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Game of Life: Playing Real Monopoly in Property with Danny Ciarma

Updated 28/11/2017

Chatting to passionate property developer Danny Ciarma, founder of Urban DC, we’ll follow his journey in life from architect to a property developer, how his foray into property investment involved taking his future wife on dates to auctions and open inspections and how his interest in property stemmed from playing the game of Monopoly as a child.

Find out what it takes to become a successful property developer, why he focuses on high-end owner-occupier buildings with the retirement of the baby boomers and the life-changing moment where he discovered the economics of property.

'A lot of people jump into property development. You wouldn't jump into a surgery room and operate on someone if you didn't train as a doctor.'

Danny Ciarma

Having done so much with his time, Ciarma shares what he has done to become successful.

I'm the director of Urban DC, which is a property development company that I formed about five years ago. I've been developing some medium to high-density residential buildings for around 20 years now. I started out as a registered architect, but pretty quickly moved into project management and development management, then became a developer very early in my career.

In the last 15 years, I’ve completed over 20 development projects and currently with Urban DC I've got two projects under construction - one in 308 Carlisle Street, Balaclava which is 38 apartments out of retail; I've got one under construction in Roselle in Sydney, which is 22 high-end apartments; and I'm about to market a project in Caulfield, which consists of 18 large owner-occupied apartments. I've got two further projects in planning at the moment in Sydney, one's in Rose Bay and the other is in Bondi Junction. I just completed a building in Brighton which is 26 high-end owner-occupier apartments called Oscar Brighton and only a couple of weeks ago, that building won the Bayside Council Design Excellence Awards for medium density housing, so that's a nice accolade to have.

Entering into property development was a natural progression for him after architecture, when he discovered the latter wasn’t for him.

It was just one of those things where I've always wanted to be an architect and by the time I actually became one, I just felt it wasn't satisfying the overall experience of what I wanted out of property. I found myself just constantly at a desk, documenting and drawing. I was really attracted to the other side of the property, which was creating it, developing it, sourcing sites, sourcing buildings, apartments that I could renovate. And just one thing lead to another and I wanted to be more hands-on in the project management side initially and then that just grew into doing my own projects.

So what does he do in any given day?

I've got several projects on the go, so I'm constantly rotating from one project to the other. Depending on the phase a particular project is in, that will determine how much I spend on one project. You know, I might spend three-quarters of a day focusing on one element of a project, then 10 minutes on another one and so forth.

It's just whatever is required - so I might go into a planning meeting, talking about all the issues surrounding that for our submission, then I might move on to a marketing meeting to talk about the brand mark for the project and marketing material. I might go to a site meeting and talk to the builder about how the progress is going on-site, visit sites whilst I’m doing my due diligence. And there's a lot of desk work too, undertaking feasibility studies, talking to valuers, talking to bankers, right through to marking up plans with a red pen which I often do, send it back to the architect and the list goes on. So it's just rotating through all those elements that's required, in order to keep the project going.

Wow, it's non-stop and it sounds like you have to rely on the team very heavily because you just can't do this yourself can you.

I've got a team that assists, I outsource a lot of them. So I'm sort of like the conductor, controlling it all and I've got a team of people out there - a team of architects, a team of engineers - and in many cases, they’re different teams on different projects. So with Rozelle for instance, I’ve got a totally different set of consultants that I would have on my Melbourne projects.

Growing up in a country area, Ciarma’s first attraction to property was influenced by his father and the board game, Monopoly.

I grew up in Kilmore, country Victoria. My dad trained horses and harness racing, so I grew up on the farm with lots of animals and horses. I spent most of my childhood either sitting on a sulky, be on a horse, or at the races.

I went to school in the country, but from an early age, I always wanted to be an architect. From as early as I can remember, I loved drawing and sort of loved property. My dad, prior to training horses, was a builder-developer so he built spec homes and apartment buildings and from an early age, I was always on building sites and I can still remember the smell of sawn timber, framing material that was going up. I remember playing around in the garage at the age of eight and looking at all the architectural plans, all the documentation that Dad had for all these building projects and I was just mesmerised by it. That was back in the days when it was all hand-drawn. And I just knew then, ‘I want to do this. I want to be an architect.’ So I always had a flair for it and always knew what I wanted to do, which was good for me because it gave me a lot of focus while I was at school had something to work towards.

In terms of the property itself, I remember at that stage discovering the game Monopoly. I was absolutely mesmerised by that game - didn't understand anything about investment and didn't understand the whole concept of property portfolios, but I just loved that game and the idea of buying multiple properties and working your way up to building hotels on your site, it was just amazing. And that's sort of what I'm doing in real life now.

While at university, he undertook several hospitality jobs prior to pursuing architecture as a career.

I went straight to uni. It was a five year course, so it was a long course and I did the last year over two years because I wanted to work. I just couldn't wait to get out there - I worked in an architectural practice and was still studying part-time for the last two years. I did the odd job whilst I was going through uni to help put myself through and I did everything from kitchen and chefs, I cooked at KFC, was a waiter, a barman, I steam cleaned cups, I did all of that.

But professionally, I went straight into architecture.

Great. And how long were you in architecture before you jumped into doing property development.

I was in it for about two to three years. You have to do a two year period, fill out a logbook and become registered. I wanted to become registered, I had come so far and I wanted to be able to say, ‘I can call myself an architect.’ So after about three years, I got into project management at Village Roadshow and that was a great experience because I got to see so many different facets of a building process. Not only did we manage the fit-out contractor, we also managed the relationship with the landlord, as it was always in shopping centres. So there was a lot leaser or lease-type relationships that had to be managed and then over and above that, we had our own contractors, FFA or fit-out contractors for the carpet, the curtains, the seating, projections. And as I said, it was a whole heap of things that had to be managed so it really was a great training ground to sharpen your skills in project management.

Wow. How long were you there for?

Testing my memory now, but probably about five or six years. I got sent over to Geneva to develop the first multiplex in Switzerland for Village Roadshow, so I did that, and then when I got back I knew I wanted to move into development. That's when I got a job for [00:10:22] Dalton’s Authority as a development director, which was a really good springboard into the development industry.

Educating himself in property development rather than jumping straight into it was part of what contributed to his success. He also recommends that aspiring developers attain hands-on experience as well.

It's a funny thing, you know a lot of people jump into property development. You wouldn’t jump into a surgery room and operate on someone if you didn't train as a doctor you know what I mean? So people seem to think that anyone can do it but it takes a lot of time and experience to get it right.

Back in my day, there was never really a property development course at uni, I think now there may be. There was always project management courses and they were even quite known back then - I'm talking 20-25 years ago. People come into the industry from many different avenues, there’s architects that become developers, there's quantity surveyors, there’s builders, there's all types of people that enter the field and everyone has their own journey and experience. Probably the easiest thing to do is get a job with a developer and learn project management skills, start off as a junior assistant project manager and work your way up to development manager. That's what I would recommend. Even when I was doing architecture or working as a young project manager at Village Roadshow, I was always buying apartments and houses and renovating them, I always did that on the side. So you sharpen your skills bit by bit, sort of outside of the workforce as well.

Beginning his property development journey, Ciarma worked for various companies before entering into partnerships with them.

Prior to Urban DC, which I started about five years ago, I was in partnership in a company called Urban Inc. So we had that for about seven or eight years and that was in my own right with another partner, we did lots of projects there as well. Prior to that, what really gave me a head start as I entered into a partnership with a well-known developer at the time Murray Schwartz, who invited me in as a partner in a company called Pan Urban. That was probably about 20 years ago actually when I was managing director of Pan Urban and then became a partner there and that was a really good intro into property development as I had an older mentor that taught me the ropes and helped me sharpen my skills and I moved on from there. So I have been doing it for about 20 years, but in different phases of partnerships with people.

So what's been the difference between partnerships compared to say running your own property development company?

You don't have to check with your partner with the decisions you're making - ‘Are you happy with that?’ With each partner you’re equal, you're always checking with each other and you're pretty much always on the same page, but you run your own race. Sometimes you need partners as sometimes you may not have the overall rounded experience, you might be stronger in one aspect of development and your partner might be better in another.

I mean there's lots of people that come together where someone might have great financing skills, knows how to arrange capital or raise capital, then you might get into partnership with someone that understands construction and has a building background and those two complement each other. So it just depends and I tend to have a well-rounded balance of experience amongst all facets of the industry, so I’m OK to go it alone. One minute you've got your design on marking up plans, then next minute you’re looking at a feasibility, trying to work out cash flow and an internal rate of return and the next minute you're talking to the lawyer about an agreement, next minute you're talking to a builder about construction techniques and types of materials. You need to know a little bit about everything.

When starting out at Urban DC, Ciarma’s target market was similar to that of Urban Inc.

Prior to that in Urban Inc, we targeted the investment market and it was probably a function of the timing of that market, the investment market was very strong. The Urban Inc model was to develop smaller, investment-driven apartments that were delivered to the market at an affordable price point but dressed up to look really good - the design was always important to us, so our buildings looked spectacular and always built well. And that was our market, we used to sell through investment groups and some were off-shore sales as well.

When I started Urban Inc, I really focused on doing smaller boutique buildings that were targeted towards the owner-occupiers and more higher-end buildings and that's what every building that I've done so far within Urban DC is within those parameters. I just get more pleasure out of designing a large three bedroom or a large two-bedroom apartment that has really nice spacious rooms. Better finishes, better environments for people living in rather than targeting the smaller apartments for the young students. So that's the Urban DC model - owner-occupier product, on infill sites in established suburbs.

And because the market now is changing towards that, I mean I've been speaking to a few developers recently and they're saying that with the baby boomer population starting to move on to retirement, they're obviously still owner-occupiers and want something a bit different in the market. Is that what’s driven it?

There's no doubt that the market segment is stronger and there's no doubt that the investment market has become weaker and not as strong as it used to be, so that's one driver. But I think that market's always been there. When I was with Pan Urban, we developed 401 Sanctuary Road which was very high end, it was one of the first wave of owner-occupier buildings and at the time there was several being built in about 2007. That was the first way - the very first was the Melbournian, which was in the property cycle before that and in 2007, there was Lucien's 1 Claravan Street in the centre, there were a few projects that were targeting those owner-occupiers. I think that was probably the first time that all the baby boomers really started that journey of downsizing.

"A lot of people jump into property development. You wouldn’t jump into a surgery room and operate on someone if you didn't train as a doctor."
-Danny Ciarma

It’s clear that times are changing, with the great Australian dream of owning your own home evolving into low maintenance, minimalist apartment living.

Since then, I think it's always been there and I think what's happened is the population growth. In fact the immigrants come in, Asian students, and just population growth in general has created a demand for investment-driven stocks, so a lot of the developers focused on that. But even during that period of time I still think there was a demand for unoccupied stock and I think that's going to continue. I think that's an upward trend, particularly as the younger generations come through, the baby boomers are the first cab off the rank that sort of experience this [00:19:34] apartment living. The likes of you and me and then generations before us, it just becomes more commonplace that I'll sell my house and move into an apartment. So I think that the market's going to get stronger.

Although for the most part, things have turned out well with Ciarma’s property journey, he does have some regrets...

My biggest regret is selling some of the properties that I have, I sold off properties along the way. I look back now and I know they've tripled in value and at the time, I probably could have held onto them but I just thought, ‘It's run its race, I'll sell it and move on.’ So my regret is actually selling and not holding but I guess as time goes on, you sort of realise sometimes you need to retire some debt, free up some capital in order to move into something else, which was what I did.

When he initially got into property, he would take his partner on dates to auctions and open inspections in order to find an affordable investment.

Funny story, my wife likes hearing this story and she reminds me about it a lot. When I was about 26, in 1998, I always wanted to buy property. I just started working and never really had much money. I read a book called Building Wealth Through Investment Property by Jan Somers and that was a life-changing book for me, I loved that book, I’ve still got it in my bookcase and always refer to it. Some of the things in that book were about buying multiple properties, sitting on them and watching them go up in value, then drawing against them and all of that. So I wanted to do that but I just didn't have the money and I was only a couple of years into a lowly paid graduate architect's job, barely had money to pay for the car and the rent every week. At the time, I started going out with my wife, Michelle. I recall taking her out to auctions and open inspections on weekends.

Sounds like a very fun date!

I just can't believe she put up with it, I'm so sorry! Anyway, eventually, I found a great little one-bedroom apartment in South Yarra, brown brick building, Punt Road noisy streets. That was probably the cheaper range of what I could afford and I purchased it. Back then there were like any number of one-bedroom apartments around South Yarra that ran between $99 000 and $100 000 and that was at the time when Rams and Aussie Home Loans were lending 95% on your mortgages.

So I found one and it was $95 000, I needed $9 500 to complete the transaction. Problem was I only had $4 000 in the bank, so I sheepishly asked Michelle, my girlfriend, at the time, for a loan and without wishing she might be $2 000 and then I drew out cash from my credit card for the balance, scraped it all together and got the $9 500 and solved the property problem. I was getting paid on a monthly basis and had three weeks to go before my next paycheck, so I had to go and get a personal loan for $5 000 - I don't know if I can do it now, but back then I approached the process those lines. Pretty quickly I got a $5 000 loan, paid back Michelle within two to three weeks and lived off the rest from my paycheck and slowly paid off my loan and the credit card. So that's how I got into property.

From there, Ciarma’s buy and sell strategy continued as he sold that apartment and moved on to purchase another, where he would live.

The good thing back then was those apartments were returning 7% yield and interest rates were 7%, so it was cash flow neutral. I rented it out for a year, got on top of things a bit more financially and was able to move in. And I spent about $5 000 on light floorboards myself and painted the walls, then a couple of years after that we needed to sell.

As I mentioned before, we moved on to bigger apartments, then bought a little house and needed to sell and probably two to three years later I sold for $178 000, so I made $17 000 clear. That was an amazing feeling, to turn over a property and end up with $17 000 in the bank. So that left a big impact on me and thought a lot more, ‘I want to keep doing this.’ So it's been stepping stones along the way. Not long after Michelle bought a property, a two-bedroom apartment in Parramatta which we live in. When we got married, she paid $150 000 for that and when we sold it about four years later for $350,000. We sold as we went in order to cash up to buy our modest first home.

I look back now and go, ‘Oh geez, why? If we had held those properties, they’d be worth a lot more.’ But at the time, you feel as if you don't want to take on too much debt, like you need to free it up and then convert it into different properties as you get them.

A life-changing a-ha moment for Ciarma occurred while at university when he discovered the economics behind the property.

There was one moment that I can recall which is more about property development. When I was at uni in my architecture course, we were in a class called Feasibility Studies and it was at the time when I really loved the design, the built form, architecture - didn’t really know what I wanted to be a developer as such, it was more about being an architect. The lecturer put on the board feasibility where he explained to us how you can calculate the gross area of a building and apply a building rate against that. You work out an efficiency, then you apply a sales rate against the saleable area, then you build up feasibility and you work out a profit.

That was an a-ha moment for me because what that taught me was how to monetise my love for the built form, so it was the economics behind property. That was the moment, the crossroads where I knew - ‘Oh, I get it now. This is how you make money out of the property,’ because prior to that, it was all about how do you create a beautiful building, what do human beings want, what do they need, the built environment, the built form, all about that. Then all of a sudden it was like, ‘This is the economics behind it.’

Start within your means and build it up. What people need to understand is that if you buy one little house or a little apartment, as time goes on and stuff you keep rising - which over time I believe they do - and you end up with free equity in there. That allows you to free that up and buy something bigger.

No Magic Bullets - How To Lower Your Expectations and Win at Monopoly with Danny Ciarma

So what held him back from beginning to build his Monopoly empire as a property investor and developer?

I always had faith in the investment vehicle, I always had faith in property. But in terms of actually getting into it, the barrier to entry was money. Back then it wasn't so much that what you're learning every time, I'm still learning today and I never felt like I didn't have the know-how. That was juster, ‘How do I buy my first apartment so I can renovate it?’ or ‘How do I find that first house?’ ‘Could I knock it down?’ So I was always about that, I was scrambling around trying to find the capital.

So yeah that was probably the main thing that held me back. It was never a lack of knowledge, it was never the fear of not wanting to do it or the fear of failing. It was always just having the capital to do it.

This is a common issue with many aspiring property investors. Ciarma says that to overcome this, you need to start small.

People have high expectations today, I think the only way to overcome it is to not strive to have the luxury home in Rose Bay for your first house or whatever it is - you need to start small and build it up. There's no ‘get rich quick’ schemes, there's no magic bullet so to speak, it's hard work. And people say, ‘Oh we need to time the market,’ it's not timing the market it's a time in the market. Sometimes you have to sacrifice where you would like to live and the type of house you'd like to live in, you might have to move out of town out of the city to a cheaper location, build and buy a cheaper property that may need some work. I was always lucky because I was always able to turn my hand to renovating, not everyone is like that. I always found the unpolished diamond or the ugly duckling in the street, that was cheaper than all the other buildings and I was able to value it.

So the only way I can suggest is that you just have to start within your means and build it up. What people need to understand is that if you buy one little house or a little apartment, as time goes on and stuff you keep rising - which over time I believe they do - and you end up with free equity in there. That allows you to free that up and buy something bigger and then as time goes on, you end up with more free equity and then you just move on. That's how you do it.

Some resources which helped him in his journey included books by Jan Somers and Hernando de Soto, which focus on both mindset and strategy.

At the time when I read Jan Somers’ book, I'd read heaps of books, so it really is about mindset and I'm very proud of my library, I’ve got just about every book that's been written out there about wealth and strategies and mindsets, Think and Grow Rich and all those types of books. I don't believe that every strategy in every book is right, or that you should just follow every strategy but it's just building up a compendium in your mind and building up that mindset. It's just constantly thinking about it and getting confident in knowing. By reading so many books, if you're well-read you're generally good at something. It's by reading so many of those books you start to think like that.

I mentioned Jan Somers’ book that was about strategy and ideas, but the other thing about that because it sets the scene on society where you sit today and what's in store for you if you’re working a 9 to 5 job - what are you going to have when you retire? You're not going to have much except to protect the pension to look forward to right now. And that really set the scene and was really profound for me. It explains really well the reasons why you need to build wealth and property investment is wonderful to achieve that.

There's one book which I love called The Mystery of Capital by Hernando de Soto. That was a great book because what it talks about was the mysterious capital, why are some countries wealthy and others not and why do countries like Africa that have so much wealth under the ground within the land, why are they poor whereas other countries are wealthy? And there's a lot of things spoken about in this book, but one of the overriding things that I took away from it was the legal system, the British Western world legal system that allows people to unlock the value of their land by way of the titling system. [00:15:19] I read lots of books that have different angles on capital, property and thinking rich. There's another one called Your Money Your Life, transforming your relationship with money and achieving financial independence. So there's a whole range of books like that that takes you into the mindset to think like a millionaire. [00:15:59] There's another one, The Richest Man in Babylon, that's a fabulous book. It's all about putting aside your savings.

"You need to start small and build it up. There's no ‘get rich quick’ schemes, there's no magic bullet so to speak, it's hard work."
-Danny Ciarma

To condition his mindset, Ciarma socialises with those who have his same love of property.

You tend to hang around like-minded people. My mentors are my peers and some are older and more experienced, some are younger and more energetic. It's like anything - you're interested in classic cars, you hang around people who have classic cars. You're interested in being healthy and sporty you hang around gymnasiums and talk to people about fitness. So throughout my career, all my friends are in the same industry. I've got friends outside of the industry, but my colleagues and close friends that I deal with every day are in the industry. You're always swapping nights, you're always bouncing off each other. And some of them are older and have walked the walk long before you did and they share their experiences.

In terms of Ciarma’s strategy for creating high-end property developments, the first thing he believes developers need to consider is the most suitable locations.

It's really just understanding the right locations and then that's slowly changing as this type of owner-occupied product becomes more and more prevalent. But if you develop a three-bedroom apartment, let's say it's 140 square metres and I'm talking sort of Melbourne terms. Now Sydney it's different again, that could be anywhere between 10,000 square metres and a 15,000 square metres, in Sydney it could be 15 to 30 depending on where you are, so that's quite a big price point. If you're talking Melbourne for instance, you can't expect to go to a suburb where the median house price is $700,000-$800,000 and build a three-bedroom apartment where you have to get at least 9-10 square metres and make it stick up, therefore selling it for $1.3-$1.4 million. It's just not going to work because it's all about price parity. That's why you find occupier apartments tend to spring up in the more affluent blue-chip type suburbs where the price parity is such that the downsize might have a house worth $3 million. They can sell that and afford an apartment for $1.5 or $1.6 million, or whatever to make it and that changes depending on the suburb.

The suburb has a median price, so if you're in Point Piper and with amazing views, whatever it is $5 million or $10 million, but whatever the median is they'll go to more expensive apartments and that all distills down to the land price because that's the economics of it. So first and foremost you need to find the right suburbs and the right locations, that have a catchment of downsizes, that have the ability to sell their home and move into that location or move within that location because most people want to be close by. They don't want to move too far from where they live and raise their children. So that's number one and obviously all the other things that go with it, it's choosing the right apartment design, the right floor plan and the right look for the building, the amenities within the apartment, the appliances, the finishes, all of that.

As to calculating the cost of the finished product of an apartment, he says it’s all market-driven.

You talk to several agents or one or two trusted agents and you get a feel for what that market is and when you're in the groove, you sort of know when the market is rising. It's always inching up and you say, ‘Oh there’s a project down the road by that developer, 12,000 a metre is not really that amazing.’ Then two months go by, I guess around the corner they're getting 13,000 and you sort of get a feel for the market. Sometimes when it's been pushed too much, you talk to agents and you get an average of what they're saying. You put it into free zone and then hopefully you get more. By the time you're ready to sell because you've spent it up in news, you know the product is a nice product and you've done a beautiful design, the location is good and hopefully, the market accepts that and sees what you see and you get it up there.

It's not a function of this is my costs, so, therefore, I had a 20% margin on it and this is what I need to get. That's what happens sometimes, some developers do that but I think you've got to start from the values and know what the market is and then work backward attitude and work it in such a way where you hope to get a margin.

So how would Ciarma handle a situation where he’s not able to sell when the market turns?

I've never been in a situation like that, but it happens and there have been many many instances that I know of where sites have come back onto the market. It's stalled, developers have made assessments, more often than not it's not the market that's turned it's they’ve made the wrong assumptions. They bought a site where they know it was 10,000 square metres every day of the week and they probably thought that they could get 12,000, then they've gone through the whole planning process, they've spent a heap of money on it, on the marketing, the whole thing. And then they get the urge to say, ‘No we can't get it 12, it's 10,’ or ‘We might push to 11 but that's as far as we can go.’ The approach doesn't stack up and in a lot of those instances, you see those sites hit the market again.

Now sometimes it's because the market's risen - a lot of the developers are trying to cash in and you know, what should I go through all the pain and risk of developing when I can make a nice little profit, but just somewhere in the land? That happens, but that's not always the case. Sometimes solving it because they can't make it work and the agents are thrown ridiculous prices on the line because they're trying to recoup all of what they pay, plus the stamp duty, plus their interest, plus their planning cost, marketing cost; they're trying to recoup all that back end load it onto the land price and it doesn't stack up. You look at it and you just know a ridiculous price is not going to close.

Looking at the future of property development in Australia, Ciarma envisions an emulation of the Big Apple.

I do think that we will become more and more like New York. I develop in both Melbourne and Sydney and I feel Melbourne seems to be more ahead of the curve than Sydney in terms of creating product and design. It's not an argument of who's better, I just feel Melbourne is a tougher market and I just feel like it's ahead of the curve. Within Australia, the eastern seaboard will become more and more like New York in terms of service-related type buildings: a mixture of hotel rooms within apartment buildings, concierge service-related.

I think as time goes on that's where people are going, generally, people want more time to spend working to make the money to pay for the services or relaxing, having their ironing done for them and not having to clean up. Having someone who opens the front door when they walk in, having someone who washes their car. I just think there's going to be more of that more overlayed, not just an apartment building with a front door there's going to be services added into it. My feeling is that's where I see it happening as the market becomes more mature and sophisticated.

Along with those driving factors, he believes there’s a large market for people who want to live closer to the CBD.

It goes through cycles, the cities are getting more and more populated ever since say Melbourne for instance, postcode 3000 came about. I can't remember when that was, the early 90s where back then it was just office buildings and retail. The city was dead at night, come at six o'clock or seven o'clock it was like a ghost town. The council turned that around and there just became more development in the city - and have a look at it! It's booming, so it now becomes a 24/7 city. The workers go away during the day, people come home into their apartments at night, so it's 24/7 and that helps the retail and makes it more sacred and lively. I think that will continue to happen.

The demographics of this target market is also part of the reason why Ciarma continues to develop in areas close to the cities.

People in the suburbs always take the distance to the CBD and the good ones are always sort of closer and accessible. Generally, the people who have money to buy those apartments work in the city or close to it, generally have the high paying jobs to be able to support that purchase or are semi-retired anyway, or fully retired but still want to be close by.

I mean all the nice suburbs are close to the city, you get the odd ones that are further out and you get those pockets. But generally speaking, it's like a shock-wave effect. What's more valuable is your suburb as it goes out. So I think it's just a function of that, it's not about me wanting to be in the CBD or developing parts of the city where they’re just choosing the suburbs that I sold after that have the demographic; they just tend to be near the CBD.

Ciarma attributes his success to training and educating himself to know every element of the developing process.

I would say my biggest trait is that I'm relentless. It sounds a bit OCD, but I make sure that by the end of every day there's not one email that's come into my inbox that I haven't either actioned or read and understood. I can't sleep at night knowing that I get bombarded by all these emails and I can't sleep at night knowing that I haven't read them, or there's something urgent that needed auctioning and I haven't done it.

So I always clean up my inbox - and I was like that in the early days when we didn't have email. I used to always make sure my in-tray was empty before I left the office and I used to see other project managers around me, I would just be floundering! You'd see their inbox just overflowing and they weren't performing and they were just getting called down. So what I do is I play the day, I'm sure there's always a little bit of unfinished business, but I clear the day and what that allows me to do is jump on the front foot the next day and start chasing people up on emails I sent the day before, or auctioning new items. So it allows you to move forward. If you don't do that, you just get clogged up and you won't get results; you start spinning around and doing doughnuts. That's probably my trait.

So if he met himself from ten years ago, what would he say?

Given all I was developing say ten years ago, it was hard, I was still trying; it's hitting the ground running. I would just say, ‘Just hang in there and keep going. All these difficulties you're finding on your projects, you’ll get through them and you’ll learn from them and get stronger.’ You know, just keep going and don't sell.

For the next five years, Ciarma is excited to continue doing what he’s doing and seeing where his property journey leads him.

I love the process, I love seeing the finished product. I'm always excited about that next site, what's the next site going to do? What's that next building going to look like? What I really love doing is identifying a site and working out what's the right product to put on it, coming up with an apartment plan, a spec colour scheme, working together with the architect and then being satisfied with it. But what I really love seeing is when purchasers come to the display suite at the sales stage and fall in love with that vision. That's what's priceless when you create something from your mind, you put it all on paper and purchasers come along and absolutely fall in love with that vision. That's what I enjoy.

To connect with Danny Ciarma or find out more about his development projects at Urban DC, you can check out his website.

I’ve got the urbandc.com.au website, you can check that out and keep up with what I've got going. You can subscribe and keep updated from time to time as to what I'm up to.

This episode was produced by Alex Cooper with narrations and interviews conducted by Tyrone Shum.

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