World Of Experience
From Iran to Auckland, Ramin Tavakoli’s investment journey spans oceans and cultures, as Joanna Jefferies discovers. Photography by Stephanie Creagh.
28 February 2021
When Ramin Tavakoli was a teenager in Iran, his father owned several properties. Young Ramin had a suggestion: “Hey Dad, why don’t you sell a house and buy me a new car?” His father said no. That wouldn’t be a good investment, he explained to his son; “When you’re older, you will be happy that I kept the houses.”
It didn’t take Ramin long to realise the wisdom of his father’s approach. As an engineering student in Belgium, on a temporary visa, his top priority was to buy a property. Although he and his girlfriend Alexandra (now his wife) weren’t residents, meaning they had no right to borrow or buy, Ramin was determined. He’d done the sums and knew the mortgage would be cheaper than their current rent, so he started shopping around. After being declined by at least five banks, he tried a second tier lender. That lender wasn’t convinced, but did agree to print out a schedule of what the couple’s repayments would be if they were approved. By brandishing that document and implying a loan from a competitor was imminent, Ramin was able to convince his current bank that he was worth the risk.
With one property under their belts and a baby on the way, Ramin and Alexandra soon bought a second property – a larger house. They stretched themselves so far that on the day of settlement they had just €630 in the bank. Even the real estate agent thought they were nuts. But Ramin doesn’t believe in letting the bank use your savings. He thinks you should be using the bank’s money instead. The year that followed was tough, but with the help of some good friends, they managed to renovate the house.
“It was very hard for a year but we didn’t give up and luckily we had brilliant friends. That was when I understood that having good friends is better than anything in the world,” says Ramin.
“After that first year we made good money and that was our initial savings and deposit to come to New Zealand and buy a house, otherwise we could not have done it.”
A Fresh Start
As a well-funded and well-qualified pair of young professionals, the Tavakolis had their choice of locations to make a fresh start with their two young children. They thought New Zealand would be a great place to live, although they had Australia and Canada as back-up destinations if they weren’t suitably impressed on their first visit. But once they arrived, there was no looking back.
“We have travelled to 35 or 40 countries and New Zealand is one of the best, if not the best, in the world for raising a young family. It’s peaceful – too small and too far from the rest [of the world] to be involved in any troubles. Here there are no wars, you can just work, earn a good income, and have a great life.”
After arriving in New Zealand and renting in Auckland for a few months, they bought a do-up in Papakura. Ramin already had extensive knowledge of renovating houses, from working with his dad in Iran, to doing up his own houses in Belgium, and helping renovate homes in France and Slovakia. While working as an engineer, Ramin renovated the Papakura house and tried to buy a second property as an investment. But the couple were caught out by not yet having a good understanding of how lending and funding worked in New Zealand. They ultimately needed to sell their first house to buy a second one, which frustrated Ramin.
“We didn’t know who to ask. The bank didn’t give us all the options and we couldn’t find tenants on time. We ended up with two mortgages, so we sold the house in 2012 for $325,000. Two years later it was worth over $700,000.
If someone had just told us we could go interest only, we could have kept it. But you need to go through all these problems to learn the lessons. There is no losing in life – you experience, you learn, or you win.”
With their new larger home in Hunua secured, they were able to buy an investment property in Henderson. At that point, Ramin decided to quit his job as an engineer and commit fully to property renovation. He bought a Maintain to Profit franchise, which meant the property portfolio had to be put on ice for two years while the business gathered momentum.
The franchise has been doing a roaring trade, helped along by Ramin’s wide-ranging skillset, combining engineering knowledge with an understanding of building techniques across several countries. New Zealand’s construction practices have surprised him in places, and his international products know-how has come in handy.
For example, he’s slightly baffled by our love of aluminium window frames. PVC, in contrast, is widely used in Europe and significantly outperforms it. That kind of understanding helps him to take an unusual angle on problem-solving that his clients really appreciate.
A Tricky Trade
Once the business had a couple of years of transactions to show lenders, the Tavakolis were able to buy another doup to trade, this time in Weymouth. “That house was in such bad condition that the owner couldn’t get a loan from the bank or even from a second-tier lender. Someone told me very confidently that it was impossible to renovate. So, I bought it because it was a challenge to me. I wanted to prove it was possible. I over-capitalised on the house, spending $200,000 because I wanted to make it high end. That was too much to spend in Weymouth and I lost about $25,000. But I used it as a marketing tool and got a lot more jobs and clients, so I made a profit overall.”
After selling the house in Weymouth, the Tavakolis decided to switch to a buy-and-hold strategy, with a focus on sub-dividable land. In November 2019, they bought a large section in Manurewa, then soon after that bought a second large section in Papakura, right before lockdown.
“People said, ‘Are you crazy? You will go broke!’ I said, ‘Nope, I’m happy’,” laughs Ramin. “We renovated the properties and rented them out, and now we are about to subdivide the Papakura property and build two houses. Then we will build two houses on the Manurewa site, and add another house or minor dwelling to our section in Hunua. Great cashflow and great capital gains – that’s why I buy with land, subdivide and add value.”
Ramin and Alexandra have also purchased a small townhouse in Māngere East that’s handy to transport links. It’s a different approach than their favoured buy-hold-develop, with a long-term view to using the house as a launchpad for the kids when they’re attending university in a few years’ time.
‘This is what I tell my kids: you must be resilient and keep pushing if you don’t want to be average’
With five houses to build plus the rentals and the business, it’s going to benon-stop the Takavolis. But Ramin wouldn’t have it any other way. He believes that it’s important to constantly push yourself further, try to achieve more, and step beyond the ordinary.
“I don’t like it when tradies are always talking about problems. They should also bring solutions – thinking about the solution will push you forward. You must always push as far as you can. This is what I tell my kids: you must be resilient and keep pushing if you don’t want to be average.”
His own determination has allowed him to build a fantastic life for himself and his family, which he does not take for granted: “I write in my journal every night, what I have done in the day, and what I am grateful for. Most days, that’s my kids and wife. We love each other and we support each other. I thank God from my heart that I have good kids and a good life – I’m very grateful.”
What’s It Worth To You?
What should you pay for that property you’ve got your eye on? You won’t find the answer by listening to what other people think it’s worth, says Ramin Tavakoli. He believes you need to start by thinking about your own goals, and then what the property is worth to you.
“In March I went to an auction and I didn’t want to lose the property because I knew it was a great site for subdivision. For someone planning to buy it and rent it out, it was worth $550,000 max. But for me it was worth more than that. I paid $622,000, and people said I paid too much. Then in
May, after lockdown, the agent called me and offered me $700,000, and now it’s worth over $1 million. But when I look at my long-term goals, it’s worth more than $1 million to me. I don’t care what the agent thinks, or what the agent thinks of what I want to do. I don’t listen to other people.”