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Building A Future

A new build intended as a holiday home has ended up being a lucrative investment property for an Auckland family, as Joanna Mathers discovers.

By: Joanna Mathers

1 October 2021

Mangawhai is a boom town an hour-and-a-half’s drive north of Auckland, which has experienced huge value growth in the past few years. But when Ross Fickling and his family were looking for a piece of land on which to build their dream bach three years ago, they were lucky enough to just beat the price surge.

“We were looking for a place that had everything our current home didn’t,” says Fickling, an experienced builder who heads a firm called RGF Construction. They wanted the land to be flat and they wanted a safe road where kids could ride their bikes.
“We live on a steep site on a main road, so we wanted somewhere we could escape to,” says Fickling.

The property they discovered met all these requirements. It was a former front lawn that had been “shaved off and subdivided” by the owners of a much larger section. Located in an established suburb with safe roads, the only downsides were a raft of covenants limiting exactly what could be built.

But as an experienced builder, Fickling knew the best way around such things: “I worked out ways that I could manipulate the rules the best I could,” he chuckles.

The section was purchased for $260,000 in 2018, the value now would be in the $400,000s, Fickling shares.

While the initial plan was to purchase a pre-designed home, Fickling and his family couldn’t find a design that met their needs. So Fickling decided to work with a designer that he knew who could create something a little bit special for this build.

“We wanted something that was a little bit different, something more nicely done, but still affordable,”

Fickling says. A covered deck, freestanding bath, butler’s pantry, and raked ceiling were all included in the plans. At 165m2, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, this was to become a large and comfortable family home. Fickling started work on the property in November 2019. Working with trusted tradies, he would go up to the build in weekends and then over the summer holidays, to ensure it was completed quickly.

Lockdown Opportunity

But then, in early 2020, along came Covid-19. While it offered a unique opportunity for Fickling (he could have the space and time to finish the house) it meant he would have to move away from family for the duration of the level four lockdown.

“My wife Laura and I discussed it and decided that it was the best thing to do,” he says of the decision to spend lockdown building the home.
“My amazing wife spent lockdown running a business from home, while home schooling our two children.”

On the eve of lockdown, Fickling arranged for Carters in Mangawhai to drop $20,000 worth of building supplies into the open garage of the new home.

“I have a great relationship with the people there,” he shares.

And while everything would fall into place during this period build-wise, “it was also a real drag” being away from family, he shares.

Nevertheless, it was a smooth build and completed quickly. The small, special design features – a recessed wall space in the bathroom for soap, shampoo or whatever was required, the sliding barn-door style slider that separated the kitchen from the butler’s pantry – creating a real point of difference.

The barn-door slider was an innovation that proved popular. “I was lying awake at night thinking about how to use some offcuts of wood that I had left over,” says Fickling. “I came up with the idea of using it to create that sliding door; every sub-tradie who worked on the house ended up wanting one.”

The home’s interiors were painted in Resene “Alabaster” with the exterior the popular Resene “Black White”.

The main bathroom features wall and floor tiles, a freestanding bath and attractive oak overlay cabinets: these were sourced from Ian Hunt Flooring and make a real statement in the room.

And the pitched ceilings were created using birch plywood; recessed sky lights in the kitchen creating visual impact while bringing natural light to this most important of rooms.

Different Direction

While the house came along beautifully during lockdown, Fickling says it was also a time of great uncertainty. He was worried that the pandemic would spell the end of the construction industry for the foreseeable future, and that they would find themselves in financial trouble.

So, the family made the decision to move in a different direction: rather than use the house as a holiday escape,they would rent it out to shore up the family’s finances. Luckily, the ideal tenants presented themselves on a local Facebook page.

“An elderly couple put up a post asking for a place to live – on the Mangawhai page – during lockdown,” says Fickling. When the country moved to level three, the couple came to look at the house. Within a few days they decided to take the place: they are still there, and pay $600 (well under market rent) for the house. All up, the new build cost the Fickling’s just $500,000, so this is a healthy 6% yield.

Having retirees has been beneficial, especially over the lockdown. As other property investors find their tenants struggling to pay rents, Fickling says that the fixed income of these retirees has meant their rents are always up to date.

“They keep the place spotless as well,” he shares.

The change of tack, from holiday home to rental property, has proven extremely beneficial for the Ficklings. The rental returns have helped them pay off a small mortgage on their family home, and they will soon be mortgage free. Then he plans to start building for himself again.

“I plan to build our ‘dream home’ and then build another rental property,” Fickling says. “And once that has finished, I want to build another investment property. We’ve been really lucky with this one.”

With recent valuations putting the property at just shy of $1 million, it’s fair to say they have been.


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