Goran Paladin will never forget the deflation he felt when he missed out on a house that went to auction. "You get your hopes up and, in the blink of an eye, they're dashed," says the 34-year-old presenter of Our First Home, which screens Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays at 7.30pm on TV One from tonight.
Having tired of renting three years ago, he looked to buy in his childhood home area of Pakuranga, gradually extending his search to Mt Wellington, Meadowbank, St Johns and Ellerslie and eventually, the North Shore.
After missing out on an auction in Glenfield, he finally bought a three-bedroom ex state house in Birkdale for $400,000.
Paladin lives in the sleepout and has three flatmates in the main house to help pay off the mortgage. Nearly all his spending money goes on his house, reckons the Radio Sport presenter.
So it's no surprise to hear Paladin talk about his first TV role as something akin to a counselling job, as he has inevitably become a sympathetic ear to the families involved. The show follows three young couples over just 10 weeks, when they must find and buy a do-up in West Auckland, renovate it and sell it at auction. The winners will be those who add the most value.
If that's not enough to turn you grey overnight, the couples must do it all with their parents, a twist designed to reflect the growing numbers of Kiwis now turning to their families to help them on to the property ladder. The only outside help will come via weekly challenges - the first of which is building a "mini-house" - which could net the winners cash or sponsored product. Architect Eva Nash and property expert Sara Hartigan will also give advice.
If that sounds suspiciously like The Block but with mum and dad, Paladin points out that it's more observational and less structured than the TV3 reality series. It's up to the families to decide on their budget and renovation plan.
"I didn't watch a lot of The Block because I didn't want to look at Rigor," he chuckles of The Block NZ host Mark Richardson, who also works at Radio Sport. "But unlike that show, we film the entire process, from buying the home to marketing and selling it. This has the family aspect as well. It's kind of like Packed to the Rafters but with renovation thrown in."
And that's where the drama, supposedly, comes in.
"I wouldn't call them mad," says Paladin, when asked why anyone would renovate a house with their folks. "The parents are passionate about their kids and they're willing to do anything to help them out. But because of the stress they're under, pulling this off in such a short time, they are prone to flying off the handle in the heat of the moment."
Well, not all of them. There's the "softly, softly approach" of the Gourley family, Christians who, despite being surrounded by chaos, always adhere to their values, Paladin says.
Dad Al and mum Anne are heavily involved in their community and helped to set up the Tauranga Community Gardens. Then there's daughter Amy, a nutrition and psychology student and her husband Matt, an apprentice builder, both 21. Every night they down tools and talk about their day over dinner.
"It's all very civilised," says Paladin, "whereas the Wardlaws are rip and bust."
Mick Wardlaw is a former pro league player, mum Kathy is a draughtswoman, their son Tim is a builder and his girlfriend Robyn works in an accounting firm. Mick is very competitive and if things aren't going well, he has a tendency to take it out on the family, says Paladin. "But he doesn't mean it and he's truly apologetic if he offends anyone."
Finally there's the Schreuder family, which Paladin would quite like to join. Dad Tom is a builder: "sensible, works like a Trojan"; mum Robyn is a former hairdresser: "easygoing, laughs everything off". Their daughter Karen is a nurse and her husband Jono a tennis coach and the couple get along well. "Nothing seems to faze them."
Likewise for Paladin. For 13 years he has worked in radio, where he is producer and co-host of drive show The Sauce. As well as honing his ability to chat literally non-stop - "because no talking means dead air" - he has become known for his impersonations of sporting personalities such as All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
He is also known for prank-calling the likes of his mate Rigor and All Black TJ Perenara. So when the call came asking if he'd like to audition to host a TV show, Paladin figured someone was getting their revenge.
"I said, 'Yeah, yeah, maybe just send me an email and I'll let you know'."
He still gets asked how he got the job and if his agent hooked it up.
"I'm like, 'who do you think I am? What part of this,' he says, gesturing to his guy-next-door get-up of T-shirt and shorts, 'makes you think I have an agent? You've got to be kidding me'."
Learning lines and presenting didn't come naturally at first. Nor did the fact that he couldn't just rock up to work in jandals, suddenly a risky choice on a building site.
But now he's settled into the role, it's the prospect of being recognised that's the hardest to get his head around. Paladin's face will soon be beaming into living rooms around the country three times a week.
There will be no attempt to hide his tattoos either when the show goes to air. Paladin has one across his back that spells his Croatian father's name, Zdravko. On his left arm is his dad's shield protecting an angelic image of his Kiwi mum Margaret. His dad died when Paladin was 4. Margaret moved the family to Auckland, and they lived with his nana for a year. Then his Uncle Morris helped the family buy a section in Pakuranga and built a house on it for them to live in.
"I was 6 years old then and you just expect things to be okay. But now I realise how horrifically hard it must have been for mum. She was a stay-at-home mum, she didn't have a job and all of a sudden she's got to provide for her three kids under the age of 10."
The experience not only left a literal mark, Paladin says he has never taken for granted the blessing of owning his own property. So when the Our First Home job came up, it seemed like serendipity.
"It's something close to my heart because I worked really hard getting into my first home. The families are all really deserving and lovely and if I can help them I will. If I'm recognised in the street and people think I'm a loser or funny because of it, then so be it."
He has since discovered the expense of home ownership never eases.
"Who knew curtains were so expensive?" he says. Since buying the house, he has repainted and, after a freezing first winter, installed insulation and a heat pump. He took out a loan to renovate the bathroom, the floor of which was rotting.
Aside from some help of an uncle, Paladin did it on his own, so he has some idea what the families on Our First Home will be going through.
"It was a real struggle. For the young couples, while it might not be their dream home, this is their first rung on the ladder and that in itself is a massive achievement."