She Renovates podcast is back again with another amazing guest, Suzette Halliwell. Suzette was my first student when I started The School Of Renovating. Just like other aspiring renovators out there, Suzette started renovating as a hobby and later on became a business. She will share how she started her reno journey, the pearls of wisdom she picked along the way, how she gained confidence in renovating, where she is now in her reno career and her funniest reno moment.
Listen to Episode 115: Meet Suzette, Our Website Cover Girl
Podcast: Download (Duration 29:40 — 2MB)
- [00:00:32] The School Of Renovating first student
- [00:02:27] A renovator’s path
- [00:03:33] You’re always attracted to your passion
- [00:04:51] Something that invites you in
- [00:06:03] Baptism by fire
- [00:07:34] A great collector
- [00:08:42] The comfort you can bring to somebody else
- [00:09:49] You don’t know what you need until you need it
- [00:10:43] Evolving the role of being a mother
- [00:12:00] The power of a group of women
- [00:13:00] The biggest challenge in forging a path
- [00:14:12] With renovating you do have something to sell
- [00:15:48] A good passive income
- [00:17:54] Joint venture
- [00:19:18] Renovating keeps you young
- [00:20:12] The main game
- [00:21:27] It’s only fear
- [00:23:34] Tips for women who’s been toying the idea of renovating
- [00:24:54] Getting things right, gives you the confidence
- [00:26:09] The funniest reno moment
“There’s no such thing as a dumb question or there’s no such thing as failure because there isn’t any. Really everything’s fixable, everything’s doable, and if you’re worried, ask.”
Hello renovators! Today I have cover girl, Suzette Halliwell. Suzette was my first ever student and she has been a part of The School Of Renovating since 2013. I brought her in today to really talk about her journey.
Like all things in life, it’s never a straight road. There’s always twists and turns, but she’s maintained the faith and she’s done some really amazing things in those seven years. One of the things she’s done was to renovate and hold properties that are now producing a really substantial income for her.
I hesitate to use the word passive, but yeah that’s commonly what it’s known as. She and I have also done some projects together and now she’s morphing into a new stage in her career. She’s teamed up with one of our Wonder Women and they’re putting together a business and are on the path to doing several renovations a year in order to both return a decent income. They’re very close to launching their first project in that next step, but Suzette has a lot of little pearls of wisdom that she’s picked up along the way and I know that you’re going to enjoy this episode.
Cover Girl – Suzett Halliwell
Bernadette: Hello! It’s Bernadette back with another episode of She Renovates and today I have Suzette Halliwell.
Bernadette: Now, Suzette was my first ever student when I started The School Of Renovating. It used to be The Australian School Of Renovating actually in 2013?
Suzette Halliwell: It was 2013.
Bernadette: Yeah. I put together an online course. Nobody did online renovating courses at that time. And I think it was pretty bad, but Suzette was my first student and we have been in the trenches together. We’ve done a couple of projects together. So I wanted Suzette to come in and to talk to you about the path of a renovator.
A lot of our audiences are women so I refer directly to you about having this dream of renovating but haven’t really figured out how it’s going to play out. How many renovations have you done, Suzette?
Suzette Halliwell: I’ve probably done about six or seven?
Bernadette: Okay? Is that all? Might’ve been more than that.
Suzette Halliwell: Okay. If you count little tiny ones, I’m always looking for a bit of something and putting it back together in a different way. I would call the six or seven major ones in terms of a house or apartment joint venture, whatever. They’re big ones. The rest are bothering my family by ripping down whatever they are living in. An important room.
Bernadette: What I wanted to do is firstly, to ask you just to share a little bit about why you decided to go down this path, pretty much for a start. So what brought you to renovating?
Suzette Halliwell: You’re always attracted to your passion, of course. And renovating is a passion for me for a couple of reasons. There’s a start and finish. I like to look at something, see how it can change, have a process, do it and step back and look at it and critique it, usually critique it. I like that. I like the aesthetics of it. I like things that look good. I like my own house to invite me in. I like other places that just woo me. And that for me is a real lure for renovating. To take something that has potential and get it at the end to invite you in. I love that.
Bernadette: But you could do that just with your own home. Why are you going out and doing other renos?
Suzette Halliwell: I have done it with my own home and I think I’m banned now where I live and people want me to stop. It’s a natural progression. It’s a natural morphing from working a little bit small to challenging itself and working a bit bigger.
Bernadette: What’s your day job?
Suzette Halliwell: I’m a bookkeeper so that works well with jobs; starting jobs, finishing, having a formula. I like to bake. I like to cook as well. Same thing, you get an idea, something invites you to eat, or look at it, you find it pleasing. There’s a start, there’s a formula and there’s a finish and you have usually a pass or fail. And, we get more passes than fails in all things. So that’s been a natural progression for me to move on to something bigger.
I wanted to see if I could match the picture. I’d seen it on television. I’d seen other people doing it and heard about other people doing it. Why not me? How do I do this? So yeah, I then renovated my other houses, my properties and then went, “okay now what? How can I buy something else? Did I have enough confidence to do it for other people at that stage? No.
Suzette Halliwell: So slowly and then meeting you and coming into this environment gave me a safe spot to grow and to grow confidence and to learn a bit more and to get into properties other than my own addresses.
Bernadette: Do you remember at one stage, because you and I did it. Some of you would know that tiny little project that we did in Bourke street in Surry Hills, Suzette was the manager of that project.
Suzette Halliwell: Baptism by fire, I call it. It was great. We’d searched in it and I’d searched a with all the criteria in place and we had fun doing that. We’d had a couple of looks. We’d looked at this place. A while before and then finally got it. It was everything that somebody should tell you, should teach you a good lesson.
Bernadette: Didn’t make a profit. Yeah. So I think we both came out of that thinking. So it’s basically a tiny 28 square meter apartment. We were saying, if you could make money out of something that’s small and that cheap.
Suzette Halliwell: That quick.
Bernadette: Yeah. Quick as three weeks.
Suzette Halliwell: Oh! And guess who went away?
Bernadette: Sorry. I haven’t had a sense of how that feels because when we finished Bondi. But we had finished actually, David took off.
Suzette Halliwell: And I remember the cruise boats in those days didn’t really have internet or fun.
Bernadette: I went on a cruise.
Suzette Halliwell: That was funny.
Bernadette: But see, that’s part of the growth, Suzette.
Suzette Halliwell: Can I say thank you? Honestly, thank you. Ah, it was good. It was good though. And I was still trying to do a job that fortunately I could live in during the day. If a tradesman find something and say, “what do you want to do about this? We’ve just found a big hole in the floor. ” I was like, “be right with you.”
Bernadette: So I do remember that you tended to buy properties as a project and then not be able to part with them?
Suzette Halliwell: Oh, I’m a great collector. Yeah. I got a bit selfish.
Bernadette: But I think that you have done really well. You’ve already built a really substantial financial foundation.
Suzette Halliwell: Yes.
Bernadette: And that’s awesome!
Suzette Halliwell: Yes, I have. And I would like to say that was a master plan. I’ll say that there was a master plan, but the cool fact, like everything else, it was quite a few stages of indecision. “What do I do?” When in doubt, don’t do anything. Just wait to get another plan. I did get to a point where I did decide to sell one.
Suzette Halliwell: And that turned out to be a very good decision because it’s now enabled me to move on and keep going with renovating. Had I kept that I’m stymied, I couldn’t move forward and yes, keeping the other stuffs, it’s great. It sets me up very nicely to be able to fund other projects and really that’s where I want to go.
Suzette Halliwell: I’m not ready to stop yet, but I like a little bit of a backstop.
Bernadette: Yeah. Awesome. So now you’re in a position where you’re able to support and mentor other Wonder Women.
Suzette Halliwell: Yes. Yeah. It’s surprising what comfort you can bring to somebody else who’s trembling in their boots when you’ve been there yourself.
And it’s surprising what you do know, and the big thing is that usually these people know it too. They just need somebody to go.
Bernadette: It’s a confidence thing.
Suzette Halliwell: Oh, my word. Yeah. “Settle down. You’re on the right track. Show me what? What’s your A or your B here?” And it’s that good. It’s getting over that other little speed hump and getting the confidence to take steps forward and they don’t have to be large steps.
Suzette Halliwell: I remember the many years ago when I was all about and going to buy something else. And I said, I can’t afford it. So I can’t do any of it. And you said, “what’s wrong with going to an apartment?” Oh, wait, I hadn’t even thought of that. So, yeah.
Bernadette: There’s always a way.
Suzette Halliwell: There’s always a way. And how did you know it? Because you’d found that out. I didn’t know when you passed that on. And basically I liked doing that with people now. Possibly.
Bernadette: Yeah. You can do formal training and there are some things that you absolutely have to learn, but there is just so many little nuances around renovating that by sharing information. It’s like osmosis, you don’t know what you need until you need it. And then just being able to talk to other people that have been in your situation yeah, I think it’s a great thing. And it’s fun to do together.
Suzette Halliwell: Oh, it’s great! It’s great to be around other people who have the same passion as you. It’s cultish in a way, you try to have fun with somebody and talk about renovating to somebody who’s not, and it’s crickets and props, it’s hard jacka. But it’s terrific! You get together with all these people and they’re so generous with their ideas, with their time. It’s yeah. I’ve landed in the right spot.
Bernadette: Awesome. And actually something that occasionally happens at our dinner table because as we mostly have a family project on the go and our youngest daughter, Grace is not unknown for saying, “can we please stop talking about renovating?” Because she is not the slightest bit interested, but she will soon be doing her own project because she now has a full-time job. And I suspect that will change.
Suzette Halliwell: Its amazing how views can change. I have some members of my family or particularly one who has looked at me over the years and said that I’m sure he feels that I should have more, I won’t say left or right views, but he has felt that I might have been doing other people out of the home. I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure when he starts to buy his own, my skills will certainly come in handy as with other members of my family. They’ve gone, “well, can you do the kitchen mom? Can you do this? Mom, can you help us have a look? Yeah, sure. Love to.”
Bernadette: That’s interesting. It’s an interesting sort of way to evolve the role of mother. And to still be relevant with your children.
Suzette Halliwell: That’s terrific. You can grow with them a bit and stay relevant and a source of knowledge for them too. And it’s a great compliment.
Bernadette: It is and so you mentioned a while ago that you had a son that was looking at buying a property in Brisbane, did he go through with it?
Suzette Halliwell: No, I didn’t go through with it. And here’s another tick for the community. He approached me and said that they’d seen this property. It could be a fabulous deal in terms of land as well as the house and subdividing it and all the rest of it. Look good. So I put the feelers out into the community and truly, I’d say within an hour and a half, two hours had opinions and from people I had never met. To go check this for you. Check that for you. Anyway, in the end, it was a no go. Now how handy is that? Amazing. And how generous was that? I will then to go back to my son who knew absolutely none of these people and say, listen, I’ve just put the feelers out and he’s the feedback. Please have a look at something else.
And he goes, Oh, that was quick. I say, they’re pretty good. They’re pretty generous.
Bernadette: The power of a group of women. Motivated women.
Suzette Halliwell: Yeah.
Bernadette: Yeah. What do you think was your biggest challenge in forging a path? Like in renovating, what do you think you needed to overcome?
Suzette Halliwell: First of all money.
Suzette Halliwell: First of all, to think about money in a different way altogether to think about money as an enabler, rather than a disabler. I did that and that came about quite by accident, but it came about when I met a mortgage broker who had, when I was working at a place many years ago, came into review people’s superannuation.
He had a little bit of my stuff and he said, “did you know you could do X, Y, and Z? And in your situation at that time,” he said, “you’re going to need money and you need some way to be able to get money without going to a bank.” So all that got organized and then that morphed into me going if money’s a digital thing, then there must be a formula here. And maybe I can use that to then go and buy something else, which I did.
So it was all about that. And then that allowed them my creative stuff or my passion for renovating to become something that really could happen.
Bernadette: Yeah. Actually, that’s an interesting point because I think I had a similar epiphany because I used to freak out. I’ve talked about this a few times on the podcast about debt. I used to feel quite anxious about it. We paid our mortgage off three times because I just couldn’t stand to have the debt. And until one day I realized that money is just figures on paper. And when you take that emotion out of it, it gives you a lot more freedom.
Suzette Halliwell: You get more upset about paying for the groceries at Woolworths, because that is a tangible thing rather than millions of dollars on a document because that’s a digital thing. One is no less important than the other, but one is something that you can step back from and make a critical decision about .
Bernadette: Exactly. It takes the attachment out of it.
Suzette Halliwell: That’s right.
Bernadette: I think that’s for women it’s –
Suzette Halliwell: Very close to home.
Bernadette: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Suzette Halliwell: It’s very fearful. And I do remember in my early years, and it’s only, I think because my children have grown up now I was always as frightened of, debt or, something going particularly wrong. Now I think I’ve got these formers, I know what to do, and with renovating you do have something to sell.
Bernadette: Exactly. And you have control.
Suzette Halliwell: You do.
Bernadette: Yeah. You have control over your budget. You can decide what you spend, what you do. And I think the trick is knowing what you can get away with really isn’t it?
Suzette Halliwell: And that’s where the community comes in. That’s where the training comes in. All this starts to get pared down where they’re not even decisions anymore. That’s automatic. That’s automatic. That sort of,
Bernadette: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Okay. So you’ve done quite a few renovations and you’ve built yourself a very substantial I’ll say passive, but we know what it’s not passive income from buying and holding. Buying, renovating and holding property.
Suzette Halliwell: Yeah, it is. Yeah. It’s good passive income.
Bernadette: And you’ve sold just recently renovated to sell a property?
Suzette Halliwell: This was a little studio on the beach. It’s a 300 meter walk to the beach. And I had been back to this particular mortgage broker who organized more finance for me, which was great. And I thought, “Oh the banks were going to be no good because this was enough to deposit the bank. Probably felt it in there now.” Anyway, long story short, I bought this little studio apartment, which was great. I rented it out for four years. It basically covered itself. It always had a little bit of a loss.
And then I thought if I’m to move forward, I need to get back this ability to be able to spend money somewhere else. So yes, I did. I took a little studio, which was a very dull box and made it very appealing and sold it. And it had some lot of people came in and just went, “Oh, this is really inviting. I could live here,” which is exactly what you want. That’s what you do to yourself. “I love this. I want to live here.”
Bernadette: Did that translate into profit?
Suzette Halliwell: Yes, it did.
Bernadette: Awesome. Do you know how much? Can you remember how much?
Suzette Halliwell: Without doing the capital gains and all that sort of stuff. But I bought for $400 and I sold for $485.
Okay, great. Awesome. And that is not bad for studios because they don’t move as fast. They’re not as-
Bernadette: And particularly you didn’t actually buy it as a flip.
Suzette Halliwell: No, I did not. But I did make the decision to sell it rather than go Airbnb. And I know the people who did buy it are going to Airbnb and live in it themselves. They’re going to alternate because that wasn’t my path.
Suzette Halliwell: So that made the decision to sell even more concrete.
Suzette Halliwell: The exciting bit. I’ve been lucky enough to find a partner to do some joint ventures with, and we are embarking .We’ve set up all their legals and all the rest of it and are embarking on going into properties together and buying and selling.
And she’s a person who’s very similar to me in my values. And expectations and I am so excited to be able to move forward and keep this as a business. Now my hobbies and my passions have turned into a business and a profit, or it will be a profitable one because a lot of the bank part of The School Of Renovating and being part of the groups that I’m in. A lot of that fear can be taken away because you can’t outsource your fears. There’s no such thing as a dumb question or, there’s no such thing as failure because there isn’t any ,really everything’s fixable, everything’s doable. If you’re worried, ask.
So I think that now, what am I now? 60? How can you do Helen’s piece of string? What are you doing it for?
Bernadette: As long as you feel that you’ve got the capacity to do it.
Suzette Halliwell: That’s exactly right. So this is a very exciting time of my life. When a lot of my friends have been going well, we’re looking at retirement now and all that sort of thing. I’ve gone, “well actually I’m not going that way.” Yeah.
Bernadette: Awesome! And the thing is actually, I don’t know who I was talking about this the other day. It keeps you young. Turning 60. If you retire, you get old very quickly because you then stop mingling with people in the real world. You start-
Suzette Halliwell: Contracting a bit.
Bernadette: Yeah, Social life with your 60 year old friends, like 60 years, actually the new 40 just saying, but-
Suzette Halliwell: I’m not with you.
Bernadette: But you don’t have that same drive. And so that’s why I think that renovating is a great thing to do because it keeps you young and it keeps you motivated and active and yeah. And it keeps money coming in, which is awesome. So you were telling me before about your goals. So three projects a year?
Suzette Halliwell: Three projects a year enables both of us to lead a very good life.
Bernadette: And so you’ve got a focus on a hundred thousand each a year?
Suzette Halliwell: Yes that’s the main game. And we’re not stuck in Sydney, so we’re quite happy to move out of Sydney to look at properties in other areas, North, South. East-west even other States, I don’t mind because the game is the same.
Bernadette: Beautiful. I think the other thing is that you have that experience of doing the project with someone else, which is always so much better than doing it on your own.
Suzette Halliwell: It can be lonely renovating.
Bernadette: It can. Yeah.
Suzette Halliwell: You’re there with tradesmen who- most of them are good, you can beat a few, but some can get pretty grumpy or tell you that, ” where’s your husband?” You know, “what does your husband say?” No, but I’ll tell you this, and it can get a bit lonely, so it’s great to have a partner to bounce things off. That makes it very exciting.
Bernadette: Yeah, exactly. And it’s funny cause you’ve been working with Odette on her project.
Suzette Halliwell: I wouldn’t say working with, she’s the leader. If there’s been a time issue or she would like another set of eyes I’ve been more than happy to go along and say. “Yeah, sure. Let me have a look”
Bernadette: And that’s great! Yesterday was a demo and she said to me that she really wanted support on the demo day. So I went over there and about 10 o’clock we’re sitting out on the fence. And I’m thinking, “what am I supporting you? I don’t know Odette, I think you really got this under control.”
So I think it’s just and like we did actually make that rule that on demo day, make sure that you’ve got a second person with you. Cause sometimes stuff goes wrong. We know that but it really is just that moral support more than anything and yeah.
Suzette Halliwell: Yeah. Look, you don’t know everything. You think I’ve worked? My brother’s a builder and every time I mentioned renovating, he’s got a list this long of things there, “remember this, remember that and do this and do that.” And all of those, I know there’s a lot of stuff I don’t.
Suzette Halliwell: Having someone on the end of the phone, it’s just as good as having them there as well.
Bernadette: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I agree. And I think that is where women I think really do this better because we do acknowledge where the things that are gonna make a difference to us.
Suzette Halliwell: Yeah, it’s true. But women have. That’s a generalisation, isn’t it?
Bernadette: Oh, we’re allowed to make generalisations. That’s my real saying.
Suzette Halliwell: Okay. You’re the boss. You’re quite right. but once I’ll speak to myself once I got over the fear of asking a question, for fear of being stupid, for fear of lots of things. Once I got over that, like always 75% of the way there. Yeah. The answer’s always no, if you don’t ask a question-
Suzette Halliwell: Always no.
Bernadette: If you don’t ask.
Suzette Halliwell: If you don’t ask. So for me, learning how to ask, knowing that I didn’t know everything and don’t take it as a confirmation of stupidity or whatever you’re thinking at the time, it’s only fear.
Bernadette: Yeah. And so what would you say to someone who was thinking about going down this path? So if someone, a young woman who, actually, let’s not say young woman,let’s say an older woman who is sick of a job, who’s toying with the idea of renovating, what would you say to them? What sort of skills would you suggest that they work on? Like other than the renovating skill obviously that’s a given, but what in themselves would they need to be able to move forward?
Suzette Halliwell: I think the bookkeeping side of it, not just because I am a bookkeeper, but that is always a fear when you’re going into the unknown. And particularly as a woman with finance that you will lose the lot. So learning how to forecast what you might buy something for and what you might sell it for. And isn’t it feasible? Is very important. I think learning that and learning how to do some research either by yourself or through real estate agents or property buyers they set you up. After that, it’s whether you choose pink or blue paint a lot of the time or whatever, because everybody else is going to educate you after that.
The kitchen guy educates you every time doesn’t he and the bathroom guy. They all do that over and over. But getting those things right, gives you the confidence gives you the speak. Yeah, you’re in charge.
Bernadette: Actually, that’s true. And one of the things you mentioned there, which is a really big point, so being able to forecast this offering quite daunting for someone new, and that’s why we now work with some property strategists and buyers, people that are versed in the type of work that we do, who understand the principles so that you have professional support in that.
Because that’s the thing, like everyone looks at The Block and thinks, but what they don’t realize is that I probably do realize those people don’t buy those properties, they have professional buyers buy them. And so do we now, and you’re actually using one of those buyers And I personally think that is a key piece of the puzzle.
Suzette Halliwell: Oh, my word. Without a doubt, that takes a lot of the fear out of it. That if you choose a property buyer, who’s specific to an area, they know all the ins and outs and it’s worth money to them to get it right.
Bernadette: Exactly. Particularly if there’s someone that’s specialized in renovation projects because that’s their reputation and I would agree.
Suzette Halliwell: And you’re buying, years and years of them being involved in that area and relationships and little nuances that you as a newbie would come in and just get eaten up.
Bernadette: Exactly. Yeah. And just one more thing before we finish up. Tell me what’s the scariest or the funniest thing that you’ve ever had happened on a renovation?
Suzette Halliwell: Funnily enough, that would be Bourke street.
Bernadette: Oh God. I knew you were going to say that! Are you talking about the plumbing?
Suzette Halliwell: No. Well, the plumbing was one thing, but I had shut all the doors because everybody was complaining that I had ruined their lives by doing this renovation, which actually I didn’t even ask permission to do. I just ran in and did it. That was a big thing.
Bernadette: We did ask permission to do it.
Suzette Halliwell: In the end?
Bernadette: Yeah, we did ask permission though. Just a bit slow coming through.
Suzette Halliwell: Okay. All right. We’ll go with that. Yeah. But I had all the doors shut because all this dust was going everywhere and I opened a few windows, but not in time and the smoke alarm when off. There were three fire engines that started roaring down the street and the fellow who was coming to standing said,
“Oh, this is bad.”
I said, ” what do you mean?”
And he goes, “can you hear that?”
“What do you mean?”
He goes, “the fire department, they’re coming here.”
“What do you mean? Oh you’ve set off the fire alarm. They’re coming. You’re in big trouble.”
“You set off the fire alarm and you’re in charge of this, it’s your fault.”
” Down the alley. That much. Yep. It’s got nothing to do with me. You’re the boss.”
“Okay. So what’s so bad about the fire department?”
“They’re going to charge you thousands for turning up”
Bernadette: $300, it wasn’t their last job.
Suzette Halliwell: Probably per fire truck. And I thought, “Oh my God, what am I going to do? I wonder where that water is pointing Bernadette? Anyway, so raced outside that they’d stopped all the traffic, there were fire trucks everywhere. The goal of good-looking firemen is getting out of this so I used all the skills that I had learnt so far to get out of this… and I burst into tears.
Bernadette: It worked?
Suzette Halliwell: Yes. I was so pathetic. Like they felt so sorry for me.
“Never mind go home quietly.”
“No, please don’t do any sirens on it anymore.”
And the guy, when I went back in there, he just went, “you chicks always do that.”
Bernadette: “You just cry. “
Suzette Halliwell: And I thought, “yeah, that chick just got out from the bad headache.” Seeing them come down the road.
Bernadette: I know it’s such a pain, isn’t it? Actually, we went very close to doing that on our last project.
Suzette Halliwell: Oh boy. And I’ll tell you what, so you learnt. I always look at that, anybody’s doing anything inside and we got all the doors and windows open. We don’t want this. They don’t want this thing going off.
Bernadette: Yeah. Yeah. All well, thank you, Suzette! That was a very interesting middle chat and I’m not sure whether it’s going to generate confidence in our perspective.
Suzette Halliwell: Which you’ll always have some fun.
Bernadette: Yeah, exactly. Thank you.
Suzette Halliwell: My pleasure.
Cover Girl – Suzette Halliwell
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