Dr Michaela Benson from Goldsmiths explains how our housing needs change through life and why the concept of a forever home is often not realistic.
Interview with Dr Michaela Benson
It's our second chat with sociologist Dr Michael Benson. Last time she shared five common traits of self-builders.
Comfort, sanitation and security are the basics
In Western society the vast majority of houses provide a simple level of comfort, clean drinking water, adequate sewage disposal, and a safe environment in which to live.
So houses tend to have bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and whatever space we deem necessary for the lives we want to lead.
Relationships with people have a significant impact on our needs
Whether we are living alone, sharing with others, bringing up a young family or maintaining independence in dotage, our needs vary tremendously.
In addition to the amount of space we require, location is often a key consideration (to be close to a workplace or good school).
A feeling of being at home can be expressed in many ways
Michaela and Ben contrast their experiences of childhood homes. While Michaela moved house every 18 months from birth to age 11 (owing to her father's work), Ben has only known one family home his whole life.
Michaela wonders whether Ben might be trying to create this secure and stable environment with his self build home.
Extending or relocating can help a growing family's need for more space
Ben explains how his family home was a cottage initially, but it got extended once in the '70s and once in the '90s.
Michaela comments: “I don’t think it’s uncommon that certain types of houses have that capacity. They have the space in which to grow with the family. And quite often people might move into them with the intention of their house growing, which I think is a lovely analogy for thinking about a family as well.”
As this is not possible with a lot of properties, people are more likely to scale up through the housing ladder.
Self build homes give us the opportunity to plan for the future
Different people create their homes in different ways. Some live in the moment while others plan for the short, medium or long term.
Michaela reflects on some of the research she carried out with self-builders: “It depends what the project is imagined to become, in some respects. You’d get everything from people who were very, very detailed, almost scenario building – ‘what happens if …? Would this house be able to accommodate us if such and such happened?’”
Sometimes people who have retired might have a plan for transforming the house as they become less mobile.
Attachment to our homes can prolong downsizing
Everyone has their own opinion of what is too big or two small, but if an occupant has been living in a dwelling the chances are they are used to having that space.
Michaela says: “Retirement’s a useful transition to think with, which is why I keep returning to it. What do we want our retirement to look like? What do we want our house to look like, in order to facilitate that?
As it turns out, there were quite a high percentage of people that I worked with, who had built at retirement. Thinking about ‘I’m not going to be going out to work anymore. What are the things that I want to be doing on a day to day basis?’”
Affordability is causing us to reconsider how we live
We are seeing a rise of people sharing houses who are not married or in relationships. They are simply sharing to make things more affordable.
Whether an active decision or something that is thrust upon us, three or more generations of a family living in a large house can provide a good support network.
Cohousing can provide a strong support network
With fears about becoming isolated during old age and perhaps a lack of nearby family, cohousing is another alternative that's becoming popular.
Michaela explains that it can take many forms: “We’re also seeing, particularly in London, an increase in young people living together, not necessarily cohousing with all the rules that go around that, and living together for far longer than we might have assumed through the student living type of model.”
Our housing ‘plans' can change in a short space of time
Just because we live a certain way now, it doesn't mean that it's guaranteed to continue.
Relationships, work and other opportunities or setbacks may influence where we go next.
Home ownership is still a prevailing aspiration
In the UK, this has been an aspiration for many years. Yet this should not be confused with how people want to live.
People who self build stay in their homes for longer
Compared with people who are buying a house on the open market, self-builders have to make far fewer compromises over what they get from their houses. Often it’s about having that control over how the house functions.
So, if the house lives up to expectations and provided the needs don’t radically change, then you could see why they might stay for longer.
The obvious exceptions are people who are building a house as a means to climb the housing ladder. They want to live in the house for a while but see it just as a stepping stone to the next self-build, the one that they really want!
Find out more
Download a transcript of the interview with Michaela Benson.
What Ben loves about his current home
Ben has lived in a small Victorian mid terrace home for nearly 13 years. As he prepares to leave it, he's decided to record a couple of videos on some of his favourite aspects. This one is all about space (it has a floor area of 60m2).