The cost of houses doesn't seem to be slowing down, nor does enthusiasm for home ownership. We interviewed different recent first-time home buyers in the region to learn more about what this mysterious, seemingly unattainable process is like.
Here is what locals have to say.
McOnie lives on her own, and it occurred to her that she would be paying the same for rent as she would for mortgage. She could afford to do it, and it made sense long term. She started the hunt in March 2020 and looked at several properties. She ended up making an offer on the first one she saw and purchased a two-bedroom apartment in Georgetown in mid-April 2020.
Budget-wise, she says, "I was pre-approved for $500k, but realistically my budget was a little below that as I wanted to have some of what I'd saved left over for any renovations/alterations etc. I was looking at places up to around $460k."
Thoughts and advice: Overall she thinks it was an easier process than she expected, particularly obtaining finance. "I'd definitely heard horror stories but it all went fairly smoothly. I found the process of actually negotiating and making an offer intensely stressful! Particularly when properties would have a range of like $50k I had no idea if my offer was going to be anywhere near what the vendors were considering," she says.
Ethan Andrews and Kim Kelly
Overall Ethan Andrews and his fiancé Kim Kelly found the entire process of buying a house to be drama-free. They purchased a home in Birmingham Gardens.
The two browsed home-buying apps for two years before lockdown ended, and then they started going to open homes. They purchased a three-bedroom home and moved in late 2020.
"We were looking at like $550,000 - low $600,000s. We did not borrow every dollar the bank would give us, and when looking at mortgage repayments were honest with ourselves," Andrews says. "We knew there would be periods in our lives when our household would be supported by a single income, so it was important that this would be manageable."
Thoughts and advice: They originally missed out on the place they live-purchased but got a call after the original buyer's offer fell over. They negotiated $20,000 off their initial offer and that price was accepted with no haggling, which surprised them. They didn't go through a mortgage broker and didn't even set foot in the bank.
"With this being the biggest purchase in our lives, it was important to us that we borrowed from a bank that shared our values. Our mortgage is through Bank Australia, who do not lend to the fossil fuel industry. They don't have any branches in Newcastle, but that wasn't an issue at any point," Andrews says.
Boyd Cooper and Megan Reibel
Megan Reibel and her partner Boyd Cooper bought their first home with the help of the first-time home buyers loan [a program launched by the Australian Government to assist first home buyers into their first home faster. First home buyers can purchase their first home with a 5% deposit and the government will guarantee the remaining 15%. This means the first home buyer doesn't have to pay Lenders Mortgage Insurance]. More of the loans were released due to the pandemic in November, but the new places released were for new homes only; the home needed to be built during the pandemic or had to be a new build during 2021. The new places came with a threshold of $600k ($450k was the threshold of the old scheme) meaning that people approved for the old scheme gave up their place to secure a new one. This opened a few spots and Reibel's banker secured her a spot.
The couple began looking in October 2020 and purchased a two-bedroom home in Thornton in February 2021.
Budget-wise,"We based our budget on how much we wanted to spend on repayments. We're big on living within our means but we hate making sacrifices. We wanted to spend around $300-$400/week on repayments which put our budget between $350-400k. Due to the FHLDS we were capped at $450k, so we could have increased the budget but chose not to," Reibel says.
Another reason they chose to buy cheap first: they want to pay off their home, rent it out and sell it when they retire.
Thoughts and advice: Reibel found there was a lot of competition for houses in their price range with people buying in Thornton, Metford, and East Maitland in anticipation of the new Maitland hospital.
"We looked at some pretty dingy looking places and they ended up going for over $450k," she says. "We inspected the place we bought because we thought "well, we've looked at everything else. It's not what we're looking for but why not?' When we got there the house was completely different to the pictures, it was perfect!"
From there, placing an offer was easy. The owner lived in another state and he accepted an offer for $25k less than what it was purchased for three years ago.
They found the hardest part came next, and they were happy to have their bankers, Kate Newman and Aleisha Hudson from East Maitland, keeping on top of everything.
"After the initial rush of getting the loan approved, getting building inspections, finding a conveyancer, and signing the contracts, we just had to wait. There were tenants in our place who needed notice to leave and there was a bit of maintenance we requested to be written into the contract," she says
She recommends patience and taking lots of photos and look at every inch of the house before putting an offer in. The biggest challenge was finding a place and not getting into a bidding war.
"We had put offers on two other places in the weeks before and on both occasions we had been outbid and the places ended up going for $50k+ more than what the asking price was," she says.
Emma Levine and Chad Bennett
Over five months Emma Levine and Chad Bennett went to over 80 open homes and more than a dozen auctions. It's the biggest purchase of their life, so they wanted to be as prepared as possible.
They bought a three-bedroom home in Hamilton. They began looking in July 2020 and made a purchase in December 2020.
They started with a budget of around $600,000, and that became $600,000-700,000 and moved up to $600,000-$850,000.
Thoughts and advice: The couple did plenty of research and planning. They asked questions like: How many bedrooms do we want? Should we consider the school catchments? Do we see ourselves working from home? How important is a garden? A car spot? What kind of a life do we want to build together?
"The biggest challenge was trying to assess the market in a post-COVID economy. Our expectations of a correction or even a slight dip proved to be wrong, and as time went on we could see that there were plenty of young buyers, just like us, who were getting involved. The challenge - although I guess it's the same for everyone - is trying to make an assessment of an overall market trend at a fixed point in time," Bennett says.
"What is 'good value' is relative. We'd see houses across the road from the coal train line, with their facade caked in black dust go for $50,000 over the listed price. Or a three-bedroom house where the third bedroom was just a large sunroom get snapped up after one open house. Or a house on a notoriously flood-prone street have a dozen registered bidders on auction day. All of those seemed insane, but for those particular buyers, they were perfect," Levine says.
They did find the auction itself for their home was easier than expected. After going to many, they were one of only three bidders, with the auction consisting of five total bids. They were pinching themselves in the aftermath, because they thought there must have been some sort of catch.
Levine recommends using a broker. "I was sceptical, but a good broker can make your life so much easier. Finding an ethical lender was important to me, and our broker was able to put together a range of options that fit our requirements," she says.
Jim and his partner Karmun Phoon decided to buy a house (they were apartment dwellers) as they needed a place to get married and a backyard for their pets.
They purchased a home in Hamilton. Free had been looking on and off for years but then in January 2021 he really buckled down and made the purchase in April 2021.
His budget was $500,000 to $800,000
Thoughts and advice: He found from agents, to vendors, solicitors and brokers, there was an array of new concepts and terms to negotiate. He recommends finding people you trust in key areas of the buying process and have open, honest conversation with your partner and consistent communication with your mortgage broker.
Understanding the financial process was his biggest challenge. Once he understood the payment process and what he could afford, buying the house became less daunting.
"Once I understood the mechanics of it all, I felt a lot more comfortable with paying my life savings for a new home. I then had to find a house I really wanted and then work out what it was worth. The house went to auction and by a stroke of luck I was able to win," he says.
"The auction experience was intense but after going to two 'practice' auctions, I felt much more familiar with the rhythms set by the auctioneer. Knowing that it was a quasi-theatre production helped me keep calm at the crucial moment."