Meet the Locals

Meet The Surf Coast Locals: Olivia Nicholls

The conversation around young people buying their own homes is often reduced to the cost of avocado on toast.

So I wanted to feature a very focused and determined young woman, my former work colleague, Olivia Nicholls. Olivia bought her first block of land three years ago, at the age of just 19, completely independently. Now 22, she has built and moved into her brand-new home in Torquay. Quite the achievement by anyone’s standards, but when you consider Olivia was also at university for part of this time, it’s quite astounding.

We had a chat about how she achieved her property goal at such a young age, why she chose Torquay, and how she trod the delicate path to balance saving with living.

Firstly Olivia, congratulations! How did it feel moving in your brand new home in Torquay earlier this year?

To be honest, it was surreal. Thankfully, I was lucky because of the transparent process that I enjoyed with my builder Geelong Homes. I wasn’t apprehensive as I had heard great things by many people who had built with them before and everything was as I planned and designed it. I have only paid one mortgage repayment so far, so it hasn’t quite hit me yet! However, when I do think about it, it gives me a real sense of achievement.

What inspired you to start saving for your first home?

Mum instilled into me that I should always have a goal. I began working part-time before I was legally allowed to, by taking on babysitting and tutoring jobs. Later on I worked in retail and hospitality. When I was studying Public Relations and Politics at RMIT, I worked in reception in a real estate agent’s office in Torquay. I had to study to get my agent’s representative certificate and although the pass rate wasn’t anywhere near 100% I was genuinely interested in the field. It spurred me into asking my colleagues – including you, Robyn – lots of questions. This all kick-started my understanding of why you should buy a home and why you should invest in property. There are real benefits to saving for a home when you’re relatively young. If you are older or have kids it’s much harder to save with all the outgoings. I realised that homeownership was achievable.

How did you manage it?

My savings at the time weren’t huge. I couldn’t afford a deposit on a house or established land. However, my mortgage broker advised that when you buy untitled land, in some instances you pay only a five per cent deposit upfront and then have a year to 18 months before settlement to save and pay the balance of a 20 per cent deposit. I used my small savings, and I had a strict savings plan in place to ensure I had the money upon settlement. I also thought that when the block settled I’d be working full time – well I hoped so – so the bank would be happy to lend me money to build. Many young people think ‘I can’t afford land or a house right now’, so they’ll avoid thinking about it. However, if you speak to people who are educated in the field and work out a long-term strategy, it’s a lot more achievable than you think.

You bought land in Torquay. Why did you decide on the Surf Coast?

I grew up in Jan Juc, then in a farmhouse in Bellbrae. I love the area. I’d probably taken it a little for granted growing up until you hear tourists saying how much they love the Surf Coast. We’re so lucky we get to live here! By the way, Robyn, I’ll always appreciate the advice you gave me about choosing land with a north-facing backyard as it will increase the value of the property and warm the house through the winter months! I’ve already been thinking about how valuable this choice was, with little spurts of cold weather!

No problem! What sacrifices did you have to make to achieve your goal?

I realise it’s not every young person’s or teenager’s dream to own a house. Most young people save to go to Europe, or go out every weekend and spend their disposable income on whatever they want. Obviously, I couldn’t do those things. However, I didn’t completely miss out. I had a few stints in Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia because they were much cheaper options. I knew I had to have a certain amount of money by the time the block of land settled, so I had to stay focussed. But if I’d already put away the required amount, and I had some spare money left over, I’d have a few drinks, or treat myself.

Thinking of selling?
Just researching the market?

The next step was building a home. How did you achieve that?

I went to my mortgage broker and explained that if I kept working and saving the way I was, I’d have a certain figure. Based on that, I asked how much I could borrow. He did the figures based on interest rates at the time, gave me a budget and I took it to Geelong Homes. I chose a volume-built house that came in literally $200 under budget.

I grew up in a small farmhouse with my two sisters and I shared a bedroom. Space inside my home was important to me, but I also wanted plenty of outdoor space with the limited land I could afford – and for my German Shepherd Collins of course!. Often in the new estates, you find big four-bedroom homes with two living rooms but they only have two metres between them and the next house. So, I chose a three-bedroom home with one living space. However, I designed the house so the living areas are at the back joining the indoor and outdoor living space, giving the impression that there is more living area than in reality. There are also features that give my home individuality. For example, there’s a little nook where I’ve built a desk and shelves from a lovely piece of timber. I feel like – and you reaffirmed this Robyn – that buyers can absolutely feel the love and detail that someone has committed to a home These ideas and the keenness I have for customising and decorating a homemade the building process a positive experience.

What lessons can you share with other young people?

I’ve learned if you move into a brand-new home in March, don’t expect to have it all finished by April! Also, I didn’t need to buy everything brand new. Facebook Marketplace has been my best friend. I don’t buy on the cheap, it has to be in good condition. Then when I can afford a brand new dining table, the old one will hold its value.

You’ve achieved the dream of being a homeowner by 22 years old. What is next for you?

Hopefully, make up for lost time and travel to some new places when flights are back up and running. I love politics. Since February 2019, I’ve worked full time for the member for Western Victoria in Torquay. It’s my dream job and I work just five minutes from my house. Maybe in the future, I could see myself working in Canberra in an advisor’s role. But for now, I’m really enjoying my new home with two housemates. I’m sure in the future (though it’s certainly not something on my mind right now!) I’ll be sitting down for a coffee with you Robyn and asking for your advice on my next move. Thanks for all your guidance in helping me achieve this humble little home!

Enjoy this time Olivia, you have earned it.