It is OK to make mistakes – just learn from them – Brad Beer

Our feature chat this week is with Brad Beer from BMT Tax Depreciation. We find out what he looks for in an investment property, what and who moulded his property thinking, his first property and he gives us some finance tips.
We talk about partnerships, the areas he likes and the struggles that most investors experience.


Kevin:  My special feature guest this week is Brad Beer from BMT Tax Depreciation.
Good day, Brad. This is nice to be talking to you. We’re not going to be talking about tax depreciation, although we might do. I’m more interested in talking to you about your property journey. How are you?
Brad:  Great, Kevin, and great to be here. Love to talk about property, so here we are.
Kevin:  It’s our favorite subject. I don’t think you’ll have much trouble with this one. Why and when did you first get involved in property investment, Brad?
Brad:  Why? I started my job at BMT Tax Depreciation and probably didn’t have much knowledge then about investing in property, but I started probably dealing with clients who were investing in property and making money from them. I thought that was probably a good idea.
When I say a good idea, a good way to probably make some wealth over time. I also had a fair bit of interest in the building side of things – doing a building degree, as well – so the concept of renovating – which I did a bit of – was all pretty good.
Kevin:  How old were you at the time when you started?
Brad:  The first property I bought, I think, was in 2001. That would make me about 23.
Kevin:  I wasn’t probing to see how old you are now; I was just keen to know what your age was then. Whereabouts was that first purchase?
Brad:  The first purchase was a suburb in Newcastle called Georgetown. It was a very old, very bad condition four-bedroom house with a big shed out in the back, almost an industrial style shed. I love that shed. I still own that property.
Kevin:  I was going to ask you whether you still own it.
Brad:  Yes, I still own it.
Kevin:  Did you ever live in it?
Brad:  I did for a period of time, yes. I did renovations on it. I didn’t at the start, while I was at uni, which I did at Newcastle Uni, which I had just finished. BMT had a strong office in Newcastle – started at Newcastle, actually.
I paid $170,000 for it at the time. It needed a lot of work. I found underneath the carpet, newspapers dating back to about 1910, 1912 or something.
Kevin:  Wow, isn’t that fascinating?
Brad:  I worked very hard renovating on nights, weekends to turn it into something better.
Kevin:  When you found those old newspapers, did you do what most of us do and go and look at what the price of real estate was back then?
Brad:  I don’t know I found real estate pages and I don’t know if I was in the mentality. I found some very interesting ads in them and some very interesting stories, though. It was quite interesting.
Kevin:  I remember going to a really old house once we were renovating ,and I dug up some newspapers and found some old Ray White advertising, which I shared with Alan White, who is now sadly passed away. Some of them were actually featuring Ray himself so that’s how old they were.
It’s fascinating to go back and look at what was happening at the time when they put this paper down on the ground. Typically, though, I think they put it under linoleum, didn’t they?
Brad:  Yes. There was newspaper, lino, I think another level of lino, and a couple levels of carpet in that property. They just kept laying it on top.
Kevin:  As a young guy going to uni, you would have had a lot of fun rolling up your sleeves and doing a lot of reno yourself, did you?
Brad:  I had just pretty much finished uni. I was working at BMT. I actually started at BMT in ’98, and I was very hands-on. I also had no money, so I had to be hands-on. After work and on weekends, I was crawling through the ceiling. My dad was an electrician helping me. I had other building mates pulling floors out with me, ripping up carpets, pulling it to bits.
I did a bit of renovating with my father when I was younger, but I learned a lot on that job, and I worked very hard after hours to get it done.
Kevin:  You said earlier that you love the shed that was in the backyard. What was so special about that?
Brad:  It was big.
Kevin:  Okay, a man shed.
Brad:  It’s actually not the nicest looking shed in any ways, but it’s a very large shed that I could rent part of in the past to use and store things in my life. It’s been fantastic for that. When you need somewhere to store that boat that you don’t have any storage for, or campers, or additional cars or parts, four-drive bits, it’s fantastic for that, or renovation materials for people who do some renovation for me. It’s been very handy.
Kevin:  Has that been a good property for you over the years?
Brad:  That property has performed very well. I probably spent about $20,000 on it initially, maybe even a bit less because I did a lot of work myself. It probably leapfrogged me… Being the time late 2001, the New South Wales market moving helped me to leapfrog onto the second property, which we will get on to later.
I did some renovations straight away. I think I got a valuation in less than six months after doing a renovation of about $240,000, and it has rented quite consistently ever since. It’s right near a bus stop, right near a shopping center. It’s not far from the uni.
I’ve done another couple of incarnations of minor size renovations since. I’ve had a valuation recently of about $575,000, I think. It rents for about $500 a week, $495 or something like that. Over that time, it’s performed very well. I’ve renovated it and made it fairly nice where it was.
That area has had good growth over time. Even though New South Wales had some quiet periods after 2003, I suppose, until the late 2000s, overall, that property has performed very well, rented very well, and been a very good property.
Kevin:  From there, you went on to your next purchase. Did you use the gearing or the growth in that property to help you get into the next one?
Brad:  I spent on renovations, so I needed to get some money back. In the early days, when you did run out of money, I probably put some of it on my credit card. Because to buy the first property, cash was always a bit of a problem. Then I had to renovate, and running out of money there was tough. I revalued to get some of that renovation money back, but also the deposit for the next one, which I also bought only six months or so later.
It was the equity that I had gained out of that. Really, I bought it for $170,000. I think the first valuation I did after spending some money came in at $240,000. I borrowed that equity as the equity for the next property and leapfrogged fairly quickly into the next one, and I went headlong back into renovating into the next one, which was interesting, doing the same thing again basically. So that enabled me to get back in fairly quickly to the market.
Kevin:  Where was the second one?
Brad:  The second one was in a suburb only a couple across, in a place called Mayfield and probably didn’t have the best stigma as an area – BHB, lots of black things falling on your clothes overnight. [7:52 inaudible] didn’t like living there for that reason sometimes.
That one, I think I paid about $200,000. It might have been $210,000. It’s a long time ago now. I instantly renovated that up with a $20,000 or $30,000 spend fairly quickly. I think the valuation at the end of the process came in at about $300,000.
I just did another major renovation on that only in the last six months, where I added another bathroom and managed to reconfigure inside to get another bedroom. Its valuation just came in at $600,000, so it’s performed quite well by manufacturing equity and some growth along the way, as well, and has always rented for amounts of money that were pretty good throughout.
I think having owned it for some time and being where it was, it’s had some good growth over time but it also has rented consistently for good returns on the way through, as well. I think it rents for $500 or $550 a week at the moment.
Kevin:  You’ve learned a few good lessons along the way, haven’t you? You’ve told us about two properties so far, which are both still in your portfolio, Brad.
Brad:  Yes, both still in my portfolio. That one, as I said, I’ve just gone through. The first time I renovated, I actually didn’t replace the kitchen, so I probably didn’t quite spend that much the first time but I did rip up carpets, knock out a couple of walls. This time, I actually made a fair bit of change. I got an additional bathroom into the property and with some wall changes and things, an additional bedroom and opened up.
It’s always good to look at getting more space into the property. A lot of these old houses have really big laundries that aren’t necessary and you can fit a decent sized bathroom and a laundry in a smaller area, which I’ve done a number of times, and that was one of those.
I’ve been continually a holder of property. I don’t think it’s always the right thing to do, but selling if you need to for a reason of “I can’t invest in more property because of this and I think there are better growth opportunities” is probably okay, but they weren’t stopping me from investing in other things. They’re performing okay.
There are a couple of properties in the portfolio that I don’t know that I’d buy if I had my time again, but I haven’t necessarily needed to sell them, either. I’ve only ever sold one property, and it was one that I was in partners with and I was getting the partners who were in other things together. We were getting out of partners, it seems, so we sold that building because no one in particular wanted to take it on. It was the only reason, really, for selling it.
Kevin:  I’ll talk to you about partnerships in just a moment because that’s a whole different story. Are there any other properties in your portfolio that you can tell us about that you might have learned some lessons from?
Brad:  I’d say there were ones that have done really well; there are some that I’ve learned some lessons from. My strategy was often – and I have a lot of properties around the Newcastle area – buying what I could manufacture equity because I didn’t have enough equity to keep buying investment properties. You have to watch to make sure that what you’re buying gives you the cash flow, as well.
In an overall strategy, you need a bit of both, but for me, I was kind of equity hungry, so I was buying. I’d buy these properties around the Newcastle area for around $250,000 to $300,000. What I would do is I’d be looking for a bad house in a good street and I’d do renovations. I’d look for things that I could get an additional bedroom out of and make better, revalue, refinance, push my finance really hard.
I’m sure we’ll get into some finance in this interview later. I pushed the finance really hard to free up as much equity as possible so that I could keep going in again.
I have others that you’ve paid that $250,000 or $300,000 and then spent the $30,000 or $40,000 looking for the valuation close to $350,000 to $400,000 so that you could re-free up some of that equity and get your cash back out of that renovation, I suppose you’d say, so you could use it to fund the next purchase and the next renovation.
Some of those properties now – and I still hold them – I look and I have one that I bought probably about eight years ago. I had a valuation done the other day. I think I paid $240,000 for it. I’ve actually done nothing to that one and I have a valuation at $450,000 now. It needs a renovation, and I’m going to do that very soon.
But holding the property and relying on the growth is something that’s definitely worked well for me. But in those early days especially, what I was doing was looking to manufacture equity through renovation, through extra bedrooms, through simply getting my cash back so that I could actually use it again.
Kevin:  That’s very interesting. I’m gathering from the conversation that a large part of your portfolio is in Newcastle – or was. Was that because you were comfortable with that area? Did you know it or is it just strategically well placed for you?
Brad:  I knew the area. I started there. I have a number of properties outside of that area now. Look, one of the problems with that is I pay too much land tax, but it was an area I knew. I think overall, looking at what areas you actually look at should be things that have growth drivers that are going to drive growth in property.
Long term, I like that Hunter area but it has its slow and its better times. I’ve held through those and been able to hold through those, but why I started there, I guess, was because I needed to be able to manufacture equity.
I needed to be able to renovate these properties. I needed to be able to change these properties. I needed to do a fair bit of looking at what I can do with it, which means I haven’t looked at every property I’ve ever bought, but in order to go, “I can change this, change that, and make my big laundry into a nice second bathroom out the back,” it’s a bit harder to do that without looking at that property, so that’s why I probably ended up with a lot of them in the early days there, but I’ve widened since and gone to other states.
Kevin:  Where else have you favored?
Brad:  I have Victoria, and it was fairly early on in Victoria. I bought an apartment, so it was little houses. I bought an apartment in St. Kilda. I paid $360,000 for it, and I would say that’s about ten years ago now.
The thing was it was about 18 months old and someone had overpaid off-the-plan on that particular apartment. It had been oversold. It was very close to Acland Street. I think $430,000 was the original purchase price. I actually bought it for $360,000. It was furnished, and it has consistently rented. It was about $450 or $475 back then. It’s been consistently $500. It’s furnished so it goes up and down a little bit and changes over tenants a little bit more.
I think I re-leased it for $550 a week the other day, which is a little bit light. The furniture is getting a bit older and probably needs updating a little bit, and the market was a bit slow at the time when looking to re-rent it.
But that one has actually performed really well because it’s worth circa about $600,000 now. In that time, it’s performed quite well, that one in particular.
I have another unit in Victoria in a suburb called Glenroy, which is a lower socio-economic area and very close to Essendon, in-between the city and the airport. I’ve only had that for a couple of years, paid mid-$300,000s. It was only a couple of years old, and it’s a townhouse, not a house. It’s been performing quite well. I think the valuation is already 10% above at the time, but the way I bought that was with some other people, so it was already making some money on the way in buy, which I suppose is a good point.
You’re always looking to make some money at the buy point. You don’t want to be there buying something from someone when the new, big first-home owners grants come out because I have too much competition. I want to be there when there aren’t many people there, the house that needs that work, because I think there’s a definite necessity to make some money on the way in as you buy.
I have some property in South East Queensland, as well. That’s been later additions.
Kevin:  What’s the mix there of units to houses? Is there a bit of an equal mix?
Brad:  I would say that it’s mostly houses. Probably 75% would be approximately the case. I’m just building a block of units, so that’s probably going to change that percentage at the moment.
Kevin:  Where are you doing that?
Brad:  That’s in a suburb in Newcastle called Adamstown. I’m actually in partnership on that one. It’s a block of 12 units, so I’ll retain six of those at the end. That’ll change the percentage a little bit, but 75% or 80%. Over the last couple of years, it was more like 90% or 95%, but I bought a couple more units in that later time.
Kevin:  Did you acquire the site in the partnership for that development you’re doing in Newcastle?
Brad:  I did. It’s a good point the way that was acquired. It was a site that was two houses that had a development application approved. Because I’m a property investor, not necessarily a developer, and I purchased it some time ago, I looked at the fact is I bought it as two houses. Developers need to develop to continue their cash flow. It was around the point of the GFC. We paid less for those two houses than the previous people had because they bought it to make it into a development site.
The GFC comes, and it’s pretty hard to get money from banks to do developments. I didn’t have to do developments. I bought them as properties in a partnership and I’m still developing those in the same partnership. Because they actually stacked okay as investments as property, if I wasn’t to develop it, I was happy to hold it, so we ended up with a better situation in the end. It’s probably one of the best property deals I guess I’ve done in time.
Kevin:  Partnerships can be difficult – can’t they – if you go into something, especially like the development side of that and something happens in the partnership and then you have to divide it up, so you have to be very careful who you go into partnership with.
Brad:  I think one of the really important things is that even if you have a good relationship with the partners, should certain things happen, there needs to be a proper “What happens if…” in place, not “We’ll just work it out.”
If one decides they don’t want to develop and wants to sell, what’s the mechanism for everybody to be happy at the end of this? If one doesn’t want to do the development and one does, what’s the mechanism to deal with that problem? Is it that someone buys someone else out? Is it that if one wants to sell, we all have to sell?
Whatever the things that are said, you probably need to draw up a bit of a contract – get the solicitors involved – with “If this happens, this is what our memorandum of understanding between us is. That’s what we do,” and stick to it, both of you.
Kevin:  It’s good to have a solicitor to do that too because sometimes they can ask those really tough questions that in a partnership, as you’re forming that relationship, there are subjects you don’t really want to broach. But a solicitor can broach them and you can talk them through.
Brad:  That’s exactly right. When you’re in and you’re getting in to that partnership, we’re all friends, we’re going to do this development, it’s going to be really great, we’re all going to make some money, enthusiastic, we’re all good friends. But it’s almost like a contract is just in case it goes pear-shaped, these are the rules.
Really, that contract, you want to put it away in the drawer and never get it out again. It’s just if it goes pear-shaped, we know what our expectations are.
Kevin:  You mentioned earlier in our chat that you were in another partnership. Did you learn that lesson from that partnership?
Brad:  Some of those were the same partners in that partnership, so there was no angst in that. I bought one property early in my time that I bought with a partner. That partner decided he didn’t want to be in that property, so I bought him out of the other half of that.
After that, I bought with partners who were actually my partners in BMT so I was already married to them from the partnership perspective, so we had these things in place. I have done it outside of that, but only once – and I didn’t have any problems with that.
I didn’t really have something to learn from doing that probably other than watching in my job, getting involved sometimes at a [21:44 inaudible] as an expert witness in the past. So looking at the way that when things did go pear-shaped, how bad they can get and how people get caught up in those things.
It’s just important to make sure you have “What we are going to do…” set pretty solidly on paper at the start “…if this or this happens?”
Kevin:  You mentioned earlier about buying sight unseen. Have you done much of that?
Brad:  I haven’t done a lot. I think it depends on the type of thing you buy. I think generally for investors, it can actually definitely be done, should be able to be done. I probably have a little block of units and another unit and another unit that I haven’t actually seen. One of them, I’ve driven past out of those.
I actually bought a small block of units in the last few months without having seen it. The thing is it’s out of my area, and for me, probably for mostly time reasons. I actually had a buyer’s agent who bought that for me, so they’ve seen it. Someone has seen it.
I don’t necessarily think it’s always necessary because I’m not looking to do renovations and looking to manufacture equity. I just like the investment. I like the drivers and the growth in the area and I’ve had someone who’s had a look at the property and recommended it.
Kevin:  A trusted advisor, really, isn’t it?
Brad:  Yes. It’s important to have plenty of those around you. Absolutely.
Kevin:  As a successful property investor, Brad, what’s the most common question you get asked?
Brad:  I think about that and there are probably a couple of answers to that, more than just one. “How did you get started?” is probably the most common, followed by “How did you keep going?” Probably normally the younger person would say, “How did you get started?” Probably the person who has invested would say, “How did you keep going?”
A large percentage of investors in Australia only ever buy one investment property, and it’s because they either had a not so great experience or through lack of, really, the education on the way property investments should be done, they don’t push that next level. So probably mostly those two.
Kevin:  First to second property is the toughest, and you said most people never get past their first. They probably get into two or three, then have to settle down because they’ve made some big mistakes along the way. Were there any points for you along the way where you went, “Oh, I think I might have gone too fast, too quick here”?
Brad:  Absolutely.
Kevin:  Can you remember when that was?
Brad:  It was probably one situation. The first one was very hard, as you say, and one of my biggest mistakes was probably saving for longer to get a 20% deposit. That wasn’t the question. I leapfrogged to the second one fairly quickly and the third and the fourth, and then I slowed a little, but then I really went hard and I had renovations going on all over the place – and you can burn cash really fast when you do that.
That was really one of those times when I had settlements and refinances. If you don’t really plan and make sure you’ve finished that one, you revalue it, you get your cash so that you’re ready for your next one, you can run out of cash very quickly in that situation. It’s a bit like developing; you run out of cash in that situation fairly fast.
Making sure you’re on top of the things, that you really have a plan of what you’re going to do. Yes, I came pretty close once because I had about three renovations going at once. I had a big one that I just finished and I was a bit slow refinancing a couple that I had done not long before that. All of a sudden, you have $50,000 out there on that renovation and $50,000 on that one, etc. That just compounds so fast.
I got myself into a point where I was like “I actually need to go back and calculate how quickly I need this refinance to come through in order to make sure I have the cash to do the things that I’m doing at the moment.”
You should never put yourself in that position; you should always be ahead.
Kevin:  Nothing wrong with making mistakes in anything in life as long as you learn from them.
Brad:  I did, absolutely.
Kevin:  Would you buy overseas, or have you ever bought a property overseas?
Brad:  I haven’t. It doesn’t mean I never would. I have probably looked into it, especially probably the U.S. around five, seven, eight years ago or maybe even a little longer, about that time after GFC where there were lots of cheap properties, etc. I never made the jump. I was never convinced it was the right idea completely. It doesn’t mean I never would but no, I haven’t at this stage.
Kevin:  Do you have a mentor or someone you follow or you think is a particularly good example or role model?
Brad:  I don’t have one in particular. A lot of my learning came from being across the industry very heavily within my job, and it would mean that I would listen to many. I don’t have a particular mentor in life, but what I do is actually surround myself with people who are good at it, have done a lot of it, are better at it than I am so that I can actually learn from them all the time. I think it’s very important to learn, but I don’t have a particular mentor.
Kevin:  Are you looking around for another property now? If so, what are you looking for?
Brad:  I’ve changed what I’ve been doing. I’ve probably been a bit slower in the buying at the moment because I’ve been building a block of units and a couple of houses on things that I’ve done DAs for in the past.
The answer is I’m always looking. I’m always open to the concept of… The relationships I have with many agents throughout the country is “Call me if you have the screamer deal.” Am I actively out there looking for the screamer deal? No, but I do have the ability to finance these things fairly quickly based on the way I’ve structured my finance. If they have what they believe a screamer deal is, I’m always open to suggestions.
Kevin:  There’s a call-out for agents if ever I heard one.
What’s the worst property investment you’ve ever made?
Brad:  That’s very simple. I bought land in a holiday area.
Kevin:  Me, too.
Brad:  The thing is I actually still own the land.
Kevin:  Do you? I got rid of mine.
Brad:  Because it hasn’t stopped me from investing in other things.
Kevin:  Is it still vacant land?
Brad:  It’s still vacant land, yes. I probably will build on it eventually. It kind of stacks okay but not enough for me to get interested in spending the time. The thing it doesn’t do is stop me from investing in other things, and it was also quite inexpensive in the scheme of things.
But at the time, it was fairly early in my investing – I think it was the third property I bought, or it might have been the fourth – and it wasn’t the right time. I did have a long time for settlement, so it didn’t necessarily slow me down necessarily but it still was a bad decision in hindsight.
Very simple, and it’s often the mistake. As far as lifestyle properties, I just think you should buy property for an investment that’s good for investment. Make money. Go on holidays where you want to go on holidays with that money.
Kevin:  Yes, and that’s going to make you some money along the way. The block of land we bought was in an area like you, a holiday area where there was tons of land coming on. The only way we could ever get rid of it, of course – we were competing with all the other blocks – was to do a JV with a builder who built it, and then we sold it as a house/land package, and we just took out the land value. That’s the only way we could get out of that one.
Brad:  I could do that. If another local agent, someone really came with decent money and wanted it, I’d probably sell it, but they also don’t need to. I think I’ve probably taken all the slow period of no growth. I think there’s probably more potential for it in the future. I’ve taken the hurt, so I continue to hold on.
Kevin:  Fair enough.
What’s the most important piece of property advice anyone has ever given you? Was it your father?
Brad:  No, my father wasn’t a property investor, and I think that’s a piece of the learning. I grew up in a country town with one of four children, and my dad was an electrician. My mum didn’t work, which I think was fantastic – not that that’s right for everybody but it was good for our family. In that age bracket, they bought their house and they paid it off. That was how it went.
My dad wasn’t the property investment advice person. I love him to death; don’t get me wrong. But I think the best piece of advice was to probably learn as much as you can about what you’re doing. And I didn’t up until when I bought the first property.
The benefit is I became a depreciation expert and I went to lots of property seminars and everything under the sun on property, often talking about depreciation, just as one expertise piece. But I listened to many people over that time to learn what I could learn.
And I still do. I still go to things and listen to what else I can pick up. I also get motivated and excited then and start going back and thinking about my portfolio again, which is something you need to do on a more regular basis sometimes than you do.
Look at someone who does it well and learn from them probably is some of the best advice I think you could give.
Kevin:  It’s interesting, because I think you’ve probably been to every property seminar in Australia. I think every one that I’ve been to I’ve seen you at, so you’ve had that opportunity to learn many, many times.
Brad:  I’ve been to way more than most.
Kevin:  It’s interesting, though. Every one you go to, if you’re clever, you’ll always pick something up from every one.
Brad:  I still do. One is run by the same people who I’ve been to before, I often like to sit through. Firstly, when I give a depreciation presentation, it’s good for it to connect. Secondly, I can always pick up a couple of little bits of things in learning for myself out of them.
Kevin:  Before I let you go, the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way, some things that we can learn from now.
Brad:  I think read and learn about property investment as much as you can. If you think you’ve found the right properties and you’ve looked to buy those, crunched numbers, and things, I think one of the biggest keys to being able to continually buy property really is to actually learn about finance – learning how to use finance to take away a lot of the risk in investing in property, learning how to put some pressure on the lenders, to structure the finance the right way so that it covers your risk.
I can’t stress enough how important knowledge about finance is and knowledge about how to get what you want out of that can actually reduce the risk in investing.
We talked earlier about my father and that generation. You grow up, you buy your house, you pay it off and that’s really great. You get old, retire, and you have your house as an asset. Often, that’s a lot of what is there. Now, finance enables you to do something different to that, which you can, but you need to learn how to harness it, use it to take a lot of the risk out of property investing. That’s what I’ve continued to do and have a big belief in financing things correctly.
Kevin:  We’re about to wrap this up, so let’s get a nice little plug in there for BMT Tax Depreciation, one of our great supporters. We thank you for that, Brad, and all of the team at BMT.
The best piece of advice you can give any property investor would be…?
Brad:  Make sure you get a depreciation schedule because 80% of people are missing out on money and leaving it at the tax office.
Kevin:  Does that ever amaze you, that there are so many people who don’t do it?
Brad:  Every single day. And I’m just blown away, all of the things about investing in property, about learning how to do it well, learning how to make sure you buy the right property, do all these things – and depreciation, so many people don’t learn and therefore miss out on money. You’re investing in property to make money, so I don’t know why. It’s like telling the tenants that instead of paying $500 a week, you should pay $400 and we don’t do that, do we?
Kevin:  That’s right. Brad, it’s been great talking to you, mate. Thank you for sharing so much information about yourself. It’s been wonderful to get to know you in a different sense. Thank you for all of your support, too.
Brad Beer from BMT Tax Depreciation. Thanks, mate.
Brad:  Great, Kevin. Glad to be here.

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