One millennial couple's top tips for first-home buyers

Auckland couple Willem and Kate van den Bergh built a tiny house on Waiheke Island to beat the housing market crisis. 

The couple have put together their best tips to get you on your way to buying your first home.

Think outside the box

‘The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new’. We knew we couldn’t afford to buy a ‘normal’ house in Auckland, so we looked into alternatives. Buying with family? Container homes? Tiny homes? Van life? Caravan? Do whatever you can to get out of the rent trap, so you can start saving that money that would instead be helping to pay off someone else’s mortgage.

Your first house is not your last house

Use your first house as a stepping stone. Living in a tiny house will work for now. But we acknowledge that it will change in the future as our needs and lives continue to change. It doesn’t suit everyone, but for us it was a way we could set ourselves up for a bigger future. We can then build a larger family home and rent out the tiny house. It takes guts to do something that’s against the norm. It’s scary! But for us the positives outweighed the negatives and all of the what-ifs.

Do whatever you can to save money

A lot of people build tiny homes and pay minimal rent to park them on another person’s section. Or they do work on those sections in return for a parking space, which often is a win-win situation. You can find parking spaces on landshare.co.nz

It’s a good way to build your home and live in it while saving money for your own section.

We were very lucky to be able to move into my mum’s house for two years, to be able to pay off debt and save for our first house. Truth told, it was not easy for her or for us, but we wouldn’t have been able to afford to build our house and buy our section without her doing that for us. We realise we were very privileged to be able to.

Start talking money

Talk to your partner, do a budget, stick to it. Book an appointment with a mortgage broker to see how much deposit you will need. See what steps you need to put in place to get where you need to be to be able to borrow. You may be surprised! 

We booked a free appointment and they gave us so much valuable advice. And they were very open-minded about our tiny house idea. It turned out that after working out what debt we owed versus what KiwiSaver money we could withdraw, and what savings we had, we could actually look at buying a section right away. I thought we would be another year off at least!

Become a bargain-hunter

Before the build started, we scoured Trade Me for any kind of deal on materials we could find. If you have the time to do this before you start a build, it will save you a lot of money. Because a tiny house is such a small-scale build, you can often get great deals for leftover cladding, leftover paint, leftover tiles, carpet end of lines and so on.

Be prepared for hard work

If you have the time to spare, doing the hard work yourself will save you a lot of money. When we built the tiny house, we learned to tile from a YouTube video. We did the tiling, the sanding, the painting and staining ourselves.

When we bought the section, we asked our electrician if there was any way we could save money from his quote by doing work ourselves.

We rented a trench digger and dug half the trench using that, and hand-dug the rest that was on a slope. It’s a 90-metre long section! Plus, we rolled out the cable and the mag-slab (cable cover) ourselves. We also dug all the holes for our concrete piles and for the deck. We built our outdoor furniture with help from another YouTube video and did all our own landscaping.


Published 27 February 2019

Story by Claire Connell, JUNO

Pie Funds Management Limited is the issuer of the JUNO KiwiSaver Scheme. You can read our Product Disclosure Statement here. This article is general in nature only and has not taken into account any particular person’s objectives or circumstances. We recommend you speak with a financial adviser. All content is correct at time of publication date.