Four years ago Amanda Orr decided she wanted to change her life – and that buying and renovating property was the way to go. She took the plunge and it has paid off: her cash-flow positive portfolio is currently worth over $1.8m and generates an income for her to live off.
After spending her 20s travelling the world, footloose and fancy free, Amanda Orr returned to Melbourne - and a desk job. It was a great job, but she soon realised that she felt trapped and unfulfilled.
The idea that she was working to aid someone else’s dream grated, she says. “I felt that exchanging my time for money wasn’t the best way to go. And I wanted a greater degree of freedom.”
Her mother has always tinkered around with property, which had sparked a lingering interest in Amanda. She decided to get educated and set herself a goal of 18 months to get out of her nine-to-five job and into the world of property investing.
Setting off at a run, Amanda embarked on several buyrenovate- sell projects to kick-start her journey. After completing the biggest, she used the profits to buy a string of cash-flow positive properties which provided her with enough income to quit her office job.
Her 10-property portfolio is worth over $1.8m and the properties all have potential for added value through renovation in the future. Amanda has also started a business called Gold Medallion Property Group, which works with investors to add value to properties through renovation before selling.
Means to an end
Amanda’s initial goal was to build a portfolio which would generate an income for her and allow her to leave her office job. She soon decided that adopting a renovation-focused strategy would be the most effective way to achieve this.
Making use of renovation to add value to a property and increase its returns simply seemed the best strategy for her purposes. As she is creatively-inclined, she also loves the idea of taking something ugly and turning it into a swan.
“The transformational aspect of renovation appealed to me. But there is also great money to be made from effective renovations. The combination of those factors satisfies a passion for me. It feels like this is what I was put here to do.”
Learning along the way
Despite her decision to focus on a renovation strategy, her early investment decisions were not as informed as they could have been. For example, Amanda says that for her first property purchase she overpaid by $40,000.
The property was a four-bedroom house in Frankston
(Melbourne) which cost her $361,000. “It was not in the best of areas, we over-did the renovation, and then sold at the low end of the market. We still made money on it though.”
Since those early inexperienced days, she has learnt some valuable lessons. One is that when it comes to renovation, a lot of the focus should be on the actual buy – regardless of what you might be planning to do, she says.
“Not only should a property be in a good area which suits your investment strategy
, but the property that you buy should have money on the table that the current owner is, essentially, leaving for you.”
For example, she wouldn’t buy a house where they had just done the kitchen, even if she thinks it is poorly done. This is because in the vendor’s mind they have spent $20,000 on a great kitchen and therefore added significant value to the property.
“The little intricacies in the buying mechanism of your strategy are much more important than some of the work that comes further down the line. This means it is necessary to focus a lot of your energy on the research before you purchase.”
Sourcing renovation projects
Amanda analyses RP Data figures and uses the full range of websites like realestate.com.au to source property. But it is building relationships with, and talking to, people that leads her to the best deals.
Renovation projects can’t be bought sight unseen because there are too many variables, she continues.
“The photos might look great but they are designed to show the best points of a house. As a renovator, you need to focus on the worst and make them the best. So the very things that they try to hide are the very things that you need to see and be aware of.”
She also recommends doing multiple inspections of the property before the buy. This is so you get a sound idea of exactly what you will need to do to the property, which allows you to get everything ready for your renovation before settlement.
Scoping out renovation work
Pre-settlement inspections and planning enable Amanda to plan the scope of her renovations. She goes in with a floor plan – which she will create herself if necessary – and moves from room to room making a shopping list of all that has to be done and bought.
“You have to list everything in each room. So, in a bedroom, you might think ‘we need a window lock, we need a new window, we need new wardrobe doors, we need a new door handle’, and so on.
“Then, as time consuming as it is, you have to go to somewhere like Bunnings and go ‘the lock will cost that, the window will cost that, and so on’. And then add it all up. That tells you what sort of costs you are up for.”
It is also important to know the size and scale of the property to work out things like carpeting moorings and how much paint you will need, she says.
While Amanda doesn’t use budget checklists, she always includes hefty contingency funds in her budgets. This is because it is inevitable that, at some point, something will happen that wasn’t factored into the original budget.
“For example, you might be redoing the floor and find a couple of rotten boards. So you pull them up and discover that all the joists are gone, which means the whole floor will have to be pulled up to redo them all.”
Testing out tradies
Amanda is lucky enough to have a partner who is a qualified carpenter by trade. However, she says it can still be tricky to find good tradies – and it does come down to trial and error.
It is expensive to do a renovation, so she believes it is worth checking the cheapest tradies out and giving them a go. If they seem to have intelligence, ask them a couple of key questions and see how they respond, she recommends.
“For example, with a tiler you might say ‘where would you start the full tile?’ and if they stammer or pause, then clearly they don’t know what they are doing. But if, right away, they say ‘I’d put a full tile there right on your eye line as soon as you walk in the room’, they are likely to know what they are talking about.”
She adds that, when trialling and using a new tradie, it is always necessary to watch them for a while. This is so that you can make sure they are on the right track and not making mistakes.
Not keeping an eye on a tiler who she felt a little sceptical of led to her worst experience with a tradie. This particular tiler talked the talk, but did not walk the walk.
He took a long time to do the work and, more significantly, he left a huge 20 millimetre gap at the top of the bathroom tiles. Amanda says they went offsite overnight, leaving the tiler with clear instructions. But he started the full bathroom tile in the wrong place and it set overnight.
“The tiles were big, beautiful, faux marble tiles so they couldn’t be jacked off. And the gap could only be filled up with grout. It was a nightmare and there was nothing we could do about it. When it came to the sale, buyers actually noticed it and that impacted on the sale price.”
Generally, if an issue arises with a tradie it is resolvable by fair and equitable negotiation. “I always make sure that everything we do is a ‘win-win’. I’m not here to rip anyone off. And I don’t expect to be ripped off.”
Reno Property #1:
This property was Amanda’s first investment. She says she was inexperienced and this impacted on her financial decisions in relation to the property.
The house cost $361,000, but Amanda believes this was $40,000 more than it was worth. To finance it, she used some savings as a deposit.
After renovating the house which, again, she says she spent too much money on, they were able to sell the property for a profit. “Our agent said we achieved the highest sale value for that type of property that year, so we made money on the deal.”
Amanda bought this property with limited research. She hadn’t formulated much in the way of selection criteria, she says. “Basically, we thought it was an up and coming area – because a friend said it was a boom suburb.”
Further, her decision was guided by gut instinct. “It didn’t take us long to decide on the purchase because we got emotionally attached at the first inspection. It was a bad decision.”
Despite the fact they overpaid, bought in a slightly up market and sold on a downturn, they still made a profit so the end performance of the property was reasonable.
The whole experience was a learning curve, she says. From that point on, she understood the importance of doing good research, of understanding the drivers in an area, and of not overcapitalising on your renovation work.
The biggest challenge with the property came because it was a bad purchase decision.
Amanda says this was because they were uneducated in property and made an emotional buy. “We were just starting out and didn’t really have the tools or knowledge to buy correctly.”
She and her partner also chose to live in the house while they renovated it which proved difficult. “But it saved us a lot of money in terms of the renovation because we did everything ourselves.”
The renovation also took longer than expected. The couple spent about two years doing their property up.
Reno Property #2:
This property was bought for $362,500 with a deposit generated from the sale of the Frankston house plus some savings.
Eighteen months later, she sold the renovated property for $635,500 – which was a significant profit.
Amanda says the house itself, rather than the suburb, was the influencing factor in her decision to buy. “We liked the fact there was great scope for renovation and we could see it had the potential to be profitable. We felt it provided a lot of opportunity.”
This time round she spent several months searching for the right property online before she settled on the house. While there was some gut instinct involved in her decision, she crunched the numbers too – and the combination helped her decide to go ahead with the investment.
The renovation was huge and carried out while both Amanda and her partner were working full-time. But she feels that the hard work they put in to complete the project was worthwhile, albeit exhausting.
“It was bought specifically to flip and so the fantastic profit we made overall means it performed well in terms of our strategy. It was a major stepping stone in our property journey.”
While having to shower outside in the Melbourne winter before the plumbing was completed stands out for her, there were multiple challenges that came with the project, she says.
For example, on one occasion she ended up having to level out a tonne of soil by herself in order for the turf to be laid the next day.
Another challenge was evening out the different floor levels in
the old laundry space.
Rewards from challenges
The most challenging renovation Amanda has worked on was also her biggest and most successful. In order to get the most out of the project, she and her partner lived onsite for 18 months as they carried the renovation out.
They nicknamed it the “house of horrors”, she says. “We lived in it over a shocking Melbourne winter. At one stage, we were basically living on a building site with no plumbing. We had to put a hose from the kitchen tap to an old brass knob on the outside of the house to shower.”
While the project was difficult and exhausting, she feels the decision to sacrifice their personal luxuries to get the project done and get to where they wanted to go was worth it.
The project netted them a lot of money, with which they purchased a number of other cash-flow positive properties. Those properties will be renovated when they are ready to get some more equity out.
“So they are just little goldmines sitting there. They pay us off at the moment and, when we are ready, we will renovate one or two and get the equity out and then proceed to the next level with them.”
She could have made more money sticking to a buy-renovate-and-flip strategy, but she didn’t want to rush the journey. “I wanted to make sure that we were building solid foundations. Now that I have got my business going, we are planning to do more and bigger renovations.”
Amanda's Renovation Tips
» If doing multiple renovation jobs, make use of a “cookie cutter” format. Always use the same paint, the same tiles, the same fixtures and so on. This means that if you overbuy something it is possible to use it on another project. It also means you can stock up on supplies for future use if you come across a special.
» When it comes to paint jobs, try to stick to a limited number of colours, or even just one. You don’t need lots of different colours on every project and they should all be neutral and light tones.
» Concentrate on producing a great kitchen and a great bathroom. The facade of a property should look great too – because people have to want to come into the house.
» Always keep a close eye on your tradies to make sure they stick to the instructions that you have given them.
» Never pay tradies in full upfront. Just give them a deposit to start with and pay the rest on satisfactory completion of the job.
» Put your wow factor into the staging – because this can provide the most wow factor in the first 10 seconds. People only start to look at intricacies of other things after their first impression.