How To Choose The Right House To Renovate – Interview With Jane Slack-Smith (Ep262)

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The most important step in successfully renovating a property is first choosing the right property to renovate. Choose the wrong property or the wrong area and you have likely lost before you even began.

Today I talk with Jane Slack-Smith from The Ultimate Guide To Renovation about how to choose the right house to renovate so you can maximise your return on renovation.

Transcription coming soon

Ryan: Choosing the right house to renovate is a really difficult decision. There’s a lot that goes into that decision including research into a suburb, finding the right street, finding the right house within that street.  It’s not always as easy as buying the worst house in the best street.  Today, I talk to Jane Slack-Smith from the Ultimate Guide To Renovation about how to choose the right house to renovate. So renovation is a strategy that you want to pursue.  It’s very important that you choose the right property in order to maximize your profit from the renovation. So here’s my interview with James Slack-Smith.

Hi guys Ryan here from onproperty.com.au, your daily dose of property education and inspiration. And today I’m grateful to have with me Jane Slack-Smith from the Ultimate Guide To Renovation. And we’re going to be talking about how to choose the right house to renovate.  Thanks for your time today, Jane.

Jane: It’s a pleasure, thanks Ryan.

Ryan: Okay. So you run The Ultimate Guide To Renovation, you’re somewhat a renovation expert, you might go to person for renovation. When we’re looking at how to choose the right house to renovate, where do you think people should start?

Jane: The thing is, I think that the biggest mistake that people make is that they actually choose to renovate and often they already renovate that property they already have or they go, “Okay, this property needs to revamp so there’s going to be money to be made and to me and that’s why I spend so much time and effort in teaching people how to you buy in the right location first and then find the right property.  So it always has to go back to where’s the right location. Therefore, I spend so much time and evidently actually finding where that location is before I even think about finding the house and then doing the renovation.

Ryan: Okay. I think that’s a good place to start as well because if you invest in the wrong area, buying any house in that area wouldn’t necessarily be the best idea. So when we’re looking at a renovation strategy and we want to research areas for the potential to renovate, what should we be looking for?

Jane: That’s a great question because it really comes down to strategy and it goes back even a step early which is you need to know what your goal is and then you need to know what that time frame is,  and then you need to have a strategy that works. So if your strategy is to make a million bucks in five years time, you’re going to have a riskier strategy than you are going to be for someone who has been trying to put a million bucks in the bank in 15 years’ time.  So one might be doing developing, subdividing, maybe flipping properties and the other one might be buy, renovate and hold. So if we take just the renovation parts of those strategies out and we have a look at them, we’ve got it a flipping strategy and we have a buy and a hold strategy.  So flipping strategy first and foremost is we buy a property, usually within three to six months, you’ve renovated it structurally to add a lot of value and then you resell it. So you’re talking about reselling to the owner occupied market place.  You’re not selling to an investor, you’re selling to an owner occupiers. So you need to have a suburb that has a higher percentage of owner occupants. So understanding this [inaudible 3:14] by now gives you that information and gives you where you might target your suburb. And then always say you’re going to buy, renovate and hold. You want to be able to have tenants in your property, so you want a high percentage of renters in the area. And then we can start looking at those suburbs and I actually teach –, I’ve got a tutorial on how to use the census data to get down to the suburb and it highlights for you: here’s the streets where the owner occupiers are and here’s the streets where the renters are. So you don’t then have to go, “Okay I know there are a higher percentage of owner occupiers, but am I in the right street that they want to live?” So you naturally target then the streets and then you can get down to the house level.

Ryan: Okay. So let’s just tackle one of those so we aren’t confusing people.  Because obviously there are two very different strategies buying to hold and buying to flip it, so let’s just go the buy to hold strategy.  So we are renovating a property in order to lease this property out.  Therefore we want to start looking for an area that has a higher percentage of renters. What do you define as a higher percentage of renters? And what are the things should we be looking for?

Jane: I would like to say 30% to 40% kind of is the base of the percentage of renters in the area. Now, you have to be careful as well. I’m not looking for an area that has maybe 80% renters because that could indicate that it’s a new high-rise development that’s going up all the time and you don’t have a lot of capacity then to buy into a new high-rise building and add value obviously. Or you have competition where people aren’t as loyal to staying in your property. So now, when most tenancies last over the one year period, if you’ve got a market place that’s full of brand new apartments that are going up all the time, well, these tenants are going to upgrade to the newest apartments the next time their lease is up.

Ryan: Yes, all the apartments in the complex are generally very similar, so tenants don’t usually care if they live in one apartment versus another because they’ve decided, “I want to live in this complex and if one is the same as the other then I’ll  just go for the cheaper one or the best one”.

Jane:  Exactly.  And then they kind of fall victim of the fact that if there’s someone more desperate than you in renting your property, you know, I want $450 a week, you want $430 because you’ve got to put braces on the kids or something and you’re willing to take something less then my tenant is going to move out and go to your property, because it’s just next door and it’s the same.

Ryan: Yes. So if people shouldn’t be targeting those high rises where everything’s the same, what sort of thing should people be looking for?

Jane: Okay. So obviously, renovation, you need to have a capacity to add value to the property, therefore brand new stuff is pretty much off the table.  You need to be able to assess the property and you have for checklists of inspections that I go through, but assess the property and make sure that there is capacity to add value. And then most importantly, that in that suburb there is actually the pricing disparity so that you can make money. So let’s just say, you know, you’re buying at $300,000 and a renovated property is $340,000. Now, on average with what you’re talking about a cosmetic renovation, you know, you’re spending about 10% of the value of the property.  So let’s say you buy the property, you pay 15 grand stamp duty and you pay 30,000 in doing a renovation. You know, you’re all set to make money and your property value is now worth $350,000 and the renovated properties start at $340,000.  You know, there is no real benefit, there’s no profit there.

So that pricing disparity is so important and that’s why if we just jump back to the other strategy of flipping, so many people –, I think it’s something similar to fishermen. You always hear about the one they caught rather than the fifteen hours they sat there catching nothing, you know. It’s so hard to make money in flipping because the numbers have to be so right.  And I interviewed John Edwards of Residex, the founder of Residex, last week, and he was saying for flipping he really thinks that you need to start at $600,000 price point minimum.  So, you know, if we’re talking about, and that’s mainly structure renovation, but if we’re talking about the three, there is capacity to add value but there is no capacity to add a profit. That’s something you need to know. And you can find that information out when you’re researching your suburb. There is the Residex Renovation Report and you can find those. I think they are $200.00 and for a suburb or for a state, these suburbs have a lot of streets in them that have capacity to be able to renovate with the 10% renovation cost and to make money. So they kind of done a bit of the work for you which is good because I’m always looking for shortcuts.

Ryan: So the Residex Report actually goes out and looks at the different prices of houses and works out whether there is disparity in an area which means that renovated properties are selling for a much higher price than unrenovated properties.  Is that right?

Jane: Absolutely, so what they have is, John was telling me, I think they’ve got the  sale data from back to 1865 of most of the sales

Ryan: That would be useful for us.

Jane: It is kind of handy, most important, but from all the sales or most of the sales in Australia. So they can look at repeat sales data, so they’re saying your house first sold  for $70,000 in 1980, it’s now sold in 2010 for $500,000, that’s the growth that is being experienced in that street. But they have that data for every house in that street. So what they do is they have a house count of how many houses there are in every street, and let’s say there is a hundred for easy maths, they then break them up into zero to ten in ranking, so ten houses go to  0-1; ten house are in 1-2; ten houses are in 2-3, up to ten. And if you’re looking at what I’m looking at when I’m renovating is I’m trying to keep the property around the median, so if we’re to five, we know that fifty houses in that street are below five and fifty above. And I want to renovate just above the median so that my house rents or sells if I have to, quicker. So I’m looking at buying at approximately around that 2-3 range in the street and being able to revalue it at the 6-7. I know this sounds [inaudible 09:48] but all I’m saying is in these reports, if the report said the price point for ten of the houses between this 2-3 price point is $300,000 and six the price point is $310,000, there is no money in the renovation. If it’s 500 there’s a lot of money in the renovation.

Ryan:  So with a street of a hundred houses if you’ve got like the worst  fifty are very close in price to the top 30% percent or something like that then you can start to say well even if I can jump from being maybe right in the middle like the 50th best house in the street and if I can jump up to being the 30th best house in the street, if that’s only a 30 grand difference between those two houses then it’s well not really worth doing that renovation.

Jane: It’s exactly what you’re saying. And you know, talking to Jane Summers and she said her model over the last 40 years of buying has always being to buy the bottom quarter of the market, but the top part of the bottom corner. And you’re like, “What’s the top part of the bottom quarter?”  But having that kind of breakdown, it  tells you what it  is. And you know, she’s cheapy with valuing good capital growth areas with renovation and it’s her strategy and it works for her. So the key in my mind in making money out of renovation is understand the strategy that you have, understand the suburb that makes that strategy based on the percentage of renters that are there, find a property and in a street that has the capacity to add value. We’re not talking new, off the plan or a house and land packages. And then find if there’s profit to be made, so is there the pricing disparity?  And before you’ve done that, you know, once you’ve done that you can make it on to the renovation and start thinking ,you know, doing up little pink tiles.

Ryan: Okay. So we’ve looked at the suburb, we found  the suburb that we want to invest in and we found potentially like the street that has the disparity there. What other things should people be thinking about when they’re choosing the right house to renovate? Like, should it be a three bedroom house or should it be should be [inaudible 12:00] brick?  There are things like that, that people need to consider?

Jane:  Yes. Once again, sensational question, and the answer is it has to be fit for the market. So one of the things that I have my students do is, you know, we have what I call the dot map, we try to find the suburb to find the ripple effect to find the potential hot spots and then we’re defining more and more renovation potential, then we get down to the point where we have to look at the property itself and we have to know what the market wants. So I spend a lot of time looking at the census of the demographics or another word is the typical person who lives in the area. And if either the demographics and they say the most significant age group is 20-25 and the most significant tenure type is renting and the most significant asset type is a house and 50% of people who drive to work or 70% people who drive or 40% of people who get public transport, you know, I can define very quickly what that person needs. They are probably someone at university, so I would be thinking, “Oh, is this place near to the university?” Because I can also find out the percentage of going to the university.  They catch public transport so I want to be within 300 meters of public transport. They are mainly renters and this is what I’m after.

That demographic information gives me a view of the typical person that will be renting from me. And then what’s the median house price? So rather than buying a fancy report I get in the back of my Australian Property Investor Magazine or Smart Property Investor Magazine or Your Investment Property Magazine and then the data at the back it tells you the median house price for whatever it is – Flemington is $650,000. So you go, “Okay so the median house price is $650,000”. I pull up realestate.com.au, I pull up domain and I put in Flemington $650,000 and get rid of the surrounding suburbs and up comes the first page of all the houses that are for sale for $650,000, so I’m going “fibro, fibro, fibro, fibro, fibro”.  I’m getting a feel for the fact for the fibro house – three bedroom      fibro houses are typical.  If I’m getting, you know, and I think this is problem, often people going, “Oh, you’re in median for the area. It was 450 and I got this place for 400.” And you’re like, “Yes, but the median is a three bedroom brick house and you bought a fibro two bedroom.”

Ryan: Okay. So when investing to renovate that strategy of choosing a house that is very typical for the area that most people want to live in so by looking at the median price and then looking at properties in that price range we can get a feel for what those types the houses are.  Is that the type of house that we want to be looking for and why do we want to look for a house that is typical?

Jane: Typical –, for me, you know, I was a mining engineer and an explosive expert before I ever put on my mortgage broking or property education hat and for me it was all about risk. So I needed to minimize risk so when I started I only had $45,000 and I had worked really long and hard and literally in the mines, you know, digging coal, to get that money I wasn’t going to throw it away. So I wanted to minimize my risk so I wanted to have a property that would rent the fastest because 80% of the people in the area wanted it or I wanted a property that if something went really wrong and I had to sell,  my emergency exit plan was not having the ten bedroom mansion in the suburb that you want to aspire to have but could not afford or you know the dinky one bedroom unit, it was the [inaudible 15:48] house and property that I could get in suburb that I can get on the market and sell if I really needed to get that money. So I wanted to have exit strategies.

Ryan: So the goal of buying a typical house and one that is in that median is so –,  but hey you can rent it easier because there is a larger portion of people to rent it, but being it’s kind of like a risk-adverse strategy in the fact that if you needed to sell or need to get out there’s a larger pool of people who’d be interested in that house. Is that right?

Jane: Absolutely. And I mean if my strategy is a property investor who didn’t want to renovate I’d be targeting that median value median house, median value median States but as a renovator I want to target a property that can look like this median house but hasn’t worked on yet. So I’m actually looking potentially you know 20% lower than the  median house price when I’m doing my searches to find a property that I can buy at this point and move up to that point.

Ryan: Okay. So we do our research first or we found our area, we do our research, we find out what’s around that median and the middle of the market, what does a typical house look like and then we go and do some more research and we find okay well what’s actually, maybe 20% below that, that could potentially look like the houses that we’ve been looking at in the median range if we do the renovations to it?

Jane: Yes.

Ryan: Okay, awesome. Just checking that I understood that. It does make a lot of sense and then it’s a good way to go into it to say well okay well I know now I need to find out what the area wants and now all I need to look for is specifically a property that could be what the area wants and could be in that middle of the market.  So do you then just try and bring like something that’s maybe 20% below up to the median or do you try and go above the median?

Jane: Yes, I try to get a bit above the median but again my strategy is I want to rent quicker and I want a property that people walk in to and go, you know I’ve looked at three other properties that are renting for 250 bucks a week.  Gee, at 250 bucks a week, I can get you know, some buyers on my window, isn’t that great? It’s something maybe that’s a little bit better but clean, nice, low maintenance, no emotional kaleidoscope   going on here.  You know, you’re not designing for the block, you’re decorators here, you’re designing for the median kind of taste and you’re not putting your own kind of [inaudible 18:15] on it.

Ryan:  Okay. So let’s say that we found a couple of properties that we are kind of  interested in, what would we do in terms of due diligence when we’re looking specifically to renovate this property?

Jane: Yes. So basically you know you have your list of properties within the suburbs, you go out and you have a look at them. That’s the format, you’re looking for that capacity to add value.  You pretty much determine that before you start finding your property so I think that you can do 80% of the work before you even blame your computer so you’re only looking at the –, unlike you know, running around all weekend looking at 10 to 15 properties and trying to get it all in on a Saturday morning or whatever. You’re being very targeted, because, you know you’re buying [inaudible 19:00] area. You’ve looked at these properties and see that you think they have capacity to add value and then you’re kind of verifying it. So, I’m taking my initial inspection checklist and I go through and I’m actually now looking for problems. I’m not looking for opportunities because I’ve validated that by my research. I know that there is capital growth. I know there’s the ability to add value.

So I’m looking to what’s going to cost me money.  So, you know, things that are going to –, you walked into a property and you smell fresh paint.  Not a lot of people paint the property before they sell it. So you may, okay, are they trying to cover something up? So you know, I’ve seen examples where people have gone about a property there is a crack this wide is opened up in the lounge room before the open for inspection each week up to six weeks, all the guys were doing –, the owners were doing covering up with plaster and paint. And this is going to cost $100,000 to put the house back together. So if I smell fresh paint I’m like, well maybe they did tidy the house up but if it’s only a one bedroom or one room I’m kind of doing some knocks and trying to find maybe you know water damage or something that’s also associated with it, so I’m looking for those problems.

Ryan:  I like that because traditionally people going to an open for inspection and just go, “ohh, ahh, look at this,” and are very excited and we’re looking for the opportunities, or we could change the kitchen here, or put this in here. But I like the fact that you’ve actually kind of already determine before you’re even looking at the houses the types of properties you want and what kind of level you want to bring it up to so you can be more, I guess diplomatic or more intense when you’re doing your inspection to look for problems. Are there any particular problems that you suggest people look for apart from water damage?

Jane:  Yes, the biggest things are the low or no return items, so if you’re fixing electrical, you’re fixing water, plumbing issues, you have to move the plumbing, if you’re having to fix the roof, if you’re having to fix – maybe pointing and problems with the brickwork, maybe there’re some issues with the spectus, maybe when you’re walking across the floorboards you’re starting to feel that kind of movement, there could be a stumping issue here.  Those issues they can, oh my gosh, they can eat up your renovation budget and there’s absolutely no value in return.  All you’ve really just done is maintains the house or maintains —

Ryan: Is there no value in return in those because people don’t  actually see it so when you’re then selling it or renting it people don’t know that you’ve replaced the roof or they don’t know that you’ve replaced the stumping because when they go in,  they don’t  say “Ooh, ahh, I see you have replaced the stumping?”

Jane:  And I think, you know, they can go and buy a $300,00 property, I’m going to spend, let’s just say the rule of thumbs is 10% and I’m going to spend 30 grand on this and you walk in and straight away the carpenter said,  “It’s five grand for the stumps”.  And you’re like, “Okay, there goes my landscaping budget”. No one’s going to spend $5,000 on landscaping, but there goes some of my painting. And then you’re going to turn around and he’s going to go, “Ah, you know, the roof, there is another three and a half thousand”. You’re like, “there goes the floor sanding”. So all of this on your budget –

Ryan: So, I’m going to cut in there, do you suggest that people do the inspection with Lucky Chippie or with someone that will be helping them with the renovation? Because most people I would suggest or not suggest but I would expect would do the inspection by themselves.

Jane:  Absolutely. And see, that’s one of the things that I mean if I’m really then keen, if I’ve gone through my checklist and things like filling up the bath and making sure there’s no sluggish flow and letting the water out and listening to the knocking in the plumbing and things like, you know, you can like not cross ventilation, can I get on into the house, is there a musty smell.  These kind of things I’m thinking of. I’m not taking some -, I don’t have a builder on staff that follows me around and gives me tips, you know, two houses I’m looking at on this Saturday. I don’t know many people who have. But you know we just talk about every day people turning up going, “Well, this kind of looks good, is there any problems?” And so I have a kind of a checklist to go through and actually I’m going to share it with people on the webinar I’ve got coming up, so they can download it and use the checklist themselves. You know, just simple things, do the light switches work and you know, power points, let’s just say that there is one power point in the bedroom and I mean you need at least two, let’s face it.  And so you thinking, “Oh yes, this is next to power point.” But to get an extra power point, you got to pay the electrician $150, you’re going to rip off the skirting board, you have to replaced the ripping, put it back on, it’s a $500 exercise.  And if you know, I don’t want to spend that $500 on maybe having a benchtop, that’s a little bit nicer, than the typical laminate, then there goes my budget. And a valuer or tenants not going to walk in and go, “Oh, second power point.

Ryan:  I’m going add $500 to the value of that house because there’s the second power point there.

Jane:  So for me as I said I started really small. I had $45,000. I did a renovation and pull that money out, put the rent up, pull the money out and bought the next property. So I was so focused on that value of the value that property at. So I’m like if I spend money on this, is as if I’m going to go yes or it’s going to go yes whatever. So every single decision that you made, for me, it was around I need to create as much equity and so you know, I bought a property $425,000, I did a $50,000 renovation and had it revalue at $700,000. Yes, there is money there, I put it up and did it again, you know. And that’s all it was. And I had the borrow capacity to be able to do that.

Some people can’t do it as quickly as that and so, you know, in my book I would talk about, you know, two properties, one renovation a million dollars in the bank in 15 years.  So buy a house, you probably can’t afford to do the renovation. Wait until you’re three when you have some growth in the property because you’ve got it in the right location, pull the money up to do the renovation, wait another two years – you’re five you’ve got enough cash and equity as well, pull some more money up, buy your second property and then you [inaudible 25:22] for the next ten years while the properties go up in value and obviously if you wanted to have the capacity to do it faster or you could do more and get further, but that just gets the everyday Australian a million dollars in the bank earning 5%,  50 grand, passive income in 15 years.

Ryan: Yes. And we’ve got a webinar coming up on the 4th of March and we’re going to be talking about that in more detail. Aren’t we?

Jane: Yes. Absolutely, yes.

Ryan: We’re going to be going into more detail on that strategy which is “2 properties 1 renovation a million dollars in the bank”. So, I’m excited about that webinar which is on the 4th of March. So if anyone wants to get access to that free webinar, they can go to www.onproperty.com.au/reno to get free access to that. That’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to that. So just to finish this off, after we’ve done –

Jane:  I just want to say, nothing to sell on that webinar, so no one has to feel that at the end we’re going to be telling them to buy something. It’s full content.

Ryan: It’s a pitch free webinar so we’re not going to try and sell you something at the end. So it’s just to have you guys out and to get the word out there. So after we do our personal inspection, just finally on due diligence, so are there any other things that we would be wanting to do? Like do we want to do building inspection, pest inspection anything else like?

Jane: Yes, all those things.  So if I’m really keen on the property I’m going to make an appointment to see it by myself, because let’s face it, you’re doing these inspections in 10 minutes, so this is ticking the boxes for me. I’m going to make a time with the agent to go back for maybe an hour with my inspection checklist and in the meantime I have a building –, and I’ll put in an offer in this period of time because I’m not going to waste my time if my offer is not going to be accepted. So I mean test for building inspection and then I’m going go back with my full checklist and I’m going to go back with quick code calculator, so I’ve got this calculator that is like 25 years of basically intellectual property in it and so every property I ever think of renovation comes in so I might say I need four tops and I need a high quality tops and it’ll top the price so it gives me an idea of what the cost might be. Because I know a lot of people struggle with how much things cost, you know, I need 20 square meters of painting and 20 square meters pop up   price. So for me I need to quickly have a calculator that I can calculate how much it’s going to cost and if I know that the median price property at the standard on renovating up to a little bit better from is at this point and my buy price is here, then it’s really easy then to go, “Okay I know that I’m going to make some money on this”. And that’s when I get into more due diligence so comparable sales and I get another checklist like and I talk to the council and I get some more details.

Ryan: Okay, cool. So there’s a lot more to do after we have chosen our house and doing that due diligence. But I think that’s been really helpful. I think we should finish it off there. We’ve learn about that we should look into the suburb to find areas that have price disparity so we can use Residex data to do that or we can use our own legwork I guess to do that and then finding those streets and finding the median price of the property in what those houses are like and then looking for something that’s below that median price that we can bring up to that median price.  So thank you so much for your insight, I have learned a lot in this lesson and I’m sure that the listeners have learnt a lot as well.   Is there anything that you think that we missed that we should let people know about?

Jane:  No, absolutely not. I think you’re exactly right, start with your goal, understand what you want to achieve and understand how that property can help you do it and just get on and do the work because if you’re going to be spending hundreds of thousands dollars you got to do the work upfront and then you get on with your life, once you’ve got it right.

Ryan: Yes. And if you guys want more information, we’ll be talking more about this in our upcoming webinar, which again you can check out at www.onproperty.com.au/reno. Thank you so much Jane for coming on today. I’m just so stoked to have you and so stoked to have your insight and I’ll see you on the webinar.

Jane: Okay, we’ll speak soon.

Ryan: Well, I hope you guys enjoyed that interview with Jane Slack-Smith from the Ultimate Guide To Renovation. I mean I certainly did. I try and always ask questions that I want to know the answers to, so I can learn a lot from the interview and I hope that you learned a lot as well. We talked a lot about how to research a suburb,  how to find pricing disparity, how to find the right property and we talked about looking at the median price range and then looking at properties 20% below that, and we talked a lot of things about buying the right property. And I thought that was a really great interview and I’m really looking forward to my webinar with Jane which is coming up on the 4th of March.

You can check out that webinar at www.onproperty.com.au/reno if you’re before the 4th of March. If you’re after the 4th of March then there are some other great stuff at that link for you, so go ahead and check it out. I’ve got another interview with Jane coming up in just a couple of days when we talk about the biggest mistakes that investors make. I was really lucky to get Jane to do actually three interviews with me. So we’ve got coming up, the biggest mistakes renovators make and how to maximize your return on renovation as well which is really cool. We walk through the different room of the house and some of the things that you can do to save money and to maximize the return on the renovation that you do.

So until next time stay positive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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