“The accounting course is our date night: I’m always looking forward to Wednesdays!”
I am a property investor, a dental clinic manager, a student and a mother.
Even while I was studying for my a Bachelor’s degree in Science and Commerce at the university in Auckland, I knew that I didn’t want to sit in an office 9-to-5. I thought there had to be something more than that. It got me thinking about financial freedom and wealth.
I also had other reasons to think about financial independence. I lost my dad to cancer when I was 18. After his loss, I went through depression – it was my lowest point, and my family’s.
When he passed away, the stability of my family was lost. He was a successful businessman, and everyone depended on him. With him gone, I watched my mother and siblings really struggle to get through life and its challenges.
I picked up a book called Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and it changed my whole perspective on financial freedom. I decided to get into property, because I was impressed with the concept of doubling your equity every 7-10 years, and thought you can’t go wrong with that.
I was 22-23 at the time and I started researching and networking, which led me to meeting my mentor – Ron Fong. I tracked him down and went to one of his events, asking for help in buying a property.
He told me to go and look at a hundred open homes. After that he got me to analyze what I saw, put it into a spreadsheet. Then he asked me to pick 10 homes that were worthy of an offer and to arrange meetings with the agents.
Photo: Harn Teh
I had earned some money as a student, tutoring and working odd jobs – enough for a tiny deposit. Ron helped me with the process of getting a loan, which was very easy back then, and I managed to buy my first property – a townhouse.
We negotiated a deal where the vendors allowed me access to the property prior to settlement to allow for some minor renovations. Ron was a huge help throughout, he held my hand and walked me through the whole process.
I didn’t have any other funds left, so I had to do all cosmetic renovations myself, like painting, changing light bulbs etc.
I had classes from 9 till 3, and after dinner I worked until midnight, renovating. I had to learn how to do everything from YouTube!
But it paid off: I had a tenant before I even settled. I added value by renovating, put in a garden, so I could push the rent a bit higher.
That was how I started a property management company: Ron asked me to manage some of his properties for him, and it worked well, so I enrolled myself in a real estate course to become a certified agent. I thought it was compulsory for property management, and only later found out it wasn’t at all!
I had to learn a lot, to understand how real estate works, how to work with documents, negotiate and close, how to do long-term investments.
In the end, it proved very beneficial anyway and made me a better professional. Soon by word of mouth I had 60 rentals on my books!
I bought 8 more properties during that first year.
First, I approached the same vendor from whom I bought the first unit. She had four more on the same block, and she wanted to cash out and sell them all. I couldn’t afford all four, so I told Ron about it, he bought one, and then I got my lawyer and my accountant to buy one each. We had a deal!
I followed the same principle as with property number one. I added value. I refinanced, sold my car to have money for renovations.
I was on my own. I didn’t tell my mother or my brothers. They would’ve just thought I was crazy! My family always believed in having no debt. But I was driven by the idea of financial freedom. I didn’t want to be poor or work 9-to-5 for 50 years.
Photo: Harn Teh
Even then, my biggest goal was to be a mom and devote myself to growing and raising a strong family.
I pictured myself spending time with my children and my future husband. Lots of quality time – not stuck in some office, snatching minutes here and there. And to achieve this, I had to build a base early.
At one point the New Zealand Property Magazine did a front page on my story, so I had a lot of phone calls from people asking to teach them about property. And they even wanted to pay me for consulting!
So Ron and I started a mentoring group, Ronovationz. As my mentor, he was the front man: the face of the group, and I helped with the running of it.
We quickly accumulated 20 students. I was on the road a lot, organizing meetings and speakers, mentoring my students.
Once a student signs up for mentoring, they become your responsibility: you are on call to them, almost 24/7.
Aside from scheduled consultations, they can call at any time with a question, for urgent advice or help negotiating a deal. I was on the phone constantly, but I was young and single, so I didn’t mind.
I also became a selling agent for Barfoot and Thompson, as I felt it was a logical career progression in real estate. I did pretty well, I probably averaged one sale a week. I got sucked into the competition and wanted to be the number one salesperson, but then I realized that even though I was making money, and helping other people become rich, I stopped buying myself. So essentially, I stagnated.
Photo: Harn Teh
I decided to take a break from everything. I was around 25 back then. I thought I’d hold off what I was doing and then come back to it. I was sure I’d be able to pick it up again if need be.
I found a scholarship in a Chinese university for people who wanted to learn Chinese. I was born in Cambodia and I did learn some Mandarin in Sunday school growing up, but unfortunately didn’t continue with it.
I realized that China was booming and if I spoke the language, it may help me succeed further.
So I went to Beijing. I travelled around a lot, trying to absorb the Chinese culture. I thought I was going to stay there for a couple of years. But it worked out differently…
Before I left for China, I reconnected with a friend I knew from school, Joshua. I was friends with his sister-in-law, and she said we could make a good team, since he was into property as well. We stayed in touch while I was in Beijing and he was in Melbourne. We did have a lot of things in common.
Our relationship blossomed and he really worked on making it work. He arranged for me to fly to Malaysia to meet his parents. And then he proposed! We got married in Auckland on January 1, 2012, and then also had a reception in Malaysia.
We had to decide where to live after getting married. He was already earning a good income as a dentist in Melbourne. And I knew that if we returned to Auckland, I would be really busy with what I did before China, which would get in the way of my dream of motherhood.
So we decided that I should move to Melbourne, where I would be free to start a family. We were really young and we thought that we can always come back to Auckland if we screw up!
We found a retiring dentist and bought a clinic from him. He actually continued to work for us, earning more than he did when he was running the clinic – but all the new clients went to Josh.
I had no idea how to run a dental clinic. But I learned as I went: I self-taught.
I started by looking at expenses. Dentistry uses a lot of equipment, a lot of it is disposable, which means it doesn’t need to be very expensive. I managed to cut the costs in half.
Also the previous owner didn’t do any marketing. We started doing free consultations, and cut prices in half for new clients. It was a great way to build relationships with people: you explain to people what needs to be done with their teeth, how to save them. And once there’s trust, they come back to you.
So business just boomed and our books filled up. From losing money initially, we went to tripling sales. Now we have four dentists. For us to grow more, we need to take Josh away into a more managerial role, and hire other dentists to replace him.
We are expanding the business, which means I need to move away from working in the business to working on the business, managing.
We need to train great staff, and we want to pay them well and grow from there.
Josh is also happy with the idea of stepping back a bit. He and I are equal. I sometimes say to him, “You better watch what I’m doing, so if anything happens to me, you will know what to do!”
I keep quite busy with working and studying. On Mondays the kids are in childcare, so I do my administrative work, paying bills, managing. We also do staff meetings. It isn’t always easy, but we try to do them once a week – to see what’s happening, to motivate the team. On Tuesdays I have the kids, so I spend time with them, take them to play group and music group.
Wednesdays are my favourite day at the moment: my husband and I attend an accounting course together.
It was his idea to do the course, after we were both getting very frustrated with the amount of tax we were paying. We felt like our finances could be managed better, but didn’t know how to ask our accountants in the right way. So Josh said: ‘We should learn to do this ourselves.”
It’s a pretty intense course: it goes from 10am to 1.30pm, followed by a lot of additional reading. What you’d learn in a semester at university, we learn here once a week over 10 months. This will allow us to file our own taxes.
After study time though, we go and get lunch, just the two us. We catch up on the week, talk and laugh and just enjoy each other’s company. So the accounting course is like our date night: I’m always looking forward to Wednesdays!
On Thursdays I do my dental nursing course.
I run a successful dental clinic, but I never understood what’s involved in dentistry. Coming from a business background, my mind was on making money. But with the clinic, I wanted to become more passionate and knowledgeable about dentistry, so I’m taking this course. As the business grows (we’ve just bought another clinic), if a nurse is ever sick, or we get really busy, I’ll be able to jump in and help.
I’m really enjoying the course. I’m learning the terms, becoming qualified. It’s incredible how your teeth are so related to your overall health, everything is inter-connected.
I’ve realized how important it is to floss! – I’m a bit obsessed with it now.
We also continued with property investment. At this point we have 6 properties in Australia, and 15 in New Zealand. We made it a goal to get one property a year, to keep it going. We have a trust, which is brilliant, but dealing with professional trustees is hard, so you need to be careful about that.
Josh is a good finder, he has been finding all our properties since we got married. I’m the negotiator, I’m more responsible for closing the deals.
Recently we helped Josh’s parents to look for a property in Auckland, where they wanted to retire. We found a deal of the century for them – an old house, but beautifully renovated, and at a great price. But Josh’s parents wanted a brand new house. So we helped them find and buy one that they were happy with.
But we fell in love with the older house! We enquired and found out it was already under offer. Not really expecting anything, we made a back-up offer. And lo and behold! – they called us a few days later and wanted to sell. We went through a big negotiation process, and now the house is ours!
Looking back, even though I started pretty young, I wish I purchased my properties even earlier.
There was a boom that I just missed out on. I started at the peak, and missed out on some great deals. But it has all worked out in the end – that’s the best thing about property, it’s pretty forgiving.
I love being a mom, spending time with the kids, watching them grow.
I have become a lot more patient and understanding because of my kids; I have learned a lot from them. We plan to invest into private primary school, so our kids will have a strong foundation. Maybe we’ll do private school for the first 5 years. It’s a good environment for building a humble, honest person with integrity.
It will cost a lot, but it will work out. I looked at some schools and was amazed by them, the way they teach manners and respect. I think the attitude is more important than academics. I want my kids to be happy, whatever they do. For secondary school, I’d love them to get into a great public school on merit.
I’m planning to have another child next year. Ideally I want four kids! I’ve got one of each now, a boy and a girl. Ideally I’ll have two more of each.
But I’m happy with whatever happens, I just love being a mom! I am happy that I followed through on my dreams. I still have plenty of goal and dreams, and I try to stick to the system of revising my goals every quarter or so to make sure I’m on track.
I thinks it is important – if anyone wants to get into property, or into certain career, the key is to believe in yourself and just start moving forward. That is my advice to anyone – follow your dreams by working hard and always moving forward.