Cameron Stewart: Property Hunter
This young property trader has over 200 property transactions under his belt – but it’s been a steep learning curve, writes Joanna Jefferies.
31 May 2016
Cameron Stewart doesn’t do things by halves. Since 2009, when he made his foray into the property investment business, he’s completed over 200 property transactions. In his first year alone, he bought and sold “10 or so houses”. He was only 24 years old.
At that time, he was the poster boy for the lavish lifestyle. His driver was wealth: toys, travel and a high-flying bachelor lifestyle. Working long hours, dealing with high levels of stress and high stakes were par for the course.
But the Invercargill born and raised investor wasn’t always so focused on achieving financial success. He enjoyed an idyllic rural childhood, hunting, fishing and playing on dirt bikes; after leaving school at 16, he worked on farms shearing and crutching until he was 18. When he tired of this, he took a job in Kalgoorlie, Australia, at an exploratory drilling site. He was there for five and a half years before he was involved in a major accident onsite: two of his vertebrae were crushed.
A New Direction
Following the accident, Stewart had to endure significant operations and rehabilitation. Forced with the reality that he wouldn’t be able to do manual labour again, he soon had to re-evaluate. “I had to change my life,” he says.
In One Year I Bought And Sold 50 Houses – And Since I Started I’ve Been Involved In A Couple Of Hundred Property Transactions – Cameron Stewart
“Physical work was out of the question.” He returned home to Invercargill and found a job as a livestock agent. A compensation payout from his accident meant he had some cash and he used it to secure two houses in Invercargill – they were his first taste of property investment and his ambitious nature meant that he soon used the equity to secure a third dwelling.
He had only been in Invercargill for a few months when his work prompted a move to Piopio up in the King Country, where he spent two years buying and selling sheep and cattle, and set up his own livestock business. During his time in Piopio he added two more properties to his Invercargill portfolio using equity from his initial three houses. It was pretty amateur stuff, he admits. “I didn’t know what I was doing.” But it was after one particular lousy day at work, when he knew he didn’t want to carry on in his livestock business.
“At this point I was fed up,” he says. “I thought, 'there’s got to be a better way than this'.” He had been reading as many self-help and motivational titles as he could and felt he needed a property mentor to take him to a professional level.
“I signed up for Sean Woods’ Property Tutors course. It was a 12-month course and I learnt a lot from [it]”. The course was in Auckland once a week and Stewart would make the four-hour commute to soak up Woods’ knowledge.
Trading Like Crazy
He was quick to set himself up as a trader – his first purchase was on Great South Road in Auckland and he lived there while he renovated. “I slept in my ‘swag’ – my roll-out bed,” he laughs. “On that first trade, I ran out of money and had to borrow some from a mate to pay the interest payment before I sold it.” But the deal was a good one and Stewart came away with a $50,000 profit.
At this point Stewart was working 20 hour days. He still worked fulltime in the King Country in his livestock business and was accelerating his number of trades in Auckland at an extreme rate. After five months of the course and a number of trades under his belt, Stewart decided to ditch his livestock business and become a fulltime trader.
But without a salary, the business was dicey. “I was using asset lenders and it was fairly risky in the beginning. I was using 100% finance, pretty much. I was using revolving credit and I had to do that for a couple of years before I could get finance from the bank.”
In his first year as a trader, he renovated and sold around 10 properties, almost all in South Auckland, and in the following year he increased this number dramatically.
“In one year I bought and sold 50 houses; since I started I’ve been involved in a couple of hundred property transactions.”
These trades were almost all in South Auckland and involved every format imaginable: cosmetic trades, contemporaneous settlements, small subdivisions and adding minor dwellings.
He used a number of subcontractors to complete the renovations, learning the valuable lesson from his days sleeping on site in his ‘swag’ that his energies were best put to the business of finding deals.
Living It Up
During an intense trading period of three years, Stewart was working extremely hard but enjoying the fruits of his labours, including regular overseas travel done in style. He was in his mid-twenties, trading up to six properties at one time and making between $30-$40,000 per trade. “I was working all the time, I was stressed to the hilt, it was chaotic,” he says.
He can’t pinpoint one particular ‘shocker’ purchase, as the sheer volume of properties he was trading meant he encountered many problems. “Every problem you can think of, I’ve had it trading properties.”
With so many fantastic deals on the market, Stewart started using his experience to help friends into property. “I always had too many houses – I was always doing a number of unconditional contracts”. He would pass these surplus contracts to others.
His mates returned the favour of course there was always time to squeeze in hunting, motorbike riding and trips overseas together.
A New Strategy
It wasn’t until his third year of trading, that he looked at a new strategy: holds. That year he secured three ‘holds’ in Clover Park, Mangere and Mangere Bridge, but he let two of these go only a couple of years later, once their values doubled. His mandate was “Don’t hold anything unless it’s doing 8.5%.”
But the biggest issue Stewart found being a trader was trading multiple properties at a time – not only was there always the potential for problems to arise, but “if I wanted to do two trades at a time, it minimised my holding capacity.”
Enter his future wife Emma and a new perspective on life for Stewart. Having someone special to spend his time with meant the excessive hours he was spending working were unsustainable.
Fortunately, a network marketing business he had been working on prior to meeting Emma began to take more of his time, and as the property market simultaneously exploded, trades took more of a back seat.
You’d think with Everything I’ve done I’d Have more property – it’s Just mismanagement, but time is on my side – Cameron Stewart
Certainly, since the Auckland market’s dramatic increase in values since 2014, Stewart has had a few regrets.
“Hindsight’s a wonderful thing in property. When I started out buying houses in Manurewa, they were $200-250,000. Now they are 500-550,000 to buy.”
“I should have just sucked up my ego at the beginning and got a job and got a PAYE salary.” Having a regular income would have enabled Stewart to hold onto more properties, but nevertheless he’s come out of his trading era with some valuable assets, which he is keen to hold onto for the long term.
He owns four properties with six rental streams, bringing in $124,280 per annum. His combined properties are worth $3 million and have a 60% loan-to-value ratio. Not bad for a boy from rural Invercargill.
“You’d think with everything I’ve done I’d have more property – it’s just mismanagement,” the 31 year-old says. “But time is on my side!” Stewart now believes “buying and holding is where it’s at” and will continue adding to his portfolio with wife Emma, albeit at a much slower pace than in the past.
“It’s not a race anymore,” he says. “When I started it was a bit of a race.” These days he’s certainly taking time to sit back and smell the roses – or rather, ride his motorbikes and go on hunting and fishing trips.
In February he slowed down enough to marry Emma, and they bought a rural lifestyle block in Maramarua, Waikato, where the plan is eventually to expand the family.
But for now, Stewart is enjoying his many toys, training his new hunting pup and helping others in his property finding business, Getin2Property. “I’ve always had so many deals,
I’ve sort of fallen into that role because I enjoy helping other people,” he smiles. But the ambitious property hunter says his wild property investment journey isn’t anything special. “Anyone can get into it,” he insists.
“Property is just a great vehicle to get you where you want to go.”