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Taking The Plunge

Kids’ TV presenter Walter Neilands had a fear of diving into property investment, but with the help of key mentors he’s built a portfolio of high-yielding properties. Joanna Jefferies writes. Photography: Stephanie Creagh

By: Joanna Jefferies

1 November 2018

Walter Neilands had a childhood unlike most others. The eldest of five, he spent the first 10 years of his life alternating between living at his Grandma’s B & B in Nelson and living in a house bus, tripping around seeing the beautiful scenery. It was “nothing flash” says Neilands – the family would park next to the local toilets to use the bathroom when they needed to – but he enjoyed his time as head of the sibling pack. From there mum and the kids moved up to Auckland’s Waiheke Island, where they rented for several years before making the move to Pukekohe, south of Auckland, where Neilands attended Pukekohe High School.

Neilands was an affable, outgoing and happy kid, and after high school he thought he’d like to get into TV presenting. He’d heard the best pathway to this was through a university communications degree, however upon learning of the $10,000 student loan he would have to take on he got cold feet and abandoned the idea.

“I was too scared to get a loan for study – I was like, ‘I don’t like borrowing money I’ve seen people in my family get into big debt’ – I didn’t want to do that at all.”

Instead Neilands saved for a trip to go to Camp America. It was on that trip when he had a moment of clarity around the direction he wanted his life to take. He and his friend Barry had hiked down the Grand Canyon by the Grand Colorado River and always one for a prank or dare he said to his friend Barry “Do you reckon we could swim this thing? I reckon I could swim it.” Neilands wasn’t a strong swimmer but he dove in without thinking. He was quickly swept away by the rapid, cold body of water. He could barely breathe but he kept swimming even though he realised just how much he’d underestimated the river. Grazing the sand with his fingers he realised he’d made it to the other side.

“I was just crying I was exhausted,” says Neilands. He looked down the river and saw a bridge and made his way there. A park ranger had been alerted and met him there. The ranger was not impressed and told him that three young men had done the same thing the week before and had all drowned.

It gave Neilands food for thought on his reckless antics. “I must have a purpose in my life,” he thought. “I don’t want to waste this life, it’s so precious.”

When he got back to New Zealand he had this at the forefront of his mind and signed up for a communications degree. However, it wasn’t to be. Before classes started a friend saw an ad for a children’s television presenter position at Sticky TV. Neilands made a video of himself skateboarding, dancing and telling jokes and sent it in and after an audition he won the role – his fun, adventurous personality made him the perfect fit for the gig.

Writing and presenting the show was a dream for Neilands and the bonus was he was paid good money to do it. But ever cautious with his finances he began wondering how best to invest his money for future security.

“I thought, right I want to be really responsible with my money,” says Neilands. “Then I got freaked out – because when you save up lots of money, and you dump it all into something, you think ‘what if what I dump it into is a mistake?’”

Diving Into Property

It was at a garage sale when he picked up a book on property investment for 50c and after reading it he was hooked and knew that this was where he wanted to invest his money. He went on to read more property investment titles but felt he didn’t know where to start to get his foot on the ladder. He contacted property mentor Kyron Gosse and paid to do his investing course. But he still had “analysis paralysis” and to try and force himself out of it he started door knocking on houses in Hamilton, Huntly, Meremere and Manurewa, to get a feel for the market and to see if anyone wanted to sell, which was a recommended strategy from the course.

But like most things he does in his life, Neilands took door-knocking to the next level. He was used to striking up conversations with anyone and everyone in his presenting job and he ended up knocking on the doors of over 100 houses.

“I got to know the west side and the east side of Hamilton,” says Neilands. But after spending most of 2015 chatting to people, meeting the Mongrel Mob, the Bandidos, making friends and being invited in for dinner, Neilands realised he was subconsciously “wasting time – it’s not what you need to do to buy a house”.

Neilands says Gosse could see he was stuck and he helped Neilands find a property which he bought and passed onto him, essentially dragging him “over the line”.

The house was in Whangarei and needed an update, so in the weekends Neilands and his brother Sebastian would drive up north and spend the weekend renovating. They were renovation rookies and in hindsight Neilands says “the house barely needed renovating – it was ridiculous”. But in true Neilands’ style, the brothers went nuts on the house, building new kitchen cabinets by hand, changing all the door handles – a lot of work which Neilands now realises was a “waste of time”.

‘When you save up lots of money, and you dump it all into something, you think “what if what I dump it into is a mistake?”’

Despite over-investing their time – the renovation took five or six months - it was a fantastic learning experience and Neilands receives a 12% yield on his initial $293,000 investment.

Naturally, having achieved great success with his first property, Neilands now wanted to throw himself into investing – “I went to the other end of the scale,” he says.

Expanding The Portfolio

It was Christmas 2016 and he bought a copy of NZ Property Investor magazine with investor Cameron Stewart on the cover. Impressed, he contacted Stewart, who agreed to mentor Neilands.

Stewart helped Neilands find and secure his next purchase at a time of year when no one was looking for property. It was a rough, three-bedroom home in Otahuhu with holes in the walls and a large four-car garage – purchased for $556,000.

Unfortunately Neilands had a mortgage broker at the time, who had miscalculated his servicing. She rang him after he went unconditional to inform him he would only be able to get a mortgage with a non-bank lender which meant he would be paying $1,000/week on interest only.

Neilands panicked and turned to another mortgage broker he’d seen featured in NZ Property Investor - Lucia Xiao from Finax. He told her what had happened and “she said well, let me work my magic”. Magic is just what she did, hooking Neilands up with a 4.3% interest rate with Westpac. “Anytime someone needs a mortgage broker I recommend her - she saved me,” says Neilands.

Neilands could now relax before the takeover date in February – or so he thought. Over the Christmas break he thought he’d try pulling some back flips on his BMX – but unfortunately the result was a broken leg.

Neilands was terrified that he’d lose his job, given how physical it was, especially now that he had another house to renovate. However he was pleasantly surprised. The show was more than accommodating and he was able to get on with his renovation.

To save on holding costs, Neilands moved out of his flat in Ponsonby and into the garage of the Otahuhu house. He set to work, again with the help of his brother Sebastian who took care of some of the more difficult tasks that Neilands struggled to do with his leg in cast – for which he was truly grateful.

This time a full renovation was necessary, including installing a new kitchen, bathroom, re-Gibbing, plastering, a full re-paint, insulating and adding a deck – all done DIY style.

Neilands painted the roof and insulated underfloor and ceiling himself. “I wanted to make sure it was a warm house, but I spoke to an insulation company who said ‘There’s no way we’d legally send a human under there’. “

Not one to shy away from a challenge Neilands spent 14 hours insulating under the house with his broken leg, finishing at 1am with bleeding hands.

But Neilands had extra help on the renovation at times. The local kids soon discovered they had a TV presenter in the neighbourhood, and all wanted to help with his renovation, so Neilands took the opportunity to show them some DIY skills.

He also had help from another unlikely source – a tenant. He’d decided to advertise early for tenants to reduce holding costs and secured a tenant, Graeme, who was happy with lower rent, knowing that he’d be living in a building site. But Graeme was so enthused by what Neilands was doing that while living on site he also helped out with the renovation.

After six months and a spend of $30,000 including holding costs, the home was ready to tenant fully. Neilands remains living in a sleepout he built into the shed and tenants the property by the room, bringing in $750/week.

South Auckland

The renovation was so enjoyable that in November 2017 Neilands immediately went and bought a second property in Otahuhu “in the mid-$500,000s” – this time doing his due diligence properly. It had a huge lounge and mentor Stewart suggested creating a third and fourth bedroom. Neilands had $20,000 set aside to renovate what would normally be a $100,000 renovation, but he managed to pull it off with $300 to spare. The house is now also rented by the room and brings in $800/week. Both Otahuhu properties have recently been valued at around $750,000 and the Whangarei rental is valued at around $450,000.

During the renovation, Sticky TV wrapped up, something which Neilands says he knew would eventually happen. He now MCs at events, presents an online show for youngsters and shortly he’ll be co-hosting an event on property investment with Xiao for Finax. He is also enjoying his work as ambassador for Kidney Kids NZ, Cure Kids, and The Life Education Trust.

Despite no longer having the big income of his TV presenter job he now has “enough cashflow to chill for a bit” due to his sensible planning, giving him the freedom to scheme his next adventure, which he says will likely involve helping others onto the property ladder.

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