Sri Lankan migrant bought first Auckland house in four years, wants to become investor

Cutting down on takeaways and alcohol and buying furniture second-hand were some of the ways an immigrant and first-home buyer said he had saved for his first Auckland house.

Manoj Alwis, 35, a software engineer who immigrated from Sri Lanka in 2017, said the key to him buying was having his good education bringing with it a reasonable income, saving hard and reducing spending.

No cafe avocado on toast for him.

“After so much hard work as a single person, it was a great experience and big milestone. The most important thing is you should have a target and motivation,” he wrote on the Kiwi First Home Buyers Group social media post on July 4.

Alwis saved a $62,000 deposit in only three years while simultaneously supporting his mother in Sri Lanka, sending her $250/month for medical and healthcare needs.

“If I go out, I only have one or two beers,” he said – no wine, spirits, or cocktails.”I mainly cook my own food, only having takeaways maybe once a week. And I got the furniture online, like my coffee table was only $20 and the dining table I got for $150 but in the shop it’s $300 and you can’t tell. I don’t want to waste money.”

Alwis said he had initially lived “frugally” in flats in St Johns, Glen Innes and Mt Roskill after immigrating and said bedrooms were often small, he was often lonely and life was difficult.

“I had to start my life from zero and was struggling with flatting, especially without any family members here. So I always had a target and motivation to get my own place.”

He was earning $82,000/year at Auckland University when he bought the house last year but says his income is now above that at a new company.

He worked extra hours in software engineering, taking on freelance work to boost his income to be able to save for the house and he acknowledged having a good education and being an engineer had helped.

But his goal was to get ahead by owning his own place so last November, he paid $620,000 for a new two-bedroom Takanini home which he said is now valued at $730,000.

“So that’s about $90,000 I’ve gained in that time and soon, I hope to buy a second house – in the next one to two years. I’d like to rent that out.”

His bank initially turned him down on his loan application and he was faced with paying a higher interest rate, but he said a chance conversation with a bank branch staffer in Mt Eden resulted in a review and his bank loan application was approved at the last minute.

Settling the purchase was also stressful because he had to wait three months for the code compliance certificate to be issued.

“Sometimes, I didn’t sleep well,” he said of the purchase.

He now travels Takanini to Symonds St in the CBD daily, a commute of about an hour, usually via train but sometimes driving. Buying so far from the CBD where he works takes up time during his day.

Alwis is a Buddhist and believes in karma and doing the right thing by people but he said he applies a “rational, analytical” philosophy to religion and just tries to treat people well.

In 2019, he brought his mother to visit New Zealand for two months and said that made him “extremely happy” and proud. His father passed away some years ago.

The $250/month he sends his mother goes on “some medicine, to the doctor for checkups, and for donations to the temple and poor people”.

The social media post was headlined “homeless to my own home”. Alwis clarified that by homeless, he had not meant he was on the streets or living in a car. He had meant he didn’t own his own home.

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