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Case study: 'I did two jobs so I could afford to buy a house'

Cole Saunders owns four properties – and he’s only 21.

9 March 2022

When you want something so much that no level of discomfort will stop you from getting it, your success is already halfway guaranteed.

For Cole Saunders, his dream of owning property and creating financial freedom has been driving all his decision-making since he was a teenager.

Having cut his teeth on a paper run at 11, at 16 Saunders got his first job at Burger King and began saving. At 18, he moved to Wellington and worked fulltime at Burger King, where he was promoted and managed to save even more.

He lived in a shared room with two other people but says the lack of privacy didn’t bother him because he was hardly ever home.

He dedicated all his spare time to financial education, drawing inspiration from books, local experts and the Property Academy podcast.

With plenty of savings under his belt and a decent chunk of money invested in shares, he went looking for his first property, but Wellington homes were just too far out of his price range. So, he moved to Christchurch.

“I moved specifically to buy property, but I was single and I didn’t have any kids so I could easily move down here,” Saunders says.

“I worked a full shift at KFC and then did the graveyard shift at Macca’s. I got free food at work, which meant big savings.”

Eventually, after trying to secure a loan for many months, Saunders found “a really nice lady” at ANZ who helped him get approved for a mortgage.

“I told her the whole situation and I think she felt sorry for me and pushed me over the line.”

In 2019, he was able to buy his first property: a two-storey, three-bedroom, one-bathroom unit in Riccarton for NZ$350,000.

“I added on an extra bedroom, lived in one and rented out the other rooms,” he says. That income covered all his costs, and it felt good to be living in his own place.

“I was still working most of the time. But after a couple months I went looking around for the next one. I had about $70,000 in shares, so I sold those at a very slight loss and bought my second house in late 2019.

“That was a three-bed, one-bath in Shirley for $299,000. I moved into that and rented out all the rooms in the Riccarton house.”

Using Resimac for his subsequent borrowing (and paying principal and interest on all his properties), in 2020 Saunders was able to secure lending for a third property – a unit in Papanui.

Once again, he used his strategy of adding a bedroom to boost the value.

If this level of drive to buy a house seems surprising in a teenager, that’s because it wasn’t just about owning a home.

Saunders is driven by a desire for future financial freedom through investment. He plans to grow his passive income from property and shares until he can choose whether he wants to work or not.

Now 21, Saunders is no longer living in the house in Shirley.

While working at KFC he met his partner, Chloe Smythe, and after dating for a year they decided to buy their first house together in late 2020.

It’s in Sockburn, and it’s already had an extra bedroom added. “We’re always doing more renovations, it never stops,” he says with a laugh.

Saunders’ dedication to building his income has already helped him improve his lifestyle.

He’s shifted from working two fast food jobs into a sales role at Vodafone, which he’s really enjoying. It allows him far more free time and he’s earning more money – and Smythe is now working there too.

Together they plan to build a portfolio of 10 properties with passive income of around NZ$100,000 a year.

“I don’t like having to work, but I do like working – I’m a bit addicted to it, but I want the freedom not to have to,” he says.

“Property is a good reliable way to achieve that, partly because of the leverage. I regularly thank god for the sacrifices made so I think, if I do the shit now, I can relax later on.”

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