This month, Housing Minister Nick Smith and Auckland Mayor Len Brown signed off on a housing accord to help resuscitate the fading dream of home ownership for young Aucklanders.

But both men were in their own homes before they left university.

Having entered the property market early, Dr Smith acknowledges his luck in riding the market higher.

He bought his first home, a former state house in Riccarton, Christchurch, in 1985 while he was a 22-year-old at Canterbury University. He paid $24,000 for it, just before interest rates "went through the roof", hitting 24 per cent.


"As a consequence, I spent the holiday building a new room on to it so I could get a new flatmate to pay the mortgage.

"I confess I was capitalist and I thought the economics worked in getting into the property market early, getting a heavy mortgage and trying to service it with four flatmates," the minister said.

He sold the house four years later for $90,000, being pleasantly surprised at how quickly its value had risen.

After periods of fast-rising house prices since then, Dr Smith acknowledges that first-home buyers, let alone people still at university with student loans, have it tougher than he did, "but it's worth it in the long haul".

"Home ownership gives you opportunity of sweat equity, being able to build additional rooms, build garages, put a terrace on and get the fruits of your labour back in the improved value of your home, That's a standard Kiwi dream."

Mayor Brown and his wife bought their first dwelling - a two-bedroom flat in Manukau Heights - in 1979 while he was 23 and at university.

He paid about $20,000, having scraped the deposit together through contract painting.

He recalls the difficulty of securing finance, and the cost of it, with interest rates of up to 23 per cent. "It was terrible. I don't know how anyone ever owned any homes at all in those days," the mayor said.


He believed the challenges in getting finance meant it was as difficult 34 years ago as it is now for first-home buyers. Back in the late seventies, "there was probably more housing available at relatively better prices".

"Now it's difficult because of the way prices are generally and because you've got to put together a 10, 15 or 20 per cent deposit.

"But the one thing I will say is if you're prepared to start at a practical and realistic level in a community that you can afford, then you can still get a house, whether it's an apartment at $200,000 or a standalone house at $350,000 to $400,000. That's still available for you but you can't afford to be too choosy."

Justice Minister Judith Collins

Paid about $60,000 for a two-bedroom flat in a block of four in Mt Eden in 1982 when she was 23.

She got the deposit together working as a lawyer and selling shoes at the weekend at Farmers.

She also got some money from her parents and a loan from her boyfriend - now her husband.

With interest rates around 20 per cent, it was "a huge struggle" to make payments.

She accepts it is difficult now, and says first-home buyers should be prepared "to buy a place that needs to be done up and to have a first home that may not be your last home".

"I moved into a two-bedroom flat, I didn't move into a five-bedroom mansion.

"What you have with your mum and dad is probably not what you're going to get for your first home."

Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford

Bought a $128,000 "do upper" Kingsland bungalow in 1989 when he was 26 and sold it just two years ago.

"My generation benefited from rapid capital gain in property prices over that period. My son's generation are on the receiving end of what was a significant transfer of wealth to baby boomers who owned their own houses through the 80s and 90s. Now it's incredibly difficult for a generation that feels as though they are locked out of the housing market."

He's reluctant to offer first-home buyers any advice. "People are already working a number of jobs. They're already relying on the bank of mum and dad. They're already mortgaging themselves to the eyeballs. They're already buying houses out on the fringes of town where they have to put up with an hour-long commute in the morning and at night. They're already doing those things because they have to, and that's why politicians have to get serious about the housing crisis."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei

Paid $214,000 for a three-bedroom wooden villa in Dunedin's North East Valley in 2007.

She and her family left Auckland in 2002, partly because of the cost of housing on an MP's salary.

She says there were good homes available in Dunedin for $140,000 to $180,000 when she was house hunting.

But her bank wouldn't lend her less than $200,000 as she had no deposit and had to take out a 100 per cent mortgage.

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe

Bought a "modest little" house on what he called the "Johnsonville-Khandallah border", Wellington, for $95,000 in 1987 while he was a junior public servant and his wife was cleaning part-time.

They sold the house seven years later to pay for his masters studies at Harvard in the US.

"It was a hell of a struggle because we had three mortgages for a while and the third was at 22 per cent."

First-home buyers have it even harder now, though, he said.

"Now it would be virtually impossible for a couple on an entry-level civil service salary and a part-time wage to buy a home anywhere close to central Wellington."