Buying your first home has never been tougher. In this On The Ladder series, Stuff talks to Kiwis who’ve made it onto the property ladder and others who, by choice or not, are still renting
Paul Rimu Whakatutu started saving for a house deposit when he was 12, after getting his first job moving lawns “for a little old lady down the road”, in Hawera.
“I got $40 a week and all $40 went into a high-interest savings account,” said the now 21-year-old welder.
A year later, Whakatutu’s uncle offered him a milking job. “I was doing mornings and nights there, before and after school. I biked down to his house at 4am and would be done by 6.30pm for dinner.”
By time he turned 19, Whakatutu had put away just shy of $40K.
The house Whakatutu grew up in was always full of his older brothers and sister, visiting friends and extended family.
His mum asked what he wanted to do when he left school, and he told her he wanted to have his own house before his 21st birthday. “One night at the dinner table Mum and Dad talked about how hard it was getting to buy.
“I thought if I start saving now, it might not be so hard and they helped me make a budget.”
Whakatutu was paid $70 per milking and saved 80 per cent of his income. He had no expenses because he was still in school and living at home.
Putting in the hours didn’t bother him. “I still had time to play rugby. My uncle gave me training and game days off, and I always had my weekends to myself,” he said.
Nor did he feel like he missed out on anything in his teen years. “I knew what I wanted and I knew that you’ve got to do a bit of work to get there.”
In Year 12, he did a week’s work experience with DTS, New Zealand’s largest stainless steel provider of dairy equipment.
“It was awesome,” he said. “The crew were so easy to get on with. The boss said if I finished NCEA Level 2, I’d have an apprenticeship.”
When Whakatutu left school he started on about $13 an hour. “I was getting about $450 a week and put half away,” after paying $70 to rent a room in his cousin’s flat.
It wasn’t always possible to save. Surprise expenses like a broken car made for some “rough spots”, but eventually he had enough saved to go house hunting.
He told agents he was looking for a small first home with a garage and couple of bedrooms. A three-bedroom home with a single garage came onto the market for $200K two months later.
“It’s a nice little house with a deck, hidden away down a long driveway. It was quiet. I was like ‘ah, this is the one’.”
With his savings and a first home grant from Kiwi Saver, Whakatutu was able to put down double the minimum 20 per cent deposit.
During the summer, he spends as much time as he can on the sun-drenched deck.
“I like to get the boys around for a BBQ and I’ve got lots of family on the east coast. When they visit, they used to stay at the homestead. I thought if I get a house they can come stay with me and we can have our cuzzy time while the oldies are catching up.
“We have our own private place away from the adults.”
Whakatutu doesn’t do an awful lot of gardening, preferring to call in for back up: “Every now and then I ring Mum up saying the hedges need doing. The big family team will come in and we’ll all attack it together.”
He also has plans to put in some concrete, and build a second shed to use as a workshop.
The weekly mortgage repayment of $190 is manageable and Whakatutu said it’s thanks to his parents helping him work out the maximum he could afford to pay on his own.
“I didn’t want to have to rely on getting any help,” he said.
Moving to a larger city might be on the cards once more of the mortgage is paid but over the past year, he’s started taking more weekend trips away and going to gigs.
“Now that I’ve achieved what I wanted, I have a little bit extra when I get paid to go and have some fun. I’m just enjoying it now.”