Jenny Zhang’s ‘wait for the universe’ philosophy is unconventional, but it’s helped her build a portfolio in the Auckland market, as Joanna Mathers discovers.
1 August 2022
Many investors base their decisions on an overarching strategy. But Aucklander Jenny Zhang isn’t like many other investors. She is growing her portfolio as opportunities arise, all within the Auckland market. And she is just as passionate about her journey to property success as she is about the final destination.
“Through the journey I have learned so much. I thought all I could afford was one property of my own and one investment property. But now I know that I can do much better,” she says. “I don’t think too much about it. I don’t want to control anything; I want to be open to possibilities.”
Jenny, her husband Eddie, and daughter Cici, moved from China to Auckland in 2016. They owned three investment properties in Shandong province where Jenny and Eddie worked in good jobs for the government (Eddie as an accountant; Jenny in human resources).
Zhang sold one of her investment properties to fund the family’s New Zealand trip; and freed up capital while living here through the sale of a second. (She has one remaining property in China, which she is keeping. “It is a terrible time for the market. After Covid values have really dropped.”)
On arrival in New Zealand Eddie attended Auckland University of Technology and studied for a Master of Professional Accounting, with Jenny training in early childhood education at New Zealand Tertiary College. They then bought a small unit in Morningside, which would provide the foundation for their New Zealand investment portfolio.
They lived in Morningside for 18 months before it was decided Cici would be best suited to Epsom Girls’ Grammar for her secondary education. She was out of zone, so rather than selling and relocating they decided to rent out the unit and move into a rental property closer to the school.
They were able to get $530 a week for the two-bedroom unit, a cross lease shared with two other units. But Jenny was looking for more. In 2020 she decided to attend a property course, run by a property coach and it opened her eyes to a world of new possibilities.
After completing the course she discussed her desire to invest in more properties with the coach. During this conversation she uncovered an idea that would revolutionise her property journey.
“I told [the coach] about my unit and she asked: ‘Have you thought of adding a bedroom?’ I hadn’t, it seemed much too small, just 77m2. But one of their contacts came out to look at the property for me, to see if it was suitable, and they told me it would work. And it wouldn’t need resource consent.”
Adding value via the addition of a new bedroom is a top strategy for many investors. And so it proved for Zhang. With a budget of just $40,000 an extra bedroom was added and the value rocketed. The CV, which had been $590,000 for the existing unit, jumped to an incredible $920,000, and the rent moved from $530 to $700 a week.
“Before the course I would have never known that this was possible,” says Zhang. “It really opened up so many opportunities for me. This started a whole new journey.”
Importance Of Land
Zhang explains that her coach always emphasised the importance of land when she spoke about property potential. “She would say that if you had more money, buy closer to the centre of Auckland. And if you had not so much money, buy further out. But be sure to invest in land.”
So later in 2020, Zhang decided to look for a new property she could add to her portfolio. The popular suburb of Onehunga was her choice; she found two older properties that fitted the bill and asked her coach for advice.
“One of the properties was really nicely renovated, but my coach told me that it would be very popular and the price would go up very high,” she says.
But a second property, a 1920s wooden bungalow on 582m2 of land, was needing repairs. It had three bedrooms and needed to be brought up to Healthy Homes standards in order to be rented out, but it had potential.
The kitchen and bathroom were both new, and the popular location was great for attracting tenants. “We purchased this property for $1.1 million in 2020,” says Zhang.
“We just did a very simple renovation ourselves: changing the curtains, putting down new carpet, taking down doors that weren’t fitting properly and sanding them back to make them move freely over the carpet. It was also brought up to Healthy Homes standards.”
The property was then rented out for $760 a week, and between the Morningside and Onehunga houses, the mortgage is almost paying for itself. “I don’t worry about the mortgage,” says Zhang. “There’s always a way to make things work out.”
The talk of land stuck with Zhang, so last year she started looking for a property with a large section which would gain value over the long term. She found one in Mangere East, a home and income that offered them a family home and an extra income.
“The main house is made of red brick and looks like a castle,” she says.
“It has three bedrooms and was built in the 1970s. The secondary dwelling was built within the last ten years and has two bedrooms and we paid $1.5 million for the property in November last year.”
But the family weren’t destined to move into the house – the universe had something else in mind. Zhang’s philosophy on waiting for opportunities paid off when a friend, who owned a country house in Whitford, East Auckland, asked the family if they would like to house-sit the property for free.
“They have another house that they live in closer to town,” says Zhang.
“They occasionally come out here on the weekends. “They wanted someone to look after the house, and not have to worry about tenants. So, we moved in and were able to rent out both houses in Mangere East.”
The two homes bring in $1,100 a week between them. And “the universe” has already added value to the property.
“It was a single house zone when we bought it, but it is about to be rezoned as an urban zone, which will really create some great opportunities.”
Zhang also has a new plan for the Onehunga property. After attending a talk by designers on the possibility of duplexes, she wondered if her Onehunga property was suitable.
“This was something I never thought I could have done. But [some development experts] came to look at the property and told me that duplexes could be built on site.”
This is still in the planning stages. “I am waiting for the finances to be right,” she says.
Alongside her work as an investor, Zhang runs online parenting courses, based on her own knowledge and what she learned while training as an early childhood teacher.
Husband Eddie is an accountant, and daughter Cici is studying design at the University of Auckland.
Zhang is a passionate advocate for property and for education around it. She uses the chickens the family recently bought by way of analogy about her own life.
“When we bought them, we cut up fruit and veges for them to eat, but they were so used to rubbish processed food that they refused to eat them.
“I said to Eddie: ‘They are like me. They are missing out on the best things about life because they are so used to doing things a certain way!’”
The chickens are now happily munching on fruit and veges every single day. And Zhang is also moving ahead on her property journey, waiting on the universe to provide her more opportunities.