The ‘great Australian dream’ doesn’t necessarily mean a three-bedroom house on a quarter-acre block with two kids and a doggo anymore. Your dream probably looks different. It probably doesn’t look anything like your best mate’s, either. It might involve country-hopping every five years, or heading bush to live near your favourite hiking tracks, or laying the slab of a communal place to share with family. But if your dream includes planting a foot on the property ladder at some point, it might be worth thinking outside the two-car garage. There are so many ways to buy a first home, and going nontraditional could be more affordable and (here’s the best part) give you the flexibility you need to create the lifestyle you’re living for.
We talked to a few people who are making their Australian property dreams happen unconventionally – and a couple of others who work in fields that help make unconventional first-home dreams come true.
Sophie joined (property) forces with her partner and brother
Describe the unconventional home you’ve bought together.
It’s a charming 1970s brick veneer in Rye on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. We went all in. It’s 750 metres from the Rye foreshore, so we saw it as a great opportunity.
How did you go about buying it?
My brother and I had always talked about buying a place together. My partner was also interested in buying a house. We were all just thinking, “How on earth are we gonna get into the property market?” Then my dad suggested that the three of us should join forces and look at it as a two-year plan to do up a property. The idea was that after we renovated we might sell it and the three of us could walk away with our own home deposits.
How did you plan your saving to make it happen?
We started by moving down from the city to Rye and renting because the rent was so expensive in the city. We got all set up with a joint account that we all contributed to. Each month, all of our home loan repayments and everything came out of that.
How did it feel when you finally took the plunge?
It was really exciting, a little scary. It kind of felt like playing Monopoly. Now we’re living in it and enjoying it. Living by the beach – we love the lifestyle down here. It’s like living on The Block. It’s allowed us to work more together as a team, or as a collective. We sometimes call meetings when we’re having dinner and talk about what we want to do with the house. It’s motivating because it keeps us on track with our goals.
Laura Phillips, head of editorial and urban advocacy at socially responsible developers Hip V. Hype, tells us about collaborative property development
First, what is a collaborative development model and how does it work?
It’s all about people coming together with the intention of living in a place they helped create themselves with a group of like-minded people. Together, they can have an intimate understanding and influence over the whole process. After all, it’s more likely that people will invest a lot more time, money and love into the process if they know they’re going to be living there.
What are the main reasons first-home buyers might take a collaborative, collective approach to getting on the property ladder, instead of going it alone?
It’s individual. For some members of Melbourne’s Davison Collaborative project, for example, it was about being priced out, and that the quality of houses available at their price point was usually poor. It’s a way to try and control the costs and do things on their own terms. Collaborating on home ownership is becoming an option for people who want to come together with friends to try and consolidate costs and do something in the spirit of a shared way of living.
What does a collective approach mean for the residents’ lifestyle?
It creates the opportunity to design something that is unique to the inhabitants and suits their tastes. A space they love. It also helps people create a truly high performance and sustainable home.
Penny and Stuart bought a mixed-use property by private sale
Tell us about the unconventional home you’ve bought.
Penny: It’s an apartment in a ’50s warehouse that was divided up in the ’90s. The home is mixed-use, so currently there’s a commercial tenant running their architecture business from the space. We can’t void the lease, and they can choose to renew for three more years or move out at the end of their term. So we aren’t able to move in straight away, but the benefit is that the tenant is essentially paying our mortgage – so we can save some money to do what we want when they move out, like a new kitchen.
Tell us how you went about buying it.
Penny: We’d actually written off the idea of living in the warehouse after we narrowly missed out on another property in the building. But then Stuart wrote to the body corporate, saying, “Hey, we’re really interested in this building. Please let us know if anyone else is selling.” A little while later, a woman called us. We started communicating directly and organised a private sale with her.
How did you budget to make it all happen?
Penny: Both of us have, career-wise, lived reasonably precariously. We’ve done creative work that has been rewarding but foolish financially. So we didn’t look too good to the bank. We had loads of debt but we worked hard to pay it off. Then, in just a year of not having to pay that money back anymore, we were able to save because we were used to the saving schedule. I took a second job teaching university at night and we cut back on food deliveries, despite being so busy. We were still living on a tight budget, which was fine, but suddenly, with all that saving and with a small inheritance of about $20K, we were like, “Okay! We can do a deposit.”
Do you have any advice for someone buying a home in an unconventional way?
Penny: It doesn’t matter when you confront your debt, but whenever you do it is a good moment. And if you have a little bit of money, it’s all about realising how you can be smart with it. Also, ask yourself: “What’s the big dream?”
Stuart: I’m just proud that we did it this way without real estate people. It was calm, respectful and mutually beneficial. We’ve enabled our tenant to do their thing and us to do our thing and get into this beautiful house.
Darren Hughes, founder of the Tiny Houses Australia Facebook page, tells us about the tiny (and growing) movement
How did you become interested in the tiny house movement?
My partner and I have been around the tiny house community for the past seven years or so. We started experiencing life in small spaces by living in a 1974 vintage caravan for over a year.
What are your own tiny house plans?
We’re working towards our own tiny house. We’d like to have a bit of land here in Victoria and another in northern New South Wales so we can flip between. With two blocks of land with two tiny houses, the other tiny house could be rented out when we’re living in one.
What are the motivators behind the tiny house movement?
First, cost. The average house in Australia is $689,000. And that’s not for your dream house. That’s for a place that probably needs work. And that’s an enormous amount of financial pressure on a single person or even a couple. Second, I think it’s freedom, simplification, getting rid of all the stuff that you don’t need. Life is so much freer, you feel alive, you’re not stressed about all your stuff.
Any stories of people making a tiny house their first home?
I know people who have built tiny houses that have never owned a house before. They’ve spent years and years renting and then decided to go down the route of tiny houses. In fact, a school student in Queensland decided to build himself a tiny house for a school project. He did it from recycled, up-cycled and found materials. He had some help, but at the end of the day, he’s just out of high school and finished his own home.
Do you have any advice for someone buying a home in an unconventional way?
Think about your home – tiny houses included – as the tool you can use to design the life and the lifestyle that you want. We should only be going through life with the things and the people we love and get joy out of, rather than carrying all this clutter. When we do that, we end up with less stress, less debt, and we’re overall happier and healthier because of it.
Dreaming of an unconventional place of your own but don’t know where to start?
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