Home truths: Looking for a home to call their own

By Andrew Laxon

How hard is it to buy your first home in Auckland today? Three house hunters tell Andrew Laxon their stories.

Gemma Mann and Mike Alsweiler

Gemma: Aged 28, pre-school teacher

Mike: Aged 28, cabinetmaker

Price cap: $600,000

Deposit: $90,000 (with Kiwisaver)

Joint income: $110,000-$120,000 (about $1500 a week after tax)

Living in: Te Atatu, West Auckland

Looking in: West Auckland, 2-3 bedrooms

Living and working: Mike and Gemma live with their 7-month-old baby Harper in a three-bedroom rental in Te Atatu, paying $495 a week.

She teaches at the Fire Station Early Learning Centre, nearby on Te Atatu peninsula. He works as a cabinetmaker in Avondale. They also run their own furniture business, Fox and Rabbit, out of their garage.

Personal background: "We've lived in Auckland our whole lives," says Gemma. "We're born and bred in West Auckland." The couple met through Gemma's sister, whose boyfriend worked with Mike, and set them up. They have been together for eight years.

They almost bought a house in Ranui five years ago for $300,000 but decided not to as Gemma was starting university for her preschool teaching qualification. Now that house costs more than $600,000 "and in those five years our income hasn't really gone up that much".

House preferences: Ideally they'd like a three-bedroom house, as they want to have another child. Mike wants a shed or garage to work in and Gemma wants a lawn where children can play.

They're prepared to look anywhere in West Auckland but are finding it tough. "The suburbs that we used to look in we can no longer afford," says Gemma. "We used to look in Massey and Ranui but now we can't really afford that."

Their parents tell them they should settle for a cheaper compromise just to get on the property ladder - they can always trade up in a couple of years - but they want to put down some roots.

They don't want to move to South Auckland, because it's too far to travel to their jobs, especially with a baby. "Everything we know is out here," says Mike. "We love living here. We'd love to buy a home out here."

Search methods: Mainly TradeMe, but also realestate.co.nz. They have found searching difficult, as properties often appear to be within their price range but turn out to be far too expensive.

Finances: Mike and Gemma have bank approval to buy at $550,000 but think they will need at least $600,000 to find a suitable house. They are more worried about their ability to repay the mortgage. They calculate they will have only $200 a week left after mortgage repayments of more than $700 a week and other weekly expenses.

"The reality is that we can't stretch ourselves too thin because what happens if the car breaks down or you need to buy extra food?" says Gemma. "Sometimes we've had to wonder if it's worth it to be that financially stretched, just to have a house. I mean we want it, so badly, but at what cost?"

How are you finding it so far? Gemma: "You talk to older people of our parents' age and they say it was hard in their day to buy a home. I understand that it probably was, but the reality is that mums back then got to stay home."


Cecile Bourgeois

French teacher Cecile is struggling to find an affordable property in Auckland. Photo / Nick Reed
French teacher Cecile is struggling to find an affordable property in Auckland. Photo / Nick Reed

Cecile: Aged 39

School teacher, Western Springs College

Price cap: $480,000

Deposit: $48,000

Income: $74,000 ($1050 weekly net after tax and deductions -- paid as $2100 fortnightly)

Living in: Hillcrest, North Shore

Looking in: North Shore, West Auckland, 2 bedrooms

Living and working: Cecile lives by herself in a two-bedroom flat in Hillcrest, on the North Shore. Her rent has just gone up from $390 to $410. She drives across the Harbour Bridge each day to her job as a French teacher at Western Springs College.

Personal background: Born in Paris, Cecile qualified as a teacher in England and moved to NZ seven years ago, inspired by the Lord of the Rings films. She used to live in a central Auckland apartment but has become a convert to the Shore's parks and beaches.

House preferences: She wants a two-bedroom house, as she would like to start a family, plus outside space for a dog. She thought she had found the perfect unit in Birkdale but the $3500-a-year body corporate fees were too high. Though the Shore remains her first preference, she is looking in West Auckland - Te Atatu, New Lynn and Henderson - but not down south.

"I am not prepared to live in the south of Auckland, even though I've heard it's going up. Every day there is something going on down south in the news. I have lived in the south, I've taught in the south, I just don't like it."

Search methods: Mainly Trade Me. She has been looking since October last year but started more seriously when her landlord put the rent up. She finds house hunting difficult because the real asking price is often much higher than advertised. "They look amazing and affordable when I first see them on Trade Me, then I contact the agent - it's always price by negotiation - and ask what's the minimum they want and that's when it's: "Nah, it's over what I can afford."

Finances: Her bank would only lend her about $300,000, so she approached a mortgage broker, who thought he could get her approval for $480,000. She can only provide a 10 per cent deposit ("I can't get 20 per cent") and is hoping to keep her repayments below $500 a week. However this will be a stretch, even on a 30-year term and at current low interest rates below 5 per cent. If she aims to pay off the loan in 25 years (when she will be 64), the repayments will be closer to $600 a week and more than half her income.

How are you finding it so far? "It's not fun. I'm over it, seriously. I feel poor. It's just the increase in the prices in Auckland. It's just gone high, so fast. I can't compete with that. I can't save enough if it keeps increasing My salary doesn't change.

"I can always change areas, I can always go a one-bedroom for a while and then set up again. But if I can't get to the first house, I can't do anything. "Maybe I'm too picky, I don't know. My deputy principal says you have to find something you're happy with. You can always eat baked beans on toast for a year."

Bharat Bhushan and Lovely Garg

Bharat and Lovely feel this is their only chance to enter the housing market. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Bharat and Lovely feel this is their only chance to enter the housing market. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Bharat: Aged 31, IT worker

Lovely: Aged 27, currently early childhood worker

Price cap: $600,000

Deposit: $60,000

Income: $95,000 (his salary only, $5400 monthly after tax and Kiwisaver)

Living in: Auckland CBD (now in Blockhouse Bay)

Looking in: Central and West Auckland, 2-3 bedrooms

Living and working: Bharat and Lovely have been living in a small one-bedroom apartment off Queen St, paying $435 a week in total rent ($375 rent plus $60 parking). When these interviews took place, they were about to move to a three-bedroom rental in Blockhouse Bay costing $625 a week, because Bharat's mother, brother and sister were coming from India to live with them.

Bharat works in Grafton for Wex, an international company providing software solutions for fleet car fuel cards. Lovely works at an early childhood centre in the city but wants a job as a health analyst, her former career in India. She has an MBA and a Masters degree in biotechnology but has struggled to find work in her chosen field as she lacks Kiwi experience.

Personal background: Bharat worked as an IT engineer in India and moved here in 2013 after debating between NZ and Canada. He met Lovely through an online marriage portal, their relationship developed and she came here in October 2014.

House preferences: Bharat and Lovely want a two-bedroom place (ideally three if they can afford it) to house Bharat's family from India in the short term and start a family in a year or two. At first they were keen to live in a small townhouse or apartment within a 12km radius of the city, having rejected the idea of a bigger property in South Auckland because it involved too much commuting.

But by our second interview they have gone off apartments - especially after learning about Auckland's leaky building problems - and are prepared to look further west and south at brand new developments. Unfortunately this has also pushed up the budget. The couple are now considering terraced homes in Sunrise Terrace, Sunnyvale, from about $625,000, or the Addison project in Takanini, from $640,000 to $660,000. Bharat particularly likes the West Edge development near the New Lynn shopping centre but at $720,000 starting prices, the couple admit they can't afford it.

Search methods: Mainly TradeMe. They are waiting for Bharat's Kiwisaver to become available for a home deposit in July but are actively looking so they can make a move as soon as the money is available.

Finances: Bharat has talked to ANZ about pre-approval and thinks they can get $550,000 (this later increases to about $600,000). He only recently found out about the Kiwisaver rules for first home buyers and learned he could use $10,000 from July, when he will have been a member for three years. The couple have $40,000 saved now. They think they can add about $10,000 from friends and family, plus the $10,000 from Kiwisaver, making $60,000 for a deposit of about 10 per cent. They are not relying on Lovely's pay, as she works on a casual basis, averaging $1000 to $1500 a month. This might increase substantially if she got a health analyst job but could also reduce if they start a family soon.

They calculate that they will be paying close to $2700 a month in rent anyway at their new Blockhouse Bay house, so they may as well pay a bit more - probably about $3100 a month - for a place of their own. That figure will be close to 60 per cent of their regular income, but they think it's worth it. "I know, it sounds crazy but we don't have any other option, to be frank with you," says Bharat.

Lovely adds; "We are already paying someone else's mortgage."

How are you finding it so far? Bharat: "If we don't enter the market now then I think we'll be too late. Because I think the market is already burning, the rates are very high everywhere. It's the worst thing in Auckland right now - the properties are going up so much I think if it remains like this, (the average) will touch a million.That's what is haunting us."

Meet the experts

The Herald has invited three property experts to advise our house hunters - and readers - on how to find your first home and what to watch out for in an overheated housing market.

Shamubeel Eaqub. Photo / NZME
Shamubeel Eaqub. Photo / NZME

Shamubeel Eaqub is an independent economist and has a strong interest in affordable housing issues. His book Generation Rent: Rethinking New Zealand's Priorities, last year argued that rising prices were locking a generation of New Zealanders out of home ownership, with potentially disastrous consequences for society and the economy. A former principal economist at NZIER, he is a regular media commentator on a wide range of subjects.

Andrea Rush. Photo / Ted Baghurst
Andrea Rush. Photo / Ted Baghurst

Andrea Rush is national spokeswoman for Quotable Value New Zealand (QV), a state-owned enterprise that supplies property valuations on a commercial basis. She appears regularly in the media on the state of the property market, advising buyers and sellers on the latest trends.

John Gray. Photo / Janna Dixon
John Gray. Photo / Janna Dixon

John Gray is the president of the Home Owners and Buyers Association of New Zealand (Hobanz), an advocacy and education organisation that represents consumers. He came to national prominence as a voice for change during the leaky-building crisis a decade ago and continues to advocate for reform on issues affecting buyers and owners.

- NZ Herald

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