Struggling first-home buyers finally find their West Auckland dream home - for $720,000

By Andrew Laxon

It's taken a couple of years and an extra $120,000 on their original budget, but Gemma Mann and Mike Alsweiler have finally managed to buy their first home.

The west Auckland couple, who featured in the Herald's Home Truths series on housing affordability six months ago, have been struggling to find a place within their budget as prices soared.

"Sometimes we've had to wonder if it's worth it to be that financially stretched, just to have a house," Mann told the Herald in April. "I mean we want it, so badly, but at what cost?"

Now the couple have found a home with everything they wanted - three bedrooms, a double garage with a workshop, renovated open plan kitchen and dining area, plus a fully-fenced section with a heated salt-water pool in the back yard.

Mann said the workshop would be ideal for the couple's furniture-making hobby and the extra bedroom gave them space if they had another child.

When the Herald visited this week, their one-year-old son Harper was already enjoying the run of the 675m2 property in Ranui.

"That was one of the biggest things, having a big back yard," said Mann. "Harper's such a boy's boy and likes to run around."

The only catch for Mann, a 28-year-old pre-school teacher, and Alsweiler, a 29-year-old cabinet-maker, is they had to pay $720,000, well above their original price limit of $600,000.

Alsweiler said they gradually realised that $600,000 was unrealistic for what they wanted for a young family. It also helped that they both got pay rises, which encouraged them to set their budget a little higher.

"We probably paid our top dollar for the house but we got a lot for our money."

He said their mortgage repayments were slightly over $600 a week, which was more than their $495 a week rental in Te Atatu, but they could afford it.

Paying the mortgage was "a bit of a gamble" if interest rates went up sharply, but they were less worried about house prices crashing, as they had no intention of selling in the near future.

Mann said they hadn't suddenly started hoping their house value would go up either, as she thought price levels were ridiculous.

"I still think there's a major problem with housing. We've just managed to get in and we're very grateful."

Her advice to anyone else still looking? Keep saving hard and don't give up.

"I hope it happens for everyone, I really do. Everyone deserves to have a home."

The Herald's Home Truths series highlighted a national crisis in unaffordable housing, particularly in Auckland where a typical house costs about 10 times a typical household's income. Prices have tripled in the last 15 years, while incomes have risen by only two thirds, putting home ownership out of reach for many young people.

Since the series, the Reserve Bank has increased the deposit required by Auckland property investors from 30 to 40 per cent and Auckland Council has passed its Unitary Plan, which allows for an extra 422,000 houses in the city by 2041.

This week Finance Minister Bill English told the Herald that the Government - which has previously mocked Labour for promising to build 100,000 houses - would build an extra 30,000 houses on Housing New Zealand land in Auckland under the Unitary Plan rules.

However the average Auckland house price has also passed the $1 million mark and mortgage payments have increased to a daunting 45.6% of take-home pay for an average young couple trying to buy their first home in the city, according to interest.co.nz's latest Home Affordability Index for August.

Another house hunter from the Home Truths series, Cecile Bourgeois, said prices were even more unrealistic now than they were in April.

"I am currently looking for a one bedroom - which is now the price of what a two bedroom was when you did the interview - in areas where I would not feel safe or happy, so you can imagine the struggle."

She doubted whether she had much chance of buying alone. "Two salaries are needed when it comes to buying a property in Auckland."

- NZ Herald

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