Australian real estate: I owned three properties by 22. Don’t make the same mistakes I did

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Dionne Lee wasn’t like most 17 year olds.

After finishing Year 12 with a grade that was “not high enough” to get into university, the teenager knew she needed to figure out what she was going to do with her new “adult life”.

As her friends set off to pursue a degree or enjoy a gap year abroad, Dionne was quietly building a property portfolio.

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Juggling three jobs to save for a mortgage deposit, she was working full-time as a finance trainee at a local bank on weekdays, before spending nights or weekends behind a bar at a pub or coaching dancers.

Her hard work finally paid off when she purchased her first investment property in Adelaide, a two-bedroom unit, at age 20.

She bought a plot of land at 21 and then, a year later, her third investment, a two-bedroom apartment, at 22.

Dionne Lee, pictured here in the late 90s, owned three properties by 22. Credit: Dionne Lee

“I have never had regrets about not going to university and I wasn’t focused on travelling at that age so that didn’t concern me,” Dionne, now 47, tells 7Life.

“I was quietly proud of myself for achieving the three properties by the age of 22.”

Despite becoming a homeowner at such a young age, Dionne chose to live with her parents.

“I was so busy with working that I didn’t feel the need to live elsewhere at that time in my life,” she says.

“I would only be home to sleep, shower and I would leave early the next day again for work.”

Her impressive property portfolio stemmed from humble beginnings.

The newly graduated student landed a full-time role in finance at 17 after she applied for a traineeship at a bank in early 1994.

“My parents didn’t have any concerns with me working there, however at the time, my mother was disappointed that I didn’t go onto university,” she says.

Gaining real-life experience working at the bank quickly opened her eyes to the world of financing.

“I began to learn about all aspects of how a financial institution worked, but six months into the traineeship I began working in the lending department,” Dionne says.

“I soon understood how credit cards, personal and home loans were assessed, how the different lending products worked, and I soon realised how property could create an additional income for me.

“As most young people do, I first applied for a credit card, then I purchased a car and had a personal loan.

“It wasn’t long after this that I realised I needed to find a property and get myself in a position to be approved for the loan to buy it.”

She bought her first property in Adelaide, a townhouse-style two-bedroom unit, for $83,500 at 20. Credit: Supplied

Every Saturday, she would scan the real estate section of her local newspaper to see what was on the market.

“Once I began to save for the properties, I wanted to buy quickly and, to do so, needed enough deposit to get started,” she says.

“I was mindful that I needed to pay off my car loan as quickly as possible too so that I could borrow for the properties in terms of affordability.

“I was working three jobs. My parents supported me by allowing me to stay living at home, paying minimal board.

“However, they were never in a position to gift or lend me any money towards the properties.”

Dionne scraped together $8000 of her hard-earned money for a deposit on an $83,500 unit just 6km from Adelaide CBD.

She rented out the townhouse-style unit as her first investment property.

“I started receiving the rental income for it,” she says.

“I didn’t understand a great deal about how to calculate the profit the property would make me from the cashflow each week, but I soon learned.”

The property quickly taught her the pros and cons of having tenants.

“I eventually had to take the tenant in this property to the tribunal because she became eight weeks behind in her rent and didn’t appear to have any care about paying her rent up to date,” Dionne says.

“The tenant was eventually evicted after failing to get herself up to date with the rent owing.”

At 22, she purchased her third property, a two-bedroom apartment close to Adelaide CBD for $195,000. Credit: Supplied

A year later, Dionne bought a block of land in the Adelaide Hills for $63,500 as her first property had increased in value, so she was able to use the equity to borrow the deposit for her second purchase.

“My plan was to build my own home on the land eventually,” she explains.

“Unfortunately, I sold it a few years later and never did build the home.”

At 22, she purchased her third property, a two-bedroom apartment close to Adelaide CBD, for $195,000.

“This unit was also purchased using equity from the first property,” she says.

“It taught me again about the challenges that can happen with tenants.

“The lady who leased the property decided to return to Sydney with no notice and only a text message to say she had gone, and the keys were in the letterbox.

“Thank goodness for landlord insurance as that covered the costs of cleaning up and fixing the damage she had left behind in what was a fairly new apartment.”

She worked her way up the ladder to become a qualified mortgage broker and real estate/buyer’s agent.  Credit: Dionne Lee

With three properties to her name, Dionne says she was able to learn about the “life lessons” and “where I went wrong”.

“Buying multiple properties means borrowing more money to do so,” she explains.

“When I applied for the loan for my second property, it was a block of land with no income to include in the affordability of the loan.

“This made it challenging to be approved.

“The challenge then became more difficult again when I purchased the third property — an apartment.

“I was able to include the rental income for this property, but I was then at my limit of further borrowings and wasn’t able to purchase my fourth property until three years later once I had a higher income to service the loan.”

Not only did she deal with difficult tenants, Dionne says rising interest rates made it challenging, especially with owning multiple properties.

“The loan repayments can vary when on a variable interest rate and this needed to be considered and reviewed regularly given whatever was happening in the market at the time,” she said.

When she turned 25, she finally moved out of her parents’ home after buying her fourth property, in which to live.

Dionne went on to build a portfolio of up to 14 properties.

Using the tools, skills and lessons she learned along the way, she worked her way up the ladder to become a qualified mortgage broker and real estate/buyer’s agent.

After finishing high school, the teenager knew she needed to figure out what she was going to do with her new ‘adult life’. Credit: Dionne Lee

The mum-of-three now runs her own business called A Woman Inspired where she teaches women how they can achieve financial freedom through building a passive income and making wise investments in property.

“I learnt good and bad from my first three properties I bought,” she says.

“I am now trying to prevent other people from making the same mistakes I did.”

For anyone looking to get onto the property ladder, Dionne has offered four tips.

“Create a budget you can work with to allow yourself to save as much deposit as possible,” she says.

If you’re looking at ways to save extra money, she suggests considering taking up a second job or another “out of the box” way to create additional income streams.

“The cost of living these days makes it difficult to save a home deposit particularly when paying rent at the same time,” she says.

“Therefore, you need to think outside the box about other ways you can earn more money, whether that is working a second job, starting a business of some kind alongside your job, or learning how to create chunks of money through property deals without needing to have as much cash on hand.

“The key is to make the decision that you will find a way to save that deposit to begin with.”

She’s now a mum to three kids. Credit: Dionne Lee

She also says you should educate yourself about finance and property.

“Really understand the different ways you can get on to the property ladder,” she says.

“You don’t always have to buy your own home first (particularly if the market prices are too expensive where you live).

“You could consider buying a high cash flow investment property in another location at a lower price point initially.

“If this is done well, you could possibly earn enough rental income from the property to cover your own rent too.

“It comes down to the education on understanding the numbers.”

Finally, if you’re serious about saving money, Dionne says you need to be “consciously aware” of how much money you’re spending on items.

“It’s not for me to tell people how to spend their money or not,” she says.

“However if you are really clear about why you want to get onto the property ladder, then you will automatically think about what you really need to spend your money on, rather than the items you want to spend money on.

“We still need to live our lives but you should ask yourself every time you go to spend your money if what you are buying is a ‘need’ or a ‘want’.” has received no monetary benefit from this content.

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