The Herald is following three sets of house hunters struggling to buy a first home in Auckland. We take their circumstances to a panel of property experts: independent economist Shamubeel Eaqub, Quotable Value NZ national spokeswoman Andrea Rush and Home Owners and Buyers Association of New Zealand (Hobanz) president John Gray. Today, Andrew Laxon catches up with our first couple and find out what the experts think they should do.

Gemma Mann and Mike Alsweiler are seriously thinking about leaving Auckland to find a house they can afford, even if it means saying goodbye to their families.

Gemma says house prices are so high that moving out seems to be their only hope of buying.

"You have to decide what's the right thing. Do you stay in Auckland, so you can have your family around you but accept that you're not going to get a house?

"Or do you look at moving out of Auckland - and there are beautiful places outside of Auckland - and have the home you always wanted but not have your family around you?"


The 28-year-old couple, who are born and bred West Aucklanders, rent in Te Atatu with their 7-month-old baby Harper. Gemma works in a local preschool centre, Mike is a cabinetmaker in Avondale, and they run their own furniture-making business.

They have been considering a move to Tauranga, where Mike has family, because they cannot find a suitable two- or three-bedroom house in West Auckland within their $600,000 price range.

South Auckland would be cheaper but very difficult for commuting and childcare.

Paying the mortgage on their $110,000-$120,000 joint income is the biggest worry. They estimate they will have only $200 a week left after repayments and other bills, which could disappear on emergencies like fixing the car.

"We are very confused at the moment because we don't want to overcommit ourselves," says Mike. "But at the same time, are we going to miss out; is this our only chance?

New Zealand's affordable housing crisis explained.

The experts' verdict

Gemma and Mike are on the right track, as long as they're prepared to tackle a do-up, which should be affordable in their price range.

They're right to rule out South Auckland because of the time and cost of extra travel but may have other options, such as a new terraced housing development, buying a section further out and building themselves, or taking in an international student to help pay the mortgage.

"If they can find a do-up that is basically sound but it's just really obvious things - like the garden and the paint and paper - they can easily add value," says Andrea. "That's the main thing because if they are going to buy in those areas like Te Atatu South or Glendene and Kelston and New Lynn, then yes, they will need to buy a do-up at their price level."

Gemma and Mike respondTerraced housing is not an option because they need a garage for their furniture business. They think sections are still too expensive - "you can pay $350,000-$400,000 for not a very good section" says Gemma. And they're not sure if a boarder would want to live with a teething baby that cries all night.

They have looked through some Trade Me listings supplied by Andrea. "I rang up a few agents and the prices were over our budget by close to $100,000," says Mike.

One looked promising but it had the national grid running over it, which they were not comfortable with.