Oliver and Sarah White’s investment journey proves that you don’t need to find the perfect property. All you need are ample preparation and the ability to see potential.

Oliver and Sarah White’s property investment journey started in the opposite side of the world.

They spent two and a half years in London, enjoying the many opportunities that living in the city entailed while, while also building their finances in preparation for the life they were planning when they moved back to Australia.

“While in London we enjoyed the usual expat lifestyle of maximising travel opportunities throughout Europe… [but] we also made it our mission to build our savings, so that when we returned to Australia, we could enter the property market and start the next chapter of our lives,” Oliver says.

Sarah and Oliver White

Sarah and Oliver White

The journey begins

It was late 2017 when they returned to Sydney and spent the first half of the following year getting acquainted with the real estate market.

“We both knew we wanted to live in the Northern Beaches and found a share house in the area as a starting point,” Oliver says.

The couple were initially overwhelmed by the high prices of properties in the suburbs. However, the cooling real estate market in mid-2018 presented them with an opportunity to purchase property.

“Fairlight was out of our price range when we initially returned from London,” Oliver says. “But towards the middle of the year, the market had softened, and our desired suburbs started to become achievable.”

Oliver and Sarah went to many open houses before finding a two-bedroom apartment with potential. The property was up for auction, with a guide between $850,000 and $900,000.

“It was outdated, worn and riddled with cigarette stains and smells, but was in a great location and had the skeleton of what we were looking for,” Oliver says. “It also provided us the opportunity to renovate and make it our own.”

After their first inspection, the couple made an initial offer of $850,000. However, the agent told them the vendor wanted to proceed with the auction.

It came as a surprise when, two days later, the agent informed them that the vendor changed his mind and was willing to negotiate.

“[The agent] advised that we should increase our initial offer, which we did, and offered $860,000. The vendor agreed and we settled in late July 2018,” Oliver says.

Fairlight property upon purchase

Adding value

The couple lived in the apartment for almost a year without making any changes while “debating what the best renovations would be.” It was in mid-2019 that they decided to create an open plan layout by cutting through a structural wall from the living and dining spaces to the kitchen. They requested permission from the strata committee and got their approval.

“We cut the opening, installed a new kitchen and laundry, and painted and installed new flooring just in time for our wedding in early October,” Oliver says.

The renovations took three months, from June to August, and cost about $50,000 to $60,000.

“Towards the end of the year, we had a valuation completed, which came back at $1.1m,” he says.

The couple created an open plan layout by cutting through a structural wall

The couple’s first successful renovation inspired them to do more.

“Our next decision was to decide whether to renovate the bathroom or [explore] the possibility of upgrading or extending the balcony. The apartment is on the ground floor and there was a garden area in front with a path leading to the balcony,” Oliver says.

The property’s balcony before renovation

Oliver and Sarah asked the other owners if they were open to the idea of them extending the balcony, which will cover the garden area. The planned 24 square metre deck would not only provide them with additional living space but would also improve the aesthetics of the building.

They applied to the strata committee to approve a by-law permitting the construction of the deck and granting them exclusive use of the area. The by-law was successfully passed, allowing them to start the deck’s construction in early April.

“Thankfully, we have such friendly and open-minded owners in the building,” Oliver says.

After completion, they had a local real estate agent appraise the property – the property was now worth between $1.3m and $1.35m and could rent out for $850 to $900 a week.

“[W]e had increased our apartment’s value from $860,000 to between $1.3m and 1.35m in 22 months having invested approximately $90,000 in renovations,” Oliver says. “We plan to continue our property investment journey by using the additional equity we have gained.”

The property’s new deck

Second property

While construction of the deck was ongoing, the couple decided to use the equity they gained from their previous renovation, which was approved.

They found another two-bedroom apartment in Manly Vale, priced at $800,000. However, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic brought the asking price down to $750,000. They were able to negotiate it further down to $730,000 before finally buying the property.

“The property comes with new tenants on a 12-month contract paying $520 a week and starting just four weeks before our settlement date,” Oliver says.

Currently, the couple have no plans of investing in another property. “We are not looking too far ahead just yet,” Oliver says.

When asked for his advice to those who want to embark on a similar investment journey, he says: “Find a trusted broker who can help provide advice and guidance with finance. This also takes the stress away when accessing finances.”