With increasing property prices, where will the next generation live, Amanda Lia asks. 

On a small island like ours, where land is a limited resource, property can make for a good discussion (or argument) over drinks with friends.

For anyone who is in search of a new home, this is already a stressful time period – with all the property visits, endless communication with estate agents, owners, banks and architects. Those of us who have left the house-hunting days behind, can probably vouch for that.

Now, property prices have experienced a steep increase, sometimes to an extent where it’s no longer affordable to own or rent a property. Statistics published in a recent Eurostat survey revealed that Maltese people leave home at the average age of 30.7 years, which is more than the EU average of 25.1 years. What is surprising is how they’re leaving home at all with the current cost of property. This, not excluding the fact that living with your parents is mostly cost-free and, let’s all admit it, comfortable.

Albeit different, the difficulty for people to own property didn’t just make the headlines today. Speaking to my parents who managed to buy relatively cheaper land in the 1980s, they assure me that at the time, it wasn’t as easy as they make it seem today. True, you could get quite the piece of land back in the day. However, they toiled months on end to build a house. Weekends, holidays, travelling and other luxuries were not on their agenda. Especially given that most of the work was done either by themselves or by other family members pitching in. This was not something unique to my family – it seems to have been the norm at the time.

Presently, getting your own parcel of land is short of impossible. It’s already extremely difficult to find a small apartment you can afford, let alone an empty space where you can build the house of your dreams. Future generations will probably have to adapt to city-style living, compact, high density and efficient spaces – characteristics that 1980s (and earlier) housings clearly did not have.

Property ownership is ingrained in our society and this has, until now, benefited people greatly as it increased their material wealth and gave them a certain level of comfort and peace of mind. Even if they had to go through a difficult patch in life, ending up on the streets would be highly improbable.

Perhaps contributing to this shift is the mentality of millennials and Gen-Z to forego the hard work and sacrifice that goes with owning a house

Yet in Malta and beyond, we are seeing some changing patterns when it comes to property ownership. This is partly driven by affordability, or lack thereof. In some cities (like London), you need to be part of the top 10 per cent privileged cohort to afford property. Cities like San Francisco in the US are seeing a huge shortage of teaching and nursing staff. Wages in these sectors have not kept up with the increase in property cost. This seems to be the path on which Malta is embarked upon and it may not bode well, even given how critical certain professions are.

Perhaps contributing to this shift is the mentality of millennials and Gen-Z to forego the hard work and sacrifice that goes with owning a house. This, in exchange of richer lifestyles, travels and gadgets on which they spend most of their earnings. A house may be perceived as something that ties you down; eating away at your time and money. Some prefer spending their wages on their next exotic and Instagrammable vacation.

This changing pattern has brought with it the rise of property sharing and co-living. Although this was unusual in Malta up until a couple of years ago, co-living is now common for a lot of young foreigners coming to Malta and Maltese teens who go abroad to study or gain work experience. Sharing your house with someone other than your family, would have been unthinkable some years back. For many, the house is still a sacred and private haven. Yet, do you remember the infamous kerrejjiet? True, they weren’t known for their luxury, privacy or hygiene. But even so, it was a co-shared living space for many families.

Are we going backwards then? Although the current co-living experiences are clearly a major upgrade from the kerrejjiet, getting used to this kind of living may turn out to be a must and not an option. Would that be something bad? If the next generation wouldn’t be able to afford something they could call their own, perhaps yes. Especially if it’s the result of a mismatch between the desire and the ability to earn enough to achieve your goal.

At this rate, it will only get harder to make it on the property ladder. Wages do not seem to have kept up with the increase in property prices. This is something we constantly talk about but now need to consider. Better yet, our current policy makers could, by helping ensure a certain level of security for future generations. Otherwise, where will the next generation live?