Welcome to the final part of my notes on How to Live Mortgage Free. This six-part series was presented by property expert Sarah Beeny for Channel 4. The show was designed to provide alternatives to traditional buying and selling because the UK market has got so expensive.
This show is for you if you don’t qualify for a mortgage or simply want financial freedom, and if you’re handy and dream about designing every aspect of your home. Skip to the series winners at the bottom for more on the previous episodes, and to compare these to the traditional route.
How to Live Mortgage Free Episode 6
Here’s the finales suggestions for alternative living:
Unsure whether you have no choice but to go mortgage free? Then you should read this mighty trifecta to work out what you can afford:
If you wanted to live in a caravan, you’d probably be doing it already; I hear your pain. I only love to go camp if I’m wearing a pearl earring, but apparently this is nothing to do with pitching a tent. (I heard that’s what Sara Lee said, anyway).
Newlyweds Jono and Charlie live in more than just a caravan though.
Have I mentioned the producers LOVE temporary dwellings? One reason why is because you can upcycle almost any structure.
Jono and Charlie found a portable caravan on a building site and joined it to a static office (three structures overall) to form a two bed homestead.
The savings: The cladding was tin off old farm buildings.The porch was made from telegraph poles left in a field. The windows were secondhand and old shutters became a bathroom door; they bought them before deciding what to do with them. Jono’s friend breaks up aircraft, so he got them aircraft insulation; it’s very thin and therefore easy to put inside caravan walls.
Total costs: “Less than” £40000. On average to build your own traditional two bed would rack up £80000-£100000.
Another caravan, but bearing no resemblance to the first example.
Like 42% of marriages, Tom’s ended in divorce. This has quite the impact on UK property.
The 36 year old project manager rented a two bed house in Litchfield for £12000 per year including bills so his daughter could stay three nights a week. After seven years he’d shelled out £84000 with no one to pay half anymore. His solution was to convert an Airstream caravan.
Tom squeezed a bedroom, walk-in wardrobe bathroom, lounge and kitchen into a 34 foot long space (one quarter of the size of his rented house). He didn’t own much and built lots of storage for his daughter (age nine). When she stays, Tom can sleep on a daybed, turning the lounge into a second bedroom. He was going to add an extra counter to conceal the kitchen (no one wants to sleep in a kitchen!).
The (space) savings: The 225 sq ft kitchen has fridge drawers, but a full-sized hob and sink. The oven is inside a cabinet and the tap folds down. The double bed has storage ottamans either side and lifts up for more storage.
Their breakfast counter is based on a drop leaf table with storage underneath to house the TV on one side and Katie’s homework on the other.
Architect Damion suggested turning the hallway into a wet room. The toilet and shower are behind waterproof doors that can be swung out to fill the width of the caravan, blocking off the bedroom on one side and the kitchen on the other and doubling the size of the bathroom when needed.
To do the same
Static caravans have residential permission on site and cost £50-100000 to buy depending on size, spec and location. Tom’s caravan cost far less though and it came from abroad.
You can only rent to live in one full time if you have a permanent address. Otherwise caravan parks are seasonal, open 9-11 months per year and you have to move every 28 days.
To park a caravan outside a house it can’t be beyond the garden/drive, or on a main road, and must be used by family/guests and not as a dwelling of its own.
Total costs: £35k – overbudget, but with a quality finish.
The original budget was £11k including shipping for an Airstream caravan from the US, and £15000 to do the refit himself.
Tom’s site charges £500pm which I thought was still steep to be forking out every month. He has a boiler for hot water, or can use the campsite facilities.
One more time!
Mike and Jan wanted to quit teaching one Friday night. They put a deposit on a boat on Saturday and handed in their notices on Monday. They got rid of a lot of stuff they were hoarding, but still have comforts like a washing machine, tumble dryer and top internet.
The bathroom runs the whole width of the boat. Lots of boats have daybeds, but they have a permanent bedroom because they were planning to stay in one spot. With the extra time Jan now writes children books (six published in the eight years since buying the boat) and Mike has recorded three albums.
Total costs: £60000 for a narrow boat that needed no work, so expect to pay a fraction for a fixer upper. They sold a house with £90000 profit first, so they had a large savings buffer. Otherwise they live off Jan’s teacher’s pension and Mike’s royalties from occasionally publishing music.
They didn’t want to have to move regularly, so they pay £360pm for mooring with services like waste, water, and electricity. Their boating licence is £75pm. Insurance unspecified.
So…Tom and Emily managed to get on the ladder before they married in 2007, meaning they already had mortgages. A friend said he was paying back £2.50 for every £1 of his mortgage, making them realise they wanted to be mortgage free.
Step 1: Get another mortgage. (Oh, crap…)
Step 2: Make sure the mortgage is on a property with a massive drive. Tom and Emily bought a bigger house together in Sheffield on a 95% mortgage, so they could use £100k profit on selling their previous houses towards building next to their new home.
Step 3: Add a £40k loan to your building funds
Step 4: Get planning permission for your eco house
Step 5: Move in and change the first mortgage to buy to let
Step 6: Sell the ecohouse for over double what it cost to build and make £300000 profit
Step 7: Go to Shropshire. Buy a 200 year old three bed coachhouse with outbuildings with cash…
Well, it’s one way of doing things.
Total costs: £275k. £135k for the Sheffield house, £140k to build the neighbour property. The couple succeeded before turning 30. Good for them. Sucks to be us?
Workers spend up to 48% of their take home pay on their mortgage in London, or 30% outside of London.
Architect Dominic got around this by building two four-storey houses in Dalston on a disused car park with another architect friend. The land was covered in rubbish with the for sale sign buried. They used 1700 tonnes of concrete to build the 3000 sq ft homes because it was cheap, very durable and gains strength over time. It also has a 100 year life compared to other materials and is energy efficient and sustainable.
To do the same: 30% of land in UK is unregistered. Use the land registry to find the owners of the rest. Concrete is still three times cheaper than bricks and mortar.
Timescale: It took them seven or eight years from buying the land to finishing, but it all depends on what you have in mind.
The loophole: Dominic did all this when he couldn’t afford a mortgage in the 80s…so expect to pay more for the land today depending on the state of the land. As with the brownfield sites in episode one though, there are possibilities waiting for discovery.
Total costs: £226000. £26000 for the land.
Episode Six Winner For First-time Buyers
I vote for Jono and Charlie’s caravan conversion if you can befriend a farmer for some land first.
Otherwise I think the narrowboat beats the Airstream as the monthly costs of parking the Airstream are higher than some rents/mortgage payments. You could also DIY a far cheaper boat.
So which options were the most viable for first time buyers?
Cheapest: Phil and Poppy’s mobile home for £2880 in episode five.
Cheapest if you don’t have access to land: £20000 for a double decker in episode five, or a boat like Edward and Pamela’s in episode three.
Cheapest for a “traditional” house: the £1 ex-council homes which are really £31k in episode two. I have a follow up to this based off another Channel 4 series, so subscribe if that intrigues you and I’ll delight your inbox when it’s ready.
Quickest: Mike and Jan’s £60k readymade narrowboat (especially if you choose this option today and put a deposit down tomorrow like they did!)
Number of cases who already owned property: 14
Most featured example: temporary dwellings. In the programme’s defence, you could convert a wide variety of structures under these laws. Since you can apply for a permanent dwelling after five years, I don’t know that temporary is even the right word for them either. Do you think five years is a long time?
How To Live Mortgage Free
In the intro for this ep, Sarah says it’s normal to have a “huge” debt, i.e on average people owe more than £100000 over 35 years. Quite a few options on the show were even pricier than this without spreading the cost like a mortgage.
However, those who spent more on projects from scratch wouldn’t have been able to buy an equivalent property for those prices, so it’s swings and roundabouts. Whether you end up on wheels, water, or foundations, the case studies on the show are only guides. The real cost of doing similar projects depends on your ability to find land, how much you want to spend inside and how handy you are.
In part one of this series I said that I nearly went mortgage free because I thought I wouldn’t have a choice. I proved myself and others wrong, but even after I got my mortgage offer, I was still intrigued by other ways of living.
I still love watching shows like George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces and My Flat Pack Home (very retro!). I even considered a tiny home experiment in the Californian town where I went to college for a year. Who knows if I’ll pursue that again.
So why didn’t I go mortgage free?
- I wanted to live a certain distance from family in the South East and struggled to find suitable land with or without planning permission that I could afford.
I looked for brownfield sites and tin churches and came up with nothing in the small radius I had set. If your family are more spread out, or you’re not concerned about being close to elderly parents then you could look further afield.
I don’t regret having this restriction as I think if your priority is family then it’s worth compromising on the property as it’s easy to underestimate the impact of isolating yourself (or your relatives) on your wellbeing.
- If I had tried harder, I might have ended up building a temporary dwelling. I grew up near farms galore. I didn’t go knocking on doors though, as I also knew it was a priority for me to establish myself somewhere less remote.
It gets slightly apocalyptic if it snows or floods in my childhood village. I didn’t fancy stranding myself in a field reliant on a car when I dislike driving at the best of times. What suits me might not suit you.
- Like most sensible people I have a phobia of drowning, but I’m far too anxious to live on water. I blame this on years of teaching myself to run towards things that scare me. Great for personal development, not good for actual survival.
- I looked long and hard at a prefab house, but the cost of land in my neck of the woods made the saving on the house itself irrelevant. This was because I was impatient and could only find very large parcels of land on sale aimed at corporate developers. Again, if I had taken more time, or knocked on doors, I might have been able to snatch up something more compact.
How to afford a mortgage
The question then is how did I afford not to go mortgage free?
Three things had to happen.
First, I had to up my income. I negotiated a pay rise and worked a side hustle.
Second, I went on my most serious spending ban ever. Compound interest became my friend.
Thirdly, I had a serious think about my wish list and concluded a smaller house without a back garden was enough space for my plans.
My family watch the same crafty shows as me, but always with the thought that building alternative homes is a fun but time consuming thing that other people do. Good for them, but it’s not for us. Although I’m the maverick of the family, I wasn’t ready to commit to a different route either.
I did however find a fixer upper at the bottom of the market in the town I really wanted to live in, so I did end up with a project after all.
What about the bank?
To boost your chances of getting a mortgage:
Do whatever you can to increase your income
Aim for the highest LTV % possible with your deposit
Choose a low risk property
(So no tin churches if going the mortgage route).
What about financial freedom?
I’m still working, so let’s shelve this question until I’m not perhaps. Then maybe we’ll talk about how nice it would have been to quit so early in life? Depends on how much you love your work. I still feel financially free, but that’s explained in this post:
So what do you think? Do any of these seem more attractive than hooking up with mortgage lenders? Would you rather have financial freedom or a “normal” house? Would you learn how to build if it was going to save you thousands? Do you know anyone who deserved to be on the show? I’m not telepathic despite wishing, so tell me in the comments.
If you’ve plenty of time on your hands, you can watch How to Live Mortgage Free with Sarah Beeny on All4 for free. You’ll also find How to Live Mortgage Free on Netflix if entertainment is one of your spending priorities.