Benjamin and Victoria O’Sullivan saved for a house deposit while living in this shack. (ABC News: Katri Uibu)
Would you give up electricity, hot water, the warmth of a house, and live in this shack if you knew you could afford your first home 18 months later? Benjamin and Victoria O’Sullivan did.
- Benjamin and Victoria O’Sullivan managed to cut down costs, living in a shed
- Housing experts say young people are finding alternative ways to save for a home
- Experts say a shortage of rentals in Hobart is driving prices up
It wasn’t planned.
When the couple first flew to Tasmania, it was to visit Mr O’Sullivan’s mother who had just bought land an hour from Hobart, on the Tasman Peninsula.
But from a two-week holiday grew a lifestyle, albeit temporary.
“When we first arrived here, there wasn’t much here,” Ms O’Sullivan said.
Except for a weathered old shack.
“I was hoping to find a really nice 70s Porsche or something locked up in the garage — because it was just locked with a padlock that no-one had a key for,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
“We cut that open and it was just a pile of rubbish.”
They were immediately drawn to the rugged Tasmanian landscape and friendly locals, but the prospect of paying increasing rental prices in Hobart was less appealing to the pair that was eyeing their own property.
In a bid to enter the housing market, they decided to cut down costs drastically — and turned the flimsy shack into a home.
“We just kept saving our pennies while we were living simply, without very many expenses,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
The first months without electricity, hot water and a fireplace were tough, not in the least because the notoriously cold Tasmanian winter was approaching.
“I said to Ben ‘if we’re going to stay here, we need a fireplace’,” Ms O’Sullivan said.
Adamant they would avoid paying bills, the couple resorted to making small self-made adjustments to survive their first winter — starting off with a fireplace.
“But then light was the next big issue, obviously it gets dark pretty quick, coming into winter,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
Ms O’Sullivan added: “We had head torches, candles to begin with.”
“But putting a solar panel on the roof and having light switches was a great improvement.”
Down the track, they also figured out a way to take showers.
“We just set up a little tank on the roof and a gutter on one side to be able to collect some water,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
“We found that the rainfall was pretty good in the area, so that was enough to … live on.”
But they quickly realised cold showers were not feasible in winter, and built a basic outdoor shower reliant on gas bottles.
It was “simple” living, filled with “sitting by the fire, keeping warm”.
But the thing with fireplaces is, they need to be constantly fed timber to keep going.
“So, that’s called ‘learning by doing’ — and definitely we had a few cold mornings,” Ms O’Sullivan said.
They soon realised that adding an extra log before bed went a long way.
“Or [we would] just get up at three o’clock in the morning to put that extra log on when it’s really cold and you don’t want to get out of bed, but it’s worth it at six or seven o’clock in the morning when you have to get up,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
‘No way I thought I’d be buying a house’
After 12 months of this new lifestyle and dodging rent, the couple — who had both secured a job with salmon farming company Tassal — had a deposit for their first home.
“Rent is just getting out of control. It’s really hard if you’re paying $300 a week for a little two-bedroom house and then trying to save for a mortgage at the same time,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
“So, being able to limit our expenses week to week and month to month was a huge help to be able to save for a deposit for our house.
“Five years ago, there was no way I thought I’d be buying a house in Tasmania in my early 30s.”
CoreLogic’s head of research Tim Lawless said while few would go to the lengths the O’Sullivans did, many young people felt they had to get creative to buy a home.
“I think a less extreme example would be simply that young Australians stay at home with mum or dad longer, looking to save for a deposit or to save on their expenses, which makes a lot of sense,” he said.
“While most [rental] markets are quite settled, the standout seems to be Hobart where we’ve seen rental prices rise by 5 per cent over the last 12 months, along with Canberra.”
Mr and Mrs O’Sullivan said they had to make “sacrifices” to save for a house. (ABC News: Katri Uibu)
Real Estate Institute of Tasmania’s president Tony Collidge said rental prices in Tasmania were high simply because there were not many properties.
“Everybody’s vying for accommodation and it just pushes rents up,” he said.
“We’re about 5,000 residences short and that puts a strain on everything. We have strong demand, we have jobs increasing, we have a lot of international students coming here who are fighting to find accommodation.”
‘I remember once crying’
The O’Sullivans have just bought their first home.
How do they reflect on their time in the shack?
“We knew we had to make some compromises and sacrifices but that was for a bigger goal,” Ms O’Sullivan said.
“At times it was tough. I remember once crying. That was because of the mosquitoes.”
They decided to add a mosquito net.
“There are no problems, only solutions, just up to you to find them.”
This sort of “solution” may not be for everyone, they said — but knowing it was only temporary helped them get by.
“You’ve got to have a bit of courage and a bit of willingness to let go of some of your comforts that a lot of people have grown up with,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
Now enjoying all the perks of modern living, they said it was easy to forget their lifestyle was very different just months ago.
“Actually, you forget quite quickly that turning the tap on wasn’t so easy just 18 months ago,” Ms O’Sullivan said.
Her husband agreed: “It’s amazing how quickly you can adapt to both sides of the coin.”
Now in their new home, they are enjoying all the perks of modern living. (ABC News: Katri Uibu)