It was property no one else wanted, and for good reason: The two-bedroom house in Sturt, South Australia had been neglected for years and was in a terribly damaged state.

But always up for a challenge, investor and renovator Michelle Lewis wasn’t scared off – and she and her husband and renovating partner Travis saw nothing but great potential.

“It was in such a poor condition – graffiti inside and outside, copper pipes were stolen, there were holes in the walls – it was my dream property,” Michelle says. “The local neighbours had been asking the council for something to be done for years.”

“But I saw the potential to love it back to life and create a home for a family. This is where my passion lies – being able to resurrect a property and not send it to the landfill,” she adds.

Strut property was covered in graffiti and had stolen pipes

Strut property was covered in graffiti and had stolen pipes

Michelle says the property’s location is another thing she and her husband found appealing.

“It was an opportunity to buy significantly undervalue in what we felt was an underrated suburb,” she says. “The house is close to the beach and walking distance to a major shopping centre. The location is also surrounded by preferred suburbs. We felt we had an opportunity to snag a bargain.”

The couple bought the property at an auction in February for $180,000. There were no other bidders – they paid for it in cash and went straight to work.

Renovation on a budget

Michelle and Travis share a passion for investing and renovating, which they have been doing together for 17 years. Michelle says their “bread-and-butter” strategy is “renovation on a budget” – a strategy that entails purchasing a “dump or renovator’s delight” and turning it into “something fabulous.”

“It is our happy space and something we love to do together,” Michelle says. “Travis is a very hard worker and we work well together. We bounce ideas off each other!”

Travis holds a full-time job, so when he leaves for work, Michelle says she becomes the “CEO of project management,” whose responsibilities include handling “the trades” and purchasing materials.

“Let’s just say I am at Bunnings a lot when I have a project on,” she says.

Michelle considers the Sturt property to be their “biggest renovation to date,” as it was closest to a new build.

Sturt property mid-renovation

Sturt property mid-renovation

The ceilings and walls had significant water damage, which required them to replace the gyprock. The ceiling materials were also not up to code. They needed to strip the house to its frame to make rewiring easier. They also replaced the plumbing system entirely, and took out the kitchen and the entire bathroom.

Additionally, the couple erected a new fence and built a 3x3m garden shed, which Michelle says is “highly desirable” for tenants.

However, Michelle admits that the most challenging part of the renovation was not the physical aspect – rather it was making mental decisions.

“We had to repaint the entire house inside and out. Choosing colours meant going through many paint samples. This decision ironically caused me the most stress,” she says. “Ultimately, I turned to a Facebook forum to help me review and reassure me of my decisions. I learnt I should trust might gut and not doubt myself. I will try not to waste time and energy on this for future projects!”

The couple finished the renovations within four months after buying the property. They spent between $45,000 and $50,000 on the renos. The result is a three-bedroom house valued at more than twice the purchase price at $435,000.

Michelle says they plan on holding the property and has already hired a property manager. “The rental market is hot in the area and we got above the rental price per week that we asked. This is a positive cash flow property that will provide income to our family,” she says.

Sturt property after renovation

Sturt property after renovation

Setting up for the future

The couple currently has a portfolio of three properties, two of which are income-generating. Michelle says they chose property investment because of the relatively stable market.

“Housing is always in demand and is not reliant on global markets, tourism, or pandemics,” she says. “And if you purchase the right property, the returns can replace your income.”

Michelle, Travis, and kids, mid-renovation of Sturt property

Michelle, Travis, and kids, mid-renovation of Sturt property

“Our ultimate goal in property investing is to create a passive income for life, so we can have more choices on how to spend our time and how to give back, and we can follow our passions. We also want to set ourselves up for our future and secure the future of our children,” she adds.

Michelle and Travis have three children – aged 15, 13, and 10 – and they make sure all are involved in their projects. Michelle says this is also a way of teaching them about property investment.

“We have been renovating since our children were in nappies and we have made it work,” she says. “It’s about having a mindset of getting things done but also making it as fun as possible for the kids. Educating them about property investment has been part of goal.”

“Our youngest is the keenest and gets involved in everything from demolition to identifying issues and advising Mum on what we need to relay to the trades. She has on several occasions solved problems we were unable to,” Michelle says.

Top 10 renovation and investment tips

Michelle says property investment is something anyone can do but it takes the right mindset, commitment, and strategy. She shares these top 10 tips for aspiring investors and renovators:

  1. You make your money in a renovation by what you don’t spend! Everyone can spend loads of money but not many people can pair that right back to the ultimate budget renovation.
  2. Never buy retail. Whenever possible always search for second-hand or free if you can.
  3. The aim is to create a safe and clean home, and not a high-end extravaganza! Paint, floors, kitchen, and basic bathroom can be bought second-hand. This will save you thousands of dollars.
  4. Consider styling and selling your property yourself with the help of a mentor.
  5. If you have a gap in skills or knowledge, or if you want to take on a project that you haven’t done before, find someone who has done it and learn from them.
  6. Go global for knowledge acquisition. Open your mind to the world. It is all there on the Internet for the taking.
  7. Believe in yourself and find something you love and have a passion for! Don’t feel like you need to keep up with the Jones’. Run your own race and make sure you enjoy and celebrate the wins along the way.
  8. Involve your kids. Share with them the excitement and passion you have for investing and property. It could be a wonderful choice for them or something for them to learn from and take to in whatever path they choose for themselves in the future.
  9. Surround yourself with like-minded people. Be open-minded and share what you know with others. Together, we can all grown as one community.
  10. Property investing is also a mind game, so work on your mindset. This is crucial to success. Fear and procrastination are the biggest killers to a positive and proactive mindset. If this is an issue for you, get some help with it.