Property prices: How this couple paid off their mortgage in 12 years

“I did a little side-kick and said f*** yeah, in the bag.”

That’s how Emma Cooper celebrated paying the last $700 on her mortgage.

Aged 35 at the time, it’s fair it made for a grand exit from the bank.

The moment of euphoria in 2018 was 12 years in the making. In 2006, they paid less than $175,000 for the home, which they still live in. Today, it is valued up to $600,000.

The couple bought cheap and made use of Doug’s skills as a builder to renovate inside and out. The transformation was a “labour of love” done bit by bit, as they could afford it.

That bit-by-bit philosophy ran deep for the Coopers, enabling them to carve 17.5 years off their mortgage and gain financial freedom.

Emma credits Doug for making their money work for them and not the bank.

Her father and late grandfather also passed on valuable advice she still follows today.

“My granddad said you have to have a financial agreement between yourself and your partner. I’m the saver and Doug is the spender. So he paid for the upkeep of our life and those expenses and I paid for the mortgage.”

That changed slightly after the birth of their two children, but knocking off their mortgage was still a priority.

Meanwhile, Emma – a teacher – was taught the difference between wants and needs as a youngster.

“My dad told me never to tick something up. If you want something and haven’t got the cash, save up. I don’t put things on hire purchase and I don’t buy into the interest-free marketing ploys.”

Making lump-sum payments on the mortgage, always paying more – even when it was only $10 a week, which could shave off nine years – and free kindy had made a huge difference, she says.

Towards the end of their mortgage, which expired in September 2018, Emma says she started to get excited and began picturing in her mind what the bank owned and what they owned.

“It was like we own the house and the bank owns the garage. Now the bank owns the vegetable garden until it got to the bank owns the fence and now all they own is the gate.”

Their journey was not “beans on toast” and she says they entertained the idea of upgrading to a flasher house, but decided against it. That has not been ruled out completely, but the Coopers were finding it hard to match what they already have.

“I love it in Mangakakahi, we have a huge section and the kids have a 30m flying fox in the back yard and a treehouse with deck.”

They did treat themselves and upgraded their car, and when Doug turned 40 Emma bought him a motorbike. Those were paid for in cash and they have invested in shares for their retirement.

”We are really, really happy and life is just amazing.”

When other couples were out partying Dave Altena and his wife Katrina were painting, sanding, building decks and renovating their doer-upper, 1960s bungalow in Auckland.

That house cost about $400,000 and they spent seven years putting in the hard graft renovating their home – which paid big dividends when they moved to Tauranga with their two children in November 2016.

Dave, who is in his 40s, says it enabled them to build a brand-new brick-and-tile home for upwards of $600,000 that was twice the size.

”Comparing our two houses is like chalk and cheese. Our old house was small and we had to wipe the condensation off the windows every morning in winter.”

They also did not miss spending a third of their income on that mortgage and up to $2000 a month on daycare.

The Altenas are now in the throes of doing some additions to their Ohauiti home that would add value, but will still be mortgage free in four years.

Dave says they have always worked to a budget and by his own admission, ”I’m the financial nerd in my family while Katrina is a little bit more of a spender”.

”But we work together … and have been lucky because we have good jobs and don’t have to scrimp.”

However, in saying that, he is careful with money and the mortgage was a priority.

The Altenas don’t ”follow the Joneses” but are firm believers in building wealth.

”Looking towards retirement we want a freehold home and a similar income to what we have now. So we have KiwiSaver and investments.”

The Coopers' top tips to tackle your mortgage

•Keep it simple. Be happy to start where you are and not where you want to be.

•Both of you have to want it as much as each other and be driven to get rid of that debt.

• Keep your goal in mind, stick to your long-term plan and don’t move the goalposts.

• Communicate with the bank and tell them what you want. When your mortgage is up for review, go in and look at what you can change. Pay weekly if you can.

The Altenas' top tips to tackle your mortgage

• Budget and stay away from consumer debt.

• Get on the ladder. Buy a property in an area that’s affordable and where you’re able to add value. Put your home lending on a term of 15-20 years (or less).

• Build wealth and use KiwiSaver and other investments where possible.

• Develop yourself. Progress your career and earning potential to repay your home loan, fund your lifestyle and invest.

• Take a break to enjoy and reflect. Reflect on your progress, celebrate your wins.

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