Marcus Dillon, 39, always believed owning a home was beyond his reach: he and his partner, Emily McIntosh, 35, are both artists working with glass, which comes with an unpredictable income steam.
But when unexpected events arose: landing a job as a studio and technical supervisor in the creative department of a university and then celebrating news that Emily was pregnant, a few things fell quickly into place.
At the time, the couple were renting in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs paying $450 a week to rent a one bedroom apartment.
“We loved Randwick because it’s so central, but didn’t think we’d be able to afford over here,” Mr Dillon says.
“Then one day I happened to be just walking around the park with my dog and just rolled past this place. It was a very small real estate agency, they hadn’t got much promotion going on. I just popped my head in, made a few enquiries and realised it would be something worth pursuing.”
An elderly couple had lived in the apartment since it was built in late 1960s and it was very much in original condition, Mr Dillon says.
With his artist’s eye, he imagined how good the place could look with a major renovation, and because he’d been closely involved with helping friends through their renovation projects, he had a realistic idea of what he could do at what cost.
Because of Mr Dillon’s full-time income at the university, the couple were able to secure a loan for their home and a small budget for their renovation.
“The broker said we could borrow more than double what we wanted to. We said, ‘That’s fantastic, but we needed to be able to pay it back’, which was the name of the game for us at that stage because we knew our expenses would be going up with a child.”
Their mortgage repayments were less than their $450 rental payments. “We were paying less a week to have a 2-bedroom apartment, a lock up garage, a balcony, for a place that was ours. If you look at those figures it was just stupid if we don’t do this,” he says.
And then the overhaul began.
“We bought in March 2009, and Luka was due in June. We had two months to renovate, which is not uncommon apparently.”
“It worked well, we were a good team. I’m hands-on and Em has a soft, subtle approach with colour schemes and layouts. I was demolishing and gutting the place and in the evenings sitting down deciding on paint schemes and how we wanted the kitchen to look. It was a 24/7 project for those six weeks before Luka arrived.”
Mr Dillon says doing research was the key to giving him the confidence to take the leap into home ownership.
“We were fortunate because we were put into contact with the right people through family members or like-minded individuals. Never be afraid to ask people’s opinions: Which bank are you with? Which broker do you use? And getting involved with other people’s renovations was fundamental with what I did; I learnt from their mistakes as well as their successes.”
Mr Dillon’s advice to other creative people wanting to get their foot in the property door is: “Get a secure job; some regular income. Then it’s just taking the plunge, and obviously not over-extending yourself.”