Housing: Desperate Auckland first home buyers bid at two auctions at once

First-home buyer Kristina Searle felt her anxiety welling as the clock counted five minutes to the start of bidding, when suddenly a text lit her phone.

“We’ve got the house!”

In a separate Ray White auction room across Auckland, Searle’s younger sister had just bought a three-bedroom, East Tamaki house for the two of them.

Having spent nine months missing out on home after home, the pair had decided to split up that Saturday and head to separate auctions in the hope of doubling their chances of finally securing a house.

But it had been a close call. Searle had been minutes from bidding on a second home when her sister finally closed the deal on the first.

“We were at the point where we didn’t care which house, it just had to be a house, any house,” Searle said of the relief that washed over them.

She then hurried across town to join her sister signing the paperwork.

Their unconventional – and risky – ploy highlighted how far some first-home buyers were willing to go to get on the property ladder in a time of skyrocketing house prices.

Auckland’s median house price leapt $205,000 over the past 12 months to hit hit $1.1 million in February in what has been called the biggest boom since the mid-2000s.

That led the Government to last week unveil a suite of measures it said would slow down investors and “tilt” the housing market in favour of first-home buyers.

Two new tax measures, in particular, aimed to force investors to now pay tax on any gain in the value of a house if resold within 10 years and prevent them from claiming home-loan interest payments as a tax-deductible business expense.

Ray White Manukau co-owner Tom Rawson said high prices had increasingly led friends and siblings to team up to buy over the past year and that, like the Searles, many were buying with less emotion than traditional first-home buyers.

He said he also bought his first house with a friend in 2007 as a 21-year-old, and the two of them then got a third buddy in as a renter.

“So it was like three friends going flatting but two of us owned the property, and that should be looked at by more people now,” he said.

The duo paid $390,000 for the Pakuranga house and later sold it for $590,000 – pocketing about $100,000 each to put into the “next phase of our lives”.

Now married with two kids each, they were still best mates, Rawson said.

Rawson called it the best move of his life, but it didn’t come without sacrifice.

He had to sell his beloved 1964 Chevy Impala to afford his $30,000 share of the deposit and now, 13-odd-years later when he could afford to buy it back, its current owner wouldn’t sell, he joked.

The Searle sisters bought in October but began their house hunt just before last March’s Covid-19 lockdown when most pundits tipped prices to fall.

Living with their parents at the time, 27-year-old Searle and her 24-year-old sister had already decided they needed to unite to afford to buy.

What they didn’t realise was they needed to act fast because prices were on the march.

“We didn’t rush the process at the start. We wanted to find something that felt right,” Searle said.

The hardest part was accepting the quality of the houses compared to how much they cost, she said.

“It probably took us nine months to realise we had to bite the bullet and pay what the market was paying at the time,” Searle said.

And then they went to extremes.

Going to separate auctions, one sister with their mum and the other with their dad, they ran the risk of a phone miscommunication leading them to accidentally buying two houses at once.

Searle said she didn’t begrudge investors, but the anxiety and hoops she had to jump through to get a property had her hoping the Government’s changes would make a difference.

“I do feel bad for those people who have built up a portfolio, but it is really hard as a first-home buyer to get on the market with those people out there at the same time,” she said.

Four months after buying her first home, did she think it had been worth it?

“At the time we thought no, but with how much prices have gone up since we bought it, I’d say yes,” Searle said.

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