Meighan Hetherington shares a great story about how she discovered the fascination of becoming a property investor and how she now shares that passion with other investors.
Kevin: I’m going to feature an interview now with someone I haven’t spoken to for quite some time, Meighan Hetherington, who is a buyer’s agent from Property Pursuit – PropertyPursuit.com.au.
Meighan, happy New Year. Welcome to the show.
Meighan: Happy new year, Kevin. It’s so good to talk to you again.
Kevin: Yes, it’s been a while.
Meighan: It has been. It’s been busy.
Kevin: Well, that’s good. I want to talk to you about the market and about a number of things actually, but I’m really interested to hear from you about your own philosophy. I know you’re a believer in property. Why did you get involved in property investment? What started all that off?
Meighan: It was actually back when I was at uni, and my father had a really strong interest in it. He just was a little bit risk-averse and actually didn’t take any action, but it instilled in me that interest in how to make money from property and how to research property and how to make it work for me.
It was back when I’d just finished university, I’d got my first full-time job, and I said to my brother and my father, “Let’s do this. Let’s get a property going.” And we did our first one together.
Kevin: Those conversations around the kitchen table, did that frame that in your mind – hearing there about your dad talking but not necessarily taking any action?
Meighan: Yes, and I think it’s one of the reasons that I really like the work that we do. It helps people take what might be an idea or a research phase that they’re in and actually take it through to completion and build a portfolio or buy a new home.
So that actual next step of having the confidence to take the action, I think that was the thing that I really wanted to make sure that I got started on quite young. And I gave up a lot to do that. I didn’t do any overseas travel and I really cemented myself in Brisbane by making that first purchase, but something that was really important to me was to get that financial stability quite young.
Kevin: Tell me about that first deal with your dad and your brother. How did it come about? Where was it?
Meighan: It was in Gordon Park, about five and a half kilometers north of the CBD in Brisbane. At that time, really that was considered a bit of the outskirts of Brisbane. This was in 1998. I was renting a property across the road with a couple of housemates and I kept saying to my dad, “That’s the kind of property I want to buy.”
It was across the road. It was the high side of the street. It was an old workers’ cottage that clearly hadn’t had any work done to it for about 80 years. Eventually it actually came up for sale, so it was a deceased estate. The sign went up, and the next day, I put an offer in.
It moved quite quickly from then. There were a lot of things that we did wrong on that first purchase and a lot of things that I learned. I think that collection of experiences has been quite valuable to me.
Kevin: Did you get into that with a view to turning it over, or do you still own it?
Meighan: No, I actually turned it over. I was working in corporate at the time, and when I got transferred to Melbourne, I sold that in its entirety to my brother. We were at 50/50 ownership in it, and my dad had put his house up as the equity so that we could borrow all of the funds to purchase it. We released his equity quite quickly. We did some renovations and were able to release his portion of it.
I sold it to my brother, and my brother sold it on the open market actually when I was a real estate agent I think in 2002. The view was to hold it, but I just wasn’t financially in a position where I could do that and live in another state.
Kevin: Did he give you the listing?
Kevin: Well done. That’s good. He’d have to, wouldn’t he? He’d never be forgiven.
Meighan: He had no choice.
Kevin: Interesting to hear you say right at the start of our conversation there about the sacrifice you made. You didn’t travel overseas. What were some of the things that you did do then to get into the property market?
Meighan: I’ve never been a very good saver. I have always spent the money that comes into my account when I’ve made it. So I had to change my mindset a little bit to make sure that I had the funds to pay the mortgage and also the renovations that we wanted to do.
I did a lot of the work myself, a lot of the painting and scraping and sanding and all of that non-technical trade work. I did the physical nature of that myself, and we saved a lot of money that way. And I rented rooms to other people so that we could get the extra income to do the renovation.
There weren’t breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I certainly had a good social life but it was important to me that I made the best out of this first opportunity that I possibly could.
Kevin: When you sold to your brother, what did you do after that? Did you go on to buy another property?
Meighan: Yes. The next property I bought was in Kedron. I still own that one. Then from there, we’ve gone on to do a variety of different things. Some were buy and hold; some were buy and renovate. Our strategy for our personal home has been to leapfrog ourselves. We would buy something, renovate it, and then use the equity or sell to move up to the next level of home. We did that until we got into our current home, which as my husband says, he’s going out of this one in a box.
Kevin: I’ve heard that before. You probably have, too.
Based on what your experience is now, if someone wanted to get started in property investing today and they were listening in to this, what advice would you give them? What’s the best advice you could give them?
Meighan: I think the thing to be really aware of is that owning property isn’t a right in Australia. Owning property is something that you have to work hard for, and you do have to sacrifice for it. You can’t have everything, and you can’t always have everything that you want in the first property that you purchase.
I think the people who are prepared to look at it as a journey rather than a destination are the people who I see actually taking action and building their wealth through property, and having those milestone moments where they are working towards whatever it is – whether it’s the dream home or an income-producing portfolio or something that they can leverage. It’s probably having the kindness to yourself to say, “I can’t do that and have the property that I want, so which way am I going to go?” and then getting the balance right.
We had a client once who saved $210,000 in cash to buy a property, and we bought for them down in Edens Landing about 10 years ago, but their sacrifice was enormous. They lived in a squalid one-bedroom unit in West End for four years I think it was, three of them, to save that money. That’s extreme sacrifice.
It’s finding the right balance that you still have a life but have the ability to build for your future.
Kevin: What’s the best property deal you’ve ever done either for yourself or for someone else?
Meighan: There are two actually. One of ours was opportunistic. I say to people, have a plan in mind but always be open to something that pops up that you could not possibly have expected. For us, that unexpected one came in the form of a splitter block in Wavell Heights.
We’d actually looked at it, researched it, and recommended it to a client. That client happened to be traveling overseas at the time and he said, “I just can’t commit to this right now. I’m probably a week away.” And I said, “They’re presenting offers tonight. It’s multiple offer. Do you mind if we buy it?” He said, “No. Go for it. Great. Good on you.”
Again, we stand behind our recommendations, and we purchased that one with a view to knocking down a post-war and putting two new builds on it to hold. And as things turned out, the neighbors wanted to buy it, so we were actually able to negotiate a sale for the neighbors that was in excess of the profit that we would have made from doing the job. It was one of those really unusual opportunistic type things, but change your plans to make it fit.
The other one would be that we purchased a property in Toowong for a client about six years ago. It was a big block of land – 809 square meters. The land value on that was only $10,000 less than what we paid and it had a four-bedroom Queenslander. It needed a bit of work but the land content was really high. That’s been, without doubt, the highest performing property that we’ve purchased for a client from a growth point of view.
Kevin: Was that on two lots?
Meighan: Yes. It is a character residential area, so they can’t knock the house down, but it is possible to put a couple of townhouses in the back yard. So there are various options there.
Kevin: Speaking of that, what do you believe is best – investment in apartments or houses?
Meighan: We’re very cautious about apartments in Brisbane, and I know certainly in some of the other states, as well. It’s supply and demand in equity. Apartments are often purchased by investors and/or first-home buyers as a lower entry point for getting into the market.
With the amount of supply that’s coming on the market, we are already starting to see that rents are being affected. There is a lot for tenants to choose from at the moment, and they are very strong in their position to negotiate. Rents are actually dropping quite quickly in the unit market, and because of supply, prices are not increasing.
We’re very cautious about units. I’m always a big believer in land content. It is the land that appreciates, and if you’re a capital growth investor, the most value in the land that you can get – not necessarily the biggest size land but the most value you can get – and the best position for a capital growth investor is where I would be focusing my energies.
Kevin: Well said. What’s the most common question you get asked about property, and how do you answer that?
Meighan: Actually, I get asked a lot for positively geared property. And unless you have quite a large deposit, it’s just not feasible in Brisbane and certainly not in the other states, either. The average yield in Brisbane at the moment is about 3.6% on a house. I think positively geared as a strategy is something that people get a little bit focused on without really understanding what it is that they’re trying to achieve.
Kevin: It’s more an outcome actually, not a strategy.
Meighan: It is, isn’t it? It happens over time. Once we actually bring that back and talk to them about “What it is that you’re trying to achieve? How long are you looking to hold this for? What’s your risk profile?” all of those factors, then we can help people to get a better understanding of how property might – or might not – help them achieve those goals.
Property isn’t necessarily going to achieve the goals that you think it’s going to achieve. It’s not a be all and end all.
Kevin: I just want to round out our chat to Meighan with some of your thoughts about advice. What advice are you going to give your children about property? What will you tell them?
Meighan: I’ll be talking to them about the fundamentals quite early. They know that Mommy goes to look at houses on Saturdays and bids at auctions and helps people buy property. So the fundamentals of what that means and that property is something to work towards and that you can make work for you will probably be the basis of the advice that I have for them.
I think with them, it’ll be that they’ll be along for the ride because we’re continuing to purchase both residential and commercial. For us personally, they see that in action, and I hope that that will help them to have a really good understanding of what might work for them.
Kevin: And the best and worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given about property?
Meighan: Back when I bought that first property, a boyfriend at the time said that his uncle had said to him, “Buy the cheapest car that you can and the most expensive property that you can afford, because the car depreciates and the property appreciates.” That has stuck with me for a long time. I think that that helped me to get the action going. It was just one of those things that clicked with me. It resonated quite strongly.
The worst advice? Certainly people who think that they’re going to buy a property and quickly flip it over and make a profit out of it where they’re paying someone else. I would say a bit of a scary piece of advice that I got early was to buy, renovate, and sell.
Kevin: Great talking to you. Meighan Hetherington has been my guest. Meighan is from Property Pursuit buyer’s agents in Brisbane. The website is PropertyPursuit.com.au.
Meighan, thank you so much for your time.
Meighan: I am looking forward to a wonderful 2017.
Kevin: I know what you mean. Thank you. Talk to you again soon.
Meighan: Thanks, Kevin. Bye.