Having never owned a property, should we buy or rent a house in Oxford?

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Q We are two academics – with one child – moving to Oxford after the summer. My partner has a permanent contract in Europe and I will have a full-time position in Oxford for the next three years.

Because of the nature of the academic job market, we have not yet bought a property because we don’t know where I might end up having a permanent position.

However, rent in Oxford is rather high and, together with childcare costs, it will make saving money rather challenging. I am asking myself if it would be worth buying there, instead of renting, in order to save money. We have enough savings for a decent down payment to buy a two-bedroom property with a garden in Oxford.

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The likelihood of us staying in Oxford after this three-year period is close to zero, so we know that we have to face another move (somewhere) in the near future. However, because of the high demand for rental properties in Oxford, I do think that we could rent the property out while we decide where we move next and before selling it down the line.

A I happen to live on a terrace of two-bedroom houses (three with a loft conversion) with a garden in Oxford and I can confirm that renting in Oxford costs a lot. But so, too, does buying – as I can also confirm – because Oxford is one of the most expensive places to buy property outside London. And it’s unlikely to get cheaper as, according to a report in last week’s Oxford Times “house prices in Oxford have increased by more than 12% in the first quarter of the year, making it harder for first-time buyers to get on the property ladder and home owners to move up”.

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A lot depends on where in Oxford you want to buy, so if you pick the right area, it could well be that a two-bedroom house with a garden is an affordable option and given that you are planning to be in the house for at least two years, buying is a sensible choice. It is also a sensible choice in terms of monthly costs as you are right that monthly mortgage payments can often be less than the equivalent amount of rent but a lot depends on the size of mortgage. But that assumes that you can get a mortgage. Because of your unconventional pattern of earnings, you would be well advised to get help from an independent mortgage adviser who knows which lender will lend to people on short-term contracts.

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