We like to think that we live in a democracy. We revere universal suffrage. Through elections, we like to think that we have a say in the running of our country but when it comes to choosing a new home, many of us have very little say or no say at all. Sometimes, one member of a household bluntly announces that he/she has just seen the “perfect” home and has bought it without anyone else having a look in.
Children are, of course, excluded from the decision of where a new home should be. You might agree that it is the parents’ responsibility to make this choice but they regularly base it on their own needs and requirements. They do take into account school catchment areas, convenient bus routes, proximity to friends and family and the need for a good size garden but this often satisfies their own aspirations rather than their children’s. At times, they “assume” rather than know what’s wanted. Kids are often more interested in the availability of the highest speed broadband, mobile phone signal strength or how fast the nearest pizza delivery service is. Whilst these may sometimes be the concern of parents, at best, lip service is paid to children’s own views.
Teenagers, even those of voting age, are not reluctant to make their feelings known. They would prefer to move to California or Mallorca. They want a garage for the car that they cannot yet drive or want an annex that is both soundproof and a parental access exclusion zone (on reflection, it may be their parents who want the soundproofing!). Finally, they say: “We don’t want to move at all! And that’s final!” As these teenage requests are so extreme, they are ignored, the justification being that “They’ll be moving out soon...hopefully!” so another swathe of the population is excluded from participation in decisions.
Another part of the family that rarely get a look is our pets. There are about 20 million dogs and cats in Britain and they are never consulted about where they are going to live, even though they are such deeply valued members of the family.
Owners like to think that they know what’s best for them: away from busy roads, near a good vet, plenty of open spaces, a balcony if the new home is a flat and trees in the garden. But these are what owners want rather than the pets themselves. A cat prefers a few mice or dogs to chase, adoring neighbours who provide milk and food, a cuddle and a tummy scratch and a hiding place where it can disappear for a few days, its absence causing untold worry to its owners.
A dog, on the other hand, may just want neighbours endlessly willing to throw balls or sticks. This is a selling point yet to feature in estate agents’ particulars. Other common pets, like rabbits, should think themselves lucky to have their hutches uprooted and plonked down in a new environment with little thought to sun direction, prevailing winds etc. Their opinions are seldom known and never sought. Horses – and there 1.4 million of them in the UK – do seem to have a little more say.
Owners recognise and accept their need for stabling and paddock and, if these are not part of the new home property, will look for convenient, quality facilities for them. Mind you, with an annual spend on equine accessories at over £4bn (nearly £3,000 per horse per year), it may be that such a huge investment is simply worth looking after.
On balance, it’s not really surprising that so many opinions are ignored. After all, the dominant party in any household is quite likely to make a decision to move unilaterally (and often selfishly). This probably explains why straight after moving into a new home, you can often hear the shriek of “I never wanted to move here in the first place” reverberating down the street.
As in all democracies, we don’t always get what we’d bargained for.
Robin and Patricia Silver are owners of The Home store at Salts Mill, Saltaire. www.thehomeonline.co.uk