On The Property Beat
From the police academy to a property academy, Tua Saseve’s property journey is one with a difference and now he’s teaching others about building a successful portfolio, writes Miriam Bell. Photography by Stephanie Creagh
1 March 2019
Once upon a time Tua Saseve’s life revolved around investigating crimes and keeping the peace. These days his focus is on teaching people how to build wealth through property. It’s not the most obvious career transition, but his journey from the police academy to a property academy has taken place in a logical and orderly fashion.
Along the way, Saseve proved his mettle as a highly effective trader, enabling him to develop two separate, successive portfolios from next to nothing. In his current portfolio, he has two high-yielding properties with another property now under contract. They are all in Auckland and are valued at around $2 million. He is also part of a private property syndicate which has holdings worth about $50 million.
It may seem a world away from his days in blue, but there are similarities. While the work stories are less dramatic now as he’s no longer dealing with life threatening situations, Saseve still employs many of the skills he learnt on the force. Still, all he does in property is guided by a sense of duty, engrained during his days in the police, and the Samoan concept of Tautua, which means service.
Moving From Police To Property
Property investment was not originally part of Saseve’s plans. Not long after finishing school, he went into the police and his goal was to be a career policeman. Yet when it came to the point that he was being looked at for promotions, he was asked if there was anything else he wanted to do – and he realised that there was.
A couple of things came into play. One was the example of a friend who owned some properties, which piqued his interest. That’s because he quickly grasped it was a good way to build wealth – especially if you owned a home and knew how to utilise the equity in it.
‘Trading property is primarily a way to get started in investing and also to build up capital to help you achieve your goals’
The other was academia. Saseve says his father, who is an academic, had always wanted him to get a degree. “I had started doing a degree through the police, so I decided to finish it off. But instead of doing law or social work as many police tend to do, I did business and ended up getting into valuation.”
Towards the end of his degree, he was shoulder-tapped by QV and went to work for them for several years. While he learnt many useful skills in that time, he didn’t feel it was his niche, he says. “So I started off on my own property journey to find that niche. I did every single course I could to educate myself and also joined a range of different groups.
“But, as an ex-policeman, I like to base decisions on evidence. To build a case for a property purchase, I want to see the evidence to back it up. I found a group that shared this approach in Property Tutors and that’s when I started trading to build up some capital to properly launch a portfolio.”
Over the next few years, he was involved in multiple trading deals. The head of his group, the late Sean Wood, realised Saseve was good at trading and eventually offered him a job at Property Tutors. It was at this point that he moved to build up his permanent portfolio.
He had invested in his first property in the Waikato region in the early 2000s but he hadn’t bought another property to hold for years. After moving into property as a full-time occupation, he bought three more properties to add to his first one in a 14 month period. Two were home and income-type properties and the other two were three-bedroom dwellings.
Time Of Change
Things were ticking along nicely for a while. But about three years ago, Saseve’s situation changed. A personal crisis meant he had to sell off his portfolio, including the family home. He was left with nothing but the Waikato property and had to start all over again.
That meant he shifted his focus back to trading. “It’s always been a means to an end. There was always a strong focus on trading in the group I was in and it suited my personal circumstances as I needed to build capital. Over the years, I’d estimate that I’ve been involved in over 150 transactions.”
Not only has his experience in this side of investing helped Saseve rebuild his own portfolio, but it has led to his current role at Auckland Property Mentors, which is in GRA’s property division. This particular move came about a couple of years ago following the death of his mentor, Woods.
“When Sean passed, he left a big gap in the property education market,” he says. “Matthew Gilligan approached me about creating a programme that could fill the gaps left by Property Tutors and that’s how I ended up doing what I am doing now which I love.”
In fact, it was through mentoring that Saseve realised property was the occupational niche he had been searching for. “My light bulb moment came when helping some police friends on their projects. I was doing it to speed up my learning. But it struck me that I loved everything about it, from the thrill of the chase during the negotiations, to buying and selling, to the hard physical work.
“It was also the autonomy of working for myself. It was liberating after coming from a regimented and hierarchical organisation like the police. I realised it was a career that provided me with challenges, like the police, along with the excitement and satisfaction.”
Turning Lemons To Lemonade
Having successfully traversed some ups and downs in his property journey, Saseve believes investing is fundamentally about making use of the right strategic blocks to build a highperforming portfolio.
In terms of strategy, the ultimate goal is to buy and hold high-yielding properties that will see capital gain, he says. “Trading property is primarily a way to get started in investing and also to build up capital to help you achieve your goals. It is possible to do both – trade property and have buy and hold properties. But some people want to move into subdivisions or development after a while.”
However, the property cycle itself does impact on the type of strategy an investor chooses to pursue. For example, getting involved in joint ventures and syndicates are great strategies in the softer market we are now experiencing, Saseve says.
Such strategies worked for him and inform the teaching he passes on to his clients. He points to his first property investment as one of his most useful experiences. That’s because while it was his biggest mistake, he managed to transform it from a lemon into lemonade.
He bought the Huntly property from someone he knew before he had much experience in property. It cost him $150,000 and he based his purchase solely on a valuation from a year earlier and the photos taken immediately postrenovation. The vendor assured him there was a good tenant who was staying, so he put a property manager in place and let it be.
“I didn’t see it for several years, but it ticked along – even though the original tenant moved out. Then one day I decided to drive down and check it out. And it turned out to be a nightmare. The property was unrecognisable.
“A gang member and his associates had moved in. There was a tent on the lawn with people living in it and cars everywhere. There were holes in the wall in every room and in every door. In two of the three bedrooms there were no curtains. The carpet had been ripped out. It was unbelievable.”
‘The key is the Samoan concept of tautua, which means service. Yes, the numbers have to work, but the bigger thing for me is if I can negotiate a win-win outcome for the vendors too’
It turned out his property manager was under investigation for incompetence. So he got rid of her and the tenants. “It cost me $30,000 to bring the property back up to spec. I kept renting it out until, eventually, I managed to sell it privateley for $290,000, so I did see profit in the end. But it was a bit of a traumatic learning curve.”
That first disaster has not been repeated. He now bases his investment decisions on an evidence-based approach and set of systems. Yet Saseve also takes a more holistic view of what constitutes a deal.
“For me, the key to this is the Samoan concept of tautua, which means service. Yes, the numbers have to work. But the bigger thing for me is if I can negotiate a win-win outcome for the vendors too. This is particularly important if you are trying to buy a property at a lower price in a lower income area.”
As an example, he cites the story of a family he knew who were in financial trouble and were going to have to sell their house. This would have been devastating for them, both financially and in terms of the shame associated with it.
“They didn’t want to be seen as losing their home. So I bought the house for a price that was fair and rented it back to them. There was no for sale ads involved – no-one even knew the house had been sold. So they saved face and they were able to remain in their home.”
He says that is the type of lens he looks through when it comes to the stand-out deals he has done. “Aggressive, predatory behaviour from investors makes me very annoyed. I don’t like it when people take advantage of vulnerable people and buy houses at an insanely low price because the vendor is in a desperate situation. I believe it is important to be fair, ethical and to try and help people.”
Looking to the future, Saseve sees challenges ahead. He has no doubt the market has softened and changed, which means investors need to be a lot smarter. Once you could throw a dart at the map of Auckland and you would have to be extremely unlucky not to make money, but it’s not like that now, he says.
“I am seeing people, even some seasoned investors, struggling. There are lots of people who bought for high prices and are trying to resell in a soft market. It’s much harder and the market is likely to be flat for a few years. But there is still strong demand and limited supply, so that equation remains.”
In his view, that means it is bank lending requirements that are the biggest challenge for investors at the moment – as opposed to tax policy changes, which may not happen. “Don’t let something that is ‘pending’ push you into inactivity. Instead surround yourself with good advice, do your numbers religiously, and look to non-banks for assistance if need be.”
Saseve himself is planning to keep on investing this year. He is aiming to buy four more properties in Auckland by the end of 2019 and he is also looking at buying a new home for himself and his two sons.
But while he thinks it is important to keep buying to show that he is putting his money where his mouth is, he says he needs to ensure that he is not doing so at the expense of his clients. “The tautua approach is a client-centred approach where I make sure they are getting quality service and not scrambling around looking for deals in a tough market.”
TUA's Top 10 Investing Tips
- Think about what you can do, not what someone else is doing, and then run your own race.
- Always do the numbers and make sure they work.
- Ensure you do your research and develop good, in-depth suburb knowledge.
- Adopt an evidence-based approach and evaluate thoroughly before making a decision.
- If you want to buy to hold, make sure you buy a property with decent yields. Then do what you can to boost yields and add value.
- Make sure you have a great team of professionals who you trust around you.
- When choosing people to work with, take note of word of mouth - talk to other people and see what they have experienced.
- Joint ventures and syndicates are good in the current market as they enable the members to leverage off each other’s capital, skills and knowledge.
- Learn all about the processes involved in renovation work so that you know how to avoid being ripped off by tradies.
- If you are passionate enough about something you will find a way around the obstacles.