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Education + Action = Success

Sarah Wilson has discovered that learning and taking action is the perfect property strategy, writes Joanna Mathers. Photography Stephanie Creagh.

By: Joanna Mathers

29 December 2023


Investor Dolf de Roos once said, “The deal of a lifetime comes once a week.” For Sarah Wilson, these are words to live by.

“A lot of people are looking for an ideal set of circumstances [before they commit to investing] but educating yourself and taking action is the best thing you can do.”

Wilson lives in the leafy Auckland suburb of Mt Eden, and she’s been investing in property since 1998. She and her husband Aaron were straight out of university when they purchased their first home in Glen Eden, west Auckland, for the grand total of $165,000. They were just 23.

The three-bedroom house on a large section needed renovating, and they spent too much on it, she recalls.

“It ended up costing more than what we expected because we needed to replace the roof and other things. But we learned a lot buying that property and going through that process. And we did a lot of the work ourselves, which I think was good.”

Their investment journey started eight years later, in 2006.

Eighteen years on they are now developing that first property and putting years of experience and education around property to good use.

Wilson purchased her first property – straight out of uni – in 1998. The Glen Eden home cost the 23-year-old and her husband Aaron $165k.

Family Lead

Wilson grew up with a family of investors – her parents understood the power of property. “I think it probably encouraged me to see buying property as a good step,” she says.

Growing up in Hamilton, she left the city after graduating from secondary school, moving north to study at the University of Auckland. It was here she met Aaron; a young man who shared her vision for the future. They would go on to marry and embark on their property journey together.

After purchasing their Glen Eden home, Wilson’s passion for property grew. With the internet in its infancy, print was the key to education, and the New Zealand Property Investor magazine provided advice. She would also go on to join the Auckland Property Investors’ Association (APIA), which provided her with a supportive network.

So, by 2006, the couple were ready to buy their first investment property.

They were interested in capital growth, of course, but their primary focus was cash flow and yield. So, WIlson worked with real estate agents and found a property in Mangere East that fitted their requirements.

“We found a 1950s-era home-and-income, which offered two income streams,” she says.

On a large section, it also had development (and capital growth) potential. They purchased the property for $320,000 from another investor and kept the tenants who were already living there.

The experience was so positive that they quickly decided to buy again. “We saw a ‘for sale’ sign outside a property in Papatoetoe and decided ‘OK, we’ll get that one too’.”

Another large home that suited families, they bought this Mangere East property for $318,000. The yield across the two homes was a healthy 7.9 per cent.

Networking is a big part of Wilson’s success. Along with APIA she was also a member of BNI – the contacts she made helped her get ahead.

The Edge

Networking has been a large part of Wilson’s success. Alongside her APIA membership, she was also a member of Business Network International (BNI): “I met accountants, people from investment companies, mortgage brokers, lawyers, real estate agents and builders.”

This gave her a competitive edge; her contacts helped her to get ahead in property and in 2011 the couple were ready to buy again.

They wanted to stick with their tried-and-true strategy and settled on a third property that fitted their criteria – five bedrooms with a large section in Manurewa, for $340,000.

Meanwhile, Aaron’s career had really taken off, and the couple moved to the Philippines in 2015. Wilson didn’t have permission to work there, so studied theology instead; she is currently working towards her master’s degree in this discipline.

But the tyranny of distance didn’t stop the couple from investing. Using a property finder, the couple bought an investment property in Mangere East in 2015 – five bedrooms, on a large section.

And a year later, from a distance, they facilitated the reno of their Papatoetoe property. “We went on to sell this property to the tenants, in December 2021. It is their first house and they used KiwiSaver to purchase,” she says.

Wilson prefers to use property managers and plans to continue with this strategy.

Renovation Plan

The couple returned home in 2018; and the first job was to renovate the family home in Mt Eden.

Further renovations were made last year; this time it was the Mangere East home purchased in 2015. “This resulted in a rental increase – from $650 to $800 per week.”

And there has been another project in the works – the development of their first investment property in Mangere East.

The two original dwellings have been demolished, civil works undertaken, and five townhouses are currently being built. They aren’t interested in selling the townhouses; instead, they will add them to their portfolio of buy and hold Auckland rentals.

Wilson has always used property managers and will continue to do so. Her strength lies in her instinct for properties that will generate great cash flow and provide homes for families.

While her commitment to education and networking skill have stood her in good stead, she says she’s not without regrets. “I wish I’d bought more properties earlier on,” she says. While she understands why people are cautious, she feels that educated risk is a better choice than inaction due to fear of the unknown.

“You don’t know how things are going to turn out,” she says.

“I think it’s good to be educated in terms of property investment, have a good team of people that you’re in contact with, but [realise you will need to make] the best decisions based on the imperfect information.”

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