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The DIY Landlords

Why pay someone when you can do it yourself? This young couple have amassed a portfolio with 13 income streams in four years, and they’ve proven that the DIY route is a strategy to seriously consider. By Joanna Jefferies Photography by Elizabeth Goodall

By: Joanna Mathers

1 February 2019

When Trish Keogh and Kael Blake decided to move in together four years ago, the long-distance couple had the choice to either move in to a one-bedroom shared flat in Wellington, or a standalone three-bedroom house in Masterton, both with the same weekly rental cost.

The pair had met at a YMCA work do – Keogh (31) worked in after school care programmes and Blake (36) worked assisting at-risk youth with employment through WINZ. Blake was based in Masterton, while Keogh lived in Wellington.

Their choice to live in Masterton was self-evident, and it also highlighted the affordability of housing there. The pair quickly realised it made sense to buy a house in Masterton, rather than rent, and in November 2014 they secured a threebedroom do-up in a nice part of town for just $175,000.

The couple relished the opportunity to renovate their home, removing a wall to create an open-plan layout and connection with the backyard.

They did most of the work themselves and learned a lot of building and renovation skills in a short amount of time.

“That made us think, what if we could do that again? We started looking for an investment property,” says Keogh.

At the time, the couple were also renting out rooms in their home on Airbnb, which was a new concept in Masterton at the time. The rooms were constantly booked out and the idea of buying another home with more rooms was an appealing proposition.

However, after letting local agents know they were on the lookout for a rental property, and a chat to Blake’s dad, they were swayed into looking at the possibility of investing in something more substantial.

A block of four 1970s flats came on the market and they purchased it for $420,000. They kept the tenants that were already living there and decided to renovate the flats as they became vacant. The flats were renting out for between $175 and $185, and are now each renting for around $245 per week. The value of each flat has risen and now sits at around $200,000.

Since purchasing them Keogh and Blake have updated two of the flats.

Keogh says it was around the time of purchasing the flats that they both realised they’d like to be their own bosses and spend their time renovating and adding value to their properties rather than paying tradespeople to do the job. Financially, it made sense, too.

“I was sitting in an office and we were going to have to pay painters more than what I was earning to paint our house,” says Keogh.

With their new goal in place, the pair embarked on a rental buying spree, making improvements and increasing the value of each property after work and at the weekends to enable the purchase of the next property.

Their next purchase was just across the road from the house they were living in. The elderly owner had passed away, but the house was in a dire state.

“The lady had smoked inside, it was gross. The kitchen was Neapolitan colours – green with pink, yellow and blue kitchen cupboards. It was really old and dated and not very cared for.”

It was purchased for $149,000 in 2015 and Keogh and Blake spent four months on the house, cleaning, painting and updating the kitchen and bathroom.

Today the property would be worth round the $330,000 mark, says Keogh. The property is currently under-rented at $295 per week, but the tenants are due to vacate shortly and the rent will be lifted to $350, once Keogh and Blake have implemented “phase two” of the renovations.

The couple plan all of their renovations in phases – phase one involves getting the property to a liveable, fresh and clean standard, while phase two means updating the exterior, improving street appeal, paving and fencing.

Realising The Dream

The couple’s next purchase in March 2017 was the house they now live in. It has four bedrooms and a sleepout, so was a suitable candidate for Airbnb short-stays.

They bought it for $212,000, moved in (rented out their initial home) and set about removing scrim and completely painting the interior. The property is now valued in the late $300,000s and while the Airbnb market is now flooded with options, the couple have tapped into the mid-term accommodation market, hosting council and medical interns. They currently have a Bosnian beekeeper and a German council employee living with them on fixed-term tenancies.

‘The freedom to be our own bosses has been our goal the whole time – we would rather learn the new skills and have those skills for life and pay ourselves’ TRISH KEOGH

The new home also partially enabled the couple’s first goal: Kael was able to quit his job and work on their properties full time.

It was perfect timing, because following the renovation of their own home, the Masterton market went gangbusters, giving them the equity to make two more purchases in 2017.

Growing At Pace

In September 2017, they secured a property with two houses on separate titles sharing a cross-lease driveway for just $220,000. The houses hadn’t been looked after and for once the couple requested vacant possession.

One of the houses, a 1900’s villa was extremely run down, says Keogh. “I wouldn’t rent a house out to people I wouldn’t live in myself and there was no chance I’d live in there. It was so gross, dirty and mouldy and uncared for with holes in the walls.”

Blake worked on the property full-time to get it up to scratch, while in late 2017 Keogh reduced her work hours to parttime so she could put more time into the renovation.

Once renovated they rented the two houses out for $230 and $250, but Keogh says they are still under-rented and should be at the $300 mark each. The two houses are now worth around $330,000.

While the renovation was in process, the couple had also purchased another multi-income property in Masterton – a house containing three one-bedroom flats for $250,000.

It required a cosmetic update – a clean and paint, as well as new kitchens, curtains, light fittings and the removal of a dodgy carport. Where possible the couple do the work themselves and source good quality second-hand fittings like kitchens off Trade Me.

The renovations took a good nine months, but the 11.5% gross yield they are now achieving means it was well worth the effort. The three flats have also increased in value and would be valued at around $400,000 in the current market, says Keogh.

Full-Time Investors

The couple’s most recent purchase, in March 2018, was “quite a fun one” says Keogh (it wasn’t as hard work as some previous renovations.)

The four bedroom house was “really stinky – there was literally animal mess on the carpets and in the kitchen. ”Perhaps her enthusiasm for the renovation can be put down to the fact that she was finally able to leave her job at the time, to work on their property portfolio full-time. “It was amazing, but a little bit nerve-wracking too. It made sense though.

“The freedom to be our own bosses has been our goal – we would rather learn the new skills and pay ourselves.”

The pair now renovate, invest and selfmanage their properties full-time.

So what’s next for the DIY duo? Keogh always has her ear to the ground for a great deal. She says there’s scope for improving their properties, and that will be the couple’s main focus 2019.

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