It’s the lifeline that Sarah and Martyn Giles so desperately needed – making it as one of the final two teams on reality-TV show Mitre 10 Dream Home.
Their own Christchurch house may be in post-quake ruins, but the disaster hasn’t diminished their generous hearts. Signwriter Martyn and stay-at-home mum Sarah don’t have much, but what they do have, they give to those less fortunate.
Along with their two biological children, they have taken in four foster children in recent years. And in 2010, the pair bought a dream home to house their growing family. The 1920s do-up in Wainoni, Christchurch, was all they could afford, but it was big enough to house Isaac (13), Xavier (9), Bailey (7), Rhys (6), Chevalyn (5) and Janaya (3).But around six months later, their dream became a nightmare, when the February 22 earthquake damaged their home irreparably.
So Martyn and Sarah had plenty to fight for in the first episode of the TV2 show, beating four other families for a chance to own a mortgage-free property. Building their Mitre 10 Dream Home from the ground up, the couple believe they can bring their happy home-owning dream back to reality.
“We are in an awful situation with this house. The show has given us something else to focus on,” says Sarah (35).
“We’re doing this for our kids,” adds Martyn (43).
“Like many people in Christchurch, we’ve had lots of sickness, especially in winter. We have had asthma, colds and flu – a lot of doctors’ visits.”
When you enter Sarah and Martyn’s earthquake-ravaged home, you are struck by the overwhelming smell of damp and rot. It has water damage, gaping holes in the walls, and an apex slope on the floor where the house has sunk into its foundations – simply buckling under nature’s force.
But while they literally live in a broken home, there’s no shortage of love. However, the couple, who have been together for 18 years, have been pushed to their limits.
When the first earthquake struck in September 2010, they discovered they had been paying insurance on the property they had moved from, not their new home – and received no payout for the minor damage sustained.
They insured their damaged home before the February earthquake, but had taken out the wrong type of policy and had no coverage for repairs and rebuild on their 1920s villa.
Their home has land and foundation damage, and an EQC payment of $135,000 fell short of the $320,000 the couple needed for a full repair. And their insurance company refused to cover the difference.
“It’s made me realise that you have to read the policies thoroughly,” says Sarah, fighting back the tears.
Living in a severely damaged home they are unlikely to sell, the house has been an overwhelming burden.
“I just remember crying and thinking, we’re going to be stuck with this massive debt,” says Sarah.
“You buy a house as an asset – but this honestly feels like a noose sometimes. It’s really stressful,” says Sarah.
“It feels like we are trapped. If we were renting, we could just pack up and move to another city.”
The couple met in 1994 and were married in 1998. Their first date was to see the film Pulp Fiction – “hardly romantic”, jokes Sarah – but they’ve barely been apart since.
“My poor mum – I was 18 and moved out of home with Martyn. She thought I was going to come home, and I never did – until the earthquakes happened.”
After competing against six other couples in the first challenge, Sarah had convinced herself that she and Martyn had not done enough to make it to the final showdown. And when Mitre 10 Dream Home judge Simon Barnett knocked on her door, she was already crying.
The show has been a shock to the couple. After 40-hour weeks as a signwriter, Martyn teams up with Sarah on weekends to do the work, sometimes going through the night.
The couple foster four children, who they now have guardianship of, through the Home for Life scheme, and are custom-designing their six-bedroom Mitre 10 Dream Home to accommodate their brood.
After having two biological children, in 2008 they decided to reach out to those who’d had a rough start to life.
“My mum always laughs and says, ‘Sarah, I knew you were going to have lots of children.’ I wanted to have more of my own, but there are lots of others who need a home.”
However, the responsibilities of being a foster parent during the earthquake have weighed heavily. Their home has been checked by Home for Life several times since the quakes, to ensure safety.
But one blessing is feeling closer to their foster children’s birth parents, some of whom plan to help behind the scenes on Mitre 10 Dream Home.
For the remaining nine weeks on the show, the couple have their eyes on the prize and how it could change their lives.
“I can visualise us all living in the house together. This is our ultimate dream – we have no other option,” says Martyn.
“No matter what, it has made us tighter as a couple,” says Sarah.
“I’ve learned a lot about our relationship in the challenges. Martyn is so calm and cruisey, and I can be the stresser and the flapper. He balances me out really well.”
Catch Mitre 10 Dream Home on TV2, Tuesdays, 7.30pm.