Mary Nieuwland Talks To Bernadette Janson About The Avocado Smash Approach To Renovating With Your Children

Mary Nieuwland the avocado smash approach with your children

If you follow our She Renovates podcast you will be familiar with the strategy we came up with to give our children a leg up in the property market without giving them handouts – The Avocado Smash Approach. We pool our resources with each of our kids, do a renovation together and split the profits.

Mary Nieuwland has used The Avocado Smash Approach to help her daughter, Layla, break into the property market. She is also a successful Airbnb owner, and mentored some of our other women on several other projects. She has become the go-to person in her area. She is a legend in our community.

Mary Nieuwland’s Project Using The Avocado Smash Approach With Her Family

Mary recently completed a project using the Avocado Smash Approach with her son in Essendon. Mary said that even though there were added costs and delays in the project due to COVID, having a project to work on saved their sanity. Mary, her husband and her daughter were all involved in the renovation.

Financing the project

I asked Mary to run us through her project, starting with the financing. Her son was a first time buyer, so he purchased the property in his name and financed it. At the time of purchasing, he only had to pay half the stamp duty as a result of a scheme that was going on at that time. 

One of the conditions was that they had to hold on to the property for at least a year. Due to the amount of cosmetic work that needed to be completed, they thought a year would be a good time frame. As it turned out, the project ended up taking two years due to the delays caused by six COVID lockdowns.

The property

The property Mary’s son chose was a villa unit in Essendon that was built in the Seventies. It was a single-story property that was larger than some of the more modern buildings on the market. It had a nice-sized backyard and it was close to a supermarket complex and public transport. The location was ideal. 

The scope of the project

Mary added value to the property by:

  • Opening up the wall between the entrance hallway and the living space by creating an open bookcase to let the light through.
  • Removed the mature shrubs and trees in the backyard and put decking down, opening up the yard and creating a resort feel.
  • Painted everything white.
  • Replaced the kitchen.
  • Replaced the bathroom.
  • Revamped the laundry.
  • Added new flooring throughout the house.

Their target market was either a young professional couple or someone looking to downsize. They took advice from a number of estate agents that work in the area. In the end, their buyer was an older lady who had been living in the area for a long time. The renovation was right up her alley.


Mary’s son bought the property for $620,000. Their renovating costs were $64,000 and their holding costs were $7,000. When it came to marketing the property, they spent $16,000. In the end they made a tidy profit of $90,000.

The Avocado Smash Approach Is About Retaining What You Can

Mary’s original plan with the wall that separated the entrance hall and the living space was to remove it altogether. She discovered that would be a costly exercise because it was a structural wall. If she were to remove it she would have to insert a beam in its place.

Instead of removing the wall, she decided to make use of what she had. They removed the plaster from the top half of the wall and left the supports in place. They opened up the top half of the wall to create the open bookshelf, allowing light into the hallway.

It turned out so well, one of their neighbours asked if he could copy it! 

It pays to retain what you can in a renovation. Don’t give in and let your trades talk you into ripping everything out and starting from scratch. In this case, not being able to take out the wall resulted in an appealing feature. Mary said:

Well, for me anyway, [the fun part of renovation] is to come up with solutions to the problem. I think that’s… the fun part of the challenge.

The Biggest Challenges Mary Faced In Her Avocado Smash Approach Towards Renovation

The Kitchen

Mary says her biggest challenge was the kitchen. It already had a great layout and it was in a good condition, but it needed updating. The original plan was to get a kitchen company to come in and replace the bench top and the cupboard doors. But Maru felt their price was too high. She decided to undertake the project herself.

It turned out to be much more difficult than anticipated. You need to use the right hinges on the new doors to make sure they fit. That meant that after much trial and error, Mary had to give up on her wish for soft-close hinges and put the original hinges back. Mary said:

It was a nightmare. But it’s a lesson learned and the kitchen looked beautiful in the end… it would have been much cheaper having the original company come in and just do it because it added a lot of extra time and worry.

The Neighbours

The second largest challenge for Mary was the neighbour who didn’t like any noise coming from the property. Mary says they tried to keep it very quiet and they got there in the end.

Styling The Property

Mary gets intimately involved in her projects and she has a distinctive way of styling. She says:

My family hate me when it’s styling time, because I take furniture and bits and pieces away from everywhere.

Her husband’s coffee table; her daughter’s dining room chairs. Everything is fair game when it comes to styling a renovation. Mary takes bits and pieces away from everywhere. The family pools their resources, pulling furniture together to make it look cohesive and luxurious. For the pieces they needed to buy, Mary turned to Facebook Marketplace.

When you have a flare for styling it makes sense to do it yourself. It makes your project look more like a home and less like it has been staged. 

Sourcing Properties to Renovate

Mary loves the thrill of the hunt. She loves looking for houses online and visiting opens. She is also friends with an estate agent and has been lucky enough to get some properties that were not yet on the market. 

Mary has become the unofficial authority in her area with our wonder women community. She has been helping women find properties to renovate. She says:

And I enjoy doing it. I love going out and having a look. [I am careful] with my opinion, but always give an opinion on whether I think something’s a good buy or not.

Mary’s Inspiration To Carry On Working In Renovating

Many women in Mary’s position would be sitting back, doing very little. I asked Mary what she gets out of renovating? What inspires her to go and seek out a project to work on? Her answer was:

I think it gives me a purpose, maybe it’s because I don’t have grandchildren.

She loves seeing old places brought back to life; making them into homes for new families. It is very satisfying to sit back and look at what you have created; breathed new life into an old, worn out property. 

Mary says she also likes being busy. As much as she may like to sit down and read a book all day, but right now she has too much energy. Maybe one day she will get to the stack of books she would like to read. 

Mary has a great working relationship with her daughter. Working with her energises Mary and keeps her up to date with new technology. She says it keeps her young. The ripple effect of Mary doing well, means that her family is doing well too. She and Layla have built a successful business together, something that gives a mother great satisfaction.

Mary’s business began in the Nineties when her children were babies and she wanted to stay at home with them, but still be productive and earn an income. One thing led to another. Mary never dreamed that it would be a business she could involve her daughter in. She says it was purely by accident that Layla came into it and she is really happy that she has. Layla has breathed new life into it. 

Women In The Renovating Business

Women in general are scared of making mistakes, especially in business. We can be very hard on ourselves. Mary says that the best way to deal with this burden is to share it; talking about it. She said:

And I’ve found that my husband has been extremely supportive.

Mary’s husband takes great pride in her achievements. Mays says that her renovating business has been a liberating experience for her and her marriage. A supportive family makes a huge difference.

Well, for me anyway, [the fun part of renovation] is to come up with solutions to the problem. I think that’s… the fun part of the challenge.

Mary’s husband takes great pride in her achievements. Mays says that her renovating business has been a liberating experience for her and her marriage. A supportive family makes a huge difference.

No mistake is insurmountable”, says Mary. You can always get through it. In the end it is just a mistake that can be fixed. 

In the renovating business, mistakes happen in every project. You can count on things not running as smoothly as you had hoped. When you make a mistake, you must first acknowledge the mistake before you can work it out. If you can’t work it out for yourself, then you share it with other people. The women in our Wonder Women Program are a fabulous resource. They are willing to jump in and help you solve your problem. 

Mary’s Joint Venture With One Of Our Wonder Women

Mary is still looking for new challenges. She has joined forces with one of our Wonder Women, Joanne to renovate a family home.  Following the avocado smash approach rules, they have gone into the project 50:50, which made buying the house affordable for them, even leaving some money in the kitty. 

They have bought a forty six year old house that is in a beautiful condition, but still has forty six year old decor. Mary feels that the garden is going to be their biggest challenge. It is a Bush Block that is looking a bit unloved. A lot of work will need to be done there. 

They are ready to go! They are busy with the planning and getting all the quotes. Working with someone outside the family will be very different and will require some new skills for Mary. She will need to remember that she will have to chat to Joanne before doing anything that she could normally just do. 

I am thrilled with this collaboration and I can’t wait to see how it turns out. I am sure it will be a fabulous success and we can record an episode of She Renovates for Mary and Joanne to celebrate the outcome. 


She Renovates Free Facebook Group

If you want to meet up with a group of savvy renovators. I would say come over and join She Renovates Facebook Group. It’s a completely FREE Facebook group and it is growing at the rate of knots. We hit over a thousand members just recently, and now it seems to have picked up momentum. They are all savvy renovating women and men working their little hearts out to live a better life through renovating.

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Bernadette Janson

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