18 Jul 2017

Cash-strapped buyers housesit to save for homes

5:48 pm on 18 July 2017

First home buyers in the main centres are becoming professional housesitters as property prices and rents become increasingly out of reach.

An auction sign outside a house for sale in Auckland.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

An increasing number of young couples were doing it to save money on rent and living costs, The Housesitting Company managing director Jason Strong said.

"They're either doing it to save money because they can't afford to live in Auckland, or they're saving for a deposit."

He set up his company eight years ago after he and his wife spent three years housesitting in order to buy a home.

Business had "boomed" over the past three years in particular, as house prices rose across the country, he said.

"Two years ago at least 90 percent of sits and sitters were in Auckland, but the rest of the country is catching up and now Auckland only represents 55 percent of activity," Mr Strong said.

Auckland's North Shore and Auckland Central were the most popular housesitting spots, closely followed by Wellington, Bay of Plenty and Christchurch, he said.

Auckland primary school teacher Brittany Wong and her husband Bourne, who works in finance, managed to save "a sizeable deposit" by saving one income and housesitting part-time in Auckland over the past 18 months.

"We were saving for a house but in Auckland, as you know, it's quite an unachievable task. Housesitting was a way we could save some extra cash," Mrs Wong said.

Lending restrictions hit first home buyers when they were first introduced in 2014 when house sales to first home buyers dropped from 23 percent to 19 percent, according to figures from CoreLogic.

That figure had gradually recovered to around 22 percent last quarter.

"Our take on this is that they tend to find a way into the market as they have a greater need, including emotional need, to get into the market," said CoreLogic head of research Nick Goodall said.

"Whether this means finding other sources of money for the deposit, like family help, or adjusting their expectations in terms of distance to CBD or property type."

An increasing number of retirees were also opting to housesit, but for different reasons.

"They're not doing it so consistently, they're choosing sits that look good for them, maybe they want to go to Queenstown for a holiday, they enjoy the travel aspect of it," Mr Strong said.

Stephanie Wynn, 58, is one of those enjoying that lifestyle.

She has been house-sitting almost continuously for the past six years and sees it as an affordable way to live and see the country.

"It's a beautiful exchange. I'm looking after their pets and their home and security and I get free accommodation and utilities. I'm quite happy not to invest in property again," Mrs Wynn said.