Chatting with renovation goddess, Cherie Barber, the author of Renovating For Profit. She will divulge her journey from the bottom to the top, discuss why renovating is the perfect job for multitasking mums and how she accidentally discovered the power of renovating after spending the Saturday nights of her 20s painting her kitchen walls!
With over 110 renovations in her arsenal, plug your headphones in and tune in as Barber confides how she made $268,000 profit from a single cosmetic renovation in Rozelle, NSW, and find out how you can make it work for you too.
A given day for Barber begins at 4:00am and is packed from start to finish, demonstrating that you really can do it all!
My day normally begins at 4:00am. I try to go for a run, I normally sneak in about an hour of emails - literally from about 5:00 to 6:00, emails - and then most days I actually have a makeup artist at my house doing my hair and makeup for television. That I normally get done by about 6:30, then I'm travelling to the site. I'm normally onsite most mornings at 7:00 or 7:30 and then from 7:00 until 2:30, I'm onsite renovating and normally leave about 2:30 so I can pick up my daughter at 3:10 from the school gate. Then I normally ferry her around in the afternoon to her activities, get home, make dinner and then I pass out in about 30 minutes. A pretty typical day, when obviously during the day I do my TV filming and be a TV presenter. So yeah, it's a very full day. Some days on the weekends, I don't do any of that and you know follow me at numerous airports on the weekends doing public speaking gigs.
She also explains this early start to her day.
So it always helps if you are onsite at that time; I have a really good team and they can quite often get the site started for the day, so I put something on, next check my daughter's school. They'll open the site for me get it underway and then I can just come in. That's the great thing about renovating, it's the perfect job for mums who are juggling kids and all sorts of stuff.
You are definitely a supermum! That's awesome. And are you currently running multiple projects at one time usually, is that what happens?
Yeah, yeah. I'm always working on at least three or four projects at a time, so I normally have one renovation in progress at any point in time. I don't like to overlap projects, so what I do is I do single projects at a time, but I do face renovations. So typically I renovate a whole house inside and out in 8-10 days. And you don't want to be doing that juggling in other projects, so even though I have other projects in progress just from a planning perspective I don't physically do any more than one at a time.
However I have been known to do six. I think my worst one ever was six at a time and that was a bit chaotic too - most people get stressed doing one renovation in their lifetime. And when you’ve got six on the go at the same time, yeah it’s bedlam; and it's not what I recommend most people do to stay focused on the project at hand. Do it, do it well, get it done and then move on to the next one. If you can do that, you remain sane and you'll stay married too!
Growing up in Sydney, Barber’s family went through a period of struggle.
I grew up in Sydney's western suburbs, so I grew up in a suburb called Kingswood which is just near Penrith. So yes I'm officially Westy but I'm very proud of that. No shame in that! And I was one of four children in my family; I'm the oldest and obviously my mum and dad... my dad was an earthmover all through the 70s. I was born in 1970, I'm going to tell you that anyway. Believe it or not, most Googled thing on the internet. I guess that people just don't know how old I am. An eCommerce Google thing said that Barber married. So for anybody listening, no not specifically but I'm very close. So I was born into a very average Aussie family, we certainly never went overseas. Our holidays were at a caravan park and that was about it. And they were fun times! My mum was a stay at home mum, so she raised us four children. My parents got married pretty young when they were 20 and had kids straight after, they were married at 19 I was born when she was 20 and she had to stay at her mum’s which is very common to what a lot of women did back in the 1970s.
But then what happened was, an event happened in my family in 1985. It sort of turned my family's world upside down and I won't go into all the gory details, but my parents got divorced the following year as a result of that. And so my mum was suddenly single and you know, four dependent children and she applied for every single job and nobody would give her a job because she had no career history. Obviously a lot of organisations back then didn't value somebody who raised children, so she pretty much didn't have a terrible amount of skills from an office perspective or anything like that. So she struggled to get a job and what she did is, she somehow managed to go to the bank and get a $30,000 loan to buy a shop. So she thought, ‘OK, I can't get a job, I'm just going to go and create my own income through owning a business.’ And unfortunately that business didn't go very well, so she bought the shop and it didn't even cover the rent, so ultimately she dug herself into a bigger financial grave.
Her mother then attempted to sell the shop to cut her losses, but nobody wanted it.
What happened was she started applying for jobs again and she managed to get a job in a nursing home, just emptying bedpans and lifting older people into bed. It's a very laborious sort of job and I had literally just started year 11, I was the youngest kid in the class in year 11. And I literally came home from school one day, I was only a couple of weeks into Year 11 when my mum said to me, ‘I've got to pull you out of school, you've got to go run the shop.’ She tried to sell it, but couldn't sell the shop. And I said, ‘What?’ and she said, ‘You've got to go run the shop’. So I said, ‘How long is that going to take?’ and she said, ‘As long as it takes, I don't know.’
So at the time I was around early 16 years old, it was either late 50s early 60s, I don't recall exactly. So she brought me out of school and I went and sat to do a four hour commute every single day, so let's call it 16. As a 16 year old, I had to do a four hour commute there and back on public transport everyday ass sat all day in a shop that made no money and then I closed the shop, went home and I did that six days a week. I did that for two years and I got paid $60 for two years work, because that's all my mother could afford to pay me.
After several years her mother managed to sell the shop, however the experience has stayed with Barber till this day.
So she she sat in that shop for two years and then she sold the shop; so it was two years before she sold the shop for a loss, so she walked away with a financial debt from that as well. Then about a couple of weeks after my mum sold the shop, I got a phone call from the hospital saying, ‘You need to come up, you need to come up, your mothers actually had a nervous breakdown.’ And that was quite a terrible thing to witness, but at the time you know my mum sort of became addicted to certain things and it wasn't a good time for her.
It wasn't a good time for myself, but I look back on that experience and I think even though it was terrible for me at the time I actually looked back and I think it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. Because at a very young age, I was running a small business even though it was a failure of a business. It taught me the meaning of hard work. It taught me the meaning of how hard it is actually to make a dollar and what it most importantly taught me is that even though I love my mother dearly, I wasn’t ever going to be like my mother and struggle financially. I never wanted to be that person.
And so what I did is I literally had that experience actually in the shop we sold. I went back and I thought, ‘OK, I'll finish my education and roll-back in year 11, because that got taken away from me in the late 50s, early 60s, whatever the age was, I can't recall it exactly. I went back and enrolled in the same school, I was now the oldest kid in the class and I lasted six weeks. I’d just matured beyond my belief that I couldn't readjust back to the classroom environment. I went out and got a job.
Through adversity, Barber has come to realise the impact her personal story can have on those who have been in similar situations.
I very rarely talk about my personal life and it's something that... you know somebody about a year ago actually put something on my Facebook page that said, ‘Oh, it's so easy for you to make money because you come from a wealthy family.’ And I actually got quite offended at that comment at the time. I thought, ‘Oh my god that's so far from the truth, we had no money! And the wealth that I've created, I've earned every single dollar of it with my own hands. Not by being the smartest guy on the planet, just by working incredibly hard.’
So what happened was, recently I started to talk about my personal life because I think a lot of people are in my situation. A lot of people don't come from a wealthy background, they weren't born with a silver spoon in their mouth, they weren’t raised in families that had all the graces and the best education. That's not representative of the average Australian. So I started to share my story in the hope that it does actually inspire people who maybe came from terrible, tired childhoods, or not so great upbringings that it doesn't define who you are as an individual. Quite often if you look at a lot of entrepreneurs or a lot of really successful people in life, most of the wealthy people have been the people that have come from nothing because they've got that drive inside and want a better life.
The motivation to get a job stemmed from a more primal need to survive than to succeed, however she would eventually make her way through the ranks to become a senior product manager.
Back then I wasn’t brought up in a wealth creation sort of mindset family, my family mentality was more one of survival. So I didn't get brought up with any form of knowledge about wealth creation, there was a lot of things that I didn't learn in my childhood and the same with my siblings and some of my siblings weren't so lucky. They did turn out, they didn't scathe that sort of environment very well, so I just sort of walked out by the time the shop was sold and all of that happened, I was about 18 turning 19 and I just thought, ‘OK, I've got to go get a job.’ That was my mentality back then. So I went, I applied for a job at 3M Australia - and this company was really great. I actually attribute this company to part of my success because 3M is a great company, a big global international company.
For the people that are listening who may not know or heard of 3M, they make all the Scotch products - post it notes, 40,000 products worldwide. So they're a huge company and I started in customer service, just answering phones you know, product inquiries on the phone; a very junior job. I'd spend the next decade of my life there and I'd just progress through the ranks. Sort of went from customer service coordinator, to marketing assistant marketing coordinator, to junior product manager and I ended up, by the time I left 3M I was a senior product manager for this company. It was really powerful because they invested heavily in staff and I needed that, I needed an education. Like at school I really hadn't got any sort of athletics, I went to Year 10 in effect and only just started year 11 when my schooling ended.
At this company, Barber absorbed all the information she could and acquired many of the skills that she now also uses in her current career.
And so what happened was they really invested heavily in staff training, so they taught me about business plans, strategic planning checklist, template systems, all things that would become absolutely vital as things in my career as a renovator, but I didn't know back then by default. So I stayed there for 10 years.
So when did Barber first venture down the property path?
I joined 3M when I was about 19, I was there from 1929, and at the same time I also admit I was with my boyfriend and I was with him for about 11 years. And at the time you know, we were pretty serious about each other, we weren't married because we were still very young. He sort of came from an area that wasn't too dissimilar to mine and a similar background and we were crazy in love and we thought, ‘We're going to buy a house together, we're gonna save and buy a house.; So what I did, he wanted to do that, I wanted to do that at a younger age and we weren't thinking, ‘Buy 20 houses,’ back then we were just thinking, ‘Buy one house that we can live in forever, happily ever after, I'll probably get married and this will be our forever home,’ we were quite naive. And so I went and got a second job at a league’s club and I worked at that second job for eight years; and some nights I’d work in the Keno there, some nights I’d work in the bar, you know.
And that's how I got my deposit to buy my very first property. We went halves on my first property deal, it was a joint co-ownership, my boyfriend and I went halves. We weren't married so we weren't sharing money at the time, so he saved up his money, I saved up mine and that's how we bought our very first property together at age 21. And I thought that was a really good thing for a girl out west who really sort of had come from a quite reasonably Aussie battler background, I thought I was doing well.
After purchasing this first property, she realised they had made a big mistake.
The first property at 21, what happened was we bought this property and we bought the first property on a six lane highway.
Oh yeah, interesting.
Yeah. So we didn't do anything of then, this was in 1991 we bought property since I was born in 1970. So that property and since we know all of us went, ‘Oh my goodness, what have you done?’ It was so noisy from all the cars and trucks zooming past. It was one of those houses where you just think a runaway truck is going to come slamming in your front window at any moment. And I said, ‘We've got to get out, this is horrible. We've got to get out!’ So what we did is we embarked on a quick house clean up, actually you could hardly even call it a clean up. It was largely just we bought some paint and we painted the inside of the house ourselves.
We just lightened it all up because when we bought the house, it was heritage colours like sugaring war walls and heritage, then it was quite a dark house inside. So we just bought some paint, we lightened and brightened everything up, we did it ourselves because we never had any money to hire any tradies. Our bank account, literally by the time we bought the house it had a couple of dollars left over. We scraped together every dollar to buy the property in the first place and we just ripped up the grungy carpets; we didn't polish the floorboards even though the floorboards needed a polishing, we had no money to hire people and we largely went on a rampage with a set of garden clippers and a lawn mower. And we cleaned up the unruly front and backyard and that just made the property a little bit more presentable and we put the property back on the market straight away.
On doing well with renovating and then selling this property, Barber and her partner then decided to choose another property and invest all their spare time into renovating.
Now we weren't looking at making a profit, it was about getting out of this property, purely to get ourselves out of a bad decision and we were hoping that we could cover all our costs and not lose any money - and we did exactly that. We covered all our initial costs, we had to outlay a stamp duty, our legals, our mortgage and we sold it and we made a very small modest profit. It was only like $2,000, but we didn't lose money as 21 year olds. Then I turned from 21 to 22 in the process, when we sold the house I was 22 and what we did is we actually went and bought another property. And we thought, ‘We stuffed up that first year with that first property. Let's go buy in the same suburb in a quiet street.’
So we went bought in the same suburb this time and it was an unrenovated property in the quiet street corner. And then we literally just would spend the next eight years of our lives renovating that house, inch by inch, room by room. When I wasn't working my full time job and I wasn't working my five to seven shifts a week at the league’s club, any spare time I had off I wasn't in a nightclub, I was painting walls on a Saturday night. We just did that and we added a bit of value to the property. And so we weren't looking to make a profit, we weren't professional renovators, we were none of that. Even in our mind back then, we were just renovating this home to create a beautiful home that we were going to live in forever.
But despite all her efforts, she had a completely different opinion on their intended forever-home.
I look back on that renovation now, I think it was so disgusting on so many levels. Like the way we renovated it back then was terrible because we just didn't know, we were winging our way through the process. We were just like a lot of people you know, you don't get taught renovating at school.
And I look back now, I actually found some photos of that property in a box that I had and was really happy to find the photos. And I look back on the photos now - we installed like just the worst kitchen ever. We got incredibly ripped off at the time, that property where we used the kitchen was in 1996 and we paid $15,000 for this kitchen in 1986, which I just look back on that now and think, ‘Gosh, we got so incredibly ripped off.’ The layout was fundamentally flawed, the colours were all wrong. We hired a painting team to paint exterior colours that now just send shivers down my spine. Just clueless, slightly older people.
The accidental renovator, Barber says she never sought to make money through property or any other type of investments - it just happened that way.
I do a lot of media interviews each week with the Australian press and one of the common questions that people ask as you've done yourself is how did I get started in renovating? And I always call myself the accidental renovator, I never woke up one day and thought, ‘I'm going to become a renovator today.’ I never went to a seminar where I learned I was going to become a renovator; I fell into renovating by accident.
In all truthfulness, that first property when I sold it and I made that small profit, that was my first taste at making money in a different way outside of a traditional job. And I sort of went, ‘Oh that's alright,’ you know it was that I might lose money, let's go buy another unrenovated house. So even though I wasn't still thinking, ‘OK, be a professional renovator,’ I thought, ‘Well maybe I can just buy something unrenovated and add a little bit of value to it.’ So yeah, I fell into renovating by buying a total dud for my first property deal. Total dud.
So after eight years of renovating her principal place of residence, when did she decide to turn it into a wealth creation strategy?
On that second project like I said, we were living, we were renovating that to create our forever home. And then we ended up breaking up when I was 29.
We're still actually great mates today, but we just grew apart like altogether we were quite young and we were together for a whole decade - that's a long time when you're in your 20s for somebody, you know 11 or 12 years it is actually a long time. And we just naturally grew apart and are really good mates today. So we actually just decided to split very amicably and we actually sold the house, we put the house up for sale. We sold the house fairly quickly and the bank got paid back the mortgage and then we split whatever was left over after the settlement proceeds, we split 50/50 down the middle.
Just to give you some perspective of where we were sitting financially, that was the only house that we had owned, we didn't own any other property. So when we sold it, we had no property and when we split the money 50/50 down the middle I was aged 29 and I had a $175,000 in my bank account. That was my net wealth and while that was pretty good at 29 I know, I felt even though I hadn't made a huge amount of money I think that people should put things into perspective: $175,000 Isn't anything to be sniffed at it either. A lot of people go their whole lives and they don't have $5,000 or $10,000 to show for their name. So even though it wasn't like millions, I felt like I was heading the right way in like renovating light, painting houses and doing the gardens and all that sort of basic cosmetic stuff.
I felt like I was heading in the right direction financially set a lever to be broke like mum like I saw my mother I thought what lack of money did to my mother and I just knew I never wanted to be like that. So I felt like I was heading in the right direction.
Within the next year, she met someone who was as interested in property as her and she became motivated to take on renovating more seriously.
So then what happened was I turned 30 and then I actually met my partner and I spent the next 18 years of my life with him. I'm very much a long term relationship girl, I've only really had sort of two long relationships in my life and so I met him and he was quite interested in property as well. And what we did is, well mainly myself, I thought, ‘I can actually give this renovating thing quite a serious crack.’ I felt like I'd made good money but with what I'd done in the past, there's two properties all through my 20s. So when I turned 30, this was the real beginning of my professional career.
I spent three months doing it. I chose a suburb in Sydney and I researched everything - I call it my intensive due diligence period, as a three month intensive due diligence period. And I've researched everything: the suburb, the demographics... the suburbs attributes the historical capital growth, their future capital growth; the demographics, the housing. I researched, I went to all the inspections, I attended auctions, I found out who the best real estate agents were, who the best auctioneers were and I was preparing myself. I was doing all of this in preparation for me buying my next property that I was now going to do a lot more strategically, not winging it.
So we ended up buying this little house in Roselle, which is about 6 km out of Sydney's CBD, it's an inner city suburb, and we ended up buying this property for$537,000. It was a house that had good bones, it was structurally fine, it was perfectly livable, but it was just cosmetically tired. What we did is we got in and did an eight week renovation. So we both still had full time jobs and how we managed this is we popped on site of an evening to make sure all the tradies were doing what they were supposed to be doing - not all of them did what they were supposed to be doing, we know that.
And Barber certainly had some road bumps along the way in relation to the tradies who worked onsite.
One of them was the painters, where we came to site one night and we discovered that the painters had failed to wash the house externally prior to painting. There were cobwebs under the paint, there were bits of grit and dirt under the paint, running your hands over the weatherboard you could feel the clumps of dirt. So we sacked the painters on that second, so that project needed a bit of rework. It wasn't all smooth sailing, but it was nothing catastrophic and nothing that couldn't be fixed, it was just a little bit of rework.
My due diligence told me that I knew I could comfortably resell this house for $800,000, so my total on that project, we bought it for $537,000 and we outlaid in total just a tad under $150,000. So that was stamp duty, legals, reno costs, resale costs; we did that project as our principal place of residence so it was totally tax-free. We were hoping and praying that we could sell it for $800,000 because that's what my due diligence told me should be a comfortable target for that. So we were thinking, ‘OK, the project has a $690,000, if we can make $100,000 quick profit while we're holding down a full time job, we've got that income still coming in.’ We thought that was like a bloody great result, it was eight weeks worth of oxygen.
So you know, life was very unbalanced during that eight weeks and this was prior to us having our daughter together. We were working really hard and life was unbalanced, it is what it is. If you want to get ahead, quite often your life will need to be unbalanced in some respect - you can't have your cake and eat it as well.
But her a-ha moment didn’t happen until the property finally sold at auction.
We took that property to auction as soon as the renovation was finished and the auction went down. So hoping for $800,000 and went down at $955,000. So we ended up walking away with a $268,000 net profit margin, totally tax-free! And when that auction hammer went down, it was my sliding doors moment where I just went, ‘Oh my gosh, what what are we doing?’ You know I saw that money that we made, it was like winning the first division of Lotto and I just threw myself, we threw ourselves into renovating. And I've never looked back so far for 18 years and I've now personally completed 110 projects.
Gosh! And would you still consider that to be your a-ha moment now?
100%, without a question. I was a very conscientious worker, working at 3M and you know at the office jobs, I've only ever had two office jobs. And in my lifetime I was actually in full time and it was back in the year 2000 or so when that auction hammer went down. I quit my job, I just threw myself in. I hate to say it because it sounds so cliche, but it's absolutely 100% the truth.
Out of the 110 renovations she has undertaken throughout her property career, Barber has been lucky to never have a really negative experience, but she has still learned a great deal through making minor mistakes.
I guess what was beneficial for me is that very early on, that project number three where I did it a lot more strategically - I call it my first professional project - and actually I did it very strategically, like I really put in the time to research everything on that and luckily I was able to learn what I learned on that project and I was able to roll that into future projects. So for me, the process actually became easier and easier, not harder and harder. I can honestly say there's been no project that I've actually found extremely difficult.
I've never lost any money on a property, but what I have lost is I've lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in mistakes. I haven't found the actual renovation of properties hard; it's the mistakes. It was things like paying too much for stuff, getting ripped off by tradies, paying too much for stuff, shopping you know, buying the wrong fixtures and fittings, shopping in the wrong shops, paying too much for stuff.
If people go away and calculate what their ideal lifestyle looks like then they can actually put strategies in place to actually go, ‘OK, now this is what I want. How can I actually achieve it?’ I believe it can be a very simple thing.
How To Wrap Up A Renovation in 8-10 Days and Realise Your Ideal Life with Cherie Barber
Over many years of renovating, Barber has learnt a lot. So what would she have done differently?
I think the biggest thing that I've learnt now, I’ve been renovating 28 years - 18 years full time, professionally - the first 10 years I’d say look as a hobbyist, although a weekend warrior I was just kicking around with my own two homes in my 20s. Nothing serious. But I became a hardcore renovator in the year 2000 and obviously been doing that professionally for the last 18 years. But what I would have done differently is what I didn't do back in my early days, I didn't strategically make anything out, I was just winging it. I was just buying. I’d finish one unrenovated project and then I would go and look for my next unrenovated dump. And I look back now all these years later and I think, ‘Gosh, if I just sat down back on Project Number One!’ What I failed to do on that first professional project, I failed to sit down and say to myself two questions eventually: when do you want to retire and Cherie, when you retire how much money would you like rolling in passive income each week? Now, I didn't look.
Back then it was my ideal life. You know what would my ideal life look like? And what would that ideal life cost me? And so that's the biggest thing a lot of people don't do - they don't know when they want to retire, how much money they want to have rolling in each month, each week, coming in retirement. So therefore if they don't know how can you set your goals? So I didn't do any of that and I look back now and I think, ‘Well if I had actually mapped that out, I would have bought a completely different property than what I actually bought in all my early years of renovations.’
She regrets not taking advantage of buying in areas that were cheap at the time, such as Sydney’s western suburbs.
Just to try and simplify that and make sense of that, what I did is I finished my first renovation, I started with about 6-7 km out from the Sydney CBD. I was buying property for around $537,000 you know, I sold that property for $925,000 so very quickly I was inching up around those properties that I was buying in my first couple of years and $750,000 to $1 million in value. Unrenovated spending about $300,000-$400,000 on them and then reselling them for higher; suddenly we made about $300,000 profit. But I look back and I think, ‘Shoot! I actually tied up a lot of my money.’ Like I couldn't do multiple projects because I had so much money invested in the project that was going on, so I couldn't jump into the next one until it was either sold or revalued.
And when I look back now, I did a lot of that and I think about what I probably shouldn't have done. Those really expensive properties I should have been buying properties for example in Sydney's west, where 18 years ago I could have been buying those properties for like $120,000 that are all now worth like $800,000-$900,000. Back then I probably could have bought 100 of them. So it could have been like that, even though I'm a wealthy person today, I'm not complaining. I think if I had strategically mapped it out, I could have been a hell of a lot wealthier if I just knew what I was doing from a strategy viewpoint. I had no strategy and it's really not until the last five years that I've really sort of harnessed the power of strategy first.
So what should you do - buy, renovate and hold or buy, renovate and sell?
It depends on the market. That's like a really common question that people publicly ask me and the answer is, there is no right or wrong answer; it depends on the person’s situation, trying them. A lot of people do use the buy, renovate and sell strategy where they'll get in and out very quickly. They'll manufacture that instant equity, they'll sell and they'll cash out; but it's not a strategy that I'm really endorsing because not every suburb in Australia is a buy, renovate and sell suburb. Yes, some suburbs are buy and hold suburbs. Some suburbs you can buy and sell. It also depends on what stage the property market cycle’s in. As you know Tyrone, the property cycle goes through four key stages: the boom, bust, recovery, slowdown.
We're not in that order and your ability to renovate and sell and your ability to renovate and rent depends on what stage of the cycle you're actually in. And it also depends on how much equity you're starting out from, if it’s a very low base or you haven't got much money behind you you might find that you might need to do a buy, renovate and sell for your first couple of projects. And as you start to build equity, then you can transition to the buy, renovate and rent strategy.
So you've just got to take your personal circumstances into account, there is no right or wrong answer. I will say to people though, most of my students I'm encouraging to buy, renovate and rent because when you do make the decision to sell, there's a lot of cost, you lose a lot of your profit margin you know, capital gains, tax agent's commission, marketing cost, property styling cost. On a low budget property those costs alone could be $30,000 and that's a lot of profit that you’ll never get back. Also when you sell, you lose a bigger chunk of profit which is called long term capital growth. At the end of the day, it's compounding capital growth that makes you wealthy. So you know I say try to avoid selling at all expenses unless you absolutely need to.
To grow your portfolio using a buy, renovate and hold strategy like Barber’s, having the right mindset is crucial.
I think money mindset-wise, how can somebody create that? I guess for me, the way that I wasn't born with that mindset and as I said earlier, I was in a survival mindset. I think the best way that people can do that is education. It's what I did back when I did that first professional project, when I started reading books, I went to a couple of seminars and all that sort of stuff and I started to educate myself in entrepreneurship. It’s something that people don't really learn.
A lot of people struggle with strategy and struggle with mindset. I just think you need to be very clear on your goal and try and put yourself in that mindset.
Although it took survival instinct for her to get into the right mindset, the best place for most people to start is to know what they want and then find out how to make it happen.
I think what I say - and I say this a lot in my public speaking because I’m trying to give people a very simple, basic approach - and where I start with them is essentially, those two questions that I stated before. I say, ‘Look, it's not about how many properties you own, it's truly not about that. What you essentially need to find out is when do you want to retire and how much money do you want in retirement?’ That's really all people need to know because from that alone, if people go away and calculate what their ideal lifestyle looks like then they can actually put strategies in place to actually go, ‘OK, now this is what I want. How can I actually achieve it?’ I believe it can be a very simple thing. Don't overcomplicate it.
I love that, because it’s keeping the end goal in mind and then work backwards to learn how to break it all down to achieve that.
Yeah. You know the average Australian, typically like when you look at the average profile of most Australians and they work out their ideal life, most Australians if you base it on average are probably worth around $500,000. Most Aussies need to try and reach somewhere between three to five properties, fully paid off at retirement. We know that the average Australian doesn't actually achieve that. Largely because they don't set these goals early, these financial goals early on in life and then they learn stuff like this later in life - and sometimes that can be a little bit too late, it makes it extremely hard to achieve that.
So the sooner you know what you want and what you're aiming for, then you've got to put the goals in place, go, ‘OK, I want $1,000 a week rolling in passive income until the day I die. How am I going to make that happen? What do I need to do to make that happen?’ The sooner you can have that awakening, the better.
Going through the process of discovering the wonders of renovating over 20 years, Barber had to learn everything herself without the aid of any mentors.
I am a pretty basic girl you know, I grew up in Sydney's western suburbs, I wasn't exposed to successful people. I just wasn't fortunate enough to have somebody to hold my hand and say, ‘Do this, do that.’ I wish I did. I've really had to learn things the hard way, I've really had to figure things out for myself. And look, I've done very, very well for myself. Surprisingly I could have turned out a complete and utter disaster, but I didn't. I think the thing that really got me through that sort of poverty background into a wealthier space is actually just my biggest thing, I think, is that I just worked hard. You know people say, ‘work smarter, not harder.’ I agree with that, but I was the person that worked hard and worked incredibly hard over the last 28 years.
The reality is being on a renovation site, it's not glamorous, you’re covered in dust. You go home with dust in your hair, most days you look like somebody who doesn't have 20 cents to their name because you're covered in paint, dust, crap, construction waste you know and I just worked hard. I just thought, ‘OK, I'm going to renovate, just stick my head down.’ I just did it and winged my way through the process. I winged my way through a lot of renovations and as I said, made an incredible lot of mistakes, but I just think my biggest attribute is I'm a hard worker. I’m not the smartest girl OK, but I'm not stupid. I'm not a university qualified-whatever. I don't need to be that. A university degree doesn't guarantee wealth; what will largely guarantee wealth is your mind and your willingness to work hard.
Living amongst some of the wealthiest people in her area, she has also discovered that a lot of those wealthy people didn’t start off with an expensive education.
I just want to tell you something, Tyrone. I live in a street in Sydney and look, my street is a pretty exclusive street, it's actually the wealthiest street in my whole region. I have a lot of very wealthy people on my street and in fact I'm the poor kid on the street. And all of my neighbours... my neighbor next door you know, he sold his business for like $420 million and the neighbour next door, he's a high flying barrister that charges some crazy amount per week or per hour to his clients. And then the guy next to him, he builds all the freeways between Sydney and Brisbane, he's loaded - I’m the poor kid.
But you know what, we actually got together a couple of years ago for the very first time for a New Year’s Eve party, all the neighbors came together and I didn't know my neighbours from a bar of soap. So we all came together and I'm really glad I did because they’re lovely. You know we had one common thread between all of us, when we started talking about our backgrounds. We all discovered that none of us had a university degree. None of us. We were all like Year 10 dropouts or Year 9, for one of us. You know I got pulled out at Year 11. None of us had even literally done our Higher School Certificate, but all of us were hard workers. We just worked really hard and we'd built wealth.
I love that.
I always say, ‘You don't have to be incredibly smart, you’ve just got to be willing to work really hard at something you are passionate about.’ For me, I love renovating. I spring out of bed at 4 o'clock in the morning, super excited to put my work boots on because I get to go and renovate ugly houses that I turn into beautiful homes. I get to have fun and make lots of jokes with the good tradies that I work on site with everyday. It just built like a hobby I happen to earn fantastic money from and I think if somebody can find their passion and then be willing to work incredibly hard at it, wealth will come.
With her personal strategy for property investing, Barber has made a revolutionary transition regarding the type of renovation she undertakes.
So I completely changed strategies. About three years ago, I moved from structural renovations and I transitioned entirely, 100%, into cosmetic renovations. So the reality is with a structural renovation, from the time you buy the property to the time as soon as an auction hammer goes down or you buy it for sale you know, you need to go off and you need to get a site survey done, you need to go engage an architect. Then your architect produces their plans which will take anywhere between 1 to 3 months, depending how slow or fast your architect is, or your draftsman. You’ve got to lodge it in council; these days most councils are taking between on average 6 to 12 months to actually approve your development application. They say 40 days, but none of them ever do 40 days. And so you are, at best, spending part of the year just in the planning process and then you've got to build the extension or do the new build and most builders will quote somewhere between 6 to 9 months to do that. So for a structural renovation, pretty much the timeline is 1.5-2 years for a typical timeframe for a structural renovation from start to finish. The market can also vary, the market can drop within two years; from the start of a project to finish, the market can look completely different.
So what I did is I transitioned out structurally and I moved 100% solely into cosmetic renovations, where I can buy the properties at a lot lower price, I can get in very quickly as a renovator. So with my cosmetics, I do my cosmetics or transform the whole house in 8 to 10 days. Now I'm not advocating anybody to try and do a whole house in 8 to 10 days, it is a bit like renovating on crack. So I say to the public, just try to do your cosmetic renovations over the course of 6 to 8 weeks and that’s a very comfortable time for most Australians you know, while they're holding down their full time job. So you have the ability to get in and out very quickly. As a cosmetic renovator, in a lot of the changes you make, a cosmetic renovator don't require council approval. You may not need a licence builder depending on which state of Australia you are in, so there's a lot of really good reasons to be a cosmetic renovator because it's like just turning over your money fast.
As always with renovating strategies, drawing out equity to move onto the next project is key - sometimes, Barber does two at once.
Always renovators, we live off our equity lines. So you just go back, you're obviously creating that instant equity in the renovation, you've got the property at this price, you've got it done, the renovation, you need to spend than the right amount of money and then you obviously get it revalued at X amount higher.
In the game of renovating for profit, it's all percentages - you buy here, you multiply by this, you resell here. And what I do now instead of doing one structural renovation, I do multiple cosmetics at a time depending on how my diary’s going. I may do two renovations, two cosmetics, at the same time. Very similar projects where I can just move my tradies from site to site. I can negotiate you know two bathroom tiling jobs so you can lower your cost a little bit better. There's lots of ways you can do it if you're smart and you've got the cost down.
Driving cost down. So yeah as you said, it's a numbers game at the end the day. And it shows that not everything is met within timeframes, to make sure that the projects delivered on time as well.
I know that everyday I get flak on my renovation it's costing me money, it's costing me. You know sometimes people say, ‘Why do you do your renovations in such a fast time? Why do you put yourself under that pressure?’ And the simple answer is well yeah, everyday that they practice it's link lingering with not a significant amount of work happening each day. It's actually lost rental income and just from my experience, your trade team tends to get on a roll because we're doing our renovations in a fast period of time. Even if it's going over two or three weeks, they focus on that project - like there's an end goal that's very, very touchable. So I find that the momentum stays much higher in a faster renovation rather than one that trickles out over six months’ time.
Yeah I totally agree. It's almost like a manufacturing process, once you start on one section of the belt you can't really pull it up and stop them. It's kind of no different when you do renovating.
That's right, tradies also have other jobs to go to when they're not on yours. Like focus on that, then they can go to the next one. So lots of reasons to do quick renovations, but you’ve just got to know you're going to do that. You need to make sure that the quality of those renovations is not suffering anywhere down the line. And that's very easily managed during the renovation.
Funding renovations is sometimes an issue many aspiring property investors come across. Barber says that managing your cash through your lines of credit is key as a renovator.
So the way that I buy these properties, the way that I fund the renovations, it all comes out of my line of equities. It comes out of my line of credit on all my properties; I have lines of credits on all my investment properties. I have those maximised, up to the maximum lend typically 80% and it's not to say that I own 80% on those properties, I don't. But there will be lines of credit in place for all of those properties in my bank account. For example - I'll just pick a random figure out of my head - for example I have a lot of properties out in Sydney's west. I might have one property where I know the property might be worth $600,000.
I have a line of credit for whatever that is, you know 80% of $600,000 is one point, out of $480,000. So line of credit for 80%, but I might only go $350,000, so I have $130,000 available equity sitting in that account. And that's all I do, is every time I do a renovation I need to pay a deposit on something, I just pull it out of one of my lines of credit somewhere and fund my renovation from my lines of credit. Obviously you need to make sure that you're accounting for absolutely everything from an accounting point of view, so that you can maximise all of those tax deductions at the end of the year.
Hmm.. That's Very very important, excellent
And so when I go on holiday, or if I want to go buy myself a new dress, it comes out of my one of my lines of credit. Renovators live off their lines of credit, like their equity lines... the equity is your wages as a renovator, so it's just a bit of a different way that you look at your mindset.
It's a mindset matter and people say, ‘Why would you be eating away at all of your equity?’ But it's not eating it away, it's actually continuing to do deals. You're generating an income from your equity lines, you're taking some out, you take out your fund, your deposit, your renovation, your meals, your dresses, whatever and then when you do a renovation it tops back up. So it’s a bit like a funnel that goes in and out.
She says that the concept of living off your equity is something that many people struggle to comprehend.
It’s constantly, a bank account is going up and so when you sell a property, you know your lines of equity go up and then when you pay a deposit, you pay the next deposit, the next property goes down and then when you pay tradies it goes down. And then when you go to refurb, it goes up again. So yeah, it's a concept that a lot of people struggle to understand.
In her many years of experience, Barber has had some regrets about what she would have done differently. So if she were to meet herself from ten years ago, what would she say?
I think it would have just been strategy-wise; I think I would have said, ‘Hey, get out of these higher value properties and get yourself into the cheap ones, because there's a lot of money to be made in the cheap end of town.’ I think that's what I probably would have said to myself. I think that's the only thing I would have changed or done differently.
I love that a lot of people usually go chase after trying to get know high margins IP places and stuff on that but.
Look, I'm happy, I've never seen a really... you know, I'm very comfortable financially, my daughter is set for life. I have a really blessed life, I can honestly say I have a blessed life because of one thing: renovating. It really is and you know that it's not a free road to wealth, anybody who's renovating that's listening to this and who is better at the moment, they know it's not easy. Some days you'll be on site and you'll be absolutely loving it and then other days you'll think, ‘Why the hell did I ever get into this?’ That's like every job. So yeah, that's the only thing I’d change.
For the next five years, she’s excited to continue renovating at a slightly slower pace while educating her students how they can create their own wealth through property investing.
Look I'm just a dummy now, just trying to slow down a little bit. Obviously I've been like I said, a renovator on crack, just renovating all these houses. I do between 15 to 20 houses a year. I do about six or seven of my own personal projects every year and somewhere around 10 to 15 TV renovations a year, where I'll be renovating a whole house or be renovating somebody's kitchen or bathroom for television. And as I get a little bit older, I'm almost turning 50, I just want to slow down a little bit. So for me I'll still be renovating until the day that I can't see my renovations anymore you know, like I've gone completely blind or deaf or whatever. I love what I do and I still know that I'll be renovating in the next 20 years, but I won't be going at the intensity that I am.
I’ve definitely come to renovate a little bit less and definitely still continuing down the education path. I absolutely love that because I feel like I've been educating for 10 years now, like my program Cosmetic Renovations For Profit has become Australia's leading renovation course in Australia, by far. We've got over 12,000 students around the country that no other education provider can boast. So I've got a lot of students from word of mouth, just from people coming to the course and going outside saying, ‘Friends, you've got to go to this course.’ And I really enjoy the education part because for me, I'm living my dream renovating but now if I can share my passion and help other people not make the same mistakes that I did, well I'm absolutely going for that. That's what I've been doing. So I will continue down the education path because I love just being able to help people not make the same things that I had to make. So yeah, pretty much just slightly less project-crazy; I'll go from like 20 to maybe 10.
And still be part of it.
Yes. And then obviously still continue the application path fairly strongly.
Many people want to know, how did Barber become so well known as Australia’s renovation queen? It turns out that, like her first renovation project, her television career was another big accident.
Well I call myself The Accidental Renovator, and I sort of like my TV career to read as well, almost the accidental TV renovator. What happened was, in my early years back in the year 2000, I was bidding on a lot of property like I'd go to auction and I'd miss a lot of properties. From time to time they'd have a journalist and a photographer taking pictures of auctions, what was happening and reporting on each auction’s results. And a journalist actually said to me one day, she came up to me, ‘Who are you? I actually see you a bit at quite a lot of properties,’ and, really flippantly, I just said, ‘I just can't buy houses and I get in and renovate them and either sell them or keep them.’ She's like, ‘Well that's really interesting you know, you're quite a young person,’ - I was only 30. And she said, ‘Do you mind if we do a story on you?’ I think it was the Daily Telegraph and I said, ‘Oh OK.’
So she did a story on me about young people buying property and renovating property and so that was in the newspaper and I thought, ‘OK, nothing will come of that,’ and I wasn't expecting anything or wanted anything to come from that. And then Channel Seven's Today Tonight saw that article and they rang me up, they tracked me down somehow and rang me up about two weeks later and said, ‘Oh we saw your article in The Daily Telegraph. Do you mind if we do a story on you?’ I did that and then they kept calling me in. For about two years, they called me in to do some sort of renovation-related stories. And then from Foxtel as well and I did some home in studio channels through them and then the producer from Foxtel became the producer of The Living Room and so on.
I sort of became a serious TV presence and I've been on The Living Room now, I'm the only one of the original cast members. So I've been on that show, I'm just finishing this week my seventh season and then on Channel 10, they called me up and said, ‘Could you do a few renovations?’ and I said, ‘Sure, no problem.’ Then I think the biggest break was HDTV in America, who did a worldwide casting call for a new renovation show and they contacted an Australian agent and they said, ‘Look do you know anybody who's like a hardcore renovator?’ And they said, ‘We do know of a girl, but she's not on our books.’ So they contacted my office. All of this happened without me knowing and apparently, my team got about in my headquarters after public speaking and they sent some photos over and they sent some videos, completely unbeknownst to me. Then they sent that to America and they said, ‘Oh, we like the look of her and she looks OK, she looks like she knows what she's doing.’ So they contacted my office and then they flagged it with me and I actually landed the gig for five days in flipping America, by accident as well! So it was a bit of a process - I had to go and audition and I had to actually do a real life renovation in five days and I passed all of that with flying colours. Then I got my series of five day flip in America so being on the scene by accident, like my very first renovation project, my whole career is one big accident!
If you want to learn more from her about how to renovate for profit, you can check out her company’s website for access to loads of useful courses and information to help kick-start your property journey.
My company is called Renovating For Profit, my flagship program is Cosmetic Renovations For Profit, that has been around for the last 10 years and as I said, it's Australia's leading renovation show by far. As I said, we've got over 12,000 students that no other education provider can boast. So it's a very intensive course, it's an online platform that takes you step-by-step, task-by-task by module through the whole entire process of Renovating For Profit. So it's not about doing a renovation, it's about a renovating for profit project where your goal is to make a profit - and it includes a whole series of things: online courses, a million checklists and templates and financial calculators and project planning software, like a three day boot camp, property coach mentoring.
There's a whole series of things, so it's not a cheap program. Pricing that program typically ranges anywhere between five and a half to two high fives, depending on whether you're paying upfront. You also have a big tradie group in that course. Somebody will need to outlay five and a half to high fives for the program, but if you follow through with one renovation, the tradie discounts that you get from the tradie group alone entirely pays for the whole cost of your education. Hence the reason why it's very popular. So I do that, that's my main flagship program and we do have a series of other online courses, Interior Design For Profit. So there's people who want to learn how to stage and style and all the interior bits and pieces of how you design your home. That's another little course, it's about $895 and we have a whole series of new courses coming out. Proper Kitchen Renovations For Profit, Proper Bathroom Renovations For Profit, that will gradually get launched over the course of this year and next. So lots of exciting things in the pipeline for Renovating For Profit. Just jump on the website, you can jump on my Facebook page, lots of ways to contact my team and I.