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The price of a home in Britain - then and now

Posted on 22 August 2016

70 years of British house prices - from £750 to £200,000+

It’s hard to believe how much house prices have rocketed over the years.

Just before WWII, most new houses sold for less than £750. We’ve found reports of a North London semi-detached being bought for £850, that’s around £50,000 in today’s money. You’d be lucky to find a shed for that in London now! The average house in the UK today will set you back a whopping £211,000.

The British obsession with owning our home came to the fore in the latter half of the last century. From the early 1950s to early 1970s, home ownership jumped from around 30% to over 50%, and it’s now close to 65%.

So when did house prices rise to such high levels, and have our wages ever been enough to get us on the ladder? We take a look back at how we lived over the last 70 years.

1950s average house price - £1,891

In the 1950s, the average cost of a house was just under £2000 and the average worker took home around £10 a week. So buying a house was no mean feat even then.

children-playing-in-front-of-bombed-terraces

If you could afford to buy a house in the 1950s, it was likely to be a new one. Half a million homes had been destroyed by German bombing, so when the war came to an end, houses had to be built, and fast. The result was pre-fab houses and brand new estates on the outskirts of our cities.

an-estate-of-pre-fab-houses

The first pre-fabs went up in June 1945, just a few weeks after the war had ended. Built in just 40 man-hours (often by prisoners of war), they came with hot water, heating and newly fitted kitchens and bathrooms. They became fondly known as the “people’s palaces” and, although they were meant as a temporary solution, some are still standing today.

The new houses of the 1950s must have seemed like the height of luxury compared to the bombed terraces and slum conditions many families had been living in.

This was the time when Brits everywhere were introduced to the joys of going to the toilet inside – and having proper toilet paper when they got there!

birds-eye-view-of-terraced-housing-with-outside-toilets

The 1950s also introduced us to life-changing inventions such as the electric fire, washing machine and every mother’s favourite - the fish finger.

1960s average house price £2,530

In the 1960s, house prices continued to rise along with the average income, which now stood at £960 per year. 

There was also a new solution to the post war housing shortage: the tower block. At the time, these giant concrete ‘streets in the sky’ were magical and mod-con-crammed, making them another welcome alternative to the terraced homes that once lay beneath.

1960s-London-tower-block-with-low-rise-flats-in-foreground

But mod-cons weren’t just reserved for those in the high rises. For the first time, virtually all houses in Britain had electricity, and most of us had a refrigerator, cooker, and a TV.

Television really came into its own in the sixties. At the start of the decade, three quarters of the British population had a TV and by the end of it most households had one. Even better, by the end of the decade, some of us were watching it in full colour.

woman-in-sixties-shift-dress-changing-channel-on-a-tv-set

1970s average house price - £4975

The 70s was a rocky decade. Widespread unrest and hardship on the one hand and a boom in home ownership on the other. This is when the mortgage market took off and house prices flew. At the start of the decade the average house price was £4,975. By the end, that figure had quadrupled to £19,925.

The average earnings climbed too, but this was when the gap between wage and house prices began growing wider and wider.

Inside our houses, the changes were no less dramatic. Coloured suites hit our bathrooms, and pattern was the name of the game. A mind-bendingly patterned wallpaper combined with a mind-bendingly patterned carpet was no crime, in fact it was positively encouraged.

family-sitting-in-a-1970s-lounge-decorated-in-patterned-wallpaper-and-carpet

With new styles came new inventions. In 1974, the first microwave was sold and 4 years later the VHS video recorder meant we never had to miss our favourite TV programme again.

A craze for home exercising took hold. We twisted and toned, exercised in sauna suits and pedaled frantically in our bathrooms.

man-on-exercise-bike-in-a-maroon-patterned-bathroom

1980s average house price - £39,500

Come the 1980s, everything changed again. Margaret Thatcher gave people the right to buy their council houses and house prices shot up like never before. House prices rose 16% in 1987 and a further 25% in 1988 - the highest rise ever recorded. By 1990 the average home cost £60,000 – twice as much as just 5 years earlier.

Rather than building new houses, the ‘80s was all about converting what was there. Huge redevelopments began in docks across the country, including the London Docklands and Liverpool’s Albert Docks.

dockland-warehouses-being-converted-into-flats-in-1980

Inside our homes a new form of entertainment took over - the home computer. 80s kids everywhere will remember the delights of the Amstrad, Commodore and the ZX Spectrum.

young-boy-in-school-inform-playing-a-home-computer

Today’s average house price - £211,000

The markets may have fluctuated over the last 40 years, but the rising house price trend that began in the 70s still continues today.

According to land registry the average house price in May 2016 was an eye watering £211,000, over seven times the average salary of £27,600. Oh, what we would do for an £850 house with a £4 mortgage today!

Can you remember your first home and how much you paid for it? Or how long you had to save to buy? We’d love to hear your stories.

If you found this article interesting, you might also enjoy these memories of life in Britain when you were growing up - High street shops and Playing outdoors.

SunLife offers a range of straightforward and affordable products including over 50s life insurance, funeral plans, life insurance, equity release, pet insurance, home insurance, car insurance, ISAs and Will writing services.

Here's the information that you need to know about who we are and the other companies that we work with in order to provide our products and services.

Who are SunLife? 

Phoenix Life Limited trades as SunLife and is the provider of the Guaranteed Over 50 Plan, SunLife Insurance and the life insurance policy payment option for Funeral Plans. Phoenix Life Limited’s registered office is at 1 Wythall Green Way, Wythall, Birmingham, B47 6WG (registered in England, no. 1016269). Phoenix Life Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority and is entered on the Financial Services Register (registration no. 110418). As part of SunLife’s commitment to quality service and security, telephone calls may be recorded.

SunLife Limited distributes financial products and services and is a company limited by shares, registered office: 1 Wythall Green Way, Wythall, Birmingham, B47 6WG (registered in England, no. 05460862). SunLife Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and is entered on the Financial Services Register (registration no. 769427).

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