Part 1 of a 5-Part Interview with Professional Renovator, Caroline Vass
For a little over a year, I’ve been coaching one of Steve McKnight’s property apprentices, Caroline Vass. Caroline and her husband, Jozef, live in Geelong, and they have been investing in real estate for the last five years.
Caroline specializes in renovations. Not only does she and Jozef complete their own renovation deals, but she’s also created a business to help other investors renovate and develop properties.
Caroline was kind enough to offer her time and expertise over a series of interviews with me to delve deeper into the topic of property renovation. We’ll explore the entire process, from finding and analysing, to buying and improving. Then, we’ll discuss selling a profitable renovation deal.
1. Caroline, Can You Take Us Back To The Early Days And Share With Us What First Inspired You To Invest In Real Estate?
My parents were the ones who first motivated me to invest in real estate. As I was growing up, I watched them purchase and renovate several properties. Gradually, over time they’ve built up a portfolio that is now providing passive income for them in their retirement.
I always knew that I too, needed to invest in property, but it wasn’t until my first son was born that I felt a strong urgency. I knew then that I needed the financial freedom and flexibility to be at home with him, so I could watch him grow.
My son was eight weeks old when a friend gave me one of Steve’s books. It was through Steve that I learned the science of property investing and that it truly could be my way of staying home with my children, rather than returning to my nine to five job.
2. What Was Your First Deal? Was It A Renovation?
My first deal was a one-bedroom apartment that I rented out and held onto for several years. It was slightly positively geared, but it became obvious as my understanding of investing strategies grew that as a “buy and hold,” it was not that great. The capital appreciation was very slow.
Being a one bedroom apartment, the scope for increasing the yield was also limited without overcapitalising in the area. I decided to do a basic cosmetic renovation and sell it in order to use the cash for our next deal, which was a combined renovation and subdivision.
3. What Attracted You To Renovations As An Investment Strategy?
To be able to stay at home with my son, I needed a strategy that could make me money in a short space of time, and renovating and putting it back on the market seemed to match.
Renovating also seems to fit with the way I’m wired. It enables me to exercise my passion for making old and tired properties look new and homely. I love it when I finish a renovation, and friends and family are amazed at the transformation, and ask me how it was achieved in such a short period and within such a tight budget.
And of course I love to shop, so being able to pick and choose surface finishes, appliances, tap ware and more, and then to find the ultimate bargain is a lot of fun.
4. Take Us Through The Initial Steps When Looking For A Property That Has Renovation Potential. Where Do You Start?
When I look for a property to renovate I look for problems that other potential buyers might be put off by. Where others see problems, I see opportunity. I look for a blank canvas that I can shape to achieve my primary objective, which is to appeal to the majority of my target market and minimise buyer objections.
Here’s a basic summary of where I start:
- I first identify suburbs and streets where I see good renovation profit potential.
- Next, I prepare a specific deal profile for the suburb and type of property that I’m seeking.
- I begin my search by communicating my deal profile to real estate agents and by using internet-based searches.
- Finally, I validate the potential post-renovation resale of a property by accessing historical sales data.
Once I decide to take a potential deal further, I prepare a cost estimate with the purpose of establishing how much I can spend on the renovation and how much profit I would be happy to make. Once I have a figure to work with, I then prepare a detailed outline of the work that would need to be done. If required I’ll talk to my team of tradesmen to narrow down the details of what the work would cost. If then it all looks viable, I make the offer.
Most of the time now I don’t have to look for properties as they then to come to me. I’ve developed a network of real estate agents that know I buy problematic properties. When they have one they think I’ll like, they contact me. There’s never a shortage of available deals and when I’m seriously looking, I could put in several offers per week.
5. How Do You Decide Which Area To Focus Your Search?
I tend to narrow my searches to the areas that I know well. I’ve spent a great deal of time analysing and watching the property market to understand which suburbs are well established and those that I think have potential for capital growth.
My primary indicators are median unit or house price, capital growth rate, the number of properties being sold in a given period, the demographics and how they are changing, and of course, the proximity to public transport, infrastructure, schools and shops.
6. You Mentioned Writing Down A Deal Profile. I Know That Is Something That Steve Teaches In His Course. Can You Clarify Why This Is So Important In Your Process?
A deal profile is essential for me. It narrows my focus and allows me to target specific types or configurations of residential real estate that meets the “formula” for a good return on my investment. It also gives my agents a clear picture of what I’m looking for, which saves them and me a lot of time.
Investing without a deal profile is like trying to cook a complex cake without the recipe. There is bound to be one ingredient that you would miss. When investing in property, the result, at best, could be breaking even and at worst, losing money.
7. Let’s Profile One Deal In Particular. Tell Us What You Set Out Looking For And Then How You Found That Particular Property.
I bought a property in Geelong back in November of 2013, and then had it back on the market in January of 2014. That’s probably a good one to look at because there were heaps of lessons to be learned.
I found this property after setting out to buy a potential cosmetic renovation with subdivision potential. Once I identified my ideal suburb, one that was on the cusp of a very well performing area, I began my search.
I always keep a list of potential properties that are on the market that fit my deal profile. Often they are deals that I’ve passed up because the asking price was too high. I’ll review this list regularly in case one of them is reduced in price or if one sells, I’ll mark it off my list.
Sure enough, this property had been on the market for six months, and then I noticed that the price came down. It had two three-bedroom weatherboard homes on the same title.
The owners had been granted a permit to split the title, but due to a lack of experience, they were unable to anticipate certain issues that made it impossible for them to finalise the subdivision. Through negotiation, I secured the property and was able to split it into two separate titles. I solved the problems the previous owners had encountered, and then renovated and sold each new property individually.
8. Can You Share With Us A Deal That You’re Currently Working On?
We just had an offer accepted last week on a property in Geelong that has both renovation and subdivision potential. This property was one that came to me through a local agent who keeps a copy of my deal profile.
He contacted me prior to this property even going on the market. We only had one week to do our initial research. We were happy to proceed, so on the day it hit the market, we put our offer in subject to due diligence. Even though it was on the lower end of what they were after, it was accepted.
I’m happy to share more about this deal in a future interview once we go unconditional.
Hopefully, one of your primary takeaways from this interview with Caroline is the importance of writing down a deal profile. Not only does this clarify her search parameters, but it enables her to communicate to agents exactly what she is looking for. Now that she’s established a network of quality agents, the deals come to her.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll delve deeper into Caroline’s renovation and subdivision deals from last year. In Part 2 of this series, “Buying a Renovation Property That You Won’t Regret,” I’ll ask Caroline to explain her due diligence process thoroughly, explaining why this particular property passed the test.
You can learn more about Caroline and request some free training videos at her website: http://www.smartchoicepropertydevelopment.com.au