The Power Of Knowledge
A Hamilton couple has overcome problems in their investment journey after reading the right books and magazines. By Joanna Mathers. Photography by Mark Hamilton.
1 October 2022
Ben and Ashley Cook from Hamilton always knew they wanted to “better themselves”. Although Ben owned and operated a spray-painting and sign-writing company (which is still in business) they understood that wealth was rarely created through work and that property investment is a road to financial freedom.
Both had been brought up with parents who were investors. Ben’s dad had subdivided the family farm and Ashley’s parents had owned rental properties. So, it was at the forefront of their minds when deciding what to invest in.
They were renting in Hamilton in 2014 when they decided to make their first foray into property (Ben was 24, Ashley 21). The place they were renting suited their needs at the time so they thought it would be a good idea to invest in a property that would “pay itself off”.
And they found an opportunity in an unlikely place.
“I was at a squash tournament,” says Ben, “and I met a real estate agent who was really great and knew of a house that would be perfect [as a first investment property]. So we did the figures and it looked like it would work for us.”
The house was a 1980s Fibrolight on a cross-lease section. It had three bedrooms and was tenanted, though rundown, and close to the hospital.
This style of home appealed to the couple. “We had heard that the homes built in this era were pretty much bulletproof,” says Ben. “We hated wooden window frames (these were alloy) and the location was great.”
The pair had saved up for a deposit while they were renting. The house was secured at $201,000 with a deposit of $25,000. “We both had good jobs at the time and finance was easy to get back then,” says Ashley.
But the house itself needed some TLC. The curtains smelt of cooking odours and the carpet and flooring needed replacing. And even though Healthy Homes standards weren’t in play at this time, the Cooks had their own philosophy around keeping homes warm.
“We would have never lived in a home without a heat pump, so we wouldn’t expect our tenants to,” says Ashley.
After the renovation the home was tenanted for $320 a week (which covered the mortgage and left them with a 10 per cent yield).
They would go on to repeat a similar formula twice in the next four years – find a bargain, renovate, rent for a good yield.
But property investment is rarely linear, and the Cooks’ journey would be briefly interrupted by changing circumstances.
The Cooks had always dreamed of a lifestyle block. In December 2016 they came across a section in the bucolic suburb of Tamahere, out of Hamilton, and felt it could be their dream home. But to fulfill this dream they needed cash, and tenant issues were dampening their enthusiasm for property.
“We were self-managing and running into problems. We had tenants who weren’t paying rent, someone trashed the place, punched holes in the walls. We had to take a tenant to the Tenancy Tribunal for rent arrears. It all started seeming too hard.”
So they decided to cash up. The houses they purchased for between $180,000 and $210,000 sold for between $320,000 and $360,000. And the money was put towards creating the property of their dreams, which they bought for $355,000.
But once the rentals were sold and the property purchased, they discovered a problem. The numbers didn’t work.
“We did the pricing and it transpired the project would be too expensive and too time consuming for us. It had been an impulse buy, but it didn’t work out.”
So they made a decision to sell the section, which they managed to achieve privately for $390,000. That was was the end of one dream, but the beginning of another.
The couple knew they wanted to own rental properties, and now they had the money to invest. But this time they were going to do things differently. They read the right books (and back issues of New Zealand Property Investor magazine) and made sure their knowledge was sound.
Then they started searching for properties they could purchase that would give them good yields and long-term security.
This was in 2018. In the brief period that they had exited the market prices had soared – they knew they would need to move further afield. Rotorua was an option, but there were meth issues with most of the houses they looked at (this was pre-Gluckman) so that put them off.
So they started looking further south, searching for opportunities in Flaxmere on Trade Me and realestate.co.nz
“We also called a property manager in the area, who worked with Oxygen Property, and they really helped us,” says Ben. “She had so much knowledge around values in the area, streets that had gang problems, and she knew who owned places in the district. She was able to also let us know what we could rent properties out for.”
Ten per cent was the aim for yield and they managed to achieve this across the board. The first house they bought in Flaxmere was a tidy two-bedroomed place, which they secured for just $162,000. It’s now worth $420,000 and brings in $320 a week rent.
Another two-bedroom home in the area was bought for $150,000 (they estimate it should have made between $170,000 and $180,000) and it’s now worth $480,000. They bought another home in a private sale for $190,000, and sold the three-bedroom property just after the Covid lockdown in 2020 for $390,000.
They have also purchased another home in Whanganui. In 2018 they were looking online for the cheapest houses out there and discovered a one-bedroom property on the market for $130,000. They agreed to take the tenant on as well; they moved out last year and they completely renovated the house. It’s now valued at $300,000.
Using property managers has really changed the game for the Cooks. They are able to use people with in-depth knowledge of the local market, are up to date with all compliance and RTA requirements, and can manage troublesome tenants.
Recently the couple sold one of the houses to help buy their own home in the Hamilton suburb of Rototuna. They purchased the property for just over $800,000 and completely renovated it. It’s now worth around $1.25 million.
And they have a new baby (Charlie). He was born in 2021 and has kept the couple occupied for the past 10 months. “It’s all a blur,” laughs Ben.
They are always open to new investment opportunities, but they need to find properties that will offer them that 10 per cent yield. They aren’t interested in development, but they are always looking for bargains in the right areas.
“My instinct is that there is going to be a slow-down and that we will be in a flat spot for around four to five years,” says Ben. “We are in no hurry, we have a family and we love it. We realise we are in a really good place.”