117 – Case Study: Newcastle Architect Matt & Wife Caroline

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Newcastle Architect

Renovating by yourself is great, but renovating with your life partner is a gift. Today, I have Matt Hull and Caroline Dando, a couple who renovate for profit together after graduating from The School Of Renovating. They will share their renovating journey as a couple, their strategies, and their plans for the growth of their reno business.

Listen to Episode 117: Case Study: Newcastle Architect Matt & Wife Caroline

Podcast: Download (Duration 20:27 — 19MB)

Episode Highlights

  • [00:00:35] A Newcastle architect’s skill 
  • [00:01:37]  About Matt 
  • [00:03:28] Passing on information and knowledge to the next generation of architects
  • [00:04:14] Strong interest and passion for interior design
  • [00:04:59] Properties in portfolios
  • [00:06:13] Renovation bucket
  • [00:06:59] The second project at Carrington 
  • [00:08:01] We all love numbers
  • [00:08:23] Renovating a family home 
  • [00:09:26] A different skillset
  • [00:10:11] Renovating as a couple 
  • [00:11:06] The power of passion and natural inclination 
  • [00:12:45] Once you are interested in something, your attitude changes
  • [00:13:37] Trying to set the wheels in motion 
  • [00:14:28] Renovate and hold
  • [00:15:52] Getting to where you want to go much quicker
  • [00:16:49] Purchasing a property with a land component 
  • [00:17:55] The impact of renovating to Newcastle architect, Matt and Caroline’s lives 
Newcastle Architect

Design Pad Architecture Renos. More photos in the show notes

Newcastle Architect

Images from: Design Pad Architecture 

Newcastle Architect Matt and Caroline Dando


“It’s given us the confidence to project that vision to work out how we can get there, implement it, get it done, and then end up with a product that does sell for the money that we thought it might.”


Well, hello everyone! It’s Bernadette, back with another episode of She Renovates. I’ve got Newcastle architect Matt and Caroline here today. Matt and Caroline got married straight after they did the Bootcamp and they were set on changing their property journey using renovating. Matt is an architect based in Newcastle. Excluding Matt and David, a lot of architects aren’t really willing to look outside their field to see if there’s education out there that will make a difference and that’s where I think Matt is quite smart. He has been willing to be open-minded about it.

Bernadette Janson: I’m really curious to really talk to you about what your journey has been like and whether you’ve achieved the results you’ve wanted to? What impact it’s had on your first four years of married life? Before we start, Matt, do you want to just share a little bit about your business. What you do in Newcastle?

Matt Hull: Like you said I’m a local architect in Newcastle, registered. And I’ve been living here since I came up to study from Sydney in 1991 and fell in love with the place. I could see the potential of Newcastle back in the early 90s. It was completely undervalued, I think. 

We are now in a position in Newcastle where other people have seen that potential and realize that. So that’s why I stayed in Newcastle and started my own practice. It was a lot easier to get a foothold in the industry, get to know people, network, and implement my architectural skills with builders and clients.

I come from a building background. My father was a builder and I did study some engineering at Wollongong. So having that background, I’ve tried to implement the practical side of building with all of the theory and the practice within the architecture school at Newcastle to come up with an approach that is somewhat proactive in terms of delivering a product that is buildable and affordable.

I’d like to get builders, introduce them to potential clients early on in this stage of design so that they can start to have a bit of a relationship and see if they can work together and also make sure that the project is in line with their budget. 

Newcastle is really good in that term, in those terms that you can get to know people and your reputation can precede yourself but, it’s important to keep that networking going. And that’s basically how I’ve survived as an architect.

Bernadette Janson:  That’s interesting. So do you lecture at the university?

Matt Hull: I did lecture in the past for a number of years there and that was really good to be involved with passing on information and knowledge to the next generation of architects. I’m dedicated to my practice now. I work entirely as a sole practitioner and we’ve been looking at our projects and thinking about how do we achieve our goals within things such as the guidelines for development and the pragmatics of how do you achieve those goals. How do you build the thing constructed? The university was a good lesson because it kept me engaged with the next generation. It was very inspiring really.

Bernadette Janson: Well, that’s excellent! So we’ve got a bit of where you’re from, what about you Caroline?

Caroline Dando: I work full time. I work for a marketing agency in Newcastle and I’ve been in marketing for quite a few years. But I have had for a long time, a strong interest and passion for interior design, and like many of your students, I watched all the design programs and devour those.

Eventually, our path would see me, hopefully, transition away from full-time work and into more of a project management role with our renos. But that’s still a long-term plan yet to be implemented.

Bernadette Janson: Let’s see where you at. You might be closer than you think. So tell me, so when you first came through you each had a home and I think you had another one as well, is that correct?

Caroline Dando: Yeah. So we had three between us when we met. So we were very fortunate in that respect. So one of those was a small two-bedroom unit in Mayfield. One was a cottage in Carrington, two bedrooms, and the third is a house in Maryville, which is a four-bedroom home. I think he would probably say at this point in time.

Fortunately for us, we did have those properties in our portfolios and they had also appreciated and value. So for us, working, starting on those properties was pretty low risk. So we decided after The School Of Renovating that we would start with the smallest project first. And so we started with the unit in Mayfield. So there were various constraints around that because it’s a unit but we replaced the kitchen, we replaced the bathroom and basically did a cosmetic reno throughout. So that was in 2018.

Bernadette Janson: So was that a hold to rent out?

Caroline Dando: It had been rented but we decided that after the renovation that we would sell it, so we put it on the market and we looked at the figures. We used The School Of Renovating feasibility spreadsheet and basically took this snapshot of the value before we started work on it. And then use that to measure our budget against and that projected profit from that. According to that spreadsheet, we made a profit on that project once we came to sell it.

That profit has gone into our renovation bucket, which we then were able to use on the next project, which is the one that we just sold in Carrington. So we did that in 2019- 2020.

Bernadette Janson: Okay. And that was a unit again, wasn’t it?

Caroline Dando: A house. So it was a freestanding house, a little miner’s cottage, you’d call it. Again, two bedrooms, one bathroom. We replaced the kitchen, we replaced the bathroom.  It was a slightly larger project, even that we swapped the position of the kitchen. So we traded the kitchen and dining room positions because there was a bigger dining room at a much, much smaller kitchen.

We were able to change the layout there quite a bit, which added a good deal of value in the end. It also meant that the dining room then flowed out onto a back deck. Which we created and was a really nice aspect out to the back of the property there as well. Yeah, that one went really well as well. Again, we took a snapshot at the time of just prior to renovation and were able to make a profit on that one as well. But when that money’s going into the bucket.

Bernadette Janson: So when you say took a snapshot, you mean? 

Caroline Dando: Evaluation, yes.

Bernadette Janson: Do you mind sharing what your profits were or can you remember? Because we all love numbers.

Caroline Dando: Yeah. So it was around $50,000 profit on the first one. The second one was more around 70,000.

Bernadette Janson: Awesome! Beautiful.

Caroline Dando: That’s given us a nice little chunk to move on to project number three.

Bernadette Janson: Okay. And have you started project number three?

Caroline Dando: It’s in the pipeline.

Bernadette Janson: So is this your house? Your family home?

Matt Hull: Yeah, it will be.

Bernadette Janson: Yeah.

Matt Hull: Currently it’s tenanted. We live in a unit that we bought off-plan six years ago. We’ll eventually move into the house once it’s completed and that will be our forever home.

Bernadette Janson: Okay. Beautiful.

Caroline Dando: I did a lot of work on the first two particularly Matt who was there to be every day. On tools and trainees. This time we’ve engaged a builder who will obviously bring his own tradies with him. This is a complete transformation when knocking the back off the house, adding another story at the back. So yeah, it’s a much bigger project for us.

Bernadette Janson: Wow.

Caroline Dando: We’ve got more confidence now because of the two that we did before to be able to take this one on with confidence in our ability to oversee.

Bernadette Janson: It’s funny because I was saying something to David, we did the place at Bondi with him and we’re doing this little place in Darlinghurst at the moment. He had gone over I think to set up for demolition and he really didn’t do what I’d expected him to do to prepare, like in terms of protecting the common areas and all that sort of stuff. And I had a go at him and he said, “mom, you’ve got to realize that in a normal project, I don’t have this level of involvement. I don’t build because that’s not my role.” And I thought, “actually, yeah, you’re right.” So it’s really interesting. I personally thought it might’ve been an absolute walk in the park, but obviously, it’s a different skillset.

Matt Hull: Yes, very much.

Bernadette Janson:  How has it been for you as a couple?

Caroline Dando: If we go back to the first project, which was the unit that was a real testing ground to see how we work together as a couple. If it hadn’t worked, we’d have been arguing every day. We probably wouldn’t have gone on to do anymore. But we both slipped into our own kind of roles based on our strengths and what we can bring to each project. So obviously that skillset is very different from mine. He can see the big picture, he thinks about functionality, you know the orientation of the property. Then I’ll look at other things, colour schemes, tile choices. I could spend all day looking at those things. I also look after budgeting, which is one of my strong suits as well. So we both found our niche and yeah, that’s allowed us to go quite well together.

Bernadette Janson: That’s really good.

Matt Hull: The aspects of the project where we could become quite passionate about, and it really helped that Caroline can visualise, she’s got great spatial awareness. So when we talked about various aspects of each project, we understood one another, you can do some drawings in 3d, and then you’re talking about the same issues and coming to an agreement based on a full appreciation of what the implications are in terms of buildability. What’s the outcome? How do people move through space? How does that help? How does the light get into the room? What does it feel like? What does it look out onto? Are there trees? Is there landscaping? So, you can take that approach with every aspect of a house. And it’s really great to be working with someone who appreciates that level of thought.

Bernadette Janson: That’s really interesting too. The other thing that is really worth pointing out is that’s powered by passion and natural inclination, which a lot of women have, but don’t realize the potential of it.

Caroline Dando: Yeah. And I think too it’s great to do as a couple because as you would know, it becomes all-consuming. You really are chopping up your veggies for dinner and talking about various aspects of the project, or should we choose this? What about that training? This section of the project’s running late, we need to pick up the pace on that. Even last night after dinner, we sat down and we were looking at vanities. It just so great being able to share that with a partner is great.

Bernadette Janson: It is. And it’s really important to have common interests although I have the problem that our youngest child, in particular, if we talk about renovations at the dinner table, cause everyone’s renovating, she says that she puts a ban on conversations over renovating for good. So I had to fix that. She’s first out of Uni and she’s just got a job. As soon as she’s been there long enough to get a loan, she and I are going and doing a project. And she’ll get way more money than she currently has. 

Matt Hull: Once we are interested in something, our attitude changes.

Bernadette Janson: It does, doesn’t it? Yeah certainly with kids. I know with Hannah, she was always shares, shares, shares until she did her first reno and now, we’re doing another one. She’s renovating her own house, so we’ve managed to corrupt them all.

I’m really interested in the fact that Caroline’s interested in replacing her income. Once that’s over what will be the next project?

Caroline Dando: So we have been discussing that over the last probably three, four weeks. Actually, I’ve been talking to a financial planner, we’ve been looking to talking to an accountant and a mortgage broker just to try and set a plan in place. As I said earlier having the three properties that we have renovated already in our portfolio, we buy them in and that sort of thing. So we’re trying to set the wheels in motion now and put plans in place about how we go about purchasing the next property. 

What does it look like? So far we’re thinking that we would like to buy something still locally that we would renovate and then hold. We possibly do what we would like to do and if budget may determine whether we can or we cannot. But we’re actually thinking about even looking at places that are basically knocked down and rebuild. And maybe if the land size was big enough maybe a duplex or something like that on there because that obviously would make the best use of Matt’s architectural skills. Even buying an older property that we renovate and then hold is an option for us as well. So we thought over the next few years, while I’m still working and interest rates are low. Our earning capacity is still high. It’s a good time to buy and hold, leverage the properties to be able to buy more.

Once we do finish, the next project, which is the house that we’re going to be living in, we should be able to draw down on the equity that we’ve accrued in that. To help us along in that journey. So over the next five years, it’s probably going to be a phase of buy, renovate and hold. And then after that, if I can start to transition away from work, it might be buying renovate and flip. And I just do that part-time or full-time.

Bernadette Janson: So if I can put my two bob’s worth in?

Caroline Dando: Yeah, absolutely.

Bernadette Janson: I would look at properties that have renovation potential on big blocks, but where you can renovate the house and sell it off. And you’ve got the block to build your duplex on. You could keep all three, but sometimes that sort of binds you up in terms of your borrowing capacity to move on. But that way you’re increasing your equity quickly. And the other thing is you’re keeping the new properties. So you’re not your know Doesn’t matter how well you renovate it. It’s never going to compare with new, doesn’t have the same depreciation, particularly if you’re new.

So that might be something that you think about. I personally think that if I was in your shoes, that would be the way I was heading, especially that you’ve got Matt because he can play such a big part in that, the, in that process in terms of the subdivision. I definitely think it would get you to where you want to go much quicker.

Matt Hull: Yeah, thank you.

Bernadette Janson: The Chalmers Street team, we’ve just finished that they’re talking about hitting Newcastle way because we’re just seeing so many great deals. We’re thinking Newcastle or Wollongong, but yeah, I definitely want to go for something that’s got a land component in it.  Particularly Newcastle’s okay but if you’re in an area that you don’t really know, you’re just talking about a house or an apartment you haven’t got much leeway of things go a little bit pear-shaped.

So by having that, like stacking that other strategy on board, it’s like a little insurance policy, but of course, you need to know what you’re doing which you have the advantage that you’ve got the expert in the house.

Caroline Dando: Yeah.

Bernadette Janson: So what do you think the niche effect of your renovating journey has been in terms of how you feel about what you do?

Matt Hull: Sorry about the noise. They’re doing some work outside there.

Bernadette Janson: Newcastle, I just love- I think it probably does have a little bit of a detrimental effect because now a lot of the houses are on such tiny blocks, but I love the way they’re so progressive around the development. It’s really great for us.

Matt Hull: So to answer your question.

Bernadette Janson: Yeah.

Matt Hull: Just a moment, what was the question again?

Bernadette Janson: What has been the impact of you turning to renovating to enrich your property journey?

Matt Hull: I think the confidence in almost each of us had a strategy before we started buying houses and we bought in areas that we thought as individuals would be up and coming, we bought them at the time when those suburbs didn’t have much appeal at all.

That’s why the properties were cheaper. And we’ve taken that approach as to where do we want to end up? What does our market want to buy? So it’s given us the confidence to project that sort of vision to work out how we can get there, implement it, get it done, and then end up with a product that does sell for the sort of money that we thought it might.

And also we were able to stick to those numbers. So it’s given us confidence that we can now have conferences that we plan for the future and we know how to get there and we can achieve those goals.

Bernadette Janson: That makes my heart sing. It gives me goosebumps. It’s awesome. I think I have asked you everything I need to ask you. Is there anything else you want to say?

Newcastle Architect Matt and Caroline Dando

Matt Hull:  If you’re in Newcastle and need an architect, give me a call.

Bernadette Janson:  Absolutely. Yeah, definitely.

Listen, thank you so much for being on the podcast. You are going to be invaded by The School Of Renovating students because we’ve got quite a few that are heading your way. We’ve already got some there. Yeah, we’ve got quite a several that have already done project successfully done projects there. We’re really making our mark on the Newcastle landscape, which is really nice. Yeah. And it’s a lovely city. You’re very lucky to be there.

Okay, so that’s it for today. Now, if you haven’t already done so please come over to iTunes and leave us a review, give us any suggestions that you would like for future episodes and we will be so grateful. We read them all and we are so appreciative of you for making the effort. So thank you.

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