Rebecca HawsonFrom a failed import business to a burgeoning property portfolio, Rebecca Hawson has seen many ups and downs in investing. Having faced and overcome these daunting challenges, she now enjoys the fruit of her investments. Here she shares the steps she took and lessons she learned along the way

I started my property investing in 1997 and had purchased what should have been a property for long-term hold in Redfern, for just $225,000. However, I sold it seven years later in 2004 for $470,000. 

I had pulled all of the equity out of it too, in order to leave a highly paid IT job and start a homewares importing business, which seemed like a great idea at the time.

Challenges I faced and overcame

Challenge 1: Forced sale of retail business and property

After five tough years in a declining retail market, in a ‘dream’ business that was supposed to give me a good lifestyle, it had instead all but ruined my life and had to be wound up, along with the property that I could no longer afford.

I was forced to sell it halfway through a DIY renovation that I had started while living in the property. It was the biggest mistake of my life. If only I had the knowledge and education back then and knew what I know now. That property is worth $1.4m today.

Challenge 2: Plunging Apple shares setback

So I returned to corporate world to rebuild my finances. Working for Apple for five and a half years enabled me to build a good nest egg, thanks to the amazing performance of Apple shares during that time.

I also rediscovered my interest in property after attending my first property seminar with one of my closest friends, Sarah. We had both decided that we wanted to learn more, so set about doing that.

I then went on and paid for further property education, but just when I thought I was ready to take action financially, the GFC hit and Apple share values tumbled. I was then sidelined and had to wait for the market to bounce back.

Challenge 3: Brisbane flooding

Sarah had met a great group of investors (now friends) through a mentoring program that she had joined. They had just purchased a large block in Brisbane to subdivide, after completing another successful project, but couldn't finance the construction of two houses, so I was offered the subdivided land in December 2010 and began my first build project alongside them. Research and due diligence had indicated there were some good buying opportunities in Brisbane and the numbers looked great in terms of profit for the project. Then the Brisbane floods hit!

No one could have predicted the floods though, and I battled on to complete my build. The project took 12 months to complete, longer than planned, and was a massive learning curve that ended with the builder going bust!

The market had also dropped in value due to the floods. Although I hand't lost money and the property achieved a fantastic rent, being positively geared, I then had to wait… again.

The turnaround

I left my job at Apple in 2011 to have some time out, and during that time I decided that I wanted everything I did to be about property. It was part of a bigger goal I had set myself, so I set about changing my life and creating an opportunity for myself to work in the property industry. I am now a property investment coach, working for Positive Real Estate, a great company, helping others with their investment strategies. 

I continued my education independently and through my job; and my knowledge and confidence grew, and gradually so did the Brisbane market. By 2013 I was ready to get serious about investing. All the stars were now aligned. I set a goal to have three properties by the end of 2013 and achieved them all plus more.

Property 1: Morning Side

Property 1 – Morningside, Qld (Click to enlarge)

Property highlights



Location: Morningside, Brisbane, Qld

Timeline: Dec 2010 to Dec 2011 Strategy: Growth and long-term hold, new build

Property type: 4/5-bedroom 2-storey house, 809sqm, 2.5-bath, double lock-up garage, study


Land: $390,000

Build: $360,000 including GST (including development costs + holding cost)

Total cost: $750,000

Current valuation: $880,000 market value ($840,000 bank valuation as at Dec 2013)

Rent: $820/week

Current rental yield: 4.8% gross

Finance and ownership structure

  • After rebuilding my ‘savings’, I needed maximum tax deductions to offset my high personal income at the time, so purchased in my own name.
  • I opted for 80% LVR on the advice given by the broker recommended to me.
  • Looking back, I would not have paid a 20% deposit. I would have been happy to pay lenders mortgage insurance and borrow at 90% LVR to avoid using more of my own money up front.
  • I would also have been more careful in the selection of the broker I used and worked with someone proactive, who understood property investing as opposed to just getting a loan.


  • My friends had already researched and built in this Southeast Brisbane pocket. I carried out further due diligence to verify comparable property values and ensure that the numbers stacked up.
  • The location ticked all the boxes in terms of close proximity to the Brisbane CBD, transport, good schools, shopping precincts and lifestyle areas. I spoke to local agents as well, and built relationships through this process. Brisbane at the time was extremely undervalued as a capital city and there was certainly potential for growth.
  • Because I was buying the land from my friend Sarah, I made a very quick decision and grabbed the opportunity before someone else did.
  • This property has performed very well to date, in spite of the market drop due to the floods, and will continue to rise in value as the Brisbane market continues its recovery. It has already bounced back strongly.
  • My strategy was always to hold this property for the long term. It is a blue-chip property, in a great capital city location. I have already been able to leverage some of the equity and purchase another property.

Challenges I faced with this property

  • There was nothing easy about this process. The Brisbane floods happened shortly after I had purchased it, sending the market backwards. I saw comparable properties drop up to $100,000 in value at the time as a result.
  • No one could have predicted the ‘force majeure’, so although a setback over the longer term, it was a mere speed bump.
  • The bigger problem was that the builder went into liquidation before completing the build and was unable to pay trades, meaning that getting the property finished was a challenge. It was a massive learning curve.
  • The other challenge was myself. I had to remember I was not building my dream home; that it was an investment. I learned how to compromise, and that with good design and lower-priced items that still looked good, a great presentation and some wow factor was still achievable. On completion, I secured tenants paying $895 per week!
Properties 2 &3: Wynum

Properties 2 & 3 – Wynnum West, Qld (Click to enlarge)


Location: Wynnum West, Brisbane, Qld (on Wynnum Boundary)

Timeline: May 2013 to Jan 2014

Strategy: Joint venture, new build; hold for growth and leverage equity to reinvest

Property type: 2 x 4/5-bedroom 2-storey house, 506sqm, 2.5-bath, double lock-up garage, study


Land: $500,000 (removable house on existing two lots)

Build: $700,000 including

GST (includes costs + interest)

Total cost: $1.2m

Current valuation: $1.44m

Rent: $1,320/week (2 houses)

Current rental yield: 4.8% gross

My research had indicated that Brisbane was an even better buying opportunity at the beginning of 2013. Another great friend of mine, Joe (also an investor), agreed to a joint venture (JV) as a finance partner, so I set about finding us a 'splitter block' in May 2013 to replicate the build I had just completed, but this time we decided to build two houses. We completed the build project successfully within six months, by December 2013.

Finance and ownership structure

  • Joe already had investment properties with equity. He had become interested in what I was doing and agreed to finance a JV project.
  • We used a company structure and JV agreement to complete this project.
  • By mid-2013, the Brisbane market had started its recovery. I began to search for a site at which to replicate the build process I had previously used. This time I wanted both blocks, so a double block already on two lots was required.
  • I had selected Wynnum/Wynnum West as my focus area after researching Brisbane City Council’s infrastructure and growth plans under the new Draft City Plan.
  • Not only did the area tick most of the key growth drivers; it was also a lifestyle area. The demographic was perfect and the numbers stacked up.
  • I had begun talking to local agents, so when this property became available I received a call and we negotiated the deal very quickly for a great price.
  • Through the research process, I had met a local Wynnum town planner and some other like-minded investors/ developers (now friends) and was introduced to the builders who would build the houses. After researching the builders, I was impressed.
  • This project went smoothly. Purchase and on-completion valuations came in on target.
  • We hit Christmas at the end of the build, and I had also caused some delays, due to being so time-poor, but even so, the end-to-end construction of two large houses was finished in  six months.
  • The builders were fantastic, the houses looked amazing and it was such a great experience compared to the first time. The project came in  almost on budget too.
  • Wynnum West has since been highlighted in YIP’s April issue as a suburb to watch, having already grown 15% in the past 12 months.

Challenges I faced with this property

  • The only challenges were getting “The Twins” tenanted.
  • We lost a few weeks in rental income due to the time of year and trying to get a higher rental for them (it was worth trying). I had used $650/week in my original feasibility and we ended up with $660 per house.
Property 4 Battery Hill

Property 4 – Sunshine Coast, Qld (Click to enlarge)



Location: Battery Hill (Currimundi), Sunshine Coast, Qld

Timeline: Dec 2013

Strategy: Cash flow and long-term hold. Once debt-free, it will generate approximately $60,000–$70,000 in yearly cash flow

Property type: 6-bedroom house + 2 studios


Purchase price: $470,000

Current valuation: $480,000

Rent: $1,120/week

Current rental yield: 12.4% gross

By September 2013, I wanted a cash flow positive property to help increase my servicing capacity, as my income at this time was limited. I had started looking on the Sunshine Coast, as my parents live there and I was aware that the market had started to move and show early signs of recovery. I found a  property with a huge gross rental yield, but had many challenges trying to purchase it. It was a share house and the banks didn't like it. After five attempts at finance and with a vendor finance agreement in place, I finally purchased it (giving birth would have been less  painful).

Finance and ownership structure

  • I accessed equity in my Morningside property to purchase this, but because it was a share house (with rooming agreements for individual room rentals), the banks didn’t like it.
  • I was unable to borrow at 90% LVR, and it took five attempts at finance before it was approved at 80% LVR.
  • I negotiated with the vendor to provide vendor finance for the additional 10%, in return for him staying on in the property for a little while, rent-free.
  • The purchase of this property was a nightmare; I got gazumped during the finance fiasco, but the other buyer was then unable to complete the purchase.
  • I had a great broker at Positive Financial Services who finally got this over the line for me.
  • My parents live on the Sunshine Coast and I had been watching the market for a little while towards the end of 2013, looking for an investment that I could set up  for holiday rentals, for positive cash flow.
  • My research had led me to believe that parts of the market had reached the bottom of the cycle and were already starting to show signs of movement and recovery. Rental yields were strong and vacancy rates low.
  • I was up late every night on Real Estate Investar, monitoring the market activity closely. It was  because of this that, as soon as the property was listed, I was able to move quickly. I had it under contract in less than 24 hours. 
  • I included a good ‘Subject To Due Diligence’ clause in the contract, to give me the time needed for research.  The house is 300m from Currimundi Beach, in close proximity to the hospital and university, with transport on the doorstep, long-term tenants in place and high positive cash flow. It ticked all the boxes.
  • I have purchased at the bottom of the market. As well as a high gross rental yield, I would expect to see some capital growth as the market recovers.
  • I am managing this property myself, and that has been a big learning curve. I had to evict two troublesome tenants.
  • I placed an ad for two new tenants, and within three hours had multiple responses and by the end of the day I had secured two tenants. There is additional upside of an extra $220 per week in rental income, once I fix up  the other studio.
Challenges I faced with this property
  • The purchase dragged on for three months, for what had been a 28-day settlement. But the stakes were high, so it was worth the stress in the end.

The next step: turbo-charging results

Inspired by our friends doing small developments to build townhouses,  Sarah and I agreed to work together in a JV structure and to focus on this type of deal, so we set about learning everything we could about the process.

I got access to our first small deal  ‘off market’ in October 2013 (an existing house renovation and the addition of two new townhouses) through an agent contact (who introduced us to the professional team we now work with). This was a challenging first site.

During the process, another deal came along in November 2013, a bigger project (existing house lift, shift and renovation and construction of three additional townhouses) on another challenging site. Both of these projects are now in council going through the DA process.

Having done all that in 12 months,  working crazy hours in my job as well, I collapsed in a heap at the end of last year, feeling really proud of what I'd achieved.

We have now found our first external JV finance partners and secured another development site through our team connections. This is about to be lodged with council for DA, and by all early indications will be our best site to date in terms of project returns. I am also getting ready to set up a SMSF through which I will purchase an investment property.

This feature is from the October issue of Your Investment Property Magazine. Download the issue to read more!