Joining us in today’s Property Investory podcast is a property educator and founder of the D.G. Institute, Dominique Grubisa. Working not only as a practising lawyer with an asset credit licence and migration licence under her belt but Grubisa also works as a professional investor and developer and helps to plan and obtain wealth through low-risk small developments.
In this episode, we’ll be taking it right back to the beginning as we discuss Grubisa’s journey as a Law Student, her dedication to becoming a barrister and how a spontaneous apartment purchase kick-started her property investing career. Following this, Grubisa will share more into the investing ups and downs she experienced, specifically during the global financial crisis. She’ll also go into detail on how she moved forward from her rock bottom moment and how she’s utilising the D.G. Institute to prevent others from making the same property investing and developing mistakes on their property journey.
With a number of qualifications up her sleeve, Grubisa explains what she practices and her position in the property world…
I am a practising lawyer as well as an asset credit licence holder and I have got a migration agent licence but at the coalface.
I am a property investor and developer.
Grubisa continues that for the most part, her day consists of assisting others on their property journey, or running her company the D.G. Institute…
Most of the things that I do relate to educating and empowering others around the property. I formed the D.G. Institute which is a vision that I had to be a one-stop-shop for property people so that they could get all the professional services that they needed as well as the knowledge and education to do things better and keep raising the bar so that involved me flying around the country educating at live events as well as online and running a team of professionals to meet everybody’s property needs.
Despite having only recently founded her institute, Grubisa explains that she had already been educating people about the property for numerous years…
The DG Institute was only founded two years ago but I have personally been educating and in the property space since 2009 and it's just that I finally got all my ducks in a row with the vision that I wanted to go it alone and that happened two years ago.
Before I was just more a one-man-band, just teaching my methods. But I did that through other platforms, so promoters and other marketing channels and multi-speaker events and that sort of thing but it didn't give me much scope to do what I wanted to do I was just almost a gun for hire who turned up to delivered. Whereas I've been able to now grow into a bigger vision.
Growing up in the North Shore of Sydney, Grubisa completed her secondary and tertiary education there.
I grew up in Sydney. So the North Shore of Sydney and I went to a good Catholic girl school, Monte Sant’Angelo in North Sydney and have always just stayed very close to home. So I went to uni - Sydney Uni in Sydney - I studied law, I went back and did a Masters of Law and I became a solicitor in 1994 and 1996 I went to the bar not to get drunk.
I always lived and worked in Sydney.
Despite this achievement, however, she explains that her choice to study law was actually secondary to her original career dreams...
I actually didn't ever have any passion to be a lawyer. I naturally did quite well at school and the HSC, but straight out of school I auditioned for NIDA National Institute of Dramatic Arts because I really, really wanted to be an actress. But they knocked me back and so I was bitter and twisted that I couldn't have my A-dream. So then I just went and studied law because of a show on telly at the time called L.A. Law and they swarmed around in little suits and I thought well it’s not acting but it's kind of like acting you do a performance as a judge or jury. They listen. And I just thought that that was something that I would like and I didn't actually like it so much - the studying part of the law. But when I got through it at the end I'd like the practising of law and the reality of it. I’ve never been a big one for formal education.
Regardless of her dislike for studying Law, Grubisa went on to complete her degree, taking a gap year in between her studies…
I actually had a gap year off in between law. So you did three years. That was Arts Law - so part of your law degree went to an arts degree and I did subjects in that, that I thought might be good like archaeology.
But then I thought it would be like Raiders of the Lost Ark but it wasn't, it was just the old Greek pots and trying to date them and things like that. So I just really hated all of that. So I liked and I still like acting and drama and that sort of thing so I took and did an honours year in English literature but it just had to do a thesis and you could do that remotely so I travelled. I went to Europe and backpacked for a year between the arts degree and the law degree cause then I did another two years in a different campus and that was pure law. My law degree actually took six years when it should have taken five.
It was after graduating and completing her degree that she went straight into the workforce..
I got a job as a solicitor, the L.A. Law thing didn't pan out. I thought that I could get a litigation job but none of the big firms that do litigation wanted to hire me. So I just ended up taking a job with a solicitor like in a backroom at Chatswood doing the soul-destroying work of debt collection on repossessed motor vehicles. So all I did day in day out was just bankrupt people. So at the end of two years, I just had to slap myself about the face and say “What are you doing?”. And I also wanted to pay back everyone who I thought had been mean to me by not letting me you know to be the litigator I wanted to be. So I just thought well bugger you all, I'm just going to do it anyway. So I just went straight to the bar which is probably a no-no in the system, you kind of have to do your time as a solicitor for at least 10-15 years, get contacts, get experience and the journey to the bar should be something that you graduate to when you're older and you're financially sound because you don't make money in your first year and you need to have a whole network of contacts of people to give you the work so you should have a stable of solicitors that you've built up along the way with all your experience behind you. But I just went and did it anyway with nothing.
Could you firstly for listeners who don't know what bar is, explain is that an acronym for something in the legal industry?
Yes. So they when you’re a barrister they call it the bar. So yeah the New South Wales Bar Association is the body that controls or that regulates barristers.
She explains the interesting process she went through in order to become a Barrister and how she was able to become successful through persistence…
I did really well at that in a relatively short period of time. I was just, I think I like better doing something I love and being able to be my own boss and do it on my own. I probably didn't work well as a square peg in a round hole in employment for those two years as a solicitor but as a barrister, I could just start with a blank canvas and I was just very, very focused on being the best I could be and because I had no work because no one would believe me, I used to wear my robe every day because they actually cost ten thousand dollars. It was all that I had in the world to become a barrister. When I graduated Law the Law Society gave us a Gold Mastercard and it had a ten thousand dollar credit limit on it and that was MasterCard's just said, “You'll be rich one day as a lawyer, so here's some credit. Knock yourself out”. So I went and whacked all the robes and the gear on that card. So the wig is horsehair and the robes are silk and I looked the part so I used to put on my drag every day and I'd go up to the Supreme Court and I'd just swan around the corridors. I had this theory that people would give me work if I looked the part because I thought that they’d just think well she’s here every day, suited and booted, she must be good and it never happened. So with the time I had on my hands every day in the early years, I just sat at the back of the courtrooms and watched the really good guys at their craft like the top senior counsel and I just learned by osmosis, I just soaked it all up and just when I was watching 18 hour days, I'd work for free if they'd throw me a bone, just to prove myself to be able to get them under on the board. So just through sheer tenacity and blood, sweat and tears I was able to claw my way to the top of my game at the bar.
It was after a number of rules and laws that put Grubisa out of her specialised job as a barrister that she suddenly decided to pursue a new type of career instead.
So I did that until the late 90s and early 2000s. What happened the catalyst for me to change there, was actually thrust upon me and they changed the area of law that I had developed into, they changed the rules and the laws in New South Wales so that it became a statutory regime. So basically what they said is we don't need barristers to fight these sort of cases, let's just codify it all in a set of laws and that can be the written law. There'll be no litigation around this. Lawyers can just make reference to the statutes and that can be the end of it so it meant that a whole lot of barristers were out of work and they all immediately went to other areas and tried to specialize because you’re much better if you specialize. I always say focus which means follow one course until successful. So I just focused and focused on one here or there to be a specialist and get to the top of my game there, it's like a magnifying glass if you hold it really still over one thing you want the rays of the sun will convert and start a fire. Most people wonder willy nilly around looking for the next tiny thing and they don't succeed. So what had happened was where all my focus had come to nothing and I could either go back and grow my expertise in another area of law or I could reinvent myself. And I chose the latter. I just couldn't have the whole journey all over again in law.
It was at this point that Grubisa took a leap into the investing world mistakenly purchasing an investment property.
After that, on the side, I’d been doing property as well as law just as a property investor. So once when you focus, things happen. I started to make money, my accountant said you need to negatively gear. So I just went and bought a little studio apartment and I bought it at as an investment and I just fluked it. I bought it, it was near where my chambers were as a barrister in the CBD of Sydney and I bought this studio, first person in the door, first opened for inspection, I'm a very Fire Ready Aim type person and the agent had done the usual thing of getting a whole lot of people together and showing us all in one inspection. It was so small it was like about 10 square metres or something ridiculous and we were all squashed in but all I saw was views, I could see like that little spot of blue in the distance and I got excited and was like I just have to have it, so I just got immediately emotional so I ran over to the agent cause I panicked because I thought everyone in there was going to make an offer and so I said how much. And he said well they're looking for about $160 000, and I said done here’s the check, $16 000, a 10 per cent deposit, I'll sign an unconditional contract, get everyone out of my apartment. And so I then went to my conveyancing solicitor and when he looked at it he said right and I changed my mind getting emotional. I just thought I'm going to live here. This is my home now, I'm going to live in my little studio right near work. I’m moving out from Mums and Dads. And so I’d been to IKEA on the way to the solicitors, and I picked out my bookcase and my bed and everything and then the solicitor said, “Right, so you’re a barrister are you?”.
And I said, “Yeah that's right”. He said did you actually read this contract before you signed it. I said no and he said “Right, well you wanted to live here, I don’t think that’ll happen if you read the contract, it comes with a lease in it and there’s a tenant in there and they're there for two years,” I said, “Oh that's okay, look it was really meant to be an investment and it’s negatively geared” and he said, “Well there's your second problem, you paid $160 000 and it's rented out on a two-year lease for two hundred and ninety-five dollars a week”. So it was actually a bit positive and I was happy to make that mistake on my first ever property deal and it just hooked me on property. And when I went back to that agent and I just said, “Hi, I don't know if you remember me when I bought that one”. He said, “Oh how could I forget you ever, I’ve never had anywhere, the first person in the door, and offer within five minutes for the asking price, unconditional contract and you're a barrister like I thought you guys were smart and with properly you can actually offer less”. And I was like well I would have paid more and he said no good on you, you got me on the spot. It was a divorce situation. It was priced to sell and they had met the market to move it and you put your money where your mouth is and I love that. So I thought I had a little epiphany about buying under market distressed properties and because of my knowledge of law and the legal system, I knew when people had to meet the market like that and I know it's the holy grail of property and it's like looking for a needle in a haystack but that's what I did. I applied my focus to just looking for those under market deals and that was my little formula and I did that.
But on the side all through my 20s just doing property deals and when I reached, well I’m just pushing 30 but I moved to the next level and I bought a Mirvac one off the plan, and when I had to segue way out of law, I sold the Mirvac property and did really, really well, like I just made a million dollars from buying well off the plan and I did it with a deposit bond. So that's what I thought that's part of the reason I didn't go back out to specialising in a different area of law. I thought wow I did that on my side without any focus what if I really focused on the property? So then I just turned to full-time property.
Thinking back to her childhood, Grubisa shares that despite her parent's interest in the property, her own interest wasn’t sparked until her property journey began…
I think you know they say when the student is ready the teacher appears. My parents were always digging in property but I was never interested.
So every Christmas my father would give me you know think and grow rich or Robert Kiyosaki which Dad poured out and he'd write things you know little inscriptions at the start of the book and I would just think why are you wasting your time I'm just not interested in this. I remember that they tried to get me in off the plank when I was earning money I might say you know to come and look at this we know the agent you can buy one better it year the market is going up and I was just like why would I spend three hundred thousand dollars that's so much money so I definitely wasn't interested. From my parent's persuasion, I was almost the opposite way where I resisted and it was just having that initial success on that divorce property. And I just that was without my parent's help. It was almost in defiance of them now not five of the plans but I do it myself and I'm going to buy it in Sydney cause the I that never go Sabih day.
And so than when at work I think I caught the bug myself and then I just sought out other mentors and my own books to reach. So yeah probably not because of my parents. Probably to spite my parents I didn't.
While she’s had many successful property investments, Grubisa has had her fair share of worst investing moments...
I probably have made every mistake in the book and made it in a big way and I think it's because I'm a fire, ready, aim person. But one thing that happened was I had a client who was doing well in property development. So he was buying out in Kellyville which was sort of a greenfield area in Sydney at the time so it was all farmlands, and they had rezoned that and people were subdividing. And I did the legal work for him on that site and then I was interested in how he did it because I saw the profits he made so I asked him to connect me with the agent who sold him the land. So I just said to the agent, “If anything comes up like that again or you can get me in on anything like you did with this guy, can you let me know?’” And he was like yeah and then a few days later he rang me and he said look I might have an opportunity for you, I'll get this guy to ring you. So this guy rang me and anyway when we talked it turned out he was selling like an off the plan at Ballina and I said, “Oh no sorry there must be some confusion, I was wanting to develop and I was looking for land.”
And he said, “Oh well you know I'm a friend of Danny’s and I just thought he said you were up for any opportunity - this is a big opportunity.” And I tried to push him away but he was like, “Oh I’ve booked my flight to Sydney and I've hired a car so I'm going to come out to see you,” and I just said, “No I really don't want to,” and he’s like “No, no, no it’s fine like the least you could do is give me a cup of tea, it's already settled now,” Anyway I just thought oh fine I’ll give this guy a cup of tea and get rid of him. Long story short I bought an off the plan dual key apartment for eight hundred fifty thousand dollars at Ballina. I don't know what I was thinking I just fell for all of the sales talks and that it had fallen through, but the price had gone up and it was worth a million and the developer didn't know if they’d put it back on for a million, but because I was a friend of a friend, they’d try to get it for me at the old price of eight fifty and then you could come up and see it and we can babysit your kids and we'll take you out on a boat and you can eat prawns and I just felt so incredibly obliged that I signed on the dotted line. So that was a big mistake.
Ouch. And what happened after that?
Well, the market fell in the interim. It wasn't going to be what it had planned to be. Banks were lending on those holiday sort of rental scenarios and just fortunately for me and my legal background I was able to find a loophole on a technicality and get out of it and get my deposit back.
Yeah I was lucky with my knowledge.
However, Grubisa shares that while she had been extremely lucky throughout her property journey, there was another investing disaster that she had experienced…
I think because I had done so well and because I dodged bullets along the way, I got a false sense of security and I thought that I was invincible. And even my worst deals, I kept making some profit. So the more successful I became the more bulletproof I thought I was. And at a time when banks were just lending so easily and they were low doc and no doc loans anyone with a pulse could get credit. Banks were just throwing money at us so we were just buying and buying and buying.
I had entered the property game in an upmarket and I'd probably never look in my adult life I've never seen a recession or the bad times or anything like that so I guess I thought that property markets only ever went up and I thought the property was a licence to print money. I thought all you need to do is get the bank to convince you to get a loan and you grow a portfolio. And because banks would let us refinance, we'd renovate, we’d create extra equity and then we pull out that equity and we'd roll it into another deal so we just spread ourselves so thin that we just weren't ready when the GFC hit. And what happened to us as we had a development site and we had finance, we had everything ready to go and then the bank pulled the loan from us. And we were so dependent on lines of credit and banks and everything and we had a situation where a few things collided at once. But at the end of the day, we just had no wriggle room at all. So when you expect the unexpected they say, when a couple of unexpected things happen together it just caused a knock-on effect that just put us in a total tailspin and we lost everything.
We’re millions and millions of dollars in debt. Because I mean, leverage is great in property when it magnifies your profits, but it can also have a backfire effect and magnify your losses.
She reveals how it was after this experience that she had hit an all-time low…
At the time when it hit we were just reactionary. So it was just fought or flight adrenaline. We just had to take the kids out of private schools. We had to just do whatever had to be done, sell things really quickly. But rock bottom for me was a moment of realization when the dust had settled was that we were literally homeless and what had taken me 20 years of blood, sweat and tears to build up slowly.
I just lost in the blinking of an eye. We were living with my parents in law and we were very lucky that they would have us in, but it was also, we were in a fold-out lounge in the living room and watching Seven Brides for Seven Brothers on a Saturday night with my father in law. It was just very, very hard days and I just beat myself up. I felt like such a failure and I felt so incredibly guilty that I'd failed and I felt disgraced. So that was the lowest point.
She explains that it was with tenacity that she was able to overcome the challenges she had faced and get back on track to her property investing journey…
There's just only so long you can sit around in your mother-in-law’s lounge room, in your pyjamas, crying all day. I think I adopted a glass half full approach and that paradigm shift made me realise that okay, it is what it is, I've lost everything, but what can I do now? So it was solution-focused, rather than problem-orientated and I couldn't go back to law. I couldn't go back to the property because it was the GFC by then, so no one was lending and no one was buying. I still had faith in property because it had done so well for me so I identified the problem as my reckless behaviour and my disregard for markets and my lack of knowledge in that sense.
But what I did have in my favour was my legal knowledge and my knowledge of debt because I was actually dealing with my own debt at the coalface and I was literally trading my way through it, just treading water dealing with creditors and so I put my focus on debt law which is an area of law that few specialists with my level of knowledge ever look at, just cause there's no money in helping people in debt. So no one ever focuses on that area of law. But for me, it was self-interest obviously. And then I was looking for a way to make money without having to go back to law and without being able to do property anymore. So I started looking at Internet marketing - just probably out of desperation if I'm honest. And I started going to seminars for that and what I was focused on was okay, there's a new way of communication, there's a new way of sharing knowledge like the old way of pay for solicitors at an hourly rate with billable hours and everything that's a way of the past and the Internet is about sharing knowledge. And so I then thought well I'm going to share my knowledge on debt law because there’s a GFC going on and there's a whole lot of people in debt. So I just focused on adding value that way in a new paradigm. So I wrote books for people about levelling the playing field and from there I then had this vision that ultimately was realized of building the D.G. institute.
And how after following this process that the foundation of the Dominique Grubisa Institute was laid...
I started helping people in debt, at first just for nothing just because I could and I had the knowledge. They were in debt themselves, so they couldn't really pay for it. But I then saw opportunity just by working and being there - I saw opportunities of how banks were repossessing property and how the whole industry worked. And I realized that the system was ineffective like, that they'd never had sort of the repossessions on the market that they had after the global financial crisis and I got to be up close and personal with that. So I realized that there were other ways of transacting property apart from just going to an agent and buying at auction because I saw the aftermath of the property market with the global financial crisis. And I also put my legal knowledge into play than in property in a different way because I didn't have the money to actually go to the bank to get it. And I had a bad credit rating after things went wrong for me so my credit score meant I couldn't get a loan. So I started to channel my knowledge into things like property development where I could get properties using options without needing bank finance and I could add value to my knowledge of zoning and getting development approvals and that sort of thing and that helped me build wealth back faster. Looking at distressed properties and property development and transacting properties without needing bank finance. What took me 20 years to build up and then lose, I needed to be able to make back a lot quicker but without the money or rather the loans to do it and without having the luxury of another 20 years to do it slowly brick by brick.
With so much success and resilience this far into her journey, Grubisa delves into the pivotal aha moment that allowed her to realise how the property could change her life…
I’m refining and learning and as I grow but a real tipping point for me as I went from law into property full time. So I reached a glass ceiling in law not from being a woman but just because I couldn't work any harder and I couldn't do any more to increase my earning capacity because as lawyers, as barristers you’re self-employed. And the law is that you can't have a company, you can't have employees or just gunfire.
So you're selling yourself your skill as a litigator. It's a bit like a specialist. So just as those GP’s and specialists in medicine - and if the GP can help you then he will but if it's serious he'll refer you to a specialist - that's what solicitors are to barristers. So I was a specialist. But the heart surgeon can't say oh here's the work experience boy cause I want to go out and look at properties today, you know, it's your skill and that was the same with me. So I shackled myself to that one finite resource that everyone shares at that time. So I had the same 24 hours in the day as everyone else I was working about 18 of them because I was working so hard and like no matter how good I was, I could keep raising my hourly rate and I could raise my daily brief fee of how much people would pay to engage me, but it would always be finite because I was selling my time. And then I realised that I'd made seven figures in an off the plan property that wasn't my money, wasn’t my time, wasn’t bound to anything. And that’s when I realised that there was the possibility of exponential and unlimited potential in the property as opposed to working.
From Law to Property Development with Dominique Grubisa
Delving into how she progressed in her property investing career, Grubisa shares the details on the one million dollar deal that changed it all…
I actually had clients who wanted me as a lawyer to go in and open for inspection. So Mirvac had a site at Walsh Bay down near the Rocks in Sydney and it was an old industrial pier and they were turning it into luxury apartments and they knew they had something special because there were marina boats that the council had given them permission to have boat moorings for the more expensive apartments, and that was really really rare in Sydney. So my clients came to me and said we are VIP clients, we've been invited to the prelaunch and it was like you know lining up in the street for tickets to a Madonna concert or something, people were camping overnight to be the first in the door to buy these apartments. Mirvac’s deal was that they gave you - they opened the doors and you to be there with your lawyer on the day to sign away your rights. So in South Wales if you're buying property unconditionally you'd normally get a cooling-off period and if you're going to wait for that cooling off, your lawyer has to sign for you. So they asked me to come on a Sunday to sign for them because they said we want to buy about five of these properties because they're just so finite and special and we just need you there.
So when I got through the door it was just like a feeding frenzy and they were all the agents there and there were just red sold stickers on everything and I just thought, I've got to have one of these I got caught up in the excitement. But I didn't have the money to do it so I’d done property before but it's just that I was playing at the $200 000 level and these things started at one point two million dollars, so it's just a million short. So I thought, “How can you make this happen?”. And there was a guy that I mean I wasn't even dating him but I'd been on a first date with him the night before but I really liked him and we got on well over dinner and he just really liked property and I liked properly and I just thought well I'd just see if he’s interested so I rang him up and said, “I had a really good time last night, do you want to buy an apartment?”. So he could have thought that I was psycho and a stalker got scared away but he did say I'll come and have a look. And he got out and he had a chequebook in his hand and I just thought oh my god it’s happening so fast and anyway long story short he had a different thing in mind, I thought we'd be buying one together and that’s how we'd get the money. But he just said I don’t know about you but I’m buying my own. So he bought one and then I not to be beaten, I went to a guy selling deposit bonds so that Mirvac had organised that on the day because as a developer they were prepared to accept a deposit bond, which is like a bank guarantee or an insurer that will put up the surety for your 10 per cent deposit because I didn't have the hundred twenty thousand dollars. But I had seven thousand dollars which it cost for them to issue this bond. So when I got my foot on one apartment I asked if I could have a mooring and they said they were only for the top floor penthouses and then they just said look alright if we - the Mirvac agent said - look don't tell anyone I'm not meant to offer them to the little peasant department. So how he let me buy with another deposit bond a mooring and that cost one hundred twenty thousand dollars.
It was after purchasing the apartment, living in it for a couple of years and then selling it that her property journey really kicked off…
Then anyway this - the guy who I'd been dating - kind of had to marry me after that because we had neighbouring and when it was built in four years time we just thought it would be awkward is if things weren't amicable, so that kind of united us and we ended up we had three children under two. So like within a couple of years our lives had changed and these of the plans were going to take four years to build. So ultimately we sold his apartment, but we kept mine thinking that if we settle on this one and move in and it’s our home we want to pay capital gains tax and also it will be far more attractive because the market was just going up and up and we thought when people can actually see something tangible in their views and it's not just a hole in the ground they'll pay more. So before we even got to put it on the market, the Mirvac agent came to us and he said I've got this investor and he's very, very wealthy, he's just jetted in from Hong Kong.
He wants one of the moorings in this block and he said but the thing is the strata rule says you have to own an apartment to have the right to buy a mooring. He doesn't want an apartment, he just wants the mooring. But he gets that he has to own an apartment so he selected you because you literally have the worst apartment in the block to come with a mooring at double-digit. This is how we roll. He just is a numbers man he said I do business with him for 20 years, when he wants something he refines his numbers and he only makes one offer. So he said I’m about to make you an offer if you don't accept it this guy will be on an eight o'clock flight back to Hong Kong. And they offered us, he offered us 2.166 million. So we just jumped on it and between Kevin - my husband’s apartment - we sold that for more than two hundred and fifty thousand dollars more than he secured it for off the plan and with this other one we made over one point two million on that whole development. With the hindsight that was beginner's luck but at the time we just thought we had the Midas touch and we could do no wrong.
While this opportunity certainly propelled her forward, Grubisa explains that it wasn’t until later when she moved into property development and property options that things really took off.
I'd done it as a lawyer for other people like I’d drafted up the agreement. So I knew I had the knowhow behind it but I'd never done it for myself.
So our first development wasn’t actually an option. It was a really just a splitter block where we just got AV Jennings - just a project builder - to take it through council and put another property on the back. So it was an infill situation in like baby boomers downsize area where people, we just built for that market and we renovated the front block and sold it off. But even that little deal yielded us about $400 000 dollar profit. So we realized that okay the answer is that the bigger rewards are in property development if we can just manage the risk around it and so then and especially right now, options are in a cooling market. Options are more, it's more of a buyer's market and sellers are more open to be negotiable.
She outlines how she came across that property and what she had to do in order to make sure the project was a success…
That was blood sweat and tears that one. So it was before the Internet was as advanced as it was and that the sharing of knowledge - there weren’t as many tools available so I just got very specific about it. So I think I was talking about the property developer who was my client who did really well out at Kellyville. So I modelled myself off him and I was looking at what he was doing. He was just an area expert so I reverse engineered his process and I just chose an area and we were Northern Beaches of Sydney and so we at the time chose Wheal Heights which was a kind of less salubrious area more working-class sort of near Collaroy but not as nice and so I just really, really got to know that area. Physically, I went into the council, and of course, you can do this online these days but I physically went and pulled out the massive maps of colour-coding, looked at zonings and looked at what was zoned what and where. So the council had identified this suburb in this region in their planning as a what they call infill. So there's Greenfield’s like Kellyville - like I said it's all just farmland and they've said okay the growth corridors are moving out that way and we’re going to with our urban planning, we're going to build infrastructure out there and we'll allow smaller blocks so farms can be subdivided off. Infill means where they say well okay not everybody is going to want to live that far out. There is still a need for dwellings closer in already built-up urban areas but demographics have changed so much so that people who 50 years ago when it wasn't common to have divorced when people got married at 21 and started their own homes and their own families. Now there's a lot more demand for a lot of smaller homes. People are staying single for longer, there’s split families and it's just very normal. So what happened was they said.
So they had identified in this area that it was baby boomers that didn't want to leave the suburb but didn't need the big homes anymore. So they’d zoned certain parts. So they said from No. 35 to No. 85 Smith Street, we’ll allow subdivision. And you know, had to have certain frontage and certain land size and setbacks and so I got myself really, really familiar with the rules and the requirements and I looked at colour coding, I physically walked the streets and drove round-up and went to open inspections every Saturday and listened to what agents were saying, who was turning up, what the market was wanting and I went round to the agents and said if anything comes up for any of these numbers in these streets come up for sale or anyone wants to sell let me know. No one did, but I was driving around one Sunday because I always just I was very, very focused and there was a for sale sign outside one of the houses that I wanted. So I rang the agent because I really just spoken to him that week, like one of the agents and he said yeah sure I’ll let you know so I rang him up and said.
You know, he said oh it was a sign I put up already, I didn't know and he said yeah that's an old lady that needs to go into a home, they're wanting a quick sale so they didn't realize that it had gone up so quickly. So we were able to get that and we could move really quickly on an unconditional contract. It was a short settlement and so we negotiated that one well and then we kept her house that was there and we did a little renovation ourselves and we sold off the front block. Because we had no money and we were so risk-averse, we needed to cut down the loss so we sold off the front block and that basically paid us back, so we were debt-free on the back block and we just went out to homeworld cause we'd never done it before and the builder - well the AV Jennings - knew the council, knew the area, so they got it all approved and they built it up to lock up point. So I think we bought and these numbers are fake - but we had a two in front of it and we paid for it back in those days, we sold it for the front block for 290. So there wasn't much of a premium for a bigger block in that area for just a weird market. You didn't get much more from having an 800 square metre block then a 500 square metre block so it didn't matter so much that we cut off the backyard and then the rest was profit and we shelled the back house for 400 odd. Which meant at the end of the day when everything was put through the seven stamp duty and everything else. It was a four hundred dollars thousand profit.
Delving into the pros and cons strategy aspect of her property journey, Grubisa explains why she prefers property developing as opposed to renovating or buy and hold strategies…
If you can delegate, I find property developing actually easier and safer, because even though it sounds counterintuitive, not many people do it because it is perceived risky and you need expertise which just isn't the case and everyone piles into residential lending and flipping properties like they've seen the block and there's a lot of competition. So it's harder to buy well when you're competing with everybody else but there's not much competition in the development space. You're also not bound by APRA. So the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority controls lending and credit in our markets and how banks can lend. And right now they're really targeting residential lending. So this idea of responsible lending and banks have to be really careful who they lend to and how they lend and what that has meant is that it's really it's getting harder and harder to get a loan. They're cutting back interest-only loans. So it's like a game of musical chairs. Everyone's on interest-only loans cause they've all been speculating in a hot market but they only last for five years so as those loans fall due banks aren't going to offer interest-only again. So people will be having to pay down principal and interest but they can't afford to on the current lending criteria. So that's what we're seeing a lot more distress as people who bought and borrowed when times were good in a tougher market now can't refinance and can't pay principal and interest. And in the development space, it's a different area of lending so it's not bound by APRA, it's not residential lending it's actually what they call commercial lending. Now that's not commercial as in business. They call it commercial because they look at a property development venture as a bid as they would a business venture so they're not approving you as a borrower, they're approving your deal and the profit in it.
And the profits are so much larger than there's just more of the pie to go around, so that yeah like you said you can afford to pay more, pay money partners out, get investors on board because you're creating something that wasn't there before. It was a vacant block of land, now it’s five townhouses. Where if it's just a house that you're putting a new kitchen and bathroom in the profits are so minimal that you end up having to do a lot of the work yourself because if you're paying trades there's nothing left over. So just a bigger pie, bigger rewards means more for everyone so it's a win-win.
She also shares how much of her development projects are not limited to one particular area and can happen all across Australia…
At the moment we're involved in one in Fitzroy in Melbourne and we've got one at Newport in Sydney that were involved in and another one in Cairns in Queensland.
You're not bound by your local market and you can pay.
So we've got project managers on the ground obviously watching the day today.
But how exactly did Grubisa go from subdivisions to property development and options contracts?
I started small in the sense that I wasn't going to take on a big development and build. The first one we'd actually got project builders to do it. And what I decided we would do, and that's the beauty of development, is that every step of the way you're adding value and someone will pay more for that. So even if you secure an option on a property you can then go and get a D.A. and you can sell it to someone else who will pay you more for it because it's got a D.A. and it's the time value of money. A developer will come in and go okay great all I have to do is start building now. So even that small step will add value. You don't have to go out and build 100 apartments straight up.
Giving us an insight into the tools you can use to gather information on properties, Grubisa shares with us a success story on property options…
Now that the world's a lot savvier and the Internet's a lot more sophisticated. There are actually a lot of tools that can help you with that sort of thing especially when you're just starting out. So Core Logic, so you've probably heard of and your listeners have probably heard of RP Data. So Core Logic is an American company but they've come to Australia and they've bought up all of the data sources in Australia when it comes to property. So they pretty much own that space and they've recently bought a business called Cordelle that developers used. So it's quite niche. But with Cordell's it's not just for builders, once you know what's available and what's possible, what that will tell you is - and I look at it like a gossip, a gossipy neighbour - they've been around for 100 years and they know and they tap into council and they also look at what's happening, who's applied or inquired about development or what development are going through or what stage they're up to. Like they'll physically look and update their database and so you can know an area where for example recently from our community there was one at Lidcombe and that was a gross corridor in Sydney. What they did was and that was an old service station and so they got it on an option and they paid the one per cent option fee. So it was 10 million dollars and they paid one per cent of that so they paid $100 000, but they then went to the council and they had to do - don't get me wrong they still had to do stuff - and it costs them money on the way through.
So like you know hundreds of thousands in places like soil contamination reports and all sorts of things to do with the service station.
But at the end of the day for $350,000 they turned an abandoned service station into something completely different. It was a D.A. for 94 apartments and retail space on the bottom and they'd been working with the council. It was an infill area and the council wanted to see that in the area, so they wanted that sort of infrastructure there and what all these guys were doing was just delivered to the council and the market, what it wanted. And they were then able to use Cordell's to say okay who are the developers in Lidcombe and it will show you this guy’s just finished building 100 apartments and it's completed or this one's halfway through. And so they were able to, it's almost like a Rolodex that you'd have if you'd been in the industry for 20 years, they were able to approach them and say we've got this and this is the approval and they could buy that option off them and they made many millions of dollars just in that. So think they bought - the option was for 10 million - but they sold it to the developer. So they knew they were buying it as a service station but the developer was buying it as a D.A. approved site for 94 apartments and retail space and he paid $17 million.
She also explains how long the process took to get the D.A. approval for that particular site…
The option period was for 12 months but we also had a clause in there that said that we could extend it for another six months just in case things went wrong at the council. So they didn't pay their hundred thousand dollar option fee without knowing. So they were kind of massaging both sides so they were talking to town planners at Council about what was possible. In the meantime, they were talking to the owner. And so when they bought the auction from the owner they knew that council was on board with their idea and then they ended up doing it in 12 months. But if we needed to we could have had an extension on the option for another six months just in case.
The zoning fit though so it was compliant, it wasn't like they were having to ask for some special exception and some discretionary thing on the part of the council. But yeah they did know upfront like is this possible and with this zoning you know and all things being equal, could you do this? And the council said like yep, we'd be really happy to see that as long as there are some green areas and this. So they knew in principle it was possible.
Looking for guidance to aid her on her property investing journey, Grubisa shares that her mentors were not always the most conventional ones…
For me, a mentor may not be a physical person. It may be just a book that I'm reading. So I am a big reader and so I would read anything and everything. I'm embarrassed to tell you Tyrone but I'll tell you the truth…
Back in the early days I actually from rock bottom um I read Donald Trump’s The Art of the Comeback. It was about him being put in the Guinness Book of Records for the greatest ever financial turnaround and so I've read The Art of the Comeback and then I read The Art of the Deal, like his first book and that’s why I'm a bit embarrassed to say Donald Trump.
But like I would think in any situation like the Ballina apartment I go okay, so what would Donald Trump do now? What would he do in this situation? Just so like not that I could ring him up as a mentor or anything but I could at least leverage his knowledge and try and bottle myself off things like that. But I have had physical coaches and mindset coaches so as an educator I just had a lot of blockages. It's kind of a male world - the property education space and speaking from the stage and I wasn't good at it. So I actually had to go and get help with that. And at first just because - I don't know the lawyer in me - I'm just black or white and I thought I just need to learn to do public speaking because it's different from talking to judges and juries I just have to get someone to tell me how to do stage speaking. And that didn't really work or translate to me and then someone said I saw a guy I was waiting to go on stage at an event and there was this guy speaking and he was a mindset speaker and I was listening to him thinking oh god you’re good and I love everything you say. So I actually said to him can you teach me how to speak and he said it's not about speaking it's about what's in your head and your blockages and you're making that a self-fulfilling prophecy. So he still coaches me to this day on my mindset.
Wow, that's phenomenal. Now I'd love to know who this guy is…
You’ve probably seen him, he’s been around a long time, Paul Blackburn.
Oh yes, I know Paul, wow he’s phenomenal.
So my blockages were all - that's what he came to realise, I had a whole lot of baggage and Catholic guilt and everything about
I had massive dialogues going on in my head like while I was on stage and the lawyer in me. And I've softened up a little bit now but you can imagine Tyrone, like questions that you're asking me now like saying, “Well tell us a bit about that deal? and I'd be like, “Oh well I've got to get a non-disclosure and I can't talk about that and if I say $400 000 it was actually $405 000, is that misleading and deceptive?” and you know I had all of that baggage following me around.
With such baggage weighing her down, Grubisa shares how she was able to overcome them…
He asked me some hard questions. And yeah, it's still a work in progress, like obviously the bigger you get you know the more success you get. There's also an element of downside with that. So even more recently I've been getting more into an online space and I'm starting to want to share a lot more knowledge and doing content marketing. But the greater your reach, also you do get some detractors and I have such a soft underbelly that my husband actually forbade me to read emails after 9 o'clock because one night I read a bad email like someone wrote something just in a service business [where] a customer complained and I just took it so to heart that I'd been waking him up in the middle of the night at 2 a.m. going, “Hey hey you know how this person sent this, do you think they meant that…” So Paul did a lot of work with me and there's a real weakness where I need to be liked. And so if I need to be liked that then that means that I'm giving away some power because I can't control what people think of me. But if I'm wanting that approval or some sort of verification from others then that's a weakness because it's outside of my control. So it's been a big journey for me to even have a Facebook page and be online and embrace the digital age, which you have to do in business or you're going to die. But for me, that also means that people can write negative comments and if I don't toughen up and get a thicker skin and learn that it's okay and that not everyone has to like you and you can't please all the people all the time, then you know, I’ll never get ahead in business.
Asides from her current mentors, Grubisa explains that the best advice she had ever received actually came from someone she worked with in her earlier profession as a barrister…
If I had to pick one, it would be to - and this is something that someone told me very early on - it was that to just guard your time with your life. So one of my it was actually a barrister who said to me, “We worry so much about losing money, but when you lose the money you can get money back again. We’d be just outraged if someone stole some of our property or possessions and yet we let people steal our time every day.” And he said, “You've only got 24 hours in a day, it's yours to make the most with whatever way you can”. So, and this comes back to being liked again and...
He said the number of people who just don't say no to things and I read a quote Warren Buffet said a measure of success. Successful people often say no to things more than ordinary people so just learning to just be that focus, that you can have the guts to say no sorry that doesn't suit so that your days not reactionary.
On a more personal note, Grubisa reflects on the personal habit that she believes has contributed to her success…
I would often let the day invade my time and I’d kind of start my day on the back foot because the first thing I do - I always have good intentions to do something like I'm going to exercise.
I'm going to set the alarm clock at night after you had eaten a meal and had a glass of wine and you're feeling good but you're feeling a bit guilty, I’d think, right this is it. Tomorrow I’m up at five and I'm going to the gym or whatever and I’d just set my alarm clock at five and five would come on and I would just hit snooze. And it was just so easy to go, “Do I feel like it? Nah I just really don't feel like it.” And then when I did wake up later on the first thing I do is reach my phone and then I'd look at emails and then I'd start answering emails and then the tail was wagging the dog because I was jumping to other people's request and demands and I would just sort of fall through the day without any real plan. So I've got this thing now where my alarm goes off at 5:00 am every morning and I don't know if you've heard of Mel Robbins - but before my brain can even say, “Do I feel like going for a swim?”, like of course I don't feel like going for a swim at 5 o'clock but before that dialogue even kicks off in my head I just go five, four, three, two one, my feet are on the ground, I'm in the car, I’m driving to the pool and then swimming for me is like meditation. So every stroke I'm just counting on my brain to just make plans I can organise my day and then I'm in charge of the day from there because I've just set out with that intention and that's sort of my catalyst, my comfort zone of how I launch my day.
With so much more success ahead of her, Grubisa thinks back to the past to reflect on what she would tell herself ten years ago…
I'd say hang in there. It gets better.
Because 10 years ago was a low point for us, 10 years ago with the GFC. You kind of don't realise it when you're in the eye of the storm. I mean 10 years ago I may have even given up because the little things, they just seemed so overwhelming. But um yeah you don't need to see the whole staircase, only the first step. So I just had to just keep putting one foot in front of the other to climb out of the hole and then new opportunities present themselves if you just keep in motion, as they say, body in motion stays in motion.
Looking ahead at the endless opportunities she has and the resources now available to her, Grubisa delves into what she is most looking forward to in the next five years, not only in regards to her property journey but to the D.G. Institute as well…
I'm loving inspiring and working with other people, so we've created and as I started getting into the digital space, a community of like-minded people all doing the same thing nationally. So partnering with each other on deals, money partners. One of our values here at D.G. Institute is to challenge the status quo.
So it's just I think, we’re living in a really, really exciting time. So one of the things we're doing, for example, is setting up a peer to peer lending platform. So it’s kind of like crowd-funding for property within our community and that's a new area of financial technology that our sector is behind at the moment.
They want Australia to be blazing a trail and it's like what Uber was for taxis and what Air BNB was for hotels, it's a disruptive change in the banking space.
With so much knowledge to share, Grubisa also goes on to tell us how she can assist you on your own property journey…
I've actually got a special gift for your listeners. So if they go to dginstitute.com.au/mwc-giftpack, what I got is three of my books. So one of them is on asset protection for their property portfolio, another one on managing debt and a final one on distressed properties. So those are the three areas that we focus on here at the D.G. institute and I've written a book around my knowledge in those areas that they can download those.
This episode was produced by Andrew Faleafaga with narrations and interviews conducted by Tyrone Shum.