I only ate sandwiches for two years to afford my first home in Sydney

I only ate sandwiches for two years to afford my first home in Sydney: Here’s why millennial fears of never owning a house are overstated – and my five tips to becoming a homeowner

  • Sydney couple bought two properties in three years
  • READ MORE: How you can still buy a two-bedroom home for under $500k 

A Sydney woman who lived on sandwiches for nearly two years so she and her partner could enter the property market has shared her top five tips for first-home buyers.

Penny Vandenhurk was in her late 20s when she met her husband, Luke, and they moved in together six months later.

They rented an apartment in inner-city Surry Hills as they scrimped and saved for a deposit for their first home.

In 2016, their dreams were realised when they bought a one-bedroom apartment in Redfern and added a second property in St Peters to their portfolio three years later.

Seven years on, Ms Vandenhurk and her husband still have both properties and turned their first purchase into an investment.

She’s now a buyers agent and helps other young Aussies in their quest for home ownership.

Penny Vandenhurk and her husband still have their inner-city apartment bought in 2016

By 2019, Penny Vandenhurk and husband Luke had purchased their second property in nearby St Peters

READ  MORE: Opening bid at auction $400k over the price guide

Eating out and groceries were among the first sacrifices in the couple’s quest to buy their first home.

‘We were in our late 20s when Sydney was a vibrant place, so we would still go out with friends but wouldn’t buy that extra drink or side with dinner.’

The couple downsized and gave up a parking spot when they bought their Redfern unit in 2016.

It was at a time when stamp-duty exemptions currently in place for NSW first home buyers didn’t exist.

After buying their one-bedroom unit, the couple continued to save every cent they could.

They spent the next three years updating the unit themselves to boost its value.

Buyers agent Penny scrimped and saved towards a deposit for her first home

They rented their unit on Airbnb every time they went on holiday, which included overseas trips.

They continued living off sandwiches while Ms Vandenhurk saved money by walking to work instead of travelling on public transport.

By 2019, additional savings and equity from the updated apartment allowed them to purchase a bigger three bedroom terrace in St Peters.

The couple plan to continue building their property portfolio and look forward to the day their first purchase in Redfern will be paid off. 

‘We were in a position to to keep the Redfern unit as a investment, where the rent from the tenant covers almost all of the mortgage,’ she said.

The search for a lifelong home is a common mistake aspiring first home buyers make.

Those with hopes to sell their property with a few years are also urged to adjust expectations.

‘They need to change their mindset in that it may not be their forever home but to use it as a stepping stone,’ Ms Vandenhurk said.

Penny Vandenhurk and her husband plans to build their property portfolio . Pictured is Penny celebrating her second home purchase

Additional savings and equity from updating their first one bedroom unit allowed the couple to buy and move into a three bedroom terrace (pictured)

‘You’re better off building equity by updating your home over a 5-10 year period first, then finding something bigger.’

‘Owning a home for under five years is not viable financially as it’s often hard to make a profit.’

She also urges those looking to buy an apartment to do their research and be aware of building defects and potential strata issues which could be costly in the future.

She believes it’s up to the buyer as to whether or not they should wait in order to buy in their preferred area or go further out to get onto the property ladder.

‘It depends how willing people are to trade off their lifestyle in order get onto the property market,’ she said

‘You may end up buying something that may not look modern or nice. But those things can be changed over time.

Bringing lunches from home and eating out less allowed Penny Vandenhurk to save

But her number one tip for aspiring homeowners was to: ‘start saving as early as possible.’ 

‘You don’t have to forgo travelling but if you start chipping away, you can have enough for a deposit within a few years.’

Ms Vandenhurk believes millennial fears of never owning a home are overstated.

‘Nearly anyone who’s ever saved for a deposit feels the struggle,’ she said.

‘Every generations feels it. Buyers 10-15 years ago had higher interest rates and very little help from the government such as stamp duty concessions.’

‘Those 30 years ago bought their home for much less but they also had record interest rates.’


1. Try to keep every day costs down. Can you save money on rent by living in a share house, getting a flat mate or moving in with family and friends?

2. Do what you can to reduce discretionary spending such as eating out, entertainment, Uber/taxi fares, extra covers on health insurance. Take advantage of hospitality offers such as happy hour and two for one meals.

3. Can you boost your income? Transfer and deposit savings to a high interest rate account. Look at additional avenues of income.

4. Leverage discount offers that you get from food delivery boxes such as Hello Fresh which can be used to keep grocery bills down.

5. Have a rule to only buy lunch at work once a week which must cost $10 or less.

SOURCE: NSW licenced buyer’s agent Penny Vandenhurk

Her comments come after Daily Mail Australia revealed a number of suburbs offering plenty of opportunities and value for younger Sydneysiders.

There are still pockets of Sydney where it is still possible to buy a two-bedroom unit for under $500,000 and be relatively close to the city on an average salary.

A $500,000 property usually requires a 20 per cent deposit of about $100,000 to avoid the need for costly lenders mortgage insurance.

These $500k ‘hidden gem’ suburbs sit well below Sydney’s median unit price of $828,919, which is unaffordable for an average-income earner.


Lakemba, 15km south-west of the city centre and with a train station on the T3 Bankstown line, is particularly affordable with a median apartment price of $432,958.

That is significantly less than the suburb’s mid-point house price of $1,192,437, based on CoreLogic data.

There are trains to Central Station every 10 minutes and the journey takes just 26 minutes.

A two-bedder on quiet Colin Street, including a car space, is on the market for under $410,000. 

A two-bedder on quiet Colin Street, including a car space, is on the market for under $410,000.

Another unit on the corner of a well-maintained complex is going for just $389,000, and other similar properties are listed for as little as $329,000 and $387,000.

But another Sydney valuer, who declined to be named for fear of reprisals, told Daily Mail Australia units in this area didn’t have good capital growth prospects, citing demographic factors.

‘It was Lakemba, I did a valuation of a two-bedroom unit – this was a couple of years ago – and the value went up around about $10,000 in about 12 to 15 years,’ he said.

‘Those areas, they just don’t increase in value because no one’s interested.’


But Riverwood, 19km south of the city centre and just a 35-minute commute to Central Station, is arguably Sydney’s best-kept secret for first-home buyers.

There are plenty of affordable units within walking distance of Riverwood railway station, which is serviced by the T8 Airport and South line.

The median unit price in the suburb is $604,697, but a cursory glance of the listings shows you can score a two-bedroom apartment for much less than that.

The living room of a two-bed unit in Riverwood with a price guide of $450,000 to $490,000

A two-bedroom example just 14 minutes’ walk from the station is on the market with a price guide of $450,000 to $490,000.

For those willing to spend a little more in the area, a northeast-facing top-floor corner apartment is going for just under $600,000.

Wiley Park

Wiley Park, 17km south-west of the city centre, is another suburb on the Bankstown Line with units within reach of many would-be first-time buyers.

The median price for units is $451,784.

The stylish lounge room of a two-bedroom Wiley Park unit for sale with a $380k asking price

Several apartments are for sale below that figure, including a top-floor, two-bed unit just 400m from the station being offered for a negotiable $379,950.

And a single-bedder on Alice Street is listed for $369,000.


The median price for a unit in Punchbowl, 17km from the city centre, is a very affordable $475,337.

Punchbowl is another good suburb for commuters, with regular Bankstown line trains to Central station taking about half an hour.

One light-filled two-bedroom unit listed for sale has an asking price of $440,000, which includes a balcony and car space.

One of the units in this complex in Punchbowl recently hit the market with a $440,000 guide


Bankstown, 19km from the CBD or just 35 minute on the train, is another suburb where $500,000 can comfortably buy an apartment with two bedrooms.

The mid-point unit price is $507,362, with three-bedroom units going for $631,000.

One unit on Cairds Avenue with two bedrooms and a lock-up garage is on the market for $489,000 – well within the means of someone who has saved up a $100k deposit.

One of the two-bedroom apartments in this unit block is for sale with a $489,000 price tag

Other options

For those who don’t want to move west for their first home, Sydney’s Upper North Shore offers a somewhat more upmarket alternative.

But you will end up spending more for less in terms of size.

Hornsby and Waitara are home to $500,000 apartments – but for that price they are only available with one bedroom. Overall for this area, the median apartment price is north of $700,000.

Two- and three-bedroom units in Hornsby cost about $680,000 and $1,145,000 respectively. In Waitara, you’re looking at $720,000 for the average two-bedder.

One single-bed Hornsby unit located on Pound Road, just 400m from Hornsby Station but minus a car port, is listed for $440,000.

A similar property with a car space has a price guide of $440,000 to $480,000.

For those seeking something near the water and two bedrooms, potential buyers would have to head to the Central Coast, an hour’s drive north of Sydney, where Gosford’s median unit price is $547,817.

One of these two-bed units in Gosford, on the Central Coast, is being sold for under $500,000

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