What Scarlett O’Hara can teach you about buying a house
Welcome to the school of tenacious property owners
Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara: “the land is the only thing that matters because it is the only thing that lasts”.
Yes, there is too much property porn on the TV: the interminable Homes Under the Hammer; the occasionally intriguing if formulaic Grand Designs; the tawdry 60 Minute Makeover and a host of others. The problem though is not really that there are too many property programmes, but that too many of them are limited in the insight that property – an essential part of the human condition – sheds on so many aspects of life.
In this respect, property at the cinema fares a lot better, spanning the range from high comedy, The Moneypit, to psychological drama Pacific Heights. But arguably the greatest film about property ever made is Gone With the Wind.
It’s ironic that this cinematic masterpiece is today mostly remembered for its see-saw love story and Rhett Butler’s parting shot as he disappears into the Georgia mists, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”. For what is really at the heart of the film is a profound contemplation of the importance of owning property – how property can provide you with the emotional strength to see through any disaster in life.
In the case of Scarlett O’Hara these disasters variously include losing her father, husband and child and seeing her home town of Atlanta burn to the ground. Yet she still owns her family estate, Tara, and that sees her through.
I once took a road trip from Florida to Atlanta and as we came marching through Georgia began reading Margaret Mitchell’s novel. She emphasises at the beginning the blood-red earth around Atlanta, symbolic of all the bloodshed that would be spilt over the land during the Civil War: the land around Atlanta literally is red.
It is this wisdom of property ownership which Scarlett O’Hara comes to acquire, allowing her to declare defiantly against a cadmium sunrise, “I’ll start again!”
What is easy to miss about Gone With the Wind though is the strong Irish aspect resonating through every aspect of the novel. Scarlett’s ancestors have themselves been dispossessed of land back in Ireland and now her Irish father is determined that, come what may, that will never happen again. The very estate name “Tara” harks back to the burial ground of Irish Kings.
At the beginning of the film, the wisdom Gerald O’Hara tries to instil in his flibbertigibbet, spoilt brat daughter is understanding the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into the acquisition of Tara and that it should never be let go. As he tells her in the most important line in film, “the land is the only thing that matters because it is the only thing that lasts”.
It is this wisdom of property ownership which “Scarlett O’Hara” comes to acquire through the epic arc of national events and personal tragedy, allowing her at the end of the novel to pick up the earth in her fist and declare defiantly against a cadmium sunrise, “I’ll start again!”
You don’t get this type of insight in Location, Location, Location or 60 Minute Makeover: yet this central meaning of Gone With the Wind applies to anyone who invests in property.
You often read about people investing in property as a pension, or articles tiresomely comparing shares and property as investments. But there is an emotional and psychological aspect to property investment which is hardly ever considered.
We all know that owning property can be a hassle. But owning property can also be a source – Scarlett O’Hara-like – of greater inner strength.
I’ve found in the years that I have built up a portfolio that I derive a considerable confidence and a sense of continuity from it. I might have knock-backs in my personal life, my own body might tilt toward decline, but my property is a rock on which I can fall back upon.
It’s not by accident that many immigrant communities in the UK – such as the Irish and Asian communities – have taken to property investment as a means not just of making money, but of feeling grounded.
The next time you consider investing in a property, consider asking yourself what the emotional and psychological impact on you personally is likely to be. Perhaps you are already confident in yourself and your community, and can see in the prospect of tenants ringing you up at all hours nothing but a burden.
But if owning property offers a tangible expression of achievement in life - if it is something which will provide not just financial security, but a sense of psychological security as well, then you might find that owning property offers you a far more significant relationship than anything you will find described in TV’s property porn or dividend numbers on a spreadsheet.
Owning property can quite literally lead you through the vicissitudes of life, connect you to the world around you, and provide a platform to succeed in many other parts of your life. If that is a belief system that appeals to you, then welcome to the Scarlett O’Hara school of tenacious property owners.
Damian Flanagan is a property developer, writer and critic.