Home Truths: First home buyers on house hunting in affordability crisis

It’s not an easy time to be a first home buyer.

Affordability – as measured by the average house price to household income – hit its worst point in at least 17 years recently, as house prices jumped more than 20 per cent since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic one year ago.

A typical Kiwi worker now needs nine years to save a deposit; try and put down roots in our most populous city and it’ll take 11 years.

Unsurprisingly, first home buyers – who have no equity to support their borrowing and are often younger and on lower incomes than the property-owning classes – have been increasingly shut out.

But it’s also not an easy time to talk about being a first home buyer.

Speak publicly about how hard it is to get on the property ladder and you’re liable to be told to cut back on the smashed avo and lower your expectations.

So the Weekend Herald invited those trying to buy their first home to write, using their first names only, about what it’s like.

Here’s what they had to say.

I’m Samantha, I’m 33, and being a first home buyer on my own seems like such a far fetched dream.

I left New Zealand in my early 20s and moved to Australia for the experience and to study.

A move that in hindsight, ruined my chances to be a first home buyer – but I wasn’t thinking of the consequences of moving out of NZ and the barriers I would face upon returning.

Most Kiwis don’t.

Fast forward many years. Missing my family and coming out of a controlling relationship, I came back home in my 30s and had to start all over.

I couldn’t use any of my Australian super to buy a house and I didn’t have any KiwiSaver.

Wellington was home where, as we all know, house prices exploded.

I got a teaching job, but could only ever get fixed terms, despite being good at my job and earning in the high $60,000s. Without a permanent contract, there was no way I could get a loan approved.

So I worked as a nanny on weeknights and weekends, along with my full-time job.

I saved every cent I could, hardly went out and started house sitting full time – anything I could to save money.

After three years, I had a small deposit, so I started looking at open homes.

I would spend weekend after weekend, looking at around 10-15 each time.

I would see the same families, the same couples, and not many people on their own like me.

Every time I told them my budget of around $500k-550k, they would say the house would sell for well over $200k more.

A few houses I would really like. I found brokers and lawyers but couldn’t get a pre-approval on a fixed contract.

At my last school, I was making plans for the following year of students, thinking surely I’ll be made permanent.

Five days later I was out of a job.

That was December last year, when Wellington house prices were exploding. That was the lowest point in my housing struggle.

I used my savings to live, and thought ‘I have to leave Wellington if I ever want to get my own home’.

I applied for jobs anywhere that was still considered an ‘affordable’ market (Dunedin, Manawatū, Christchurch, Gisborne etc).

I thought Christchurch was the biggest city for job opportunity, so packed my car and off I went.

On May 10th, I finally started a job on a permanent contract – over six months since my last one.

I got pre-approval last week

so am starting the process again.

I feel it’s my very last chance.

Since I got here, people tell me it’s ‘so expensive in Christchurch’. If this doesn’t work, I’m out of options.

Buying a house is as much for my family, as it is for me.

My mum has been a single parent, a widow since I was a baby and she could never afford to buy a home. She’s now retired.

Neither can my brother, being on his own.

A first home for me is a shared home for the three of us.

My husband and our three children have been looking to buy our first home for the past nine months, and looking more seriously for the past 4 months.

I’m 33, my husband’s 38, we have three children aged 8, 4 and 15 months, and we have a household income of $180,000 a year.

We’re looking to buy in Auckland on the North Shore, particularly around the Stanmore Bay area. Our ideal budget was $880k, but that’s risen to our maximum of $950k.

In the time we first started looking for a home, prices and seller expectations have risen over $100,000 – growing faster than we can save to keep up with the deposit required.

The agents are not interested in us, always trying to pry out what our budget is to stretch us to our threshold.

With three young children, we can’t risk the financial burden of an extreme mortgage.

They encourage us to attend properties and advise they’re within our budget.

A house I was told recently was around $900k-$950k, passed in at auction and has been listed at $1.15 million – well beyond our budget.

We do our research, look at recent sales and estimated values before considering options and yet sellers’ expectations are easily $100k above estimated data.

It’s a real struggle and a roller coaster of emotions.

We’ve made five offers – three conditional and two unconditional. Each time we stretch ourselves further and further.

It’s draining spending every spare moment looking at houses and our weekends are consumed with racing around viewing potential properties.

We’ve been lucky that my mother has now offered to be guarantor for us, which means we now can make unconditional offers and don’t need to spend thousands on registered valuations just to attend an auction.

Too often we’ve seen properties and people bid to similar values we think seem appropriate only to see the auction pass in as the sellers’ expectations far exceed a fair price.

It sucks as a first home buyer, doing your homework and spending thousands on checks only to be so far off.

It feels like instead of being one of the most exciting times of our lives, it’s the most stressful and disheartening.

And there’s just so many others in the same situation.

If we can’t find something by Christmas we may just have to consider moving to Australia, as even smaller towns in New Zealand are getting so unaffordable. And then what would we do for work?

I’m a bachelor aged 38 and despite being emotionally mature, financially secure, handsome, hilarious and humble I have to buy a house with my brother.

We’re both from Dunedin but now he lives in Christchurch on Burnham military base, and I live in Auckland.

I would be more than happy to buy a house in Auckland and live in it, except the median house price here is $1.3 million, which is only roughly one million dollars more than we can get.

My brother is 21 and a sapper (engineer) in the military. He would also be happy to live in a house that we buy, except we live in different cities and he has accommodation on the base anyway.

We grew up in a single income household and that single income was our mum’s domestic purposes benefit. We have no inheritance to speak of so if our relatives die we incur funeral costs, but no inheritance.

Despite all of this we’ve managed to save a deposit of about $150k.

Between us we earn roughly 120k per year, although it’s hard to say exactly because I’m a freelancer in film and TV. So it ebbs and flows.

We decided to buy a house in Dunedin because it’s our hometown and we both want to retain a connection to the place. However neither of us have any work there so we would need to rent it out.

Which technically would make us investors, even though I’m priced out of the Auckland market and my brother’s job requires him to be in Burnham.

In February 2020, pre-Covid, we were approved for a mortgage of $489k, which was roughly $26k shy of the median house price in Dunedin at the time.

This was disappointing for me because I had hoped to buy an average house.

After Covid the median house price has raised another $100k or so, which has now priced us out of the market.

So here we sit, with a phat deposit, two incomes and a dream … to one day be able to afford an average house in Dunedin.

My husband and I are both 32 and have been actively looking for a property in Auckland for the last few months. Previously we have looked to buy on and off in between the births of our three boys.

Our current household income is around $108,000 per year and we’ve saved a sizeable deposit in the mid-$200,000s.

After our first son was born five years ago, we decided it was wise to wait until I was back at work part-time before purchasing our first home. We wanted to ensure we could confidently pay the mortgage without going financially backwards.

We made the same decision (which we thought was wise) after baby 2 and baby 3, having no idea we basically cost ourselves more than $400,000 over those five years.

House prices have risen so fast against our salaries, we are now looking at a house in Auckland worth $900,000 rather than $500,000 and as a family we are on a similar income annually as we were five years ago.

We regret not buying a house years ago, but this knowledge is only with hindsight.

Our recent experience in the Auckland housing market has been competitive and a big wake up call.

We’ve found a limited amount of houses listed in our price range, and the agents are so busy themselves they often don’t text or call you back (because they simply don’t need to).

The Auckland housing market is busy enough for them each day as it is.

We’ve been put into auctions only to find out afterwards the reserve price was way above our top budget.

It’s made us feel used – like it was just about some agents getting bums on seats, but we keep trying because you never know until you try.

We’ve been to countless open homes where we find out at the viewing itself that the house is already under a “multi-offer” or under contract, so we’re basically wasting our time.

It’s heartbreaking as we spend a lot of time researching each property.

Some agents have been fantastic and genuinely seem to want to help us but the lack of houses in our price range does make that tricky.

We’ve come to realise Auckland (our home of 32 years), is looking far too unaffordable for us.

There could still be hope, but the chances are growing slimmer.

We’re now turning our interest south (Waikato/Coromandel) and to Northland.

Sadly this decision means having to leave behind our home, most of our close friends and family/key support network.

We are realistic first home buyers and have considered pretty run-down houses that need some serious DIY, houses with Code Compliance Certificate issues (which are much harder to get lending on), houses in areas that we don’t know at all (basically starting over) and houses which would only put a roof over our heads and aren’t really practical long term, however when everything seems to be asking close to a million dollars in Auckland, where is the money left to do up that house and make it nice?

Do we just wait and hope we make money on the property so we can make it ok? What if the market drops and we’re stuck there?

We’ve been encouraged to “just get on the ladder, just buy anything you can get your hands on”.

We don’t mind making compromises, but with three young kids we can’t just buy “anything”. It must be safe for the kids, and most importantly financially viable long term.

Our boys don’t deserve financially stressed out parents just so we “got in the market”.

We’re hoping by broadening our search area we will find something in our price range soon.

We refuse to give up and take everything we’ve done above as a big learning experience.

We also won’t be taking no for an answer this time as with prices rising as fast as they are, it would likely mean we are out of the market for good.

A year and a half ago it was a possible dream.

I was pre-approved and started looking at houses in Christchurch, where I’d been living for two years.

Even pre-Covid open homes were well attended, each house with piles of shoes outside.

The good houses went within days of the first open home under multi-offer.

I almost purchased a house in February and March 2020. Now I wish I had.

Covid came and then lockdown, and I was focused on the here and now.I took a wait and see approach like many others.

Then announcements came of lowered interest rates.

The flocks of house hunters came out again. As the months went on, competition became more fierce.

FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) set in like a frenzy.

Deadline sales were always brought forward with houses going under multi-offer sometimes $50,000 over asking price.

Auctions became more common. It was like a mad scramble to buy.

I then moved to Hamilton for work at the start of 2021 and started looking there, but I realised quickly I couldn’t afford Hamilton or the surrounding towns unless I went an hour out to Putāruru or surrounding areas.

But as a single woman, I thought I’d feel isolated in a town where I know no one and would be an hour away from friends.

I got my pre-approval re-adjusted three times to try and match the rising house prices that were more and more out of reach.

Instead of the area I worked in, I started looking elsewhere – anywhere that was affordable.

Now I am at the maximum amount I can borrow. I’m approved up to a purchase price of $500,000 with a 20 per cent deposit on under $75,000 income.

I can find nothing left I can afford to buy.

The dream of house ownership has quickly drifted away.

It’s very disheartening going to open homes only to be outbid by investors.

And it’s very scary knowing you’re only one step away from having nowhere to live, even with a good job.

I’ve lived most of my adult life in Waikato and I love it here, but I’ve pretty much given up looking here. I’m 42 years old.

I’m now thinking of going back to Christchurch because of affordability. However house prices have risen so much and competition is even more frantic in Christchurch than up here, as it’s advertised as the last remaining affordable city in New Zealand to live.

All I can think is ‘if only I’d bought when I could’.

I would feel secure knowing I had a home.

I’m 39, my partner is 45 and we have one child aged 15.

We’re currently based in East Auckland, however we cannot afford an existing residential property in our preferred area so we’re looking to move 45 minutes away so we can actually afford something within our budget.

Therefore we’ll spend more time sitting in traffic just so we can get a foot on the property ladder.

We’re a middle-income family, but we earn too much to qualify for the first home buyers’ grant offered by the government.

We have looked at quite a few homes, all out of our price range.

We’ve looked all over East and South Auckland to find something that will work with what we need and what we can afford.

Often these two things are at polar opposite ends of the scale.

We went to one auction for a house that we absolutely fell in love with and we were told by the agents the pricing would be between $950,000 -$1m, so we thought we were well within the price range.

The auction came and we were one of two bidders. The price didn’t reach the reserve and was passed in.

We were absolutely gutted but offered our highest price. But the agent came back and said there was another offer on the table and if we brought our offer up closer to the asking price (we were $60k off) they’d present the offer to the vendor.

That was in April.

The house is still for sale and now they’re trying to rent the property.

We were so disheartened by the auction we have reverted back to our first option to build a brand new home a 45-minute drive away. But right now it’s our only option.

I think the most gruelling aspect of buying a home in New Zealand – well, Auckland at least – is that the vendors have become greedy and in some cases are expecting too much for what they’re offering.

I’m looking to buy a home in Wellington.

I currently flat, but would be buying alone with an income of around $80k. I’m 43.

I’ve considered asking friends to buy with me, but it seems too much of a risk and I doubt we’d get on as flatmates, even though couples I know have a much easier time getting mortgages and enough for a deposit.

My KiwiSaver alone would only be $26k as it was only three years ago my income was stable and high enough to be able to lock some away where I can’t really touch it.

I might have deposit help from family, but I’m not sure yet.

The government grants only apply to homes under a certain price cap, which while recently raised is still unrealistically low unless I want to sleep in my kitchen.

Banks suggest buying places two hours drive away from work and hobbies, regardless of the cost of driving and parking, or public transport, regardless of the cost of the environment, and regardless of the time lost each day.

None of that is considered a ‘cost’ for mortgage calculations.

I’d like to have a flatmate, but the cost of an extra room is huge and only one bank allows income from a flatmate’s rent to count towards income for mortgage calculations. My budget is always changing, as are the prices of places.

I’ve been looking for a couple of years, initially just to see how pictures relate to reality, or to look inside interesting-looking buildings to know whether to keep an eye on them when I can make a deposit.

In that time, prices are greater each time and agents are more and more vague about what type of offers they expect.

I’d love a house, with a small garden and without the nosiness of body corporates, but they are all $1 million-plus here, so I might never have one.

For me the struggle and issues are simple.

There are so few KiwiBuild homes in places or sizes that are useful to me that I can only go to open homes open to anyone.

In those, person after person comments on how this would be their 3rd, 4th, 10th, property, etc, regardless of the feelings of potential first home buyers present, (shoulders sagging now).

They have almost unlimited finance due to already owning property.

The simple answer, but one I see the government will never do, is to legally limit the amount of properties one person/family/trust can own to about three.

People will ask where the renters will live. Well, most renters want to buy, and if thousands of houses flood the market prices will be affordable.

Those who want to rent will still be able to.

As long as people are allowed to own unlimited amounts of property, those who do will walk all over those who don’t yet, because they can.

I’m 49, single and have always been out of the loop in terms of home ownership due to having a dependant.

Leaving an abusive relationship, struggling to pay the bills and making sure my child didn’t miss any opportunities in life left me renting.

Now that my child is in a good career and has left home I can look at buying.

I’ve been told I’m “in a good position” to purchase at around $650,000, maybe $700,000.

My family and I live north of Albany and have lived here since we were babies.

I’d love to stay close so I can help my mum (we lost dad a couple of years back) but I know I can’t afford to live in the place I grew up so I am looking at houses from Wellsford to South Auckland – basically anywhere I can maybe afford.

In my search all I seem to come across is houses that have been deemed not fit for rental with asking prices of $750k to $850k or more.

‘Something will come up’ is what I hear on the daily and now I have been evicted as the landlord wants to move in.

This is now going to eat into my tight budget to find another rental while I still try to find a place to call home.

If house prices dropped by 20 per cent, as per whispers from so-called experts, that would mean older people like me will maybe have a roof over our heads in retirement.

The alternative scares me and causes many sleepless nights – not being able to afford anywhere to live and potentially living in a cardboard box on the side of the road.

There are so many females in my position.

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