The hot seat
What was your first job?
I grew up in Sydney’s western suburbs in a family that struggled financially after my parents divorced. I was removed from school at the start of year 11 to work in a retail shop my mother bought that wasn’t making money. I managed the shop solo while my mother found other work that paid the bills. I was just 17, and there were many invaluable life lessons I learnt in those two years before I branched out on my own.
What’s the best money advice you’ve ever received?
A penny saved is a penny earned. I see that all the time in the renovating game. People fritter away money on improvements or materials that aren’t necessary and do little to lift the value of their home. Or they pay way more for the property than it’s worth because they haven’t done their due diligence. That extra $50,000 they overspent on the purchase is profit straight down the drain.
What’s the best investment decision you’ve ever made?
The easiest money I’ve ever made was on a property deal very early on in my renovation journey, when I had little money but loads of motivation. I came across a waterfront site in Sydney’s Balmain with an asking price of $2.51 million. I could see massive potential, as the site could be subdivided and then onsold with DA approval. A friend agreed he’d put up the money and I’d put in all the work. We pulled it off and walked away with $750,000 clear profit, after all expenses. We split the net profit 50/50.
What is the worst investment decision you’ve ever made?
Buying my first home at the age of 21 on a major road (six lanes) in Sydney. I realised the big mistake I’d made once I moved in. I decided to get out ASAP, so I painted, ripped up the carpet and cleaned up the garden. I still managed to make a modest profit. This mistake kickstarted my interest in renovating and is the reason I often refer to myself as the “accidental renovator”.
What is your favourite thing to splurge on?
I’ve always loved classic cars, and on a bit of whim I flew to Nebraska, in the US, when I heard about a huge classic car auction. I came back with an unrenovated 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air. I named her Mildred in honour of the former owner back in the ‘50s. I got her renovated in Sydney, keeping all of her with original parts. She’s the only one of her type in Australia, owes me $160,000 and is definitely not a renovating for profit project! She is my favourite possession.
If you had $10,000 where would you invest it?
Well, I certainly know how far you can stretch $10,000 on a modest, highly strategic cosmetic reno, so if I had a property in need of a revamp I’d invest it there.
If I had no property I’d invest that $10,000 in education, because I know from personal experience the return is at least tenfold.
What would you do if you only had $50 left in your bank account?
Do you intend to leave an inheritance?
I didn’t have the easiest start in life and the most important person in mine is my 11-year-old daughter Milan. I’ve made sure she is cushioned from financial hardship, but it’s important to me she grows up with the right work ethic and outlook on life. I try to teach her the value of money and that you have to work for it. I don’t want her to assume she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth.
Can you still make money from flipping in the current market?
Absolutely. I’ve made money in every property cycle and I’ve been renovating for 25-plus years. The rules never change really. It’s all about adapting to the market you’re operating in and always doing your due diligence. That said, if you have the finances to buy and hold, that’s always the preferred option.
Finish this sentence: Money makes…
… life easier. If every day is a financial struggle, it’s hard to have peace of mind. I learnt that early on in life. Having loads of money was never my goal: financial freedom was always the end game. And I feel blessed I got there.