Curtis Stewart

Driven By Property Market Value and Real Estate Data

Director of brokering company Confidence Finance Curtis Stewart began his journey pursuing economics and accounting which led him to a job in government, then starting his own business.

Follow on and discover more about his journey to property investing – how Stewart turned $25,000 of savings into a property investment in Victoria, what kind of research he undertook to make it happen and how he took that initial first step to building on his vision.

“It kind of grew on us that we could start our own broking practice and jump the fence – go from being on the regulatory side of things, looking at how financial markets operate to actually being the participant.”

-Curtis Stewart

Stewart is a mortgage broker and director of brokering company Confidence Finance, where he uses his experience from his career in finance to help his clients meet their financial goals, as well as finding opportunities for his own investing.

So I’m quite a research-driven sort of in my personality and the way I like to think about things. So you know I do a lot of independent research but you know as you’re talking to clients and you know you might see you know 10, 20 deals pop up in a particular area and you go ah well this is clearly worth investigating and it might not be something that I would have found necessarily by myself. So they were sort of insights you know they can really help. 

Working with his clients, there’s never a dull day. 

So day to day as a finance broker it’s really sourcing finance for our clients, solving problems and coming up with plans, the coming up with plan part is sort of I guess what I’m most passionate about. But it’s really helping our clients from the finance end find solutions to whatever they’re looking to achieve short term and long term and kind of trying to chart a path through the forest for them so to speak. 

That’s very very interesting. And I love that terminology or narrative charting through the forest. It must be a really really big forest mellower clients out there.

And you know some people have quite clear goals and simple situations and you know it’s quite straightforward and you know other people sometimes not as sure about what they want to do or have quite complicated situations. So sometimes it can be quite challenging which is to be honest the most exciting work but you definitely get to see a variety of people’s situations and what different people are trying to do. But the good part is you know everyone’s trying to really invest to make their lives better and you know they’re looking to move forward. 

So it’s quite rewarding as well. 

Stewart’s introduction to economics in high school and receiving a scholarship became the foundation of his career in both finance and property.

Well I’m a Gold Coast boy actually, born in Brisbane but grew up went to primary school, high school, university all on the Gold Coast. 

Lovely part of the world I must say.

I was quite into sort of maths and science in high school but then ended up getting a scholarship to go to one of the local universities there to do an economics degree. So yeah economics and accounting background for me. 

Well it was one of those things where I was quite interested in sort of engineering and science and I’d done some study in economics and accounting as well in high school. And I couldn’t really choose between the two and I saw that this offer just came up. You know got a little bit lucky I guess, this offer got put in front of me and kind of made my mind up for me which in a way which was nice. It was a bit too good to refuse. 

Working during his studies allowed Stewart to further cement his interest in economics.

So I did yeah economics and accounting so I did some work part-time for a couple of accounting firms in the last few years of university, doing auditing which was one of the things I was studying. And there were a few opportunities to do that part-time locally on the Gold Coast so I did that for a little bit and kind of worked out quite early on that I didn’t think it was really for me which was lucky I started doing it part-time. So after I finished I switched to the sort of economic side of it and ended up going down to Canberra. I got a job with the federal treasury down there looking at both economics and financial markets. So yeah lived away from the lovely gold coast to live in freezing Canberra. Yeah, I took a job there. 

Moving for his career gave him the opportunity to develop his independence while gaining the skills he would apply to his property career.

To be honest it worked out really well for me because I was you know by that point still going to uni, still living at home, had all my family around me so I think I was a bit ready for a chance to sort of go out of my own and blaze your own trail a little bit. So yeah not only was it a sort of a great job while still going to uni and some interesting work,

But it was a chance to sort of you know change my life after and live out on my own and really chart my own course. So it worked on multiple levels I guess for me. 

And so how long were you actually in Canberra for within the government.

So five years. So I did, started as a graduate fresh out of uni there and then did five years at the Treasury 

looking at sort of a range of different tax economics and financial market issues there. So it was quite the experience, to be honest, it’s a very interesting place to work. 

And the breadth of issues they look at. And I wasn’t too, before I left for the Canberra, I wasn’t too savvy or too interested in politics. But you get right into the political scene there. You kind of has no choice so it’s definitely a different side of the side of things that I hadn’t experienced before. 

Working in government also has its perks, as Stewart reveals.

The first time you sort of go up to Parliament House and you’re in the Treasurer’s suite then the Treasurer walks in and you know you’re answering some questions you definitely get a bit of a buzz out of it. So actually and that never stops through the five years it’s always pretty cool when that happens, so definitely one of the perks. 

After his time in government, Stewart used the experience he had gained to start his business.

So that was when I had a friend that also worked at Treasury and we were doing, looking at some financial market regulation at the time and we were also starting to get into property investing personally. 

And it was kind of over a couple of years I guess. We had this sort of idea that well it kind of grew on us, I guess that we could start our own broking practice and kind of jump the fence I guess and go from being on the regulatory side of things looking at how financial markets operate and how they should be regulated to actually being the participant. And in our own experiences of learning early on in our journeys and dealing with some mortgage brokers it was something we thought we had a bit of experience in and a bit of a handle on how those markets work. So sort of at the end of the day with a lot of research and we eventually decide to jump ship and move into that. 

The move from finance to property came with new fears and challenges to overcome.

It definitely was scary to start to say the least as I guess anyone that does that sort of move probably knows. But it was again it was kind of one of these things where it was at the right time for both of us. You know didn’t have families and children yet. So you know didn’t quite have some of those pressures that weighing on us. We were a bit free to make those decisions. But after being at in our roles for five years and me especially it was time for a new challenge and property and finance was something that was a growing passion and something where I could see my future being. 

So it was about how to harness that I guess while the opportunities were there rather than just let it drift. 

Despite his fears, Stewart’s experience from purchasing his first property gave him the insight he needed for his business. 

So I bought my first property before we started the broking business so I guess part of the reason we started the broking business was after we had both gone through our first sort of purchases we’d had a bit of experience in dealing with it as a customer and dealing with I guess all parts of that sort of process as the buyer. And that really gave us a little bit of confidence that you know yes there is some value we can add or some insights that we can deliver. Yeah, I definitely started as an investor first and really in Canberra. So I bought my first place in Canberra, a one-bedroom unit. Just to live in me. And it was really a story of crunching the numbers and taking advantage of the first homeowner’s grant. The stamp duty exemption that existed in the ACT at the time and realizing that sort of the $20,000 that I had or the $25,000 in savings that I had I could actually turn into a $275,000 unit to live in vs. you know continuing to share-house. So that was really where I started. And it was a bit of an epiphany I guess that you could take what seems like an insignificant amount of funds that was too small to really do anything with and with a bit of planning, research and understanding, how you can take advantage of every benefit along the way and every sort of gift I guess you’re given by some various policies out there to turn it into something. 

Inspiration from friends and his goals of building his wealth spurred Stewart into pursuing property.

So through one of the joys of the public service is that there are little peak periods where you do have a bit of spare time on your hands. So there are a few friends I guess that were quite into property as a vehicle to create wealth. Because it’s not something that my family or I had that much exposure to growing up I guess. So the seed was really planted by a few friends in Canberra that were quite into it. But I think it became you know I’d saved a little bit of money from this first job and it was really about how do I extract some value from it and how do I use it to turn it into something bigger. And property seemed to be the best way to go. You know it’s a bit unique in the sense that you can leverage quite a small amount of money to something quite significant, the other asset classes don’t necessarily give you the opportunity to do that. So yeah I guess it turned from being something sort of mild interest and an idea on paper to being something that you know I would crunch the numbers quite heavily on and really throw myself into. 

Looking at the bigger picture lets Stewart focus beyond the bumps in his investing career.

Like I’ve had a couple of vacancies in the Canberra ones for a few weeks longer than I would have liked. Canberra changed, the ACT are changing their land tax rules to increase the amount of land tax I have to pay. But I don’t think they’re too bad. They’re kind of just. I try and take a bit of a bigger picture view and you just need to, if you’re a property investor they’re the punches you roll with and they’re the things that happen you know no one’s going maybe some people out there do but no-one’s if you’re in it for long enough I imagine no one gets a free ride. There’s bumps on the road and things that don’t quite fall your way. So no 

War stories that are too bad luckily. 

The start of his property investing also proved to be the highlight of his career. 

I think it was my first purchase in Canberra and I think it goes a little bit into you know you talking about mindset as well you know I even long before I made that purchase it was probably the culmination of two years, three years maybe of thinking about property and investing in general, I’m thinking about ways that I can build some wealth for myself. 

And crunching a lot of numbers and doing a lot of research which is the sort of stuff I would probably be doing anyway because I enjoy it. But there was a moment where I did the numbers and worked out that to buy this place in Canberra I needed 

Twenty-two thousand dollars in my account. And that was all I needed to complete. 

And I knew I had that amount. 

With the knowledge that his research paid off, Stewart overcame his fears and gained confidence as an investor. 

It was I think relief actually because I’d spent so long planning for it and so much research that it was quite nice to actually obviously you cut the check and that part’s always been like always a little bit scary the first time. 

And that was really the moment where it was like OK property investing is something that can be done. You just have to do, after you’ve done the research you have to have the guts to go and action it. And that was I guess that was the defining bit of a turning point because from then on it’s kind of been OK if the plan’s there you go forward and make it happen rather than just oh yeah that’s a nice idea. 

Maybe one day I’ll do that kind of thing. 

But it was a bit of a relief to sort of be like OK I’m actually I’m taking steps to achieve what I want to achieve. And it’s a bit scary. I haven’t done it before but I’m making progress. 

So there was an element of relief and a lot of satisfaction in that.

Driven By Data: Uncovering The Research Behind Curtis Stewart’s Property Success

data property

After working in government for five years, overcoming his fears was one of the first challenges in Stewart’s investing career.

I think it’s a common story for a lot of people I talk to and certainly a lot of other investors that I spoke to when they tell me their sort of stories of their first investment. You know there’s just a bit of fear and apprehension. You haven’t really done it before, haven’t parted with that much of your savings before. I mean you know on an asset purchase you don’t really know how it works or you know how it works in theory but you’ve never been through it in practice. So I think there was you know probably a good 12 month period where I could have bought but I didn’t because I didn’t have the comfort levels yet, you know to go action that. 

But other than sort of myself and you know getting yourself comfortable I don’t think there was too much holding me back. 

Finding inspiration from friends as well as the online investing community helped him to expand his comfort zone and begin investing.

I had a few close friends in Canberra that were quite heavily involved in property and had a couple of investment properties themselves so they were definitely a source of inspiration. But I’d say a key resource was there’s a lot of really good online content and online communities and forums. Property Chat, there’s a lot of good free resources and almost a bit of an investing community out there that I really cut into to both gain knowledge and gain a bit of comfort about what I was doing. And you hear other people’s experiences and stories. So definitely sort of online property investing community helped me a lot and that was something that I really leant on and used to get myself into the game. 

His business partner also proved to be a key inspiration in developing his mindset.

My partner who I’ve started the mortgage banking business with, Redom Syed, and so I watched his story quite closely and friends with him so he was definitely a key player in my journey. But beyond that, I think I took little bits and pieces from a lot of different people’s stories some of whom you know I’ve known personally and other people whose stories you read online or you know you hear through whatever medium you hear. And then you just take a little bit of a nugget about what they did or how they approached something or often you know how they had this thing go wrong and at the end of the day it didn’t really matter that much. They still achieved what they wanted to achieve. And all those little things add up to kind of you know you take all those little bits and pieces and you add them to your own psyche and your own approach. 

And it all helps get you to the place you want to be. 

Does Stewart have any advice for other investors?

I am inspired by when I see people you know particularly in my immediate life who make a change. It doesn’t have to be property-related but they see a problem, they identify something that they don’t like or something that they want to change. And then they act it. That’s the thing that sort of inspires me and is I guess kind of the advice I take out of that is like well if you do actually want to see something happen to take the steps you need

One by one to get it done. And when I see people in my life do that whether it be you know having trouble with their boss and like no I’m going to go get a new job. 

You’re going to talk to them a year later and they’re still struggling with that issue. I mean I’ve taken action and I’ve made a change. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. But yeah that’s kind of the bit of advice that I have absorbed I guess that I’ve been given is that people who are successful people I see around me are the ones that take those steps and take action when they want to see something more.

Despite his young age when he entered the property market, Stewart has adapted his strategy to take advantage of his first property.

So there’s been a couple of different aspects. And it is I must say it is a little bit of a moving feast. I’m not too stuck in my ways and not too focused on one particular thing but I’d say to start with. So for my first property, I was had quite clear objectives for that the goal was I wanted it to be cash flow neutral to cash flow positive flow on a hit to hit basis. So I didn’t want to be feeling any cash flow hit. But I also wanted it to be negatively geared for tax purposes. Kind of for my situation and on my income and with my expenses that was the balance that felt right for me. So that was the key objective, find something that I think would yield, yield sufficiently to cover the mortgage. But then you know the depreciation and other aspects would come in there to give me a little bit of a  kick at tax time. So that was one. Yeah, that was the key objective for that first purchase. As I might’ve mentioned for that one that was the overall sort of location and those things were really dictated more by my life situation at the time and the government grants that I guess were available to me. 

So, for example, I’ve lived in Canberra, working in Canberra, wanted a place to live in Canberra. But I’m a first home I was a first home buyer then so you get access to the grant.

If you buy a new dwelling you get access to the stamp duty exemption. 

So I kind of charted those things through and it really narrowed down the property selection to a relatively tight range of properties that were on the market in Canberra at the time. So that’s really how I started for that first one. But then going on for the second one and now the third one where I’m an investor, those grants aren’t available to me anymore. So it’s a bit more open. 

Once he was unrestricted by grants, he was able to focus on his core priorities as an investor.

I really am looking for land content is something that I’m very interested in especially seeing that I’ve purchased a unit. I am a bit of a believer inland content providing a bit of stability in price sometimes compared to you know in a CBD units or I guess units in general that can be more susceptible to change, bigger changes in supply, land’s a little bit more fixed not completely fixed but it’s a little bit more stable on the supply side. And I felt like that was important to give my portfolio a little bit of balance. I mean like I say it was really using sort of the economics  training that I’ve had to try and pick some areas around Australia that I think have some good general growth conditions, economic growth, population growth, 

Those sort of things. My investing is really over quite a long term view I guess. I do not sort of looking to flip something in six months or you know see 20 per cent pick something that I think is going to have some amazing capital growth in a really short space of time. I’m trying to pick areas that I think you know in 10 years in 15 years is there going to be an extra 100000 people living in this area, a whole bunch of new shops and schools. 

And is it going to be a growing thriving area with lots of economic activity and growing communities? And they’re the areas that I’ve tried to narrow down. 

By looking at the long term, macro picture, Stewart is able to target key areas to focus his investing in.

So you know parts of western Melbourne and parts of Adelaide I’ve identified, even some parts of Tasmania. So that’s really been my key thing. 

And a lot of research going through things like state budgets to work out where infrastructure funding is going. A lot of state governments have you know that population growth plans about where they think you know in 2040 2036 whatever it may be where they think all the new people in Melbourne or Sydney or Perth are going to live. 

So kind of looking at those long run things and then narrowing down areas from that and then going into that area and trying to find the right deal at the right price. 

Understanding himself as an individual as well as an investor allows Stewart to play to his strengths as well as build his confidence.

It’s different for different people I think. And you almost have to play to your own personality tendencies a little bit I think. So I know for me to make it feel like to feel confident which is I think a key thing. 

You know when you’re bidding on a property you want to be confident in what you’re doing. And I know from my personality for me to feel confident I need to have put the research in beforehand. So, for example, I might, in a purchase I might actually not look at too many individual properties or not inspect too many individual properties before I pull the trigger in a particular suburb or area. But there’d be weeks and weeks, months and months of research behind me getting comfortable about this is where I want to be which isn’t necessarily better or worse than other approaches it just suits my personality. Other people like you like nup I want to pound the pavement and walk up and down the street and inspect you know to go to every open home in a suburb for six weeks and that’s their version of the research and that’s what gives them the confidence to go forward. 

So I think it’s a bit of horses for courses too. 

Although he lives in Sydney, Stewart’s knowledge of the Melbourne market and his extensive research gave him the comfort to expand his portfolio in a single trip.

So my extended family is actually from Melbourne so I was a little bit familiar with the area. But did a lot of research and then did the one trip down had a look at a few different places and pulled the trigger. 

So like I say my for me personally my approach tends to do a lot of research on the front end and get very very comfortable around the area I’m buying them, and the reasons why I’m looking. And then kind of identify the two or three, four that kind of tick the boxes and I’m most interested in. Go down there once maybe twice. 

Picking out a deal for one of them and pull the trigger. So it’s like kind of low in the front end of that pretty quick to act on the back end. 

Over his investing career, Stewart has picked up many habits that have contributed to his success.

I think I’ve got a couple of traits and things that I’ve learned over the last five years. 

I guess that have really helped. I think one is the sort of nervousness with I guess inertia I call it like I don’t not very comfortable standing still. And I think that’s something that I’ve tried to harness to not necessarily make impetuous decisions but to keep moving forward and to make sure that I keep pushing myself if not to action things but to at least be challenging myself that well is there something additional I could be doing. Is there, what’s the next thing I can be thinking about. So I think that desire to keep moving forward has been something that’s been helpful. But then I think the key thing that’s really helped me and I guess it’s a personal habit may be, 

is to acknowledge your own personality and your strengths and weaknesses and to work with it not against it. So like I say you know for me with my background I’m very data-driven and very research-driven. And that’s one of the things that gives me comfort. So rather than

you know you see people and you hear stories about you know this person is doing this and they’ve bought four properties or you know someone’s you know bought at auction,  walked past the house and bought it at auction you know impetuously.

But I think that’s been a key thing because I do see people get quite stressed when they are trying to implement their plans in a way that doesn’t fit with how they think because they’re kind of they see other people do it a particular way and they have an objective and they just go well I’ll just take step one two and three like this person did and I think understanding yourself and how you work and how you think is important. 

Letting his strengths influence his strategy has enabled Stewart to obtain the results he wants.

If we buy houses next to each other in a particular suburb you might you know do it one way and you know make your purchase in a month. 

You know you’re very comfortable with the way you’ve done it. And for me I might go no no I need you to know to do a good couple of months of research before I’m comfortable and to just sort of be like that’s the way I work and that’s what I think is going to deliver results for me. So you trust your own way of doing things I guess. And like you say not judge yourself against the way other people approach it. 

How does Stewart keep his finger on the pulse of the changing investing market?

There’s a lot of online resources so for me you know obviously having turned to it professionally now to that for me the finance aspect of it was always something that I wanted to understand more and I wanted to understand how I can make it work for me. 

And how I can really use leverage to stretch the money, the savings that I had into as much as possible. So any resource I think you can get. There are some good books. But given the way the market moves I think you know a lot of the online resources are really up to date. 

Just about how you can have a financial strategy that works for you and how you can use essentially how you can use a bank to pony up most of the money to allow you to get your funds where you want to go in a sustainable way. That was really, the key resource for me was understanding how I can use debt to get where I want to go. 

Understanding himself and his goals through research is one of the key elements that he attributes to his investing success. 

It’s definitely different for different people in different stages of their investment journey. So it’s by no means a one size fits all story but for me, you know being taught quite young and at the start of my journey I wanted my goal was to leverage as aggressively as I could and kind of take what I had and stretch it as far as possible. So with that mindset you know learning about different ways to do that and studying different ways to do that was really key in me achieving sort of being able to implement that. You know I’m a big believer in kind of knowledge is power. And the more you know yourself and the better educated you are the better decisions you make. So that’s definitely a theme that I’ve taken through my journey. 

So if Stewart were to meet his past self from 10 years ago, what would he tell him?

I think for me the key thing that I’ve learned through sort of my career and property investing has been that things don’t happen by themselves so coming up with a solution to a problem coming up with an idea that’s fantastic and it’s exciting, but to make things happen you need to take the steps to action. 

So I think for me personally I’ve always had a bit of an inclination to problem-solving and coming up with ideas. 

You know the thing I’ve had to develop myself was the guts and the determination I guess to turn those things into action. So if it was Curtis 10 years younger I would be telling him to you know trust his analysis and trust what he thinks and don’t be scared to turn it into something real. 

That’s really good advice. I mean this is not just for 10 years for you but 10 years for anyone. So that’s great advice. 

Some people are you know really go out there and you know you give them an idea or they have an idea and they want to grab the bull by the horns and go run with it. But I know for me it you know it’s been a process to learn I guess and to develop 

To take those things and turn them into actions where previously you know whether it was through a little bit afraid or a little bit unsure or nervous or whatever it is you know sometimes those plans don’t come to fruition. 

The only reason is because you didn’t quite do enough to push yourself forward. So that’s definitely something I’ve got better at. and hopefully will continue to get better I think. 

After beginning his investing career from a young age, Stewart has many things to be excited about for his future.

So most excited I guess to see where it takes me. And you know I’m still relatively young and at the start I guess or I would consider the start of my journey. So I’m really excited about seeing what wealth I can create for the rest of my life I guess. And what that what how far I can take it and what that can translate into when I’m you know 40 45 50 and you know have that financial independence. Have that asset base. 

That’s I guess what’s really exciting me which is a lot longer than five years but I kind of need for the next five years. It’s setting the foundation stones for how that’s going to turn out. So I’m quite excited knowing that if I get the decisions right over the next five years you know the payoff could be quite big for quite a long period of time. And almost for the rest of my life. So that’s exciting. 

So how can listeners get in contact with Stewart?

Our mortgage broking firm’s called Confidence Finance. So by all means just google Confidence Finance, look us up. There’s a bit of information on my own story and the story of our business there too but I’m also on a few of the online communities. 

This episode was produced by Andrew Faleafaga with narrations and interviews conducted by Tyrone Shum.