Small business gives couple new lifestyle

"We are not sure how far we will go"

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 08:30 28/07/2014
hayman
ROBERT CHARLES/FAIRFAX NZ
Rebecca and Neil Hayman started their own business.

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Christchurch had long stopped rumbling by the time it shook Rebecca and Neil Hayman into action.

In July last year the New Plymouth couple took a deep breath, quit their jobs and started a quantity surveying business.

Their decision was directly related to the two large earthquakes that destroyed swathes of Christchurch in 2010 and 2011 and sent insurance companies scrambling to cover their exposure to such disasters in the future.

They did this by changing home insurance policies from replacement value to sum-insured value, a seemingly small tweak that has massive implications for home owners. They may or may not know that ideally, they now need to get the replacement cost of their home independently assessed every few years.

Because of this, Rebecca, 43, a registered quantity surveyor and Neil, 49, a seasoned construction worker, saw the opportunity their combined 40 years in the industry gave them to start a new life.

"We just saw that that change is going to have an impact on every home owner. We saw that as an opportunity. You spend all these years wishing you could own your own business and don't, so when this came up, we just went for it.

"The first four months were pretty lean and pretty stressful. We thought if something doesn't come along in January we will have to go back to work. But after Christmas it just took off," Rebecca said.

Just as they expected, much of that work has been residential - figuring out how much homes would cost to rebuild and giving solid advice on what sum home owners should insure their property for. By and large, online calculators used to figure out sum insured value can be 25 per cent out either way, they say.

That means homes can be under-insured, potentially leaving people short in a rebuild, but homes can also be over-insured, leading to higher than necessary premiums. And that can happen even if home owners have gone with the default value of $2000 sqm many insurance companies are using.

As well as people's homes, they have also been called in for fire rebuilds, including St Pius church in Brooklands, new building assessments, contract administration for multimillion- dollar commercial projects and property damage estimates.

It's enough business that the pair have been forced to shift the expanding paperwork burden from the kitchen table and into a purpose built office at the back of their 1.6-hectare lifestyle block in Whaler's Gate.

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But that is not to say business is without it's ebbs and flows. Maintaining a consistent cashflow has been one of the biggest issues, they say, and one they haven't entirely solved yet.

"If the work isn't coming in, there isn't any money. It's just something we have to get used to. But as far as our lives go, there is no comparison. We have so much more flexibility. We still have stress, but it's a different kind of stress. It's our stress and we have our balance back," Rebecca says.

"My daughter had chicken pox and she was really sick for two weeks. It would have been a big ask to our employers to take two weeks but now, if we have personal issues, we can deal with it."

There is also an advantage in being business partners and husband and wife, says Neil.

"We can discuss things after hours, anytime. We both love the same subject. We are both in construction. If you had two opposites, it might not work, but it does for us," says Neil.

The pair estimate they each work about 35 to 40 hours a week, on average, but this can fluctuate.

There are other differences turning from employee to self- employed. Like all new businesses, they are continuing to learn about exposure, how to develop a web site, how to let people know they exist and, perhaps unusually, that they actually have a service people need.

Because despite the insurance changes being so significantly different to how things used to be covered, a majority of home owners are using the default sum or relying on online calculators, which are good for a guide but fall over if a home deviates from an "average" residence, Neil says.

"Now you can punch your numbers into an online calculator, but if you get one figure wrong, you can go really wrong.

"If there was some event, a lot of people would be left short, because there are still a lot of people who don't understand the difference between the market value of their home and what it would cost to build it again."

Despite that challenge to get people to understand the change, the pair are confident they are now established enough that the threat of being forced back into the job market has receded.

"We are not sure how far we will go," Rebecca says. "We don't have aspirations to employ 30 or 40 people. If we need to employ a few more people, that's something we might do,"

"But ideally it's for Neil and I to have a home business. We love the lifestyle we can make for ourselves by being our own bosses."

- Taranaki Daily News

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