard a lot about younger adults here not being able to "get on the property ladder".  I didn't know what that meant until I had lived here for several years, and then just recently experienced buying a house in Scotland.

These are some "houses" in Scotland

Another misleading term here is "house".  Anything that is not a flat / apartment is considered a house -- even if it is attached to five other "houses".  What I have known as a duplex, a townhouse, a condominium, a villa, is simply a house here.  The misleading part is that you don't have a "house" lifestyle in many cases:  chances are you have neighbours either attached on both sides, or right next to you, almost like zero lot line properties.  You have very little privacy, and virtually none in your garden / yard.  You are not allowed, by law, a fence higher than one meter in the front, and two meters in the back.  This does not provide much privacy, either.

These are fancy new build Council houses in Perthshire :: how about those beautiful big front yards!

What I have always been amazed about is how docile and complacent people are here when it comes to things like this.  They accept that this is the standard of living here, and don't seem to mind.  Compared with other countries in Europe and certainly America, the standard of living is quite low, at least in the Highlands.  Also in the Highlands, a lot of the older houses are very run down and in some cases nearly derelict.  I suspect this is true all over the UK.  The windows and doors are rotten, or if they are new PVC ones, they are badly fitted; there are houses without showers; there is little or no insulation (our house has very little insulation -- that's on the list to be dealt with).   House sizes are tiny; heating is often either inadequate or expensive --and open coal fires with back boilers are considered "central heating"; choices are very limited. 

This is from an advertisement explaining why you should consider buying "small single" and "small double" beds.

If I am being harsh in my assessment off the British / Scottish property market, consider that the average three-bedroom house size in Germany is 1173 square feet; in the Netherlands it is 1237 square feet; in Australia it is 2002 square feet; and in the US it is 2687 square feet.  Pretty amazing, isn't it? 

I have been following the real estate here for several years, and intensively for the last two or three.  The average house price in Scotland last year was over £200K.  You are not getting much for your money, in my opinion.

Another example of how the UK compares with other countries' house sizes.
Pretty pathetic, isn't it?

To all of my American friends who think living in the UK is like living in a fairytale, consider these things.  You will not find anything like what you are used to.  Of course every country has its good points and bad points.  Personally, I consider the housing situation in the UK to be a very large bad point.  On top of that, there is almost no private rental market.  The government / council manages most of the rental properties, and there is a stringent list of requirements to "get a house" -- mostly you have to be on every benefit under the sun (the UK now has over 35 different benefits you can draw), not working, and basically a drain on society to get a Council or Authority house.  Finally, add to this mess of a housing market the fact that there is a huge housing shortage all over the country, and especially in the Highlands.

A lovely little shoebox living room.  Not enough space to turn around in.

It's a lot to think about.  How to fix it?  I can't even imagine.  It has been a problem for years and years.  I feel compelled to talk about it because there are so many misconceptions by foreigners about life in the UK, and especially in Scotland.  We do not live in castles and big houses, or cute little thatched cottages.  Most of us live quite poorly by the standards of other western nations. 

The challenge is to move outside of the mould and make a real home, whatever the external circumstances.  I would like to encourage women to take a good look at their houses and really consider how to make them a home.  The home should be the most important aspect of a society, and we can only manage our own homes.  It IS a challenge, but it's essential, and worth it!

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