How these first-home buyers smashed their savings during lockdown and got in the market sooner


Geelong couple Astrid and Shane O’Brien know how fortunate they were to have kept their jobs during Victoria’s extended lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus.


In mid-March, Astrid, a project officer who normally commutes to an office in Lara, began working from home like tens of thousands of fellow Victorians, while her husband, who works for a large supermarket chain, “was busier than ever”.


In the long months that followed, the couple juggled their work commitments with caring for their two young children, while “cooped up in our tiny little place”, Ms O’Brien laughs.


But there was an upside. With childcare fees suspended for several months and many of their normal expenses, such as commuting to work, eating out, holidays and hairdressing appointments no longer an option, the couple were able to significantly boost their savings for a home deposit.


This month, they signed a contract with a Melbourne-based builder to build a new family home on a block of land in Armstrong Creek, just outside Geelong, which they settled on in October.


The couple’s finance broker, Sarah Thomson, of Loan Market Geelong, says they are typical of many first-home buyers she has worked with in recent months.


“The biggest thing I’ve seen this year with Victoria’s lockdown has been the ability, especially among first-home buyers, to be able to put money away into their house deposit savings,” she says.


“I’ve had a lot of clients who were hoping to be able to save enough to buy something later this year or next year. But with the extra savings they’ve made during lockdown, they’ve been able to bring that forward a bit.”


Some, like Astrid and Shane, have also saved enough to avoid additional costs such as lenders mortgage insurance, and now have extra money to spend on their build.


“There was a period there where we were able to save quite a lot on childcare fees, while the government was offering it for free,” Ms O’Brien said.

“Working from home has also helped because I haven’t been paying for petrol or wear and tear on the car and I’m not buying lunch at work. Even things like cutting back on hairdresser appointments has helped,” she says.


The couple were eligible for the First Home Owner Grant, which is worth $20,000 in regional Victoria, and the HomeBuilder Grant, currently worth $25,000.


“We feel very lucky that we’ve been able to take advantage of those really generous grants on top of being able to put away a bit more savings than we otherwise would have,” Ms O’Brien says.


Real estate agent Luke Saville, of The Agency Boroondara, says he has met dozens of Melbourne home buyers in recent weeks who were able to boost their savings during lockdown.


“It’s something I’m hearing all the time, particularly from younger first-home buyers,” he said. “Prior to lockdown, a lot of people in that sort of demographic would be spending $50 to $100 a week just on going out for a drink or dinner. That’s money they’ve been able to keep in savings,” he said.


Mr Saville says with interest rates so low, some first-home buyers who have managed to save a decent deposit are now faced with the possibility of paying less in mortgage repayments than they would in rent.


He recently did the sums on a one-bedroom apartment he was selling in Hawthorn and discovered the mortgage repayments would be “$100 to $200 less per month than the current rent”.


Ms Thomson agrees low interest rates and cuts to stamp duty, combined with the stimulus on offer, including the First Home Owner Grant and HomeBuilder, have created the perfect storm for first-home buyers who were able to increase their savings during lockdown.


“At the moment, I would say about 85 per cent of our business would be first-home buyers and the majority of those are building,” she says.


The finance broker says while many of her clients are locals, she is working with increasing numbers of clients from Melbourne who are moving to Geelong, the Surf Coast and the Bellarine Peninsula.


“Since covid, we’ve seen a lot of people moving from Melbourne. They’re often young people who moved to Melbourne for uni and have been living there for years but have moved home,”she says.


“And, then there are those who can now work from home and are realising how close Geelong is to Melbourne and so therefore why wouldn’t you move down to the coast to be closer to the beach?”


She says Astrid and Shane are a classic example of the string of first-home buyers she is working with, who have “smashed their savings” over the past nine months.


“We feel really fortunate to have both kept working this year and therefore save that extra money that we just wouldn’t have saved otherwise,” Ms O’Brien says. “Hopefully, it means we will save on our mortgage insurance and be able to add a few upgrades to our house. We feel very lucky.”


Ref: RACHEL WELLS (on 20 Dec 2020). How these first-home buyers smashed their savings during lockdown and got in the market sooner. Retrieved from


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