Buying first home thanks to trades skills

Since long before he began his construction training, Salesi Vi dreamed of owning his own home. But for many years, this seemed out of reach for him and his family. After beginning his trades training and attending a money workshop through MPTT, the father of two and his wife were able to move into their first home just before Christmas.

Salesi Vi had been working in a factory for eight years, but the life he really wanted remained out of reach. 

After getting married, he and his wife Sandalyn, who worked at the airport at the time, hoped to buy a family home. But their incomes and the savings they’d pulled together just weren’t enough.

“We looked at our finances – not quite enough to buy a house,” he says. 

“We knew we’d have kids coming down the line; there’s a lot of spending there. So we set a goal to find a way to improve our income and be able to afford a house. So we decided to go back to school.”

Salesi, now 37, began training as a carpenter with help from an MPTT scholarship, while Sandalyn also changed careers to work in the dental industry. 

“We were looking at our financials and asking: ‘Are we going to be able to afford to pay the mortgage?’ That’s why we went back to school, to get qualifications and get paid more than what we used to.”

Money talks

During his pre-trades training at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in 2017, Salesi attended a financial capability workshop. This was delivered by Issac Liava’a, a financial mentor who is also MPTT’s Mana Whakahaere Pasifika (Ambassador).

Issac spoke to Salesi and the other trainees about how to manage their money well, in order to be financially stable now and in the future – advice which Salesi applied to help his family save a bigger house deposit.

“One thing we knew was we needed to make sure we didn’t have debt,” says Salesi, who admits it wasn’t always easy to limit his spending. 

“There was a time when I dropped a hint to my wife to say, ‘Hey, I think it’s time for me to get a new car’. But my wife told me that if your car takes you from A to B, that’s good enough. And obviously I’m still driving – there’s nothing wrong with the car. But I thought I needed a new car at that time.”

Opening the door

In 2020, Salesi and Sandalyn celebrated their 10-year wedding anniversary, which seemed like a good time to buy their first home. They set the goal to own their home within that year.

At around the same time, Issac spoke to Salesi about his future plans and saw an opportunity to help him with home ownership.

Issac had been working for the New Zealand Housing Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that helps lower-income renting households become homeowners. He told Salesi about the Housing Foundation’s development in Mangere, thinking the family would be good candidates for what’s called ‘shared ownership’. 

This is where Salesi and Sandalyn would buy a majority of the property, with the rest of the house temporarily owned by the Housing Foundation – making it much more affordable than if they were to buy 100% of the home straight away. Over time, the family could then buy the Housing Foundation’s share of the home.

The couple decided to buy the home, and with support from Issac, they moved in a few days before Christmas 2020. 

Salesi (left) was welcomed to his new home with flowers from MPTT, which were handed over by Issac Liava’a, MPTT Mana Whakahaere Pasifika.

“Issac really worked hard to make it happen in that time,” says Salesi. “The kids were very happy – and we were all happy to be in our new home before Christmas.”

By purchasing their home through Housing Foundation’s shared ownership programme, Salesi and his family were able to move into a brand new, three-bedroom home without the need for a large deposit (a minimum of a $10,000 deposit was required – much lower than the usual 20% deposit that’s needed, which in Auckland could be more than $100,000). 

Salesi had previously been considering buying a two-bedroom home. But through the Housing Foundation programme, they were able to purchase a three-bedroom home for less than the valuation price, allowing his two children to have a room each. 

As part of the process, Salesi received support from mortgage managers and solicitors, and will have ongoing support to guide him and his wife through the process of buying the rest of the home from Housing Foundation when they’re ready to. This makes the property more affordable and means they can enjoy living in their home right now.

Could you qualify for help from the New Zealand Housing Foundation? Find out more on their website or get in touch with Issac Liava’a ( to talk about your options.

Salesi’s decision to retrain in the trades has improved his earning potential and helped him and his wife to buy their own home in Auckland.

Want to be better with money? Even if you haven’t been a great saver in the past, money management is a skill you can learn. Find out more about how to make your money last, and get tips to help you make good choices with money. If you’d like to hear about upcoming money workshops through MPTT, get your name on the list by emailing with the subject line ‘Money workshop’.

Construction veteran’s colourful career

With more than five decades’ experience in construction, industry stalwart Ben Mckay still loves using his skills to help others. Find out how Ben’s trade has allowed him to be his own boss and taken him around the world, from Mangere to Myanmar.

Learning a trade has been life-changing for Ben Mckay. Since training as a builder back in the late 1960s through the Māori Trade Training Scheme, the 70-year-old’s practical skills have continued to open doors for him.

After getting his carpentry and joinery apprenticeship, Ben was able to take his trade overseas, including to the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Thailand, and Myanmar (Burma). 

This experience meant he could see the world while earning money and continuing to grow his skills – an option he says is still a great choice for young tradies.

“Look at the journey,” says Ben. “I didn’t know I was going to go overseas. Someone just approached me. They saw I’d been through the trades, and they asked if I’d like to go and work overseas. 

“I’ve never, ever paid for a passport in my life – and I’ve had four of them! Those opportunities still exist for the young ones today.” 

Ben, who was born in Wairoa, knew it was important to get qualified thanks to advice from his dad.

“I always remembered in the back of my mind that my dad said: ‘Get a real job — not a labouring job or making tea or something like that’.”

So, at 17 years old, Ben (Ngāti Kahungunu Ki Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Porou, Waikato) caught a train from Hastings to Wellington, to do his carpentry and joinery apprenticeship. 

He did his training through the Māori Trade Training Scheme, in which MPTT Auckland has its roots. The scheme saw thousands of Māori gain trade qualifications between 1959 and the mid-1980s, creating a generation of Māori leaders in the trades — a legacy MPTT is working to continue.

“Doing that training was a turning point for me,” says Ben. “There were 23 of us and we lived in the hostel together, learning plumb, square and level from our tutors.

“We lived, cried and did everything there together.”

After eight years in Wellington, Ben got married and eventually moved to Auckland for work.

“I was managing the trades training for Owens from their office in Ponsonby. They had two hostels here and I used to check what supplies and equipment they needed to be building houses.”

Later he worked for Fletcher Construction, where he managed the steel works in Mangere, and spent four years working for himself as a contractor. He also worked for Australian company Civil & Civic on multi-story buildings on Queen St, and even spent some time building sets for TV shows. 

Then in 1987, Fletcher invited Ben to go to the Solomon Islands to help build a secondary school. He stayed there until 1993, along with his wife and four children. 

“Every weekend I went fishing — I didn’t go to the pub. We caught everything up there, even snakes and crocodiles!

“We collected mushrooms, grew our own food, went crab hunting and did crab races — it was a good life.”

After working in several places in Asia and the Pacific, Ben returned to New Zealand and used his skills to work for himself. He started two businesses, one of which he still runs. 

A big benefit of being a qualified carpenter is you can build your own home, says Ben.

“Building your own home is a great way to get ahead. I’ve built homes for my brother, my brother-in-law, my cousins, and all over the world.” 

Having built everything from mega structures to humble abodes, Ben has always enjoyed using his skills to solve problems and help others. These days, he continues to give back to those in his community.

“Me and my son just went around to help this old lady — she’s 76. We spent three hours fixing up her stairs, using whatever timber we had. She asked us, ‘How much?’ I just said, ‘What do you mean?’

“I just like to help people who need help. It’s good to give back.”

Ben’s career has taken him far and wide. Here, he’s seen working on a project in Niue, for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 

Māori and Pasifika Trades students are always part of the whānau, even after graduation. As one of our alumni, we’ll let you know about industry news and job offers and give you ongoing access to a supportive network in the trades. Make sure you follow us on Facebook and Instagram to stay connected.