How two years’ worth of renovation affected this couple’s property investment journey

Like many first-time buyers, newly-engaged couple Phoebe Arthur and Carl Smith wanted their first investment property to look perfect for their tenants and for themselves if ever they decide to make it their principal place of residence. This vision lead them to a long-winding renovation project that kept them from gaining income for two years… Was it worth it?

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The young couple bought their first property in the Central Coast for $392,000—a 1,300 square meter water-front property that they referred to as a “pretty dilapidated… virgin two-bedroom 80s cottage”— four years ago while they were both living in a “loft garage set-up” at Phoebe’s parents’ place.

Being a builder, Carl volunteered to do all the renovations—spending roughly two years of weekends making the property look brand new.

“It's basically been refreshed throughout. Like the whole inside [is] basically brand new…. There [were] all-exposed beams… so, basically, you sheeted over that with [the] ceiling. Nice shadow moulded ceilings everywhere. Down lights, insulation… New bathroom,” he explained.

Phoebe added: “New laundry… New floors. New decks. New balustrades.”


Before the property was revalued at $700,000 recently, Phoebe and Carl had to go through the challenge of having a property without tenants as they go through the extensive process of renovations that cost them around $50,000 in materials and required their time and effort to “get on the jackhammer” and the like.

They share their unique experience with Smart Property Investment’s Phil Tarrant—a proof that “if a relationship can survive a renovation, it can survive anything.”

How did you go about the renovations?

Carl: I did everything except the painting… Well, I did one room as a template. Then, I said to the painter, “That's [it], copy it.”

Phoebe: And I got on the jackhammer… I tried to help as much as I could.

And you did that every weekend for two years?

Carl: It was tough. You know when you're on something like that for so long, especially by yourself most of the time… I'd go up on Saturday morning… It's literally a 25-30 minute drive just up the freeway… I didn't actually [stay overnight] because everything… was just gutted and just a mess. I figured… it was nice to get away and just get back to civility for a while.

Why did you agree to an extensive renovation project like this?

Carl: It started off we bought it basically purely as investment to start with… As we started working there and visiting more, we really grew to love it—which is probably the golden rule not to do. But I said… ‘I really like this place. I could actually live here.’ Instead of doing a quick reno[vation] where things still aren't going to be done and having to most definitely come back throughout the tenancy stage and fix things up, why don't we just do this properly? We both get more value from the property, which gives us more equity. Also, the fact that at any time we could move into it and be happy to live in it. Also, it's more appeal to tenants.

You had an investment property that sat there for two years without any income coming in from it. Did that worry you at all?

Phoebe: We actually butted heads on a few things... I was very much of the impression like, ‘Let’s just do a quick reno[vation] and get it tenanted and make some money.’ But Carl's a bit of a perfectionist, so he wanted to make it absolutely immaculate and then get it to a point that we could move in if we ever chose to down the track… I eventually compromised and, obviously, it's paid off.

How did you weigh out those two sides of the argument?

Phoebe: I think at the end of the day, we've seen obviously how taxing that was and we've both agreed that next time we go to do that again, we wouldn't put as much into the renovation. It'd be more of a quick tidy up with just a lick of paint and maybe some new floors or something.... I think we both now agree that, obviously, we wouldn't do that in every single property because it wouldn't be worth it.

How much rent do you ask for it now?

Carl: When we bought the place, we obviously asked what that current [cost was], because it was being rented when we bought it.

Phoebe: It was fetching about $320 [in 2013].

Carl: [Now, it is] $450 a week… They even said that [the rent values] between $450 to $500. I said, ‘You know what, I'm happy with $450 because it's more appetising,’ I guess.

Tune in to Carl Smith and Phoebe Arthur’s episode on The Smart Property Investment Show to know more about how the millennial couple balances spending with saving in order to 'have their cake and eat it, too' and why they’re in no rush to become big-time property millionaires.


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