Home Truths: First home buyers profiled in 2016 tell their stories

A dog, two babies and three much-loved homes – a lot’s happened since the Herald spoke with two couples and a single woman trying to buy their first home in 2016.

As the Herald again investigates New Zealand’s housing crisis for our 2021 Home Truths’ series, we catch up with those who told their stories for 2016’s series.

Spoiler alert – this is a good news story.

A family live here

When the country went into lockdown just over a year ago, Gemma Mann and Mike Alsweiler set about doing up their Rānui home.

In the kitchen, where they ripped up the old floor covering, Mann asked their sons – Harper and Arlo – to lie on the new underlay.

She then traced around their little bodies before writing everyone’s names and adding that the renovation work was done by the family during the Covid-19 national lockdown.
Harper, now 5, drew happy faces.

Like the names of the previous owner’s children scribbled in concrete under the house, Mann wanted to leave a reminder for future occupants.

“I wanted to show that somebody lived in, and loved this place.”

Her family.

In 2016 Mann and Alsweiler told the Herald, as part of the first Home Truths’ series, they were considering leaving Auckland – where both grew up and have family – because they couldn’t find an affordable home to raise their own young family.

But after paying $120,000 over their original budget the couple, then 28, managed to buy a three-bedroom home on a 675m2 site in late 2016 for $720,000, putting 20 per cent down.

Five years on – which included the birth of a second child, a ton of renovations and a new job as a building company project manager for Alsweiler – they have no regrets.

“We’re absolutely so, so grateful that we got our house, and that everything [budget-wise] is so manageable”, Mann, an early childhood teacher, said.

“I thought we paid a huge amount for our house [in 2016], but we really didn’t.”

She’s not sure what the house is worth now – similar neighbouring properties have sold for more than $800,000.

The couple briefly considered trading up last year, and expect with two growing boys they’ll still need to do so in the next five years, but discovered the next rung on the property ladder would likely cost them $1.1 million to $1.3m – and their sense of financial security.

Mann felt for anyone now trying to buy, including her sister, and worried for her kids’ own housing futures.

“We’re so fortunate, and our kids too … they have a backyard, they have a sandpit and a trampoline.

“I think everybody should be able to own their own home. I hope our children can do that, and that we can help them.”

'I had made it'

Cecile Bourgeois was at a shop checkout buying a chopping board when she answered her cellphone and was told she was going to become a homeowner.

“I was happy and crying at the same time … I had made it,” the 44-year-old said of the moment she found out her years of house-hunting were at an end.

“I said [to the checkout operator], ‘Oh sorry, I just got a house.’ She just smiled and said, ‘Congratulations.'”

Bourgeois received some reader backlash after telling the Herald in 2016 she didn’t want to have flatmates or buy in South Auckland, the latter because she’d lived and worked there and “I just don’t like it.”

The former Parisian, who moved to New Zealand in 2009 and teaches French at Western Springs College, also didn’t want to move cities – as suggested by property experts – because it was hard to make friends in New Zealand.

It wasn’t easy to stick to her bottom lines – “even real estate agents gave up on me” – but she’s glad she did.

Her KiwiSaver, a $10,000 first home buyer grant and extra savings from cutting costs and taking in international students got her to 17 per cent of the purchase price for a $500,000 home.

That January 2018 phone call at the checkout was to say her fourth attempt at “winning” the right to buy a new, two-bedroom, $500,000 home in the Axis development at Hobsonville was successful – her name had been drawn from the ballot.

In July, Bourgeois and her dog, Kelia, moved in.

The second bedroom is spare and will only be rented if Bourgeois hits hard times – for now, the mortgage is the same as if she was paying rent. Two identical neighbouring homes recently sold for $700,000, but Bourgeois has no immediate plans to sell.

She encouraged others to not be daunted by new-build projects.

Sign up for ballots if they’re available, or try for KiwiBuild homes – she’d been lucky and others might be too, Bourgeois said.

“I know it’s daunting with all the paperwork, but I also know it works.”

'Don't lose hope'

Five years ago Lovely Garg and Bharat Bhushan were living in a tiny central city apartment, hoping they could soon buy their first home.

Now they have a family home – son Aayan turned 4 in February – and an investment property.

And the Rānui couple has a message for other house-hunting hopefuls – don’t give up.

“If we can do it, anyone else can too”, Garg, 32, told the Herald.

“Don’t lose hope.”

The couple, who came to New Zealand from India about seven years ago, first bought in late 2016 – a three-bedroom Glen Eden townhouse which they called home for four years.

Then, earlier this year, they bought and moved into their second property, a three-bedroom home on a much bigger section in Rānui. They kept the Glen Eden townhouse as an investment property.

Home ownership wasn’t easy, but both had kept their jobs through the Covid-19 crisis – Garg is a health and safety advisor and Bhushan, 36, works in IT – and they were careful with spending.

“For the younger people [that’s my advice] – be mindful of where the money is going. Cut down dining out and, I know you can’t travel at the moment, but also the expensive trips. Just have one car if you can.

“And always use the KiwiSaver. You never think these little bits of money, like the $521 [annual tax credit] will help, but when you’re buying a house every penny counts.”

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