Don't move - without reading this

9th May 2003 at 01:00
Teaching jobs are readily available in most parts of the country. Sadly, says Janet Murray, the same can't be said about affordable housing

Have job, will travel; when it comes to geographical location, few professions offer the flexibility of teaching. There are teacher shortages in most areas, so you could take your teaching certificate and set up home in your favourite town or city.

But before you start packing, here is a sobering thought. With a modest starting salary of pound;18,105 - pound;21,522 in inner London - newly qualified teachers must make their salary stretch a long way. And, as living costs continue to outstrip earning power, they may need to target areas where they are lower.

The Teacher Support Network - a charity offering support to teachers, lecturers and their families - regularly receives calls about financial worries. "Many teachers are concerned about the cost of living," says Di Mellish, the network's money adviser.

"This is particularly true for housing hotspots such as London and the South East, Oxford and Cambridge. Nor is is confined to home ownership.

Many teachers find themselves priced out of the private rented sector."

With an additional salary allowance of more than pound;3,000, teaching in London or the south east sounds an attractive prospect. The reality is less appealing.

"Many teachers, particularly NQTs and those without children, are drawn to areas like London," says Ms Mellish. "They are attracted by the availability of jobs and the advantages of living in a big city, but many find they can't then afford to live there."

The additional allowance is often not enough to cover extortionate rents and property prices. But moving to a cheaper location has its own hidden costs - living in a rural area will mean transport costs to and from work, for example.

It could seem tempting to head north, where rents and house prices are traditionally lower. But Malcolm Harrison, of the Association of Renting and Letting Agents (ARLA) says this is now a myth, particularly where renting is concerned.

"Some years back it may have been true to say it was cheaper than the South. Now it is just not the case. Areas like Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester have been redeveloped and have swanky bars and restaurants - which can make for a good social life, but means rents can be just as expensive if not higher than London," he says.

For affordable renting, he recommends areas with varied economic activity.

"This means there will be lots of different kinds of people living and working there and that will be reflected in the prices of property available to rent. In areas like this, you can always find somewhere to suit your pocket. What's more, it will actually be more fun to live there.

"Brighton is a good example - it has a great mix. There is the tourist industry, two universities and the American Express headquarters, so there is a range of affordable properties available. Basingstoke could also be a good bet - it's a modern, well-run town with lots of different economic activity."

And if you do decide to rent, consulting an ARLA letting agent is a must:

"If you use a regulated, professional body, you can guarantee your deposit won't disappear and you won't be faced with hidden costs," he explains.

"You can tell the agent how much you want to pay, they will tell you what is available and talk through things like deposits, retainers and inventories."

But if you are keen to get on the housing ladder, heading north could be a smart move. A report by the Halifax Group plc last year showed house prices in London and the South East stand at more than six and a half times teachers' average pay, compared with slightly more than four times their earnings 10 years ago.

It also showed teachers' annual earnings would need to rise by bertween pound;9,800 and pound;18,750 in southern England to restore the relationship with house prices that existed in 1992. The good news is that housing in the North, Yorkshire and the Humber, the North West and Scotland is more affordable for teachers than it was 10 years ago.

Even so, meeting the costs of a mortgage can stretch a starting salary. One solution is buy-to-let, where you purchase a property intending to rent it out. For some, this is a long-term investment. You can charge enough to cover mortgage and maintenance costs and, in a thriving economic climate, watch the property grow in value.

More commonly, young people are opting to buy a property and rent out spare bedrooms to lodgers or friends, who not only pay rent, but contribute to the cost of bills.

Alistair Brown teaches history in Leicestershire. In his first year , he bought a three-bedroom terraced property in a popular area, close to the city centre with buy-to-let in mind. "I bought the house for pound;55,000 in 1997, when house prices were more reasonable. Now it is worth nearly pound;100,000," he says.

"My parents helped me with the deposit and the mortgage was just about affordable on my own, but I did not want to be constantly worrying about money - I'd had enough of that as a student."

He converted a downstairs room into a bedroom, enabling him to rent three bedrooms to friends and more than cover the cost of his mortgage. "Doing it this way allowed me to save," he explains. "And while I had responsibility for repairs and maintenance, my savings more than covered the costs.

"I am getting married next year, so I plan to sell up and use the profits to buy a bigger house."

Martin Ellis, an economist with Halifax Group, says buy-to-let can be a great way to get a foot on the property ladder, keep living costs down and make money at the same time. "It should free up some of your earnings for disposable income," he explains. "But just make sure you can afford the mortgage and are not stretching yourself too far. Having a mortgage is a big responsibility and if interest rates rise, you have to be certain you can meet the higher rates."

And the ARLA's Mr Harrison warns: "If you can possibly help it, do not rent to friends. If you have to, there should be a tenancy agreement and an inventory, to lower the risk of disputes.

"Do it in the same way you would with a stranger and do not forget that a buy-to-let property is a business investment - even if you are living there too. You would not start a business, then give away all your profits to your friends, so do not let it happen with your house."

He also stresses the need to tell your mortgage and insurance companies if you intend to buy-to-let to ensure you are covered in the event of a claim.

In London and the South East, where it is becoming increasingly difficult for a single person to buy a property, more young people are pooling their resources.

"This is another good way to get your foot on the ladder," says Mr Ellis.

"But again, you do have to be cautious. An agreement like this is not likely to be permanent - inevitably, one person will decide to live with a partner or change geographical area.

"It is vital to have an agreement drawn up with a solicitor outlining what will happen when one person wants to sell."

Find out more

Some local authorities offer recruitment incentives for teachers, including rent and mortgage subsidies, relocation packages and discounted mortgages.To find out what's available, contact local education authorities.

For a full list of contact details for local education authorities, visit dfeelea.htm

To find out about housing schemes in your area and to find out details about shared ownership schemes. visit The Housing Corporation at or call 020 7393 2000.

If you choose to rent a home

it is a good idea to contact your local ARLA letting agent at or call 01923 896555

To find out more about the Starter Home Initiative, visit factsheetstarter

For more information about housing schemes in London, visit or call 020 8850 9686.

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