On the ladder: Good fortune, a great first home - and a bit of a trade-off
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.
For six months of the year, Auckland couple Jake and Ella Horan live in their million dollar Westmere home. For the other six months, they stay at Ella's parents' house and rent their home out - so they can afford it.
They are well aware they are more fortunate than most in being able to buy their first home in the fashionable inner suburb - in a street where surrounding homes surpass the $1.5 million mark with ease.
Their housing fairytale-come-true is obviously very different from the experience of most average first home buyers in Auckland's overheated property market. But there's also nothing average about the Horans' situation.
* On the ladder, part 1: Meet Kristi Atkins, who has bought her first house at 21
* Tips for first home buyers looking to get a step onto the property ladder
* The sacrifices parents are making to help their kids into their first home
Jake, 35, is the national supply chain manager for Fletcher Building, and Ella, 26 is the global brand manager for Matua Wines.
They're university educated, work in positions of responsibility and have a pragmatic approach to life passed on from their very supportive respective families. They're also young, sincere, likeable - and willing to make strategic compromises to get ahead.
A unique living situation in Ella's parents' home played a significant role in turning their property dreams into a reality.
After six months of dating, rather than moving into their own house to live together, Ella's parents insisted the couple both move into their St Heliers home. They couldn't see the point of the pair spending on rent when they could be saving instead.
"They were very conscious of what was going on in the market," said Jake Horan. "But it made financial sense when you looked at where housing was going and the year-on-year growth. We thought, 'Actually, we're not going to get ahead otherwise.' "
The idea of living with your parents and an almost-new partner would give most people the shivers, but this was a bit different.
Are you on the first rung of the property ladder? How did you do it? Or did you try and fail? Send your story, video and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org
For six months of every year, Ella's parents travel to the United States to spend time with their other daughter.
"Ninety-nine per cent of the time it was actually really good," Ella Horan said. "(It was) amazing in terms of spending time together."
Jake Horan admits that the pair are more fortunate than most trying to crack the market.
"We have a great relationship with Ella's parents."
So for two years Jake and Ella lived half with her family, then for the other half had the St Heliers house to themselves, saving all the while. They went on to get engaged and begin the hunt for a home.
The living arrangement meant the couple could look at a bracket of houses that would otherwise have been beyond reach.
Though blessed by good fortune, the Horans applied their innate practicality and work ethic to the task of finding their first home.
In preparation for a successful purchase, they sat through hours of auctions to learn what to expect.
"I felt that you needed to have that history of seeing what it was all about, so when you came across a house that you wanted, you understood how it worked," Jake Horan said.
But after looking for a year and actively competing at five auctions, the couple felt deflated.
A little ex-state house near the train line in Meadowbank which they had set their hearts on was won instead by a Chinese syndicate. The hammer fell on a price that was "astronomically higher" than they had thought, 70 per cent above the CV.
So when they walked in on the first open home for the house that is now theirs, they acted immediately.
"We thought it was out of our price range because of the area," Ella Horan said. But their offer was accepted and they completed their purchase of the three-bedroom bungalow on a half-section in December 2015.
In hindsight, a quick approach and the ability to pay a competitive price both seem key in their acquisition. The initial asking price for the home was around the $1.4 million mark, of which their offer came in under.
"It was by far the cheapest house on the block, but we really stretched ourselves to buy something that will cover our needs for 10 years, not just the next couple of years," Ella Horan said.
"Nobody really knows where the market is going," Jake Horan said. "Everybody has their thoughts on, 'Is it going up? Is it going to crash?' Ella's dad suggested that we take all of that off the table and buy a house that we know we'll stay in no matter what."
"Some people take the strategy of trying to trade up, but we thought that if you can stretch and get something that you know you want, in an area that's pretty strong, then it's worth the sacrifice."
To improve their financial position, the couple moved out of their new abode and rented it fully furnished while they spent another six month stint in St Heliers.
They moved back to Westmere over the summer, and now that her parents are off again in May, once more the Horans will up and go. The transience of their lifestyle is difficult at times.
"It was quite hard packing up and leaving because we'd made it our home. We feel quite connected to it," Jake Horan said.
"But that's the trade-off. For at least the first couple of years, we're going to need to get some kind of extra income so we can jump ahead. We're lucky in that rather than Airbnb, we've got the six months each year where we move out."
Their advice on how you can make the dream your reality?
Jake Horan recommended keeping a clear goal in mind and having an eye on the long-term plan.
"Get really targeted around what you want to achieve. I think that opens a path of action."
"I wouldn't have been comfortable paying anything more. There needed to be enough money in the kitty that we could still do those things that give you a bit of sanity," he said.
"You've got to think of having a house and a mortgage and a lifestyle to pay for. So if you have kids, you lose an income. You have to stress test all of that. Do your homework."
For his wife, deciding on the upper limit and sticking to it was paramount.
"We did our goal setting and budgeting down to quite a minute detail each month over a couple of years, just to make sure that we could keep the payments with our current income at the time. We didn't assume that our income would increase."