Tabitha Bright survived divorce, death in the family, single parenthood and near bankruptcy to exit life’s rat race unscathed. She now lives a dream: her property investments mean she and partner Vin can live in comfort without ever needing to work again
It’s with a mixture of comedy and anguish that Tabitha Bright remembers the days she used to take daughter Amber ‘camping’.
She’d set the young girl up in a tent, give her pillows and a portable mattress and tell her to snuggle up. She’d then tell her to get some rest and that, like on any other day, she’d see her in the morning.
Tabitha admits it wasn’t too far from what many other families did, minus a few details. The tent, for starters, wasn’t made from poles and fabric but from stacked books and cardboard. The venue was a little different too. It wasn’t beside an idyllic surfer beach or national park that Tabitha was tucking her daughter in – it was inside a fluorescent-lit Melbourne office.
“My partner Vin and I were in a graphic design business and we were very much caught in the rat race,” Tabitha says. “The only way we could make money was with our time. If we didn’t work, we didn’t make money and that was that. The business required us to work hard and sometimes we needed to work through the night. What else could we do? We brought our daughter with us and joked with her that she was going camping.”
Fast forward to today and Tabitha’s is a far cry from the long hour-pitching graphic designer she was in the 1990s. With a property portfolio valued at over $5m, both her and Vin no longer need to work. They’ve sold their graphic design business and live off the fruits of their investments.
Now, instead of slaving over a desk, eyes glued to a computer screen, Tabitha does what she loves: mentoring and teaching Aussies and Kiwis in the art of successful property investing. She’s no slouch at it either. Mentoring thousands of people, Tabitha is one of the top property educators in the antipodal world.
A rough start
What’s perhaps most peculiar about how she accomplished this feat is that she never expected this life for herself. “If you’d told me when I was a teenager growing up in New Zealand that I’d build a large property portfolio, that I’d reach a point where I wouldn’t have to work, I wouldn’t have believed it,” she says.
Tabitha admits that she was a troubled soul in her teens. By the time she reached her sixteenth birthday she had already been kicked out of school, labelled as a negative influence on other students. Not knowing what to do with herself, she decided to study graphic design, but was thrown out of the study programme once more.
From this point, her parents decided that tough love was needed and Tabitha came home one day to find her belongings packed in boxes. Her parents warned that she needed to sort her life out.
Her solution was to get married. “He was an older man in his thirties and I was just 18. We soon had a child together, Amber, when I was 20, because I thought that was what people did. I thought that was how you grew up.”
Tabitha says the relationship was difficult, but that they tried to make it work. The couple bought a family home together and tried every inch to live a happy family life. In retrospect, she realises that many mistakes were made, and that included with the finances. “We bought the house very poorly,” she says.
By the time Amber was two years old, Tabitha felt that it was time to own up to her mistakes. She took the emotionally confronting decision to leave her husband, but fate had its own say in events. Not long after splitting with her, Tabitha’s ex-husband died.
What followed was a tumultuous time. Tabitha found herself in her early twenties, a single mother without a job or qualifications, set with a mortgage on a house that was slipping in value. “It would have been impossible to sell the house for what we paid for it. Either way you looked at it, I was going to lose money.”
As luck would have it, Tabitha had, without realising it, ticked a box on the house’s mortgage document that covered her husband’s half of the property. This meant that even though she sold the house for less than what it was bought for, she was still able to come away with a small amount of cash – NZ$40,000.
“I was young and I hadn’t thought of anything like life insurance. It never crossed my mind that anyone would die. I was lucky that there had been that clause on the mortgage document. If it hadn’t been there, I would have gone bankrupt.”
It was soon after that Tabitha realised that she’d need to change her way of thinking. She read Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad and suddenly began feeling a new sense of self-belief that she couldn’t shake. Now set on a new course in life, she met current partner Vin and they decided to move to Australia.
The couple settled in Melbourne and Tabitha took up work in Vin’s graphic design business, which turned into a highly profitable enterprise. With healthy cash flow finally on her side, Tabitha realised that something was still missing.
“We were making great money, but I think both of us had reached a point where we’d said to ourselves that we didn’t want to work this hard for the rest of our lives.”
To create additional revenue streams, the couple began looking for property investment opportunities, in Tabitha’s case, reluctantly. “I wasn’t that interested in property because I’d be burnt before. Reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad helped change my mindset, but I was intent at this stage on only finding properties where the yields were good.
“Because of this we did what many beginner investors do. We didn’t know much about Australia and were a little gun shy of places like resources towns, so we went back to what we knew – New Zealand.”
The couple bought a couple of properties in Dunedin in 1998, and Tabitha says that after the addition of granny flats and renovation projects they were getting great yields, sometimes above 15%. She says that this was also part of the problem.
“We didn’t understand that we were trading capital growth for cash flow,” she says. “The Dunedin market has great yields, but we had our properties there for a long time and they were not moving in value.
“So even though we poured all our resources into those properties, we couldn’t use them to purchase any more houses because they weren’t growing. We worked out that if we wanted to retire, we were going to need something like 50 to 100 of these properties. Clearly, we needed to do something differently.”
Going Down Under
After about four years of lacklustre investments, Tabitha and Vin realised it was time to invest in Australia. Prices were a lot more expensive, but they had a lot of equity in their Melbourne home and the graphic design business was doing well, so they felt ready to take the risk.
They knew Melbourne and initially thought the Victorian capital would be a great place to start. They soon changed their minds. “The consensus we got from a lot of other investors at the time was that it was the wrong time to be buying up in Melbourne, so we were put off the idea. Instead, we started looking at places further out.”
One destination that caught their attention was Inverlogh, a sleepy beachside town 143km south-east of Melbourne. The area is popular with tourists, especially surfers, but is still easily accessible from the big city. Tabitha and Vin thought it would be perfect for a holiday rental. They could stay in the property anytime they holidayed in the area and rent it out to tourists for the rest of the year.
“It was an emotional purchase, but it wasn’t a risk because it was cheap – only $220,000. It brings in $30,000 a year in rental income and we can claim some great tax deductions because of it. We still use it for our holidays.
“It was also a nice way to dabble our toes in the Australian market. When we bought it, a lot of Victorian coastal property was going off, and we knew that as long as we were within two hours of Melbourne, the property would be fine.”
Tabitha remembers the point they first decided to take property investing to a higher level as a pivotal moment. “Vin said to me, ‘you quit the graphic design business, I’ll support you. But you’ve got two years to retire me.’ That was really the start. That was when I became a full time property investor. And it worked. I retired him in two years.”
It was round about this time that Tabitha first came into contact with Positive Real Estate, initially as a client. Using strategies she learned through the group, she initially acquired eight properties in eight months and put in place the building blocks for her multi-million dollar property portfolio.
She tried almost everything. From positive cash flow properties, discount deals and no-money down deals to strata subdividing blocks of units, she was able to build up their asset base very quickly.
“I had learnt some very effective strategies that I applied in the market and, to start with, I bought those eight properties, making my money when I purchased and forcing further value through renovation and strata titling. The result was that I got Vin to quit work and sell the business and he and I took a well-earned break.”
When the novelty of exiting the workforce wore off, Tabitha looked for new opportunities and a fresh challenge and soon joined Positive Real Estate to teach what she had been taught and use her own experiences to help others. Tabitha remains Positive’s head coach for Victoria, Tasmania and New Zealand.
“People come to us to learn how to create wealth, so that they have financial choices. The first thing I ask them is, ‘what do you want – be specific?’ A large portion of people don’t know or they don’t want to put it down in writing. If you don’t know what you want, how are you going to know when you get there? And how do you plan for something if you don’t know what it is? They need to define what they want and I coach them through that.”
These days, thanks to her mentoring and property investment successes, Tabitha lives a dream lifestyle. “My day usually starts with Vin and I going for an hour walk. The rest of my day is usually busy, but flexible. I can take time off when I need to and I get plenty of time to see my daughter.”
These achievements aside, she is still aware that to make an omelette you’ve got to break some eggs. She laughs, “To this day, my daughter swears she is never going to be a graphic designer.”