When it comes to property investing, one snippet of advice I hear repeated is to assemble your own, personal A-Team. Your team may look slightly different to ours but most A-Teams will typically include a tax account (ideally with significant experience in property investment), a mortgage broker, a solicitor or conveyancer, one or more lenders, a property manager, and one or more real estate agents, buyer’s agents, etc. You may optionally pull in or need to liaise with a financial adviser, an insurance broker, and potentially land developers, builders, and councils if you’re building new.
This is the team we ended up with as we purchased our first investment property. I’ve listed team members in rough order of importance (to my mind).
A very quick note: I do not receive any incentive to mention these companies and individuals, i.e. this is not an advertisement.
I consider myself a numbers guy so you can imagine the accountant is going to be important to me. A good accountant will help you understand why you need to do things in a certain way to maximise your tax benefits and stay clear of any trouble with the ATO.
On recommendation from Open Wealth (see below), we’ve ended up with WSC Group and I can’t speak highly enough of them. Their customer service is above and beyond and Rainer Lamb, in particular, has been instrumental in my own learning, helping us to ensure our ownership and financial structures were correct. The introductory materials provided a detailed overview of how they recommend buying investment property and they specialise in investment property. It’s remarkably clear to me they know what they’re doing.
Interestingly, WSC are based in the Eastern states and we of course live in Perth. I was a little reluctant to leave behind our local accountant but they were not meeting my needs despite being available face-to-face. The WSC accountants do travel interstate and, as mentioned, Rainer in particular has been expedient and accurate in responding to my many, many questions via email. David Shaw, CEO has also been running some webinars of late and came over to Perth for a talk about retirement planning so they’re very engaged with their clients from the top down.
We’ll rely on WSC in the near future to prepare PAYG variations, do our tax returns, of course, and apply depreciation schedules for building and fittings. Basically, their job is to squeeze out every last dollar in tax savings as this first property will be negatively geared initially.
You can shop around to find a good lender but why bother when using a mortgage broker doesn’t cost anything? We used Mortgage Choice when buying our family home before the GFC and although I initiated a conversation directly with our current lender (which proved immensely valuable) I knew we’d likely get a better outcome through a broker. There are a few reasons for saying this: a) I didn’t want to cross-collateralise the investment property loan against our family home b) an impartial broker will almost certainly get you a good product with a good rate from a reputable lender.
We set up a line of credit and a separate main loan for this property so there were a lot of moving parts and paperwork. I knew how I wanted to structure the loans from the get go so had to be fairly direct with Mortgage Choice on that front to get what I wanted but we got there in the end.
It was a mortgage broker who also put me on to the idea that certain low-risk professionals with high-income and/or stable careers (such as my wife—a doctor) may have access to special offerings from the banks when it comes home loans. For example, we could borrow up to 90% of the property value before lender’s mortgage insurance kicked would be required (this doesn’t really matter as we used a split loan structure—a line of credit and the main loan—so LMI shouldn’t be payable even if you don’t have a fancy job title… I’ll go into this more in a subsequent post).
Note mortgage brokers get paid a commission from the lender and don’t charge you a fee. I’m told the commissions Mortgage Choice is paid are consistent across lenders so it should be guaranteed you’ll get the right product for you rather than the product that will achieve the highest commission for the broker. Mortgage Choice told me this so how true it is I can’t say.
For many people getting finance approved is hard and awkward. We originally tried to finance our family home through Wizard Home Loans who eventually came back to us, late into the finance period while the block of land was under offer, to say they couldn’t help us (for whatever reasons—I can’t remember why). We then turned to Mortgage Choice who got us sorted with a bank before the finance deadline. As very naive first home buyers we didn’t have a clue this processes is officially painful but it all worked out in the end. This time around, once finance approvals were all in place, the various members of our team called to congratulate us and my response (not uttered) was pretty much “duh”. In other words, I knew we could achieve the financing we needed, I was confident our mortgage broker would get us there, and guess what? It all worked as it should have.
Buyer’s Agent/Project Manager
This one is optional but may help you find a better buy. You can do the legwork yourself if you’re comfortable doing so to decide which suburb you’ll buy in and which property you’ll buy but if you’re a first-timer (as we are) you might get it wrong—or not do as well as you could have. It depends on your risk appetite and individual circumstances. Some of these companies will charge a fee (percentage-based) while others won’t charge you but get paid commissions (which may or may not be fully disclosed to you) from the land developer and builder.
We elected to go with a company called Open Wealth Creation for many reasons, one of which is the quality of the educational materials they provide at no charge (Cameron McLelland’s book My Four-Year-Old The Property Investor, his booklet The Ultimate Mini Property Investors Guide, and the Wealth WODs (Workout of the Day) he and colleague Al Lewison publish most days in video format). I like that Open Wealth aren’t pushing a get rich scheme but give you a reasonable, sound process (which is fully explained in the materials and backed up by common sense). Open Wealth do charge a significant fee (2% plus GST) but for that you get two things: a) an unbiased recommendation where to buy and b) a project management wrapper around the entire process of buying a block of land, constructing a new house on that land, and renting it out. If you’re time-poor they can pretty much do it all for you, if you want, but I’m choosing to be as involved as I can and have bought in predominantly for the research and experience on offer.
Some readers may scoff at the idea of paying for this service but to me, as a first-time investor, it’s worthwhile. The materials have explained the approach, with which I am comfortable, and, unlike other firms, I’m aligned to the process and believe we’ll do better in the short-term and long-term than had we attempted to do this ourselves.
Notably this is one place to be wary of unscrupulous sharks. Open Wealth will have proven themselves to me only when the build is complete and we have a tenant but they seem—so far—like one of the few legitimate companies I’ve come across. There are all sorts of sales people out there trying to unload their stock (rather than the best property) and make a commission. Be very careful to understand the financial motivations of those you deal with and push them hard to ensure what you’re being told actually makes sense. I initiated conversations with several other companies during the selection process which eventually led us to Open Wealth and as soon as I pushed these companies on really basic matters they backed away and went quiet. It was really weird but I guess they want a pushover who’s just going to open their wallet and make it easy.
Brokers or buyers advocates I’m not familiar with but they may help you find something suitable. I have heard brokers tend to push existing real estate that’s closer to the CBD, rather than new builds in the outer ring suburbs. It’s worth understanding the benefits of building new and buying more low-cost properties over fewer expensive properties.
Interesting things, banks. They’re big (even the small ones), operate in isolation from each other (apart from overarching legislation), and are an integral part in property investment. Although we went through a mortgage broker, I started my enquiries with our current bank and the holder of the mortgage over our PPOR. I wanted to give them the opportunity to come up with a good offering even though I didn’t want to cross-securitise an investment property and our PPOR and I therefore new it was unlikely we’d give them our business for the main IP loan.
After assessing our circumstances, a free valuation on our family home was ordered. Knowing the bank value of our home was helpful in understanding how much equity we had in the property and therefore our LVR and what we can do over the next year or two in terms of investments.
The mobile lending specialist was a great help to me in understanding what options were available to us through our current bank and was able to answer many of the questions I had as we progressed with the purchase.
If nothing else, it felt like I had insider access to the bank!
In WA I’d refer to a conveyancer for settlement but because we bought in Queensland we’re dealing with a solicitor. Again, on recommendation from Open Wealth, we went with Blaak & Associates. A solicitor will ensure contracts are in order and ultimately work with the vendor and your lender to ensure settlement goes according to plan. Being from WA I’m not familiar with the settlement process in Queensland. For that matter I’m not particularly familiar with the process in WA! Nor do I wish to be! Conveyancing and settlement is, quite frankly, a chore I’m more than happy to pay someone to do. And the costs are really minimal—a few thousand dollars at most—and are, I believe, tax deductible (or contribute to the cost base of the property at the very least).
A solicitor can also prepare your will, which is something we’re sorting out for the first time as we move ahead. Notably, I’m using the DIY couples will kit from Australia Post… for now, anyway.
I’ll leave this as a placeholder to revisit once our IP is built and we’ve got a property manager on board.
For some readers, a financial advisor will be very important. For us, I know we’re forging ahead with property—pretty much exclusively—and I’ve defined our own financial goals and strategy for the short-term, medium-term, and long-term. I could pay a financial advisor to help here but for now I feel it would be wasted money (they do charge a fee). WSC Group do provide financial advice if you’re looking. WSC offer a financial planning service through a company they own called Jigsaw Financial Planning.
This listing is at the bottom as it isn’t directly related to property investment. It should probably be higher up in our case. By insurance I’m referring to life insurance, total and permanent disability (TPD), and salary continuance insurance (SCI) or income protection insurance. Although they overlap to some extent they’re all different and can be bought differently. If you’re employed and receive superannuation, you’ll likely find your super company offers basic life and SCI insurance. If you still hold super but aren’t working (like me) then double-check; in my case, I’m not insured.
Admittedly, insurance bores me to tears. More importantly, we’ve considered it too expensive to worry about to date. But with mounting debts and children—and being a single-income family—it’s something we need to consider. Once again, WSC is helping us here and we’re in the early stages of getting a solution in place that will keep us financially safe if something bad happens. I have found the premiums can be adjusted in relation to the amount of cover and, more interestingly, we can pay for some of those premiums using a partial rollover from our existing super funds. I’m not clear how this works but apparently it was introduced with recent (June 2014) legislative changes.
Odds and Ends
Other roles you may need to call on include:
- A justice of the peace to witness mortgage documents (thank you Queensland!)
- Your employer
- Your superannuation fund
- Your credit card companies
- Your car and personal loan financier
- Etc, etc…
I don’t want to suggest you need to have all of these team members in place from day one. We built this team gradually when the need arose and I hope we can reuse team members again in the future without making any changes to the line up. You may need fewer people or have the option to rely on one or two key players to facilitate multiple functions. The communication lines can get a bit complicated (and that’s one area where I’ve already seen tremendous value in Open Wealth as the central hub around which the other functions operate).
I’ll update this list when and as needed.
I suppose a disclaimer is also worth posting: I'm just a guy, I'm not an accountant, lawyer, solicitor, tax agent, mortgage broker, banker, financial adviser, insurance agent, land developer, builder, government agent, or anything else so I disclaim your application of anything I write here is to be applied at your own risk. What I write may be incorrect and you are best to seek your own professional advice (tax, legal, financial, and otherwise) before entering into contracts or spending your money. Your situation is unique to you and what I write here reflects my experience only. I'm learning too and expect to make many, many mistakes along the way.