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Hosted By Tyrone Shum

Why Finding Australian Real Estate From Domain Is Easy

Updated 23/01/2018

Chatting with Mark Ribarsky, head buyer’s agent of Wise Real Estate Advice, we’ll follow his journey from buying his first investment property at the age of 18, to strategising his way to produce funds for his next development project. Find out how you can easily find real estate domain and create wealth through entering the game plan for property investing!

Also, uncover the influence behind Ribarsky’s foray into property and the next stage in his development goals, ponder why we are so real estate obsessed and how you can multiply your investments, just like him!

"I just realised through watching my dad I actually had a real passion for property. He helped me purchase my first property when I was 18 and I thought, ‘Maybe this is a career that I want to get into."
-Mark Ribarsky

Ribarsky runs a successful buyers agent in Southbank Melbourne and offers a range of options for property investors.

I own a buyers agency in Southbank Melbourne, called Wise Real Estate Advice and we basically offer buyers agency services to people that are looking for buying property across Melbourne, whether it's their first home or a home to live in, investment properties and we have a whole range of different clients. We have local people that are just trying to get into the market, we've got our interstate buyers and many international buyers as well.

A few other types of services that we offer that are quite unique to our agency is basically dual occupancy type properties, where investors can come in and try to purchase properties where we do a little bit of magic in the sense of doing a project for someone. In the sense of dual occupancy, it can actually be a property that's positive gearing so that's something that's quite unique to our agency. We offer that to a number of clients, where we're able to give them that service for helping them subdivide and build. We've been operating for just over five years now and we've got a number of buyers agents that work with us as well. We also have a property management team for the properties that we purchase for people.

What does Ribarsky do in any given day?

So I spend a lot of time on the phone, as you can imagine, I speak to many real estate agents every day. There is a lot of off-market work that we do and we’re constantly getting phone calls from agents from all over Melbourne, giving us our plugs or our opportunities to purchase properties that are for sale, but not on the marketplace. I do a lot of property inspections on these properties and also have a handful of clients which I service from day to day, where I basically do a lot of inspections, private negotiations and obviously auctions and so forth. Being the owner of the business as well, I'm running a team of people and just making sure everyone is keeping busy and looking after our clients. So that's pretty much the day to day of what my job entails.

When opportunities are presented to him for his clients, there is a wide range of properties on offer which are then tailored to the client’s needs.

You probably get these in Sydney too, but in Melbourne, everybody gets these annoying little pamphlets from real estate agents saying, ‘I want to appraise your home and give you an idea of its market value.’ You'll find that larger agencies like your Barry Plants and your Ray Whites, they do many appraisals in all sorts of areas; they have wonderful databases of people that are looking to sell, or looking to sell in the near future. Agents are really good at keeping those databases and keeping track of when these properties come into the market. We get all sorts of different opportunities depending on the area. Like for example, I did one in Koeberg a few weeks ago - that was a beautiful home, a single-story, about 50 years old, renovated, heritage-listed, really great property. They gave me a call to say, ‘Hey look, we've got this one. It's off-market,’ we essentially had a buyer that matched all the criteria and we had a deal.

We did one a few months ago in the outer west of Wyndham Vale that's I guess an entry-level area, where we purchased an investment property for a buyer. And same kind of story, the agents caught us up to say, ‘Look we've got this one off-market, we've got an appraisal, they don't want to go through the advertising and auction process. Do you have any buyers?’ And luckily we had a Sydney-based investor that was looking at the time in that area and the stars aligned and we were able to purchase the property. So it really just depends on the types of buyers that we’re attracting, because our site reaches across Melbourne. It really comes down to what our customer's criteria is and we match it up with what's in the area. Quite frequently I would actually drop a few emails to a couple of agents and say, ‘Hey look, these are the buyers I have at the moment, their budget and what they're looking for. Please give me a call if there’s anything that matches up,’ and that's something that we also do, just to give our clients that extra value. 

Growing up in the eastern suburbs of Victoria and completing his education there, Ribarsky became familiar with the state where he would eventually create his buyer's agency business.

I grew up on the east side of Melbourne and if you’ve ever heard of Endeavour Hills, we basically lived out that way and I went to school in Hallam. I did my VCE and then I moved into a Bachelor of Business. So I did that at Victoria University in Melbourne.

The influence to get into real estate stemmed from his father, who was involved in property investing in the earlier years. 

My background in real estate, that really came from my father. He was a little bit of a real estate developer, so he was never afraid to knock down a house and build a unit and I'd watch him my whole life have investment properties and manage tenants and so forth. He had done quite well over the years and in my younger teen years, he was buying and selling and flipping properties quite aggressively. I just thought he was a little bit crazy at the time, I think he owned about five houses at one stage and I just thought that that's not normal and that people are supposed to own one house, not five and I always thought it was going to send us broke. But I learned through that process how the market was moving upwards in the way he was able to gain equity through the market going up, renovations and adding value to properties. It actually made quite a bit of money and I realised that was a great opportunity for building a stable future for myself and the family, moving forward. 

From there I actually moved into corporate banking, I worked for American Express after I finished university and serviced large clients where I sold them credit cards and they would pay huge Telstra bills and so forth on these cards. I just realised, through watching my dad I actually had a real passion for property. He helped me purchase my first property when I was 18 and I thought, ‘Maybe this is a career that I want to get into, real estate because I talk really well and I understand it through my experience with my dad. Maybe I should take that next step to go into school, into real estate.’ And I did, I ended up working for Ray White. I moved over after a number of years in the corporate world, did a few years there and then I did a few years in Barry Plant as well, then decided to get my licence and start my own business in the meantime through the whole process.

Once I got into real estate in my mid-20s, I had purchased a number of investment properties since because they were a lot cheaper back then than they are now. I started doing development - so over the last 10 years, I've done four different departments myself, ranging from single-unit sites to three-unit sites. We’ve knocked down a house, built three double story townhouses and that's really been my business. That's been my part-time business on top of owning a buyer's agency. I've just been developing properties for myself and for customers, obviously running a business as well and that's where I'm at right now. I've had the business for a number of years, serviced many clients and brought a great network of contacts and people that I do business with on a regular basis. 

The choice to pursue a career as a buyers agent as opposed to a developer was influenced by the availability of funds and time.

With regard to full-time development, it's a pretty slow process and your funds are locked up for quite a long time. I think you'd need quite a bit more money to be running multiple projects at any one time, to be able to do it full time. So I think it's something I considered but it's something you need a lot of funds for. With the volume of funds I have at the moment, I'm comfortably able to do one project at a time and that basically restricts you, from that perspective. 

So it would be nice but at the moment unfortunately it's something that I personally can't do, but it's something that we're working towards. I'm 37 at the moment, so I've got a few years left in me in the sense of work and hustling, so to speak.

While his parents are now retired, his father still provides a goldmine of valuable property advice.

They're retired, my dad is in his mid-70s now so he's a bit of an older man. He's got a holiday house down in St. Leonards in Melbourne, which is a beachfront suburb around the entry-level of the Port Phillip Bay and spends a lot of his time just tinkering around with tools in the shed and fishing and the simple things a 75-year-old does. So I go up there every now and then when I have a spare moment and I'll try and spend time with them in the sense of fishing and so forth. But he always gives me the advice and feedback on what I should be doing better in and so forth.

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Having used property investing to their advantage throughout their lives, they are now able to live off the equity in their retirement while also helping Ribarsky and his sister.

They've also leveraged that well into our lives as well, helping us start out and actually buy our first homes, myself and my sister. Without them, obviously there are not many 18-year-olds who can afford to buy a house. Even though it was at that time a relatively entry-level home, it still set me up for life and now all of us through that, my parents and my sister and myself, that investment attitude has given us whole life and business around that. So it's been wonderful.

It also helps majorly that we live in one of the best cities, that is absolutely real estate obsessed. Most of our TV shows are based on cooking or real estate, so essentially we all love it and it's something that we love adding value to, we love brushing up our homes and adding as much as we possibly can to it in that regard. And developments and whatever we can do to houses, I think the Melbournites really love doing that kind of stuff - same with the people in Sydney. Real estate is like the passion of many, many people.

Ribarsky invested in his first property at the age of 18 in what was considered to be a rough area. However, he didn’t let that discourage him.

We bought off the plan in the outer west of Melbourne. So just to give you an idea, there's a bit of a stigma in the western suburbs of Melbourne; there's a whole market that thinks it's a bit of a rough place and isn’t - I guess it was back in those days and everyone is quite concerned about capital growth and that you never make any money out there. But I purchased not knowing anything about real estate back then. My dad helped me buy a double story house for $187,000 as a house and land package that actually built the house. 00So dad built the house and as soon as it was finished, we put tenants in there and basically just left it. For a number of years I had a lot of people tell me that it’s never going to go up in value, never going to go anywhere because of the location and where it is and I kept that property I think it was for close to 10 years - and it almost tripled when I sold it in that timeframe.

I learned very quickly that property goes up everywhere across a good capital city like Melbourne. There is definitely a stagnated growth, it's not something as consistent as the inner suburbs, but you can definitely still make some great money out there in entry-level real estate. I mean that's a perfect example of where I had lived it and actually experienced it, regardless of public opinion. It worked really well for me.

With Ribarsky’s method of buying and selling, his portfolio is a conservative yet balanced one.

At the moment I own four properties and one of them is a development site. The development site is based in Altona, so it's a beachside suburb in the west of Melbourne and I’m also living down that way as well. And the other properties I own are basically the house I live in and the others are units, that are the leftover remnants of projects that I've done and sold off - and that's the kind of balance that I have.

Great. That's really really inspiring. And what is your game plan for your investing journey like what are you what is your why behind it and what do you want to do with that portfolio once you've built it up? 

At the end of the day, I feel as though I've done everything I want to do and I've picked up on a really good model that works and I'm just running with it - where it's going to take me I don't know, I actually don't have an end path I just know that it creates security for my family and gives us a really good direction. It's given me a lot of purpose and passion and I share that with other people, with clients that I service and that comes through in my business as well.

So I guess the ‘where to?’ is I'm kind of doing the ‘where to?’ at the moment and just running with it, enjoying what I do. I’m not my dad I guess in the sense where retirement was never an option for him, he just kept going. I don't see myself slowing down, I enjoy what I do and I love talking about it and sharing it with people. That's what kind of portrays in my work and in the clients I service.

The worst moment in his property journey came when he was still green in the developing world and wasn’t fully aware of the potential nightmare of holding costs.

The very first project that I did ever, I purchased a block of land and I wanted to do a development site with three townhouses. I had done all my figures and thought, ‘Yep, this is going to be a great investment if I build three.’ My dad was insisting that I build two on the property and have a high-quality type of property, wherein the sense of larger land for each one and each one has more of a larger townhouse rather than what I built. What I built was three double story townhouses, with three bedrooms one bathroom one car garage. But the whole process was a small nightmare in the sense of holding costs. I purchased a property and the council really took their time in getting the approval done, the neighbours had complained about the development as they weren't happy with it and we'd spent a number of months in VCAT sorting out the whole process before we even started building. Once it was all approved and done, I think something like 18 months went past of just me holding land and obviously all the costs involved in subdivision, holding and paying people to do plans and payments and so forth.

So that was quite a tough experience being a young investor, that being my first project. Then when it came to finding a builder that was quite a difficult challenge as well, as they were all very expensive and it had taken a big margin out of my original calculation. So it didn’t actually work out how I wanted it to, but thankfully the market moved up quite a bit in that timeframe and it kind of forgave any oversights that I originally had. And the grey hair that that project gave me actually gave me a lot of wisdom as well, knowledge of how to approach a project, what to expect and what a normal timeframe is when it comes to developing projects.

The lesson to be learned from this experience?

The biggest lesson is always have a strategy to fall back on when something doesn't work out the way you think it will. For example, always have a plan B - with my development there really wasn't a plan B with my first project, it was basically just go head first into it and I never even thought of the fact that what would happen if something went wrong. Every project I do now, there's always a Plan B. So I changed my strategy back then from doing multiple tenants to buying a single dwelling and putting another unit in the rear of something; that's something that is really healthy for cash flow, you can claim the property tax and if things don't work out with council taking a long period of time you've got tenants looking after the property paying the interest off anyway.

So my plan B is ultimately you can always sell a property with tenants if you lose out on the gaming planning process. I think that's with everything, that's the approach I apply to my current clients that I buy properties for. They might not think it, but I think it for them. I always think of if the market turns sour and property prices drop, how easy will this property be to sell? That's why we look for properties that have a whole bunch of things that are going for it, so if our clients do need to activate a plan B they need to sell in at that time. We've taken that step for them and essentially, they can benefit from my knowledge and my experience in grey hairs, doing projects that are quite difficult.

A moment where everything clicked into place for Ribarsky happened when he absorbed all the knowledge he needed to undertake more potential developments in the future.

As soon as I finished that first development project and I sold everything off; that wasn't a great project in the sense of profit and how we did out of it, but I had learned how to do it. I'd done three properties for myself since and each one has just been increasing in margins of profit that are pulled from the site and that a-ha moment came right after I sold it and realised, ‘Hey look, now I know what to do. I know how to do the planning process, I know how to attract the right kind of builder.’ And thankfully my wife gave me another, she just believed in me and said, ‘Look, let's just go with what you know,’ and we stuck together, we pushed forward and did more projects and they were fantastic. I would never turn back, I'm glad I took that second step in doing it again.

So what encouraged him to move forward and overcome the shortcomings of that project?

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Selling real estate when I was working for Ray White and Barry Plant, the people I've worked for in the real estate industry in general - this is why the real estate industry is such a sharp one - is generating leads fully came from me actually going out there and generating leads, my own listings. We got very little from the actual real estate office themselves so I built a number of relationships with local builders that worked to inspect homes and selling their own houses and that was my way in on real estate and how I succeeded in selling homes. And I had seen and learned from builders that were doing exactly the same thing as me, the mum and dad kind of development sites where they'd had a couple of projects going. I just learned from what worked in a sense of how big the properties were, how many bedrooms we should offer, where you should buy and how they were managing their projects. They were doing it quite successfully, pulling one off every two or three years and they had that going for 10, 15, 20 years, some of them. I thought, ‘If they can do it, I could do it as well,’ and that gave me the confidence to think that I could do the same thing, especially since I'd done it once before.

So I guess there was a learning curve in the original project of the actual physical experience, then learning from the knowledge and wisdom from other people in the industry. And while they were selling their properties in real estate, it gave me enough of a picture to move forward and do my own thing once again.

Although the purchases he makes for clients and those he makes for himself vary, for his own portfolio he prefers to invest in those where he can add value.

The model I'm doing now for myself and for clients all have different criteria. So for example, I’ll purchase 10 units sites for some clients and some of your mum and dad investors are looking for something very simple that they could just buy something and squeeze a unit in the back. It comes down to my client's needs and whatever they need is what I flex to and share my knowledge with.

But as for myself, the model I spoke about earlier was just about buying a property that you can add value to, a small renovator some 30 or 40 years old and something where you can also put a unit in the rear of it. So you're kind of generating two properties and the goal, the target has always been once you complete the rear property, try and sell the front property to just about cover all the costs that you've had with the renovation, the subdivision, the planning and hopefully some of the building as well. And that way when you sell the front one, the old renovated one the brand new property you've got, is really a low maintenance new property that is generating great rental income and has a very low level of debt. That’s the model that I'm sticking to and that's the model that has lead me to own so much in a market where properties are expensive.

Want To Become A Real Estate Developer? Mark Ribarsky Tells How

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For Ribarsky, his fears and his lack of faith in the real estate industry held him back at the start of his journey. 

I didn’t have a big belief in real estate. Even though my Dad was quite the opposite, he kind of pressured me into it. He'd help me with financing the property, selecting a builder to build the property for me, helped me find tenants and manage the property. 

So I just had that fear that the market was going to crash, pretty much the same thing as what you'd read on any newspaper site right now. It's always about how the market is booming or busting. Those fears really crippled me as a young investor. Until I had seen the capital growth in minor booms and the kind of money that was generated from my father's wealth, purely just from the market moving up you know 10%, 20%, 30% over a number of years was more money than you could ever save. 

Once you start working, you realise how hard it is just to save a thousand dollars, you realise this is a serious way to generate wealth. It was breaking through the mindset of failing and the market crash. Once I got past that, it set me free and I was able to start buying properties, developing and growing wealth.  

Initially he didn’t have a mentor - he credits magazines as the primary source of his inspiration in his early years. 

I guess in my early 20s every time I took a flight somewhere, I would go to the newsagency at the airport and bought those investor mags. I would have a whole bunch of them and read those magazines. They were full of success stories on people who have succeeded in real estate. That's something that really inspired me. I had been to a couple of seminars, read a few books but nothing that actually stood out in the sense of ‘I'm going to follow this person or they're going to give me constructive feedback’. It was more around getting in there, making mistakes and being proactive in that industry. When I started out things were a lot cheaper. 

Obviously, making mistakes when there isn't so much money on the line is a lot easier to recover from. In this kind of market when your entry-level property is close to a million dollars, you don't want to make a mistake.  You need to make an excellent move every time. So luckily it was the right place right time for me to be able to go in and out of markets and have a play with different types of investments.  

Ribarsky has faced some setbacks but strongly believes in the importance of not letting negative thinking get in the way of pursuing your goals. 

It's just a matter of just taking that first step. There is no ‘magic formula’. For example, my first property development I shared with you earlier. I did a three-unit townhouse site which was riddled with ‘holding costs’ and VCAT issues, the cost of the building was was blown out in the whole time frame, the whole project was probably a year and a half longer than what I had anticipated. The first step when looking at it what I did there was to just not worry about what would drag me down. I'd made enough money from my first investment to help me fund this. Negative thinking can actually cripple you. That's what I find with my buyer's agency right now. Most customers I deal with they're not buying houses on a regular basis, they don't know the pitfalls and traps. I went into it just putting all that aside with my second property (first development). 

It’s about taking it step by step. It's pretty much a day by day thing. For example, when it comes to kids, I used to look at a 10-year-old and think ‘What am I going to do with a 10-year-old?’  You don't give birth to a 10-year-old, you give birth to a small baby. You just take challenges that come your way and then it grows into something big. It’s same thing with the developments I took on. They start off very simple, slowly I put plans in place to grow it and take steps in either renovating or planning, then slowly till I got to a point where the next chapter unfolded.  

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The best advice he ever received was to never get greedy and never financially overcommit yourself with loans. 

It's around greed, I read a number of books on not just real estate developers but successful wealthy people. The general rule of thumb that I learned is that people who have wealth, know how to look after it and they know not to get greedy. 

If market changes and things go really bad in Melbourne or Sydney that's actually not a bad thing. It's an opportunity to generate wealth and that's how the richest people in the world create wealth. They aren’t loaned out to their eyeballs so they can actually make a solid move. 

Even if things are going south in price you can create an opportunity. I don't over-leverage myself. I'm very concerned about debt when I do take risks. It's a calculated risk for a short period of time. My backup game plan, my exit strategy, is always implemented it's never something that I change and that gives me a lot of strength. I have that luxury of being able to make a move either way, whichever way the market moves so that's really good.  

In terms of resources, Ribarsky has learned a lot through podcasts and through builders who have been kind enough to share their experiences. 

Podcasts, just like this one. I’ve learned a lot through my real estate career by dealing with a lot of builders, they tell me their story. We sit down or we draw up a contract and they would tell me; ‘oh yeah I did this/that when I was your age and this is how I got to where I am’. That's something that's really powerful. Particularly, a ‘real-life story’ not a ‘glory story’.  If you do in some in some kind of invest some magazines and so forth. It’s a real-life story of the pain and suffering of owning real estate. That’s been quite a valuable learning curve for me. I have read a number of books over the years but your typical kind, really glorified business people such as Richard Branson and Robert Kiyosaki. They're quite readily available across the globe, they’re very popular and  I thought they had a really good clear message for me. 

Excellent. Yes, I think podcasts are very powerful. To get inspired by these stories, go forth on them is the biggest thing that people can do to reach out to people and learn from them as well. 

Every time I listen to a podcast or read a magazine, most of it goes in one ear and then out the other. I try and retain one piece of information that's actually going to make me better at property development. 

In the sense of my investment portfolio or the approach to my clients, if you remember one thing from that episode, I think that's pretty good. That one thing could be the make or break of a project or a purchase. 

Ribarsky’s property development strategy includes starting off with a safe development project, determining safety by checking the title and council permissions to see if the development is feasible.

For selling/buying a property, just look at the typical safe kind of development project, buying a property that has the potential for subdivision is probably a great place to start. For example, buy your property on a 580 square meter block of land with a nice small house that's positioned right. There's a whole number of checks on the Title and council to see if you can actually build something like that. 

You don't have to do anything with the property until you're ready. You could buy something and hold it for 10 or 15 years, then when you're ready to do your next development, instead of buying the property and paying a huge amount of money you've already got a block of land sitting there. Entry prices are in all levels in the market. You could start in the outer suburbs or in a city depending on how much money you have. You can buy property with the ability to subdivide down the track to give you those options and opportunities in the future.  

Simplicity is the key to property development when choosing your sites, as well as speaking to professionals in the local area.

A simple renovation in a small two-bedroom unit at the rear or proposed two-bedroom at the rear. It's a great way to do business as it’s a small single level kind of property you can build that's going to have a very low cost. It’s a lot less headache than a duplex or a double story development multi-dwelling site where you've got two or three properties on there. 

Pick something with good access, a good-sized backyard, a small front house and speak to a draftsperson or an architect that is local to the area. Essentially, they deal with the local council, they know the rules, the building codes to give you a rough idea of whether you could pull something off or not. Obviously buyers agents or builders that have had experience in this are great. You can get answers on feasibility. A real estate agent can check market values of what a two-bedroom unit sells for or whether it's worth your while doing so. There's a number of different ways you can do it. 

Keep it very simple, get involved with draftspersons who are specialised in this kind of work to draw up some plans, for example, preliminary proposals, knowing building codes, knowing the rules are something they can tell you pretty quickly. After seeing the site, they can determine whether you could pull something off or whether you should just walk away and look for something else. The cost in hiring some to do some of this is fairly expensive, they might charge anywhere from 300 to 500 dollars to a proposal for you. The first step you could do is to purchase something that has that ability and when it comes time to do that there's a whole range of options. 

With a great amount of growth accumulated in Ribarsky’s first property, the compulsion to sell it centred on the desire to speed up the process and use it fund his projects.

Buy and hold is a great strategy, I've done that with multiple properties, but I'm finding that it's a slow process. It's like being a farmer - you have to wait for your crops to grow, then you need it harvested and then get paid on your annual pay. Growing property is even slower. You hold it for 10 or 20 years before you can actually take a really good return out of something. And through that timeframe, you'll also face a down market as well so you’ll watch the property gain value, lose value and then gain value again.

So I just wanted something that cut through that and sped up that process - hence my desire to develop properties, like I mentioned I've done a number of property developments over time - and the funds for that came from the starting off point of owning that first property and selling it. That's funded a lot of my building. Every project I've done requires well over $1 million in the sense of funds, so that's essentially the strategy that I did to gain that extra kick or extra cash flow. The goal in every development I did was to basically add value to a property at a unit and renovate a house, or put multiple properties on and sell them off until we have one property that's positively geared.

So essentially that was the goal of every developer I've done; I've still kept a property portfolio but we're keeping one property out of the two or three that we're building, until we have a loan that's small enough for the rent to manage itself. The goal of the whole process is there's an unlimited amount of properties you can own if everything's positive gearing. But if things change in your life like your work circumstance, your cash flow, you never know what can happen. Having debt is obviously creating risk in your life and you want to try to minimise that as much as possible.

Unfortunately for Ribarsky, his first development project hit an obstacle when he was confronted by VCAT.

It's a Victorian tribunal where if you have a disagreement of with regards to developments or anything that someone is putting forward for a public building. Anyone within the public has the opportunity to argue if you can't come to an agreement. It operates like a court, where you would have two parties that are opposing, you face a judge and you'd explain your story and they would explain theirs. 

The VCAT member or judge would basically make that decision based on what is fair and reasonable. The problems for me were the neighbours. They basically just don't want developments right next to their property that had a block of land. There was a period of 15 years where the land was vacant. I think they just enjoyed that and were pretty shocked at the idea of having a development site. I felt I was adding value to the area and  I thought I was doing a good thing for the suburb. We had gone to VCAT, I presented my case and they presented theirs. Thankfully we did everything correctly in the sense of our proposal, the VCAT member awarded the project, we were able to move forward and get our building permits. It's just the process was quite challenging.

This can bring a little bit of uncertainty especially when you've put so much money and effort into a project, then coming to that point where you have a single person that would say, ‘Sorry we don't agree with you, slap the hammer and say you can't do this project anymore’. It's quite a nerve-wracking process. That was a tough challenge, being my first one. 

After overcoming this, he built three townhouses and after around 18 months he completed the proposal. But for those who want to follow in his footsteps, you need to keep the small hidden costs in mind.

It was three double storey townhouses, three-bedroom one bathroom one garage carport. The first step after the building was to speak to a trusted draftsperson, put a number of proposals forward and taking that to the council. After a period of 16 to 18 months, we achieved what we proposed initially. Afterwards, there's a whole bunch of things we needed to prepare, for example sketching things like water, power and we had to move easements at the rear of the property.

We had to generate to connect power from the other side of the road and each one of these little steps had hidden costs. It’s small headaches that we discovered along the journey. Every time we had completed one step or had one problem solved, it would create something else. Once I came to that final point from the council, I spent an extra $40k to $50k in hidden costs, holding costs and site preparation.  

Learning from this experience, Ribarsky believes that choosing the right kind of property is critical, as well as surrounding yourself with the right people to help you.

So who can help you? People like me, a buyer's agent. We offer that service to the public. Anyone that has actually done it multiple times. That can really be a huge value, sometimes you can get your Uncle or Aunty or speak to people that have done developments in your family. They're a great source of wealth in a sense of helping you buy something. Once you’ve successfully purchased a property,  you're sticking to your guns of with the next big thing, your guidance will be a draftsperson or architect. They can save you so much time in a sense because they know the area, they know the council, they know what is ‘acceptable’ in that area.

I'd recommend a draftsperson that has experience with 10 plus projects approved. They have the time to service you. When you submit plans to the council, they'll come back at you and say look you need to amend these plans. They're good but you need to do 25 to 50 different changes. If that happens, your draftsperson needs to be available and they have to know how to successfully pull that off. Selecting that person is a big deal - you should really interview them, ask questions about the business, how much work they have on and their experience in that kind of work. Obviously the builder is just as important, but that's later on down the track. I mean once you come to a point where you've completed the plans you've actually got something that's quite high value. 

Once you have that start from the council, you've got something that you can actually sell without even doing a development site. There are many people out there that would be happy to buy and invest in a property that's got tenants in there. It also has plans and permits completed for another development site, these kinds of properties are really sought after by a lot of people in Melbourne. 

If you aren’t keen on doing the development yourself, another option is to on-sell the property to a small developer for a good fee.

A town planner is someone that actually would work in council and they would be the people a draftsperson would submit their plans to. I think they hire their services out as well and they’re definitely a great place to get advice from. I find that dealing with councils, everyone's quite fearful of giving you an answer for anything because everyone's worried about legal liability. 

So approaching people in the council is never really a great answer because they're not really scared to say yes or no. It's a whole bunch of this could be done that could be done in but nothing is for sure. Whereas an architect or a draftsperson, these people have actually gotten the approval many times. You can ask questions like ‘Can we do this?’ They can do all the measurements, calculate everything and give you an answer. Even though it's subject to council approval, that can be quite accurate in a sense of what can and can't be done with the property. 

A habitual hard worker, Ribarsky believes an important personal habit he has is to get out there and do what he can while he is young and has the ability.

Hard work is just something that I do. I've always got my computer in front of me, I'm always scanning things even when it's late-night and everyone's relaxing, watching TV. I've always got out there. I just enjoy working. I guess I'm one of those people that don't know how to relax. Every time I complete a project I say ‘Look I'm going take a break for a while, I'm not going to look at here any more projects or do anything like that’. Within 3 or 4 months, I’ll repurchase another site. I've got a never-ending workload. I never have that opinion of just ‘taking things easy’ because there's just so much opportunity out there. You need to take it while you’re young and have the ability to make it work. I really believe putting your head down and working is definitely the answer. 

That is the sound of success. Our normal life. 

I really think that there is no magic formula. It's just you know work hard and keep trying. I mean even when you don't do so well out of something, you can always learn something from it. That is valuable. 

So what would he say to himself from 10 years ago?

I would focus more on buying land that was a high value. I was a little bit of a chicken in the sense of how much money I spent on-site, so I'd always buy in outer suburbs. I think my projects would have been a lot more profitable at that time. Just looking back at how the market went, had I purchased closer suburbs to the city within a radius for example 10-20 kilometres from the city. My feedback is instead of being worried about failing, just go the full monty. Really push forward and try your best in a sense of buying a better quality site. That’s essentially is what I preach to my customers now.

It's not so much about quantity, it's about quality. That's what the market pays for. I go to many auctions out there where you have two properties that are exactly the same in the sense of large size and house size, but one is just finished better. The difference in the sale price is phenomenal. It attracts more and more buyers and more competition and obviously the price goes up from there. I wish I understood that 10 years ago which I just didn't get.  

For the next five years, he is most excited about his plans to continue reducing his debt and consolidating his properties.

Minimising debt - and that's essentially what I've been working on the last five years, it's all about doing development, selling it off and not earning too much. It's very much the same. I’m looking at different ways I can do things. I'm looking at consolidating my properties, selling everything up and just buying a better quality property, in a sense where you might buy like a 600-800 square meter block or old house in a suburb that's not far from the centre of Melbourne.

Doing a really good quality investment, the overheads of owning less property and having a lower debt level is something that is really attractive to me. Owning multiple properties comes with its own headaches of bills and problems with tenants and so forth. The next five years for me, just kind of minimising debt and potentially minimising the volume of properties, but not decreasing the value of what I own. So essentially just buying a better quality property that can really throw punches and do as much as three or four less value properties.

Yeah, it's definitely all about the quality of the properties rather than quantity. I know property investors who only have about 10 properties but they're extremely good quality.  

When you think of those people that have 20 properties, they get 20 rights notices, 80 quarterly bills for water rates - it's a minor nightmare in the sense of balancing all that and just having oversight of what's going on with your finances. Having a difficult time understanding what's going on is never a great feeling. It can lead you to make some pretty bad mistakes because you don't have that clear oversight of where you're standing.

If you wish to connect with Ribarsky and learn more from him about what he does and what he can do to help you in your own journey, visit his company website.

We’re quite available online so if you just look up ‘Wise Real Estate Advice’ - we are easily found on Google. We're across a number of publications as well. Our website is a great source of data on different projects and properties that we've purchased. There are hundreds of pages of information that people can learn from.

Obviously, just pick up the phone as long as you give me a call. Happy to have a chat with anyone that's looking at starting out in developing or even if you're an experienced developer looking at getting assistance. We're more than happy to answer the phone and give you feedback advice. We've got a number of buyers agents that work with us and they're able to help you; doesn't matter where you look in Melbourne, we cover the whole metro area of Melbourne.

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

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