House prices have been rising so rapidly that by the time you've saved for the deposit you think you're going to need, the goalposts have often shifted and you've got to come up with more money.
People are having to get creative to get on to the property ladder. Here are some ideas gaining popularity around New Zealand.
Small is beautiful
In the past, Kiwis liked large standalone family homes on fully-fenced sections. Now many of us are working long hours and don't want to spend our limited free time cleaning, painting or gardening.
"Over the past few years Kiwis have been embracing apartment living more and more, says Bindi Norwell, chief executive at REINZ, "as they realise in some cases that the benefits of not having a backyard can outweigh the weekends spent mowing lawns, weeding or undertaking maintenance of a property.
"We're seeing more Millennials wanting the convenience of inner-city apartment living and the dining [and] order-in options available in the CBD. But they also want to be close to motorways, public transport and entertainment options such as bars and cafes."
Affordability has been a problem, too. Homes in major cities are no longer within reach of most young families. Older houses are hard to keep warm and dry, maintenance is a chore – or many, and utilities are expensive.
Boomers, too, are downsizing, many trading the empty nest for lifestyle villages.
For others, it's a social decision as much as an economic one. The Tiny House movement advocates living simply in small homes, generally considered under 46m2, to promote financial prudence, shared community experiences and a shift in consumer-driven mindsets.
Call it the Bank of Mum and Dad: most Kiwi parents say they would lend their children money interest-free to help them buy a home.
A Nexus Planning & Research online survey of more than 1000 people showed 55 per cent of parents would be prepared to give their children money, 21 per cent would offer an interest-payable loan and 18 per cent said they'd be likely to buy them a property outright.
On the other side of the coin, while 53 per cent of parents would likely act as a guarantor on their children's first home, 45 per cent of first-home buyers say they would refuse the offer, compared to 35 per cent who would accept it. The remaining 20 per cent were uncertain.
Some 64 per cent said they'd feel bad about having to ask parents for help, with 38 per cent worried there'd be strings attached.
The survey found most first-home buyers didn't think their parents were duty-bound to help them onto the property ladder. Only 23 per cent said the older generation should help out if they're in a position to.
It's a situation that strikes … well, close to home for Scott St George. His son Daniel wants to join the police, move to Auckland and buy a house in the city, but is really concerned about getting the money together for a deposit.
In his day job as Westpac's credit capability manager, St George supports initiatives that allow people to become homeowners with family help such as his bank's Family Springboard loan. This involves relatives – usually parents or guardians – using the equity in their home to help the young buyers raise enough money for a deposit.
"The parents may have a lot of equity in a home they've owned for years, or they may have even paid off their mortgage. That money can be used without the parents having to sell the house."
Once the Family Springboard loan is repaid, the parents have no longer have any liability, and the security over their property is released.
Sharing the load
For many Hamilton families, the dream of owning a home was just that – a dream. "They had some money but it was so frustrating for them that they just couldn't get over the line to get the full deposit they needed to buy a home," says Marae Tukere, the Waikato-Tainui iwi's general manager for tribal development and well-being.
That's changed with the new Te Kaarearea housing development on iwi land in Hamilton East. The 80 properties, priced between $450,000 and $550,000, are a mix of public and private housing. Everyone living in the cul de sac is Waikato-Tainui and several houses will be owned by whānau participating in a joint iwi-NZ Housing Foundation-Westpac scheme.
Each whānau purchases at least 70 per cent of the cost of a shared equity mortgage package – some have been able to buy a lot more – and the iwi supplies the remaining money. The whānau has 15 years to buy out the iwi's share.
"Everybody is very happy with the way it's working – it is giving people a chance that they didn't have before," says Tukere. "It hasn't been easy setting it up but it is worth it.
"We are building a community of really good homes that are not damp or leaky, that take advantage of the sun. They're in a lovely area with access to good sportsgrounds and schools.
"We know there are knock-on effects of owning your own home, for example kids staying in school longer when they have a good house to grow up in. Health statistics improve when family members have a nice warm secure home too."
The demographics of the whānau buying the homes are interesting, says Tukere. "We've got young couples with kids who are first-time buyers. But we have also got older couples whose kids have grown up who are also buying for the first time because they've never been able to afford a home before this. It's really exciting for them.
"These things have a generational impact, so it's not just about the family in the home, it's about their generations to come."
The 'Toyota Corolla'
For thousands of Kiwis, "prefab" conjures memories of a cold, quickly knocked-together temporary classroom. That's light years from the experience of Gerald and Sally MacRae and their modern prefabricated home in Lorneville, Southland.
The couple chose the brand-new home, built offsite and delivered via truck, over traditional on-site construction because it was faster to build, more affordable, and left them with a smaller range of decisions to make.
"Our house is 134m² which is big enough for the four of us, and it's just a really good design. The living room, dining room and kitchen are open-plan so it feels bigger than it is, and there's very little wasted space. It's energy-efficient and amazingly warm, which is pretty important for a Southland winter. Our two kids love the place as well."
Prefabricated houses are booming in New Zealand. The quality of their materials and design have gone 'through the roof' in recent years; they are quicker to build – six to eight weeks for a standard design; and they can be 15 per cent cheaper to purchase.
Think of it like a Toyota Corolla – many houses can be built in the factory at one time, which keeps the time and cost down - instead of taking the materials to a client's site and building each home one by one.
A 130m², three-bedroom, two-bathroom prefab home could cost approximately $206,700; a 317m2, four-bedroom, two-bathroom house could cost an estimated $437,000.
We've been slow to catch on - in some countries, nearly 80 per cent of new builds are prefabricated while it's about 10 per cent in New Zealand.
One reason is that borrowing for a prefab home has difficult because of the complex issues around security of the house while it's being built in a factory. That's being overcome with new banking products tailored specifically to these modular, transportable homes.
In 2021, the first rung of the property ladder might sometimes feel almost out of reach, but there are many more ways to take that first step. It's just a question of thinking outside the square.