In The Fast Lane
Chris and Krystal Riley have only been in the property business for a year, but they’ve already renovated three homes, and have more in their sights, writes Joanna Mathers.
1 February 2023
Great ideas often present themselves when you have breathing space. Chris Riley’s breathing space was in the car, commuting to and from site where he worked as an instrument technician.
It gave him an hour to himself; and he spent that hour educating himself around property.
“I had been recommended a property podcast,” he says. “I knew that property was something I wanted to get into but had no history of investing. And I was getting really inspired by what I heard.”
Whangarei born-and-bred, Chris and his wife Krystal wanted to move away from the two-partners-working-full-time bind. They had been pondering ways in which to achieve a passive income; planning a family, they didn’t want to be tied to their jobs.
Property had long seemed a good option, and they had the practical skills to achieve success with renovations. So, when they heard property coach Ilse Wolfe speaking on the podcast (and discovered she ran a course, aimed at helping investors navigate their first forays into renovation), they knew they had struck gold.
“We had really been looking for a way to take steps to make money beyond a 9-5 job. And hearing the podcast made it feel possible,” says Chris.
Chris had been taking active steps to find properties in the area, even before he heard the podcast (he’d set up a watch list on Trade Me and was searching for bargains). But it was only when they signed up to the Accelerate programme that he and Krystal had the confidence they needed to get ahead.
Adding bedrooms or small cabins and buying sections with development potential underpins the success of the programme. So, with that in mind they pored over the new listings that appeared every day on Trade Me.
As it happened, they didn’t find their first home this way. Wolfe had a contact who knew of a home about to go on the market in the Whangarei suburb of Otangarei. The vendors were keen to sell, and open to offers prior to listing.
The 1950’s weatherboard two-bedroom home was in a state of disrepair. But at 110m2, on a 1000m2 section, it was large enough to add bedrooms and an extra minor dwelling. And the size of the section held potential for future subdivision.
“We got in so early that it hadn’t been listed,” says Chris. “It had been shown to a few real estate agents but no-one else had seen it: we went through while the real estate photos where being taken, but we saw the potential and put an offer on it straight away.”
The house had a kitchen at one end, with a lounge and dining room at the other. This provided the chance to move the kitchen to the lounge and dining area and create a bedroom where the kitchen had been located. More bedrooms equal more rental yield, so it was a great opportunity.
An unconditional offer of $431,000 was accepted in October 2021: at the height of the market. They took the house with sitting tenants, waiting until after Christmas before giving 90 days’ notice.
Chris and Krystal worked together to complete 75 per cent of the renovation. Within 18 days they had completed the reno: rewiring, tiling, plastering, painting and much of the building work. Another builder helped with some of the structural components, and they called on friends who were in the trades to help with carpet laying and plumbing. Both sets of the couple’s parents also helped.
“It was amazing, it came together in a really short time,” says Krystal.
With a budget of $50,000, they needed to keep the costs low. “We have to be hands-on because we needed enough equity to be able to move on to our next property,” says Krystal.
And half of this budget was spent on a two-bedroom cabin, which upped the bedroom count to five.
The property was then rented out to a social housing provider. “It was a real pull for us, providing social housing. We aim to give people a nice house that we would live in. We are property investors and want to make money, but it’s also great to be able to provide healthy homes for people.”
It is currently cash flow positive, with a yield of 8.5 per cent.
While social housing can have a bad reputation, Chris says they have really good tenants. “There was a leak in the roof, and they were quick to let us know what was happening. We have had no problems with it.”
Born and bred in Whangarei, Chris and Krystal are pleased to be adding to the social housing pool in the area.
Chris and Krystal, with their dog Duke, who they have named their property company (Duke & Co) after.
With their first renovation under their belts, the couple were ready for their next challenge. This came via two units in Tikipunga, which Chris had on his watch list for some time.
“We didn’t believe the property would be in our price range. But it just sat and sat, right as the market was starting to slow,” says Krystal.
Chris says around this time they were starting to see a change in the market: “no-one was at open homes”. So, they decided to explore using the change of change to their advantage.
As Chris was working away from home so Krystal went through the property by herself. It was a deceased estate that had sat empty for some time, and they realised that with the market declining “the ball was in our park”.
“The owner had wanted $600,000 and we were wanting to spend around $500,000. But as it had been sitting around for a while, the real estate agent told us to put in a stupid offer,” says Krystal.
A niece of the deceased owner inherited the property as she headed overseas on her OE. She had left at the height of the market, thinking she would sell quickly for top dollar, but someone broke into the house and stole a hot water cylinder (which had led to a leak and floors that needed to be replaced) and she had let the insurance lapse. So, armed with serious bargaining power, the couple ended up with two units for $535,000.
One of the units just needed a slight facelift; the other needed new carpet and flooring. This unit had a large garage, which was converted into two bedrooms. Once again this was rented to a social housing provider, who pays market rent and manages the tenancy themselves.
This renovation was completed by the end of September; yield is currently 10.5 per cent.
BUCKING THE TREND
By finding run-down houses, renovating, and adding extra bedrooms, the pair have managed to buck the trend of low yields and create three dwellings that are more than just paying their way. And while the Rileys have plans for more renovations this year, their own househas taken priority.
“This has been put aside because we have been so busy with the investment properties, but this is our priority right now,” says Chris.
They say that having the support of a property coach has really helped them, particularly when it came to finances. “The properties are 100 per cent leveraged,” says Chris. “So having Ilse there to support us around the financial stuff has been so helpful.”