Years of living in low socioeconomic conditions pushed twin sisters Mona and Sana Ali to work hard and aspire for financial security for themselves and their family, who arrived in Australia back in 2000.
Less than a decade after they started their property investment journey, they did not only succeed in building a 10-property portfolio but they were also able to establish a mortgage broking business that aims to help property investors determine the best strategy that will catapult them to success.
Mona and Sana share their journey with Smart Property Investment—from their humble beginning to the eventual realization of their dreams:
What inspired you to start your property investment journey?
Sana Ali: We moved to Australia in [the] year 2000. We were just under 15 years of age then, and moving countries [was] a huge personal challenge. We were living in a low socioeconomic area of Sydney and we just saw people around us living really good lives. It really pushed us and made us wonder, ‘What if we could buy more than one house?’
What was your initial goal?
Mona Ali: We just wanted strong financial foundation for ourselves and our family—that was one of the key drivers. We wanted that security, to be able to call a place our own. That's what really drove us in initial days.
Was it an easy start for you?
Mona Ali: The focus really, obviously, was our education at that time, we didn't have the resources or the funds.
Sana Ali: [We want to] feel that Australia was really home and to have our roots here.
How did you finally make your first purchase?
Mona Ali: In [the] year 2009, we had already started our corporate careers. I'd been working for two years or so and Sana had been in her corporate role for a year and a half. I was dealing with a lot of high net worth individuals in my role… I saw my clients and I thought, "Well, you know, if they were doing something then I could do something as well and I could establish myself." It was really inspiring to see.
In [the] year 2009, we obviously knew about The First Home Owners Grant, and a lot of our friends had already started buying their first homes… At that stage, we were actually just celebrating our brother's 19th birthday. And he said, "Well, if I was working full-time, then I would just go buy my first property." And that really clicked in that moment… "Why can't we do it at that stage?"
Sana Ali: The research started. We managed to buy our first property in the Parramatta region of Bella—that was one of our first two properties. So, the second one was bought about seven or eight months later, in the Blacktown region, again, of Bella. We focused on the lower end of the market, cheaper properties because the entry price was low. The cash flow meant when we did rent the properties out, they could look after themselves.
Discounting the benefit of The First Time Owners Grant, did you have to put much of an outlay in terms of the deposit?
Mona Ali: Yes. Well, prior to that, I personally wasn't a good saver, because I loved shopping and shoes… Nothing wrong with that, but… looking back, it's like a ‘need it versus want it’ question. Obviously, I did buy a lot of shoes but we didn't go travelling and all of that. So, we did have some savings.
You made some sacrifices, so to speak.
Mona Ali: That's right, and most of the savings did have to go for the properties.
How many properties do you have now?
Sana Ali: There's a mix of them. We bought 10 properties overall—eight in Sydney and two in Brisbane. We did sell two of our Sydney properties though [because] with the boom and the growth that's happening, it made sense to do so. So, our first property was late 2009, November, and then we bought the second one in July.
What was your strategy then?
Mona Ali: After that, obviously, the market was stagnant at that stage and there wasn't much happening… we were saving up funds along the way. But then, we did tidy up our first two properties so we could extract some equity. We just did some paint and carpet and blinds… [We did] cosmetic runners to extract some equity so we could go onto our property number three and number four.
How did the returns turn out for the first few properties?
Sana Ali: The first one was around the $330,00-mark and the second was around $190,000K, and third and fourth were Strata properties in the same region, around Blacktown…[We purchased them] in the $200,000s… Today, the same properties would be worth maybe 90 to 100 per cent more than what we paid for at the time.
Did you deliberately focus on the Western Sydney region?
Sana Ali: Yes, between Parramatta and Penrith… Our key thing was the cash flow side of things, because we did not want the properties to be impacting our lifestyle. At the same time, we wanted to make sure the properties were well located, in good locations, close to transport and the shops, and all those things. That's formed the foundation of our property strategy, where we make sure that properties are close to the train station, or a big shopping centre, because that's what's going to drive the demand down the track.
Do you own your primary place of residence now?
Mona Ali: We like to live in our own home [even though] I know rent-vesting is a big thing these days… We just like that security of having our own home.
So, at the end of the day, you got the financial security you aimed for.
Mona Ali: Definitely, yes.
Tune in to Sana and Mona Ali’s episode on The Smart Property Investment Show to know more about how buying cheaper-end properties enabled them to quickly expand their portfolio and more effectively manage their cash flow, how their love of property inspired their careers in mortgage broking, as well as how their working experience enabled them to navigate changes to mortgage lending and position their portfolio for future success.