Questions

The Herald reports on the sad case of Bruce Burgess, who has lost his job and risks losing his property.

I find the story frustrating because it does not provide enough information to properly reach conclusions. I should say at he outset that Mr Burgess and his wife seem wonderful people, in a very difficult position. My questions are not a criticism of them, just what springs to mind from the story.

A man is wondering how, after a life spent working, saving and paying his mortgage, he can be in danger of losing his property just months after losing his job.

Bruce Burgess, 60 years old and a qualified engineer, has been busy his entire adult life.

Aside from a couple of years overseas in the early 1970s, he has worked, paid his taxes and saved his money.

His wife Jo has held down regular work as an office administrator and accounts person.

Neither of them smoke, they don’t take extravagant holidays, and drink only occasionally.

They do regular community and church work and have never been on any type of welfare benefit, save for Mr Burgess’s short stint on ACC about seven years ago.

As I said, sound a wonderful couple.

In 1989, the couple bought a 2.5ha lifestyle block on Old North Rd. They moved on to the property in 1992.

My first question is how much does such a lifestyle block cost? I genuinely have no idea. Was it a $200,000 purchase or a $800,000 purchase?

Since then, the pair have tended the sheep, chooks and fruit trees, all the while working at steady jobs to cover the mortgage. They have also worked to protect a stand of native bush, and have put a house on the property.

But about four months ago, Mr Burgess lost his Avondale-based engineers job – and with it a $750-a-week paycheck.

That works out to around $51,800 a year gross.

To make matters worse, Mrs Burgess’ income – which totals about $21,000 a year – makes the couple ineligible for any type of unemployment benefit.

Which suggests their joint income was around $73,000 a year gross.

And my it will be damn near impossible to cope with dropping back to $21,000 a year.  Possibly they may be eligible to get the Accommodation Supplement which is an extra $125 a week, but still not much.

“I was told that because the wife was working, I couldn’t get any [benefit],” Mr Burgess said yesterday. He now fears he will “soon” lose the lifestyle block the couple have worked 20 years to build – possibly within the next couple of months.

is the part, where I don’t have enough information. They have presumably had 20 years of paying off the mortgage. Over that time the principal remaining should be greatly reduced, and the value of the property greatly increased. So I would have thought one could borrow against the property for the months you are out of work.

So while very sympathetic to their situation, I can’t work out what caused the situation where four months of unemployment can force the sale of a house purchased 20 years ago. If it was a more recent purchase, then it would not be a surprise. But normally 20 years of repayments should give you flexibility with the bank.

Regardless I hope Mr Burgess is successful in finding work soon, and they keep their property.

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