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Keys, thanks… now where’s the instruction manual?

Posted on Aug 29, 2013

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First home buyer's guide case study: Anthony and Sarah part II

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The entire house buying experience was hard to define. I’d compare it to running through a forest, hurdling obstacles and not being able to see too far ahead and then, all of a sudden, you are out in the open and standing before you is your very own house.

With all the external obstacles such as insurance, finance and legalities out of the way, Sarah and I now had to view our project — with ‘achievable prospective’ achievable being the key word.

Yes, we had visions to turn our ex-state house into Christchurch’s very own Taj Mahal, as I can imagine many other first home buyers do, but unfortunately we had to realise that our dreams and plans had to be in direct relation with our budget and time.

Neither me, nor Sarah, profess to be mathematicians or property experts, but we could see the potential pitfalls emerging before our very eyes; one of those pitfalls being over-capitalising. We had to prioritise the areas that would deliver a definitive return on investment, but unfortunately this realisation put plans for my elaborate deck on hold until next summer… such a travesty.

We have to keep our eyes on the prize though; we’re aiming to raise the equity level in the house through renovations and improvements to borrow against the property in order to secure our first rental (providing the market continues to rise). We will not borrow any more, a mortgage is enough at present, so for every dollar we spend on renovations we want it to at least double the investment. To make that happen, we needed to take the rose tinted glasses off and view our home through the eyes of a registered valuer.

The sun was still shining on the day we picked up the keys (January 25) and we’d arrived at the house with open minds, a sense of freedom (an odd sensation considering the 30 year mortgage we’d just scribed for) and a list of ideas more elaborate than the city blueprint!

We decided to adhere to the saying ‘make hay while the sun shines’ so we prioritised the landscaping and general outdoor tasks while the weather was still favourable. Sarah did however, have one vital installation that took all priority – a dog flap. Well, a cat flap actually, but the dog is small enough to squeeze through.

Our weekends became redundant; we were socially reclusive as the overgrown (I mean, hip height) bush in the 680 sqm garden proved a battle to rid and the objects we found embedded in the earth became more and more absurd.

It seems the previous owners had decided to lay DIY weed mat in the form of ice cream carton lids.

When we viewed the house we could see past the overgrown garden and realised that there was plenty of usable land to take advantage of. However, there were a few issues with trees, although we both liked the trees we had more than enough and they’d grown dangerously close to the house and were blocking vital sun/warmth from our windows. The house itself was shaded for most of the day, meaning we had no solar heating through the windows.

Out came the compass as we decided the trees had to be sacrificed in order to harness the free heating source in the sky.

This is where we were very fortunate; after discussing these plans with Jude, a fellow Academy worker and gym buddy, she pointed out that her husband was a part owner of Arbor-Tek and she kindly volunteered his services for the weekend.

A few weeks earlier I’d begun some amateur tree felling with a handsaw, climbing trees in a pair of jandals, not exactly PPE, but Bernie had the tools for the job and with all hands on deck, including Jude, we managed to clear a number of sunlight blocking and spout destroying trees from our land. It’s made a huge difference to the ability of the house to heat itself naturally and retain heat throughout the day. Now we just have to re-grow the grass that had been deprived of sunlight for so many years.

Patience is a virtue

After living in the house for a while we noticed a worrying lack of energy efficiency. No insulation in the roof, gaps in the floorboards and single glazing, all factors contributing towards an energy inefficient home.

We wanted the ability to give the heat pump a rest once in a while and reduce our power bill further, for this we enlisted the help of Eco Insulation. As an avid supporter of The Campaign for Wool myself, I found the choice of insulation companies pretty easy – Eco Insulation’s wool-blend would add extra thermal retention to our previously shaded home and their Eco Fleece® product was cost effective, professionally installed and used natural New Zealand wool. We also insulated under the floor and qualified for the very helpful EECA grant which eased the impact on the allocated budget.

Looking at the ratio of ‘dollars spent to energy efficiency achieved’, we certainly have noticed the impact and believe we will recoup the outlay through savings on our heating bill within a few years. Next up, those single pane windows, but we may need to save a little longer before they get replaced or retrofitted.

Winter is for indoors

As the colder weather began to settle in we were certainly glad our house had a woollen hat and a pair of slippers on! We moved operations from the outside, to the inside.

Planned renovations during the next few months include a full new kitchen, carpeting the patchy wooden floor and if the budget will stretch far enough, we may even be able to upgrade a few items of furniture!

Watch this space.

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