Former Olympian Ed Fernon says that in a bacon and egg sandwich, he’s the pig – no matter the ambition, he’s committed to achieving his goals.
In fact, Ed’s commitment to his craft has taken him on a whirlwind journey from a university dorm room, to the 2012 London Olympics and on to a successful career in property development.
Joining host Phil Tarrant for this episode of The Smart Property Investment Show, Ed discusses his transition from sports to property and reveals how despite having no experience in development, his commitment and goal-setting psyche enabled him to make his aspirations a reality.
Tune in now to hear all of this and much, much more in this episode of The Smart Property Investment Show!
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Phil Tarrant: G'day everyone, it's Phil Tarrant here. I'm the host of The Smart Property Investment Show. Thanks for tuning in today. I've got a guest in the studio and I'll unveil who it is soon. But I'm just racking my brain to work out how I'm going to actually run this particular podcast. We like investor stories here and if you tune into The Smart Property Investment Show you know that we get all walks of life in here. We have young investors, 22, 23 years-old who have started their investment journey early and built quite large portfolios all the way through to people towards the back end of their working life who are now realising that property investment is a way to create wealth. We like them different, we like them diverse and we like to extract good stories out of each and every one of them 'cause everyone's got a good story to share, and hopefully we can all learn from that.
Today, I've got Ed Fernon in the studio. Now, Ed is a guy who's made a transition from quite elite levels of sport into property development. Ed, how are you going?
Ed Fernon: I'm very well. Thanks for having me.
Phil Tarrant: Mate, thanks for coming in. We were just chatting really quickly off air, and if you're not familiar with the podcast I deliberately don't ask our producers to give me too much information about our guest coming in 'cause I like to organically learn about their story live on air. Ed's thrown me a couple of curve balls beforehand because often I just expect people to come in and just ... Pretty standard property investors who are buying properties here and there, but Ed's got a pretty interesting story and an ambitious project that he has underway right now to try and do some development work up in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, so an hour and a bit out of Sydney.
Ed, what are you up to, mate? First I'm going to ask you, for people that don't know, what sport did you play 'cause you represented Australia in the Olympics in 2012, didn't you?
Ed Fernon: Yeah, yeah. I competed at the Olympic Games in London which was a fantastic opportunity and honour to represent my country. I competed in the modern pentathlon, so it's running, swimming, shooting, fencing and show jumping all in the one day and we've had some recent success obviously with a gold medal in Rio. It was great to see Chloe Esposito win that and I competed with her in London, so that was certainly a great part of my life, competing and representing my country and going all around the world to do that. It was a great challenge but also a beautiful part of my life.
Phil Tarrant: I quite like chatting with sportsmen because you guys are wired a particular way and I think everyone can try and emulate a lot of the thought patterns that sportsmen have in their day-to-day life. But what was the one thing about representing Australia in London that you remember most fondly? What's just the little thing that when you look back at that time, that you go, "That was cool."
Ed Fernon: Yeah, I mean, I had so many wonderful experiences. You're in a bubble effectively for two weeks where I had a meeting where I met the Queen and members of the Royal Family at one particular time, going into the dining hall and sitting down with all these famous sports people you emulate as a kid and looking around and seeing that. But probably the fondest memory I had was being able to share that with so many friends and family. I was able to qualify for the Olympic games over a year before the actual event so it gave my friends and family all an opportunity to buy tickets, organise their airfares and, in some ways, I feel sorry for the swimmers because they qualify so close to the actual games themselves so it's difficult for their friends and family to come over. When I was there I had a huge contingent, and to be able to look in the stands and have that support was absolutely amazing.
Phil Tarrant: The modern pentathlon, so fencing, show jumping? Was it dressage or...?
Ed Fernon: No, it's show jumping.
Phil Tarrant: Show jumping.
Ed Fernon: Basically it's a random horse, so the event organisers provide the horse and you draw a horse out of a hat and away you go. So you get 20 minutes to ride your horse before you go on and compete in a metre 20 show jumping course, which is quite a challenge.
Phil Tarrant: Okay, so fencing, horse, so riding. What else was there?
Ed Fernon: Athletics.
Phil Tarrant: Athletics.
Ed Fernon: So there's a running and shooting event.
Phil Tarrant: So running and shooting.
Ed Fernon: Yes. Swimming.
Phil Tarrant: Swimming, okay.
Ed Fernon: 200 metre freestyle, and épée fencing.
Phil Tarrant: What was your strongest?
Ed Fernon: Well, I came from a running and horse riding background so that was something that I always had up my sleeve and whenever I went into the competition that would be my strength. Most of my training and most of my preparation was in the other three sports and I only started when I was 19 years old. At that stage I was at university. I'd never picked up a pistol before, I'd never picked up an épée, or a fencing sword, and I was actually a really terrible swimmer. Part of my journey was learning the sports and then being able to compete at the highest level in those sports which was a challenge.
Phil Tarrant: Why did you go, "I'm going to do this?" 'Cause it's sort of bit left of field, right?
Ed Fernon: Oh, absolutely. I was at university. I was living on campus at Sydney University and I was out most nights with my mates. I was studying a commerce degree at that stage and I think the repetitive hangovers were starting to eat away at me and I was looking for that challenge...something. I wanted to get fit again. I love horse riding and my horses and so I wanted to get back into that. I worked as a jackaroo the year before in far North Queensland so being out in the bush and getting back into the saddle was important.
It took me a while to find that challenge and I was looking for that thing to do. My uncle suggested I try modern pentathlon and at that stage I just thought I'd give it a go and see how it goes. Then I met with Daniel Esposito, Chloe's father, and he said to me on the first time ... he was the first Olympian I'd ever met. He said unless you're considering going to the Olympic Games it's not even worth starting. There's too much time, money and effort to be mucking around in the sport like this. Either you're a hundred per cent or you're nothing.
That night I went home and put a big sign on my wall: London 2012. And that was the next five years of my life.
Phil Tarrant: Wow. You set yourself a pretty ambitious challenge and you've gone away and you represented Australia, which is nothing I've never done but I've spoken to a lot of people who've done it. They reckon it's a fulfilment of a dream for many people. You've now set yourself, and you've set me up with a nice segway here, another big challenge as a property developer. Let's have a chat about that.
Ed Fernon: Yeah, yeah, sure. I think that's what we're here for, aren't we?
Phil Tarrant: That's what we're here for. It's quite, and I'm sure we'll get to it when we continue our chat, but the psyche of setting goals and quite ambitious goals from a sporting perspective, I imagine a lot of skillsets doing that translates into setting yourself ambitious goals on a professional front. You've made that transition but I'm quite interested to understand what you're working on up there in the Blue Mountains. Can you tell us about it?
Ed Fernon: There's a lot of things that I brought over from my sport into property development. 2013 I had a couple of hundred dollars in my bank account. I'd spent pretty much all my money and effort in towards getting my coaches to the Olympic Games. I mean, a lot of people think that a lot of the Olympians get a lot of support. I had very little.
Phil Tarrant: You had to self-fund most of it did you?
Ed Fernon: Yeah. I was pretty much wholly self-funded so I guess I had that goal and I did what I had to do there and I was able to put all my resources into my preparation. But then coming back, I had very little money and was looking for that challenge. I was interested in property. I think property allows you to have some kind of control over your investment strategy which I don't think shares in many cases offer. I think people who go into shares sometimes it's just luck and you don't know who's managing that and often it's the institutional shareholders that are benefiting, instead of the moms and dads. I think property was a much better investment tool and something that I was passionate about and so my journey has led me to a stage now where in October last year I exchanged and purchased the former Katoomba Golf Club up in Katoomba. That went through a tender process. It was quite a complicated deal and I think some people overlooked the potential of that because that had the old golf club and the old clubhouse, which was absolutely spectacular, and it also had DA approval for quite a number of townhouse and development lots on the side of that, so I was more interested in the development lots and then I also purchased the clubhouse too, and going through a revitalization of that at the moment.
Phil Tarrant: So you've bought the clubhouse and other components of it. You haven't bought the land which was the existing golf course.
Ed Fernon: I've purchased all the land around the old golf course and then I have a lease. I've been given a lease from council who owns the actual course in itself, so we've got plans at the moment. We just put on the market 24 townhouses off the plan that we're launched at the moment and we're soon to be launching the new clubhouse which we've launched the whole development as Escarpments Estate.
I think it's a great opportunity for people buying in there where they've got there literally ... All these townhouses border the old golf course and I had an opportunity to bring that golf course back to life but I think there are already a lot of golf courses in the mountains and I think it was a better option to turn that into a parkland. I've put in a driving range which is the only driving range in the Blue Mountains. So instead of fighting all the golf clubs currently there for members, I'm trying to work with them, get their members to come and use our driving range and our practise facilities and instead of trying to fight them, so it's very compatible in that way.
Phil Tarrant: It sounds like a pretty ambitious project. What experience have you had as a developer prior to doing this, to go in there and just step forward and give it a go?
Ed Fernon: No experience.
Phil Tarrant: No experience whatsoever.
Ed Fernon: I had a bit of a vision of what I thought it would be and as I continue and progress in dealing with council and dealing with meeting people up there, and I think one of the fortunate things I've been is to meet so many very passionate people who have come on board. I've got on particular guy who's come on board and wants to set up a gym up there. So he's coming in to set up a gym in the former clubhouse and what we've been able to do is we've got this amazing space and put a number of businesses to revitalise that area, so we've got a restaurant and function centre going in. We'll have the gym, the driving range, putting in pilates, you can now hire mountain bikes, so this golf course has now -
Phil Tarrant: - lifestyle centre.
Ed Fernon: - turned into a park and it's a massive lifestyle centre, so people are buying really a beautiful venue and have got all that benefit but that's all at my expense. So I'm the one who's maintaining the former course as now parkland, which is all to their benefit. I think a lot of people buy into these schemes with huge strata costs and huge community costs, whereas these are very, very minimal because that's all my expense.
Phil Tarrant: So you're selling some off the plan townhouses?
Ed Fernon: Yes.
Phil Tarrant: So that'll be attached to a wider block of facilities that people have access to within walking distance to the townhouses -
Ed Fernon: Well, yeah the clubhouse is -
Phil Tarrant: - right next door.
Ed Fernon: Yeah, is right next door.
Phil Tarrant: So will you create these businesses and own these businesses yourself that you're going to establish within the townhouse? Are you going to look to do different JVs? How's that going to work?
Ed Fernon: Well, I'm not naïve to the fact that I've got little experience in a lot of these areas. So what I've tried to do is partner with people who have got that knowledge and that experience so I'm trying to get the gym operator to come in. I think a lot of commercial settings, it's an unproven venue. There's risk associated with that venue, so instead of just giving him a lease where I probably wouldn't be able to get much of a return, I've said to him I won't charge you any rent; rent free. And he comes in and then I've partnered with him. There's still a lease in place, but it's very much a profit-sharing model and there's a lot of transparency over that profit-sharing model as well. I guess in a way I've been able to get as much as the upside as possible while helping him limit risk as well.
Phil Tarrant: What stage through the project are you right now? Have you broken ground on the development of the townhouses or are you still in planning phase?
Ed Fernon: We've launched Escarpments Estate and we've got a great website that we officially launched last week so they're now selling off the plan and we've had a great inquiry rate come through there which has been fantastic. I think a lot of people are looking for that property in the mountains, looking for value in their investments or they're looking for ... we've had a lot of downsizers contact us as well.
Phil Tarrant: I was going to say, it sounds like the obvious target market would be downsizers looking either from the city or the currently Blue Mountains locals looking to move from larger places into something which is a bit more manageable in their retirement.
Ed Fernon: Well, a lot of people who they still want to have the open space, and that's a lot of those blocks in the Blue Mountains are big properties so you still got that benefit being onsite with the parklands, but it allows people to sell their house in the Blue Mountains, downsize into a townhouse. Or for people in Sydney; there's a lot of people who only work two or three days a week, need to be in the office or they've sold their two, three million dollar Sydney property, can buy a unit in Sydney and then move up to the Blue Mountains and have the best of both worlds plus still put their money into super, so it gives a great opportunity for a range of different people.
Phil Tarrant: I imagine it's quite a complicated funding deal that you've had to structure to get this up and running and I know a lot of property investment, a lot of our listeners, myself included you know, you build quite a nice portfolio and you start thinking about becoming a developer and being a property investor and buying established properties or newly built properties versus creating these assets yourselves are two very different things, and a lot of people blow their dough moving into development. Can you tell me a little bit about how you've gone about funding the initial acquisition of the clubhouse and then how you're going to fund the subsequent development of it?
Ed Fernon: Yeah, that's a great question. I went through a series of deals before this, prior to this. I think it's always a journey. Most of mine were option deals and I'm also involved with Steele Associates who have been my architects and we're doing another 14-unit development up in Warners Bay which has been good. But I think for me I've been going from one deal to the next deal and this is not just a starting point. I'm probably about 12 to 15 deals in now, so on this one it's been a huge investment where I've had to pull a lot of my resources from the previous deals and profits into this to make it work. A lot of the banks and the major banks haven't wanted to touch it because of even the risk, even though I was able to purchase it well below replacement cost. They were only looking at a 60% lend which becomes a difficult situation as well. But with the townhouses, I've brought some investment partners on to work with that and we've got a great local builder who's also involved in that development, so it's certainly been a process putting all the people together and finding the right people.
Phil Tarrant: So you mentioned that you'd done some developments prior to this. So this is not, hey, look, here's a grand scheme I've got in mind up in the Blue Mountains. You've gone and you've cut your teeth doing some small stuff in the past, so that's right in Warners Bay you mentioned?
Ed Fernon: Yeah, Warners Bay is one we're doing at the moment, getting our development approval there and we'll be selling those off the plan shortly. It's a mixed use development. Oliver Steele, who's my architect, I helped him and was involved with his 88 Angel Street development in Newtown which was the first green roof terrace house in Australia and he's won a lot of awards for that development, so I was very glad to be a part of that with him. But also I think coming in how where I started to where I am now, looking for a lot of the properties that are overlooked or opportunities that are severely undervalued.
Phil Tarrant: So this is your career, essentially -
Ed Fernon: Yeah, absolutely.
Phil Tarrant: - property development. What is it about the development side of things that you feel comfortable and confident to build your future around? What are those things that make property development interesting to you?
Ed Fernon: I think you're able to put your own mark on things. For example, Escarpments Estate, what we're doing there in Katoomba, a lot of people have said, "Oh you can't do a luxury development. The market just doesn't want that product." I mean, I love going against what people tell me and in that we've really tried to create a high-end product which is against the trend and against the grain, but at the same time we've had great level of inquiries so we are getting the premium prices in there. We're looking to smash the sales figures for the Mountains but we're providing a really, really high-end premium product which everyone's saying ... a lot of the agents previously when they were looking at it were saying, "Oh, you know, you shouldn't do that because some people only want a medium to low-end finish in the Mountains 'cause they don't have the money." But I think once we've provided that product, a huge amount of interest and people who weren't normally looking are now suddenly engaged and want that property, so it's been great.
Phil Tarrant: So essentially you're creating a new category in that particular area around high-end high spec stuff, is that correct?
Ed Fernon: Yeah, definitely, definitely.
Phil Tarrant: How do you intend to sell these? Have you teamed with a local project marketer, which is often for many developers the big pain is to actually ... There's a vision to create something but then actually to sell them obviously is the most important stuff 'cause that's where you get financing from.
Ed Fernon: Yeah. Well, we've gone through and I've been highly involved, as well as my business partner there who's funding that, highly involved with the sales campaign. I think a lot of the older people in particular, they're buying off the plan, they don't really know what they're purchasing. They're a bit unsure and they're I guess risk averse in that sense, so what we've done, and the first time it's been done in the Blue Mountains, is create a whole virtual reality space so older people can come into the display suite, put on the virtual reality goggles and the gaming goggles, which sometimes looks quite funny with some of the older people, but they can look around and they can walk through their new property and they can see the finishes for themselves. I mean, photos and renders are good but it's better when someone can walk through what they're new property-
Phil Tarrant: And have the experience.
Ed Fernon: And have the experience themselves. So that's been really successful for us and something we'll definitely do again.
Phil Tarrant: So when you lie in bed at night thinking about this development, what is it that scares the shit out of you?
Ed Fernon: That's a great question. I think it can become very overwhelming at times, but just like when I was training for the Olympic Games and doing that, I get such a rush out of ... Like, that's what I go to bed thinking about and I can't wait to get up in the morning to sink my teeth in. There's certainly no doubt some risks involved in that process but what I'm more focused on is the opportunities and the problem-solving.
I've a great saying. I had a chance encounter with Michael Phelps and his coach when I was training in Colorado Springs at their Olympic Training Centre and one of the things that Michael Phelps' coach always said was, "Having a win mentality." For me it was like, well, of course you want to win. Everyone here wants to win, and he's like, "No-no. What's important now? What do I need to do today that's going to make that difference tomorrow?" And I think a lot of people get into property and they've got a very short-term ... They're going to do it all now and it's going to be all amazing, but I think most people overestimate what they can achieve in the short-term and underestimate what they can achieve in the long-term.
We're standing here today talking about this investment that I'm doing at the moment, but this has been a four-year process to lead to this and the lessons I've learned along the way that have been able to put into ... I mean, if I'd just started with this deal I'm sure it would've been an absolute flop and I would've had no idea what I was doing, but I think the lessons you learn have helped to bring me to where I am now, but anything I don't know I really try and find good amazing people in those areas to bring them in, become a part of my team whether that's a good mortgage broker or a good solicitor or someone to provide some really sound sales advice, I think that's most important.
Phil Tarrant: I want to try and pin you down a little bit more on your goal setting cycle. You mentioned what I need to do today to realise where I want to get to tomorrow, and that's a good way to mentally wire your brain to think in it's sort of the way I work. So you're talking about as a process up to this point and then this development that you're working on right now is how far away until everything's done and dusted and you can walk away and move on to the next one. It's probably a couple of years I would imagine, or perhaps longer. It's a big spectrum of time that you need to keep engaged, keep energised, keep the pedal down, keep hustling, right?
Ed Fernon: Yeah.
Phil Tarrant: So, how do you go about setting these short, medium and long-term goals? Obviously what is the goal? You obviously want to make some money out of this, right?
Ed Fernon: Yeah, absolutely.
Phil Tarrant: Is that the fundamental goal that you're trying to reach or...? Work back from there for me if you can.
Ed Fernon: Yeah. Well, I mean, I'm a big one on goal setting. I think if people aren't laughing at your goals they're not big enough and I also think a lot of the people who start in property investment, they're quite risk averse, they don't want to make a mistake, but at some stage it's just being able to take that leap of faith and to be able to engage. I mean, I'm not saying that every property investment out there is an amazing investment by no means and it's not something you just go into lightly, but for me I set my goals quite regularly in things I want to achieve, I have daily job lists and daily tasks that I want to do, so what I was talking about today to get where I want tomorrow. But, yeah, this is certainly a part of the process.
I eventually want to create a large property development company, more so the high-end spec stuff and really create a great living environment in Sydney as well as other areas so that we can be really proud of and also have these great relationships with other people. I've now got a great team who are working with me and to be able to see them grow as well and get engaged in the process is pretty inspirational as well. I get a lot out of the people who working with me as well.
Phil Tarrant: And you mentioned your story about becoming a modern pentathlete. It was like you were at uni and you went, "Alright, I'm going to set myself this goal," and you've gone away and realised that. You had to work on a lot of things. You have to learn how to swim properly I imagine -
Ed Fernon: That's right.
Phil Tarrant: - and learn to fence which is probably quite a challenging craft to learn. But what is it that you're doing today that you feel as though you don't yet have those skills in order to really truly realise this vision and what are you working on? What are those things that you're just either learning new or finessing to get right?
Ed Fernon: I think it's a constant process. I think I try and get so much knowledge out of more people. I don't try and stop learning, still do regular property courses, listen to your podcast and listen to the magazines.
Phil Tarrant: That'll only get you so far, mate.
Ed Fernon: But read the Financial Review every day, try and keep engaged, meet new people and the more success you have, the more amazing people come into your life and the next step you take, suddenly you reach a different level and there's another group of people who are on a completely different ball game. So being able to get information off them, in some instances do joint ventures or partner with them in some ways, but certainly I think every deal's different. I'm quite opportunistic in the way I look for deals and opportunities, and going out there we have a process that we follow to find the deals that we make and a lot of them are off market. But I think having good supportive people is absolutely the key. I've been through three different solicitors to find the one I've got now -
Phil Tarrant: Happy and comfortable with.
Ed Fernon: - I've had about eight different mortgage brokers to find the one I use now and you need to go through the process to sift through who works well with you and create-
Phil Tarrant: Well, it's trial by fire many times, isn't it?
Ed Fernon: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I couldn't agree more.
Phil Tarrant: It helps you get there. I know a lot of people who have played sport at a high level, professional level or Olympic levels, and they always talk about the community and how they've been able to leverage particular communities to help them in their professional life, and whether you're an elite sportsman, an Olympian or you just work in your own community, communities can be a great way that you can tap into and engage and connect and cultivate relationships. You mentioned that there. Has the Olympic community been a benefit for you? Have you been able to leverage any relationships from that to support you as you've grown a professional career?
Ed Fernon: Yeah, I think in some ways you're going into a conversation. If people know that you've done something before and that you've been able to be committed, people just want to know that they're dealing I think with someone with substance and I always like to think of it like a bacon and egg sandwich: are you the pig or the chicken? The chicken's involved but the pig's committed. So in that stage I like to think it's a matter of going to the Olympics is just one thing that people can say, "Oh, okay, well he's been committed to that and he'll be committed to this."
I mean, the Olympics has opened up so many amazing opportunities. I've got one mentor in particular who has been very helpful and who has been quite inspirational as well as some family friends who have really helped me. It's great to have that person and inspiration of people. You're like, "Ah." I really model myself after them or that they're really inspiring and people to chase down so that you can model what you're doing on them or learn the lessons and get the feedback and advice.
Phil Tarrant: I think it's a really good point to try and have role models to try and emulate or replicate or even just -
Ed Fernon: Most people have already done it.
Phil Tarrant: Most people have done it. Most people do it organically, right? But as a property investor, I think trying to find people ... It doesn't need to be a formal relationship, like a mentor, but people who have done it, they're experienced and I find that most property investors are more than happy to share their journey and their trials and tribulations and experiences from doing it, so if I was an investor getting into the marketplace, I'd be out there trying to meet as many people as possible from the investment community, and there's a lot of groups and stuff around where people just get together and talk property, right?
Ed Fernon: Yeah.
Phil Tarrant: That's what we try and do with the show. But, Ed, mate, we've run out of time but ambitious goal that you've put ahead of yourself and it's just not like a, "Oh, I want to do a development. Put 10 townhouses on an X square metre block in some sort of an area." It's a lot of moving parts you've got ahead of you, mate.
Ed Fernon: Yeah, absolutely.
Phil Tarrant: I wish you all the best and you've obviously got your head screwed on. But, mate, keep us in the know, keep connected, let us know how you're going with all this. I'm quite intrigued to see how ... You're trying to cover off quite a number of different things, particularly it's such a new category in the area and you're trying to sell higher-end spec stuff to probably a different type of a marketplace, but then you've bolted it onto something which is like a lifestyle centre as well, so I'll get up there and have a look next time I'm up in the Blue Mountains.
Ed Fernon: Yeah, sure. Are you much of a golfer?
Phil Tarrant: I'm not very good. I'm a buck’s party golfer. So occasionally I'll -
Ed Fernon: Have a hit.
Phil Tarrant: - have a hit, but I'm not very good at all. But I'll catch you up. We'll do another real quick podcast on just some development must-dos or something or other. So make sure you check out. We'll do a bonus episode straight after this so check it out on the feed on iTunes. But, Ed, we'll chat then.
Thanks for tuning in everyone and remember to go to smartpropertyinvestment.com.au. If you've got any questions for myself or for Ed, if you want to pick his brain around developing you can contact the team [email protected] And I think that's how you guys connect with us so we do get back to you, which is good.
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