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BOOK REVIEW: How to Buy a Home – From Debt to a Deposit by Emily Power

| 15 August 2018 | 1 Reply

BOOK REVIEW: How to Buy a Home – From Debt to a Deposit by Emily Power

Random House Australia
May 2018
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction / Accounting & Finance / Property & Real Estate


Home ownership has long been considered the great Australian dream. But when you’re a first home buyer that prospect can seem overwhelming and more akin to a nightmare. Domain Group magazines editor Emily Power has written a guide titled How to Buy a Home – From Debt to Deposit, which is designed to help and educate aspiring first home owners.

My hope for this book is that I – now a real estate editor and broadcaster, and a future first home buyer – can give you insider knowledge for the long haul, especially as the property playing field changes month to month, and year to year.

Power is not a financial expert or an economist. She is a news journalist with 14 years of experience. She made serious headlines in 2016 when she wrote and published an article on the Domain website about how at the age of 33 her parents are in charge of her finances. She has her wages deposited into bank accounts that they control and lives on $200 pocket money each week. About half of this book is dedicated to this pocket money savings plan and includes other tips for living frugally, which may not be relevant to some prospective first home owners because they may not require this kind of drastic debt advice as part of their journey to home ownership.

The goal of your gatekeeper is to:
– Reinforce your savings goal/s
– Question your spending decisions
– Update you of your savings progress
– Discuss your finances openly, without judgment
– Analyse your spending habits while living on pocket money. Can you cut back more as you learn to live on less, or do you need extra each week to meet your obligations without stress?
– Release additional one-off funds to you if you need to make a purchase that is outside the budget; having to request the cash will stay your hand if it’s a wasteful buy.

This book is divided into five different sections. Steps one and two make up over half the book and are called, “How to save your pocket money” and “How to be a cheapskate and keep your friends”. This second section includes recipes that are on the cheaper end of the spectrum and are contributed by Power, and chefs Adrian Li and Daniel Wilson. Power also includes a chapter on cheap wine, cheap clothing outlets and budget beauty. These chapters seem rather unnecessary in a book on how to buy a home.

Australia’s seasons are not as delineated as the northern hemispheres’, so it is common for local clothing brands to have excess stock that can be worn year round. Past season collections and sample sales are rolled out every weekend around Australia, and if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and dig, and disregard trends, then you’ll find a sensible buy. My best warehouse finds? A $700 Lover blazer reduced down to $10, and a $1500 Camilla and Marc wool coat down to $50.

The final three steps are the ones that actually contain useful advice. They include things like how to read the market like a pro – where Power describes different mortgage types and their pros and cons as well as stamp duty entitlements. Things may have changed since this book went to print however, with Australia’s housing market now showing signs of cooling.

There are also chapters on how to find the right place including how to pick a suburb and the differences between private sales and auctions, and a glossary. These chapters were handy, but Andrew Winter’s Australian Real Estate Guide was far more comprehensive and was actually written by someone who is an expert in the field. Power’s book lacks a list of resources, and at the end of the day, she is still an aspiring home owner so we will have to see if the advice actually works out for her.

Rules of engagement
– Name your price and – truthfully – inform the agent at what point you’ll walk away (for example, 24 hours or 48 hours) if it’s not accepted, and explain that you won’t be making a higher offer.
– The offer you make must genuinely be your maximum, one that is informed by thorough research or a professional valuation.
– Be prepared for disappointment if your offer is not enough.

The prose in this book is easy to follow and understand. Power interviews some experts and includes their advice, but this won’t replace seeing an actual professional like a financial planner or buyer’s advocate who can tailor their guidance to suit your particular circumstances. You could consider Power’s book as the first step in your research because the whole process is ultimately not one that should be rushed into.

‘Housing stress’ is frequently defined as spending more than 30 per cent of your income on paying for accommodation, be it rent or a mortgage. A 30:40 ratio is often used by data-crunchers as a yardstick for housing stress. If a household’s income sits in the bottom 40 per cent of incomes, and they spend more than 30 per cent of that income on funding a roof over their heads, they are classed as being under housing stress.

On the positive side, Power distils some complex topics into easy-to-follow terminology. For my money, I would have preferred to see this book split into two separate volumes. One that could be specifically about getting debt-free and saving your money and the other one that could be a more detailed look at the process of mortgage shopping and buying your first home. At present this book tries to appeal to too broad a demographic and you get the sense it’s not addressing anything in as much detail as much as it could.

How to Buy a Home has some useful parts and some people may benefit from Power’s controversial approach to recovering from debt. Her book covers a lot of ground but this could mean that there is some extraneous information in there for certain readers. How to Buy a Home certainly has its moments but you get the sense that the real proof on whether this guide works will be when Power and her readers are first home owners with mortgages, rather than just aspiring ones.

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at:

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