First-home buyers: $100k in the bank and still no luck in the market

Robyn Shefer has more than $100,000 sitting in her bank account for a house deposit – but she still can’t buy a home in Tauranga.

The single mother has looked at 15 houses in four months, with no luck.

“I have zero debt, I don’t owe any money to anybody.

“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. I don’t have huge expenses and yet the bank will only give me so much, which doesn’t buy me anything.”

Even with large deposits, people aren’t managing to secure their first homes and for many, the homeownership dream is slipping away.

First-home buyers in Tauranga paid a median of nearly $700,000 to secure their first house in the first quarter of 2021, according to CoreLogic’s First-Home Buyer report.
In the Western Bay of Plenty, first-home buyers paid a median of $600,000 or above and $527,000 in Rotorua.

'Not possible'

Shefer, who works at NZME, started looking to buy her own home in January 2021.

With rock-bottom interest rates, her KiwiSaver, funds distributed from a family trust and some savings, she had more than $100,000 to spend.

In the middle of last year Shefer enlisted a financial adviser and mortgage broker to keep her on track and was later pre-approved for $330,000.

If she got a boarder, she could have up to $405,000, which meant she could look at homes worth about $520,000.

“But to find a three-bedroom for $520,000 three months ago was not possible.”

hefer has looked at 15 properties since January. That included a two-bedroom apartment she thought was going to fall apart, and a home with monolithic cladding the salesperson believed was the last house in Tauranga that sold for under $500,000.

She got upset when her first “dream home” in March sold for $590,000.

“I was still quite emotional at the time. I absolutely loved it.”

She tried buying a property with her best friend, who already owned a home.

“We went to the bank together to buy a new build that was $695,000 and the bank said no.

“Even with two incomes, we couldn’t do it because she had a mortgage.”

Now she was considering a lifestyle village for over-40s.

“It’s a nice place, nothing I would have considered living in before.”

After riding the emotional rollercoaster for months, Shefer said she was ready to throw it all in.

“I just don’t understand why the bank won’t give me more money? If they’re not giving it to me, a medium-income, zero-debt professional then who are they giving the money to?”

Homeownership dream 'unattainable'

Adele De’Arth, 25, and her fiance have been renting in Tauranga for six years and feel their dream of buying their first home is slipping away.

“Every Thursday when the rent money goes out, we both feel like we’re just tipping money down a hole that is adding no benefit to our future.”

De’Arth said the pair had a KiwiSaver deposit saved and the bank has told them they can get pre-approval “but for way less than the average house price”.

“There’s nothing out there for that range.

“It feels like every week that we don’t buy a house is another day that the houses are soaring by the thousands.

“We’ve both been raised to believe that as an adult you will be able to buy a house, get married and have children. It’s what everyone does, right?

“We never thought as teenagers that the goal of buying a house would be so unattainable for two people who both own businesses and work hard.”

For now, De’Arth said they planned to stay put and “keep saving, keep stressing and watching the house prices creep up and up”.

'Like trying to win Lotto'

A Rotorua couple with a combined $140,000 income still can’t get a loan to buy their first home.

A 38-year-old father-of-two, who asked to be named as Nilo, said he and his wife were supposed to buy their first home this year.

“We are in a combined income of $140,000 per annum and will be sitting on a $67,000 deposit in a few months from now.

“Three years ago we were on track on getting our house.”

But Nilo said the house prices had become unrealistic.

“It’s either you get a $750,000 to $800,000 new build in Ngongotaha, Pukehangi, Owhata or $500,000 of dilapidated run-down in Fordblocks …

“[It’s] really unbelievable at those prices and at those locations.”

Nilo said they were hopeful when KiwiBuild homes became available for just $480,000.

“We were jumping with joy as we thought our prayers have been answered.”

But it wasn’t to be.

“Our jaws dropped when we applied and found out there were only eight available versus the hundreds who applied.

“It’s like trying to win the Lotto.”

He was now considering moving across the ditch.

'Absolute nightmare'

A Taupō woman said it has been “an absolute nightmare” trying to buy her first home.

The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said despite the Government’s changes to make it easier for first-home buyers, the reality was “nothing has changed for us”.

She felt disadvantaged by the fact many houses were being pushed to auction.

“However in our situation, the majority of our deposit is coming from KiwiSaver, which means we can’t have our funds released until we have a signed purchase and sale agreement.

“So that leaves us with next to no option, we aren’t in a position where our parents can loan us $100,000 …”

'Hard market to crack'

CoreLogic chief property economist Kelvin Davidson said Tauranga was “a hard market to crack” for first-home buyers.

However, Davidson said with investor activity softening, he expected to see less competition.

“I think we will see … opportunities open up for first-home buyers.”

CoreLogic says first-home buyers represented only 17 per cent of the market in Q1 of 2021.

Simon Anderson, managing director of the Realty Group Limited, which operates Eves and Bayleys, said the market was at the “more mature end of opportunities” for first-home buyers.

“That’s why we have seen a number of first-home buyers buy in Rotorua and travel to Tauranga for work.”

First-home buyers were still active in the auction rooms and at open homes and many had become more savvy getting their deposit together, he said.

Anderson said the challenge for first-home buyers was to understand what they could afford, and being prepared to make sacrifices.

“If you have five things on your wishlist you might have to just go for three.”

First National Real Estate Tauranga general manager Cameron Hooper said the median price was “certainly up there” for a first home.

The “bank of Mum and Dad” had helped some first-home buyers secure a home in the $700,000 bracket.

“Anything under that $700,000 to $750,000 is what we would class as first-home buyer level now.

“When was the last time you saw something for sale with a five in it? A two-bedroom house maybe, but a three-bedroom house very rarely do you see something with a five in it for sale.”

But buying a home now was just as hard as it was in the 1980s when interest rates were much higher and stock levels had never been so low, he said.

A Westpac NZ spokesperson said the bank helped first-home buyers purchase 3512 homes in the six months to the end of March — a 35 per cent increase on the same time last year.

An ANZ spokesperson said the bank was concerned escalating property prices were putting homeownership out of reach for many Kiwis.

That’s why in December, ANZ introduced a 40 per cent deposit requirement from residential property investors to “bring balance to the housing market”.

A Kiwibank spokesperson said as responsible lenders, the bank needed to be sure customers were able repay any loans they take on without suffering hardship.

“As well as looking at the deposit amount and how much someone earns, we also consider what other debt they might have, what they spend, and the ability of the borrower to repay the loan at a higher interest rate.”

New Zealand Bankers’ Association chief executive Roger Beaumont said the association sympathised with first-home buyers facing the current housing market.

Beaumont said banks lend where they can, subject to lending criteria, which includes the borrower’s equity or deposit and their ability to repay the loan, so they weren’t “going in over their head”.

Mortgage versus rent

Fortnightly mortgage payment: $1157
Fortnightly rent payment: $1056
Difference: $101
Median house price: $937,500 (REINZ)

Fortnightly mortgage payment: $873
Fortnightly rental payment: $818
Difference: $55
Median house price: $630,000 (REINZ)

Source: CoreLogic First-Home Buyer Report

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