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Aucklander Jonathan Brownlee owns 51 properties by the age of 26

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On top of the world: Aucklander Jonathan Brownlee bought 51 homes by the age of 25. Photo / Michael Craig

Brace yourself millennials – Jonathan Brownlee is just 26 and already owns more than $20 million of property.

After his parents helped him buy his first Hamilton home for $413,750 in 2015, the Aucklander has steadily borrowed more from the banks until last week – while still aged 25 – he bought a block of eight units.

That took the number of properties he owns to 51.

He now owes $11m to the banks but has $9m in equity – the theoretical amount he would earn if he sold all his properties tomorrow.

He also pulls in about $1m in gross rental income.

But while riches so young would be enough to satisfy many Kiwis, Brownlee is nowhere near ready to stop.

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Rising interest rates and falling house prices – rather than being a deal-breaker – are a great opportunity to buy, he says.

“Now is probably an easier time to get equity because there are less people buying and less competition,” he says.

Brownlee’s housing empire is likely to either give millennials hope or make them weep at a time when many feel locked out of the housing market.

Brownlee hopes he inspires.

Jonathan Brownlee says he's providing rental properties that Kiwis need. Photo / Michael Craig
Jonathan Brownlee says he’s providing rental properties that Kiwis need. Photo / Michael Craig

But critics accuse investors who buy vast swathes of housing of being mercenary and helping push prices up.

Regularly ranked one of the world’s most unaffordable cities, Auckland’s prices skyrocketed by as much as 30 per cent during the Covid-19 pandemic, hitting a record high $1.3m median sales price in November, according to the Real Estate Institute.

And while prices have fallen in the last six months, rising interest rates and tighter bank lending rules have not made it easier for many buyers.

For Brownlee, however, the trick was to look outside his home city of Auckland and buy in Hamilton.

He used savings from a business he ran at school importing goods from China’s Alibaba website and reselling them locally on Trade Me to contribute to his deposit, with his parents lending the difference and acting as guarantors on the bank loan.

He then sat on the Hamilton home for six months, before getting it revalued.

Finding it had gained substantially in market value, he used the increase in equity to ask the bank for a new loan for another property.

From there he moved quickly, emulating the strategy of buying homes “below market rate” and often making renovations before getting them revalued so he could borrow on the difference as soon as possible.

He was able to buy his second property at 19 and owned 11 by the time he was 21 years old.

His properties are right across New Zealand from Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton and Hastings to Dunedin, Masterton, Whanganui and Invercargill.

His parents, both accountants, helped with financial guidance and the initial leg-up.

But Brownlee says he’s paid his parents back with interest and the grunt work and passion has always been his.

He argues there are other ways to get on the property ladder as well.

Jonathan Brownlee in August 2018 when he owned 11 properties by the age of 21. Photo / Michael Craig
Jonathan Brownlee in August 2018 when he owned 11 properties by the age of 21. Photo / Michael Craig

Rather than be ashamed of assistance, he says he’s also taken a loan from a friend in the past because “you’ve got to look at all options to make it work”.

He’s also found some of his best deals in the regions.

His third home in Masterton cost about $90,000 five years ago, while he also bought in Dunedin for as low as $65,000.

Those who want to live in Auckland might think “they don’t want a crappy unit” in the regions worth $250,000 to $300,000 that needs doing up, he says.

But if they can find one for $200,000 that’s worth $250,000, they might later be able to revalue it so they can borrow for the next, he says.

If they get a few properties and get them revalued, they might then be able to sell and buy a nicer place back in Auckland.

“It’s just a way to get there through property.”

If he was starting out now, however, Brownlee would instead look to Australia.

He’s been spotting deals in Cairns and Townsville in North Queensland.

“It’s a tropical climate, the population is a couple of hundred thousand people and you can buy a one- or two-bedroom unit there for $150,000.”

He says buyers can get bank loans on deposits as low as 5 per cent, while Kiwis can also be eligible for the Australian Government’s first home buyer grant.

That means with lawyer and other fees included a young Kiwi might be able to make their first step for as little as $15,000, Brownlee says.

Another asset is the wealth of advice from successful property investors on YouTube.

He says he’s learnt a lot from Australian investor Rich Birch, who owns more than 200 properties, and has taken one of Birch’s mentor programmes in Sydney.

Overall, Brownlee equates 60 per cent of his success to smart structuring of his finances and mortgages, and 40 per cent to buying the right property.

As an example, he says he was able to borrow an extra $3m from the banks by getting in early to restructure his mortgages before new tighter loan-to-value restrictions came into effect.

On top of the world: Aucklander Jonathan Brownlee bought 51 homes by the age of 25. Photo / Michael Craig
On top of the world: Aucklander Jonathan Brownlee bought 51 homes by the age of 25. Photo / Michael Craig

And when it comes to buying the right properties, that meant finding homes selling “below market value” or homes where new value can be created through renovations or raising the rents to market rates.

When asked why he needs so many homes and what benefit it brings society, Brownlee acknowledges he is doing it for financial gain but says Kiwis need rentals.

Unlike traders or flippers, he says he plans to keep all his rentals rather than sell them.

Out of his 51 properties, he’s done up to 20 major renovations, including 15 that he personally did most of the hard work on, he says.

“It is providing accommodation for people … someone has to go through and tidy up those houses and keep them maintained.

“Let’s say I sold them all and they all went to first home buyers, but then where are all the renters going to go?”

He says it pumps money into the economy, by employing tradies and spending up to $100,000 per year with property managers.

He’s also set up a business called Get Property in which he says he finds deals for others to “help them buy the same sorts of properties” he’s buying.

Ultimately though, as Brownlee celebrates his 26th birthday today, he says he’s happy carving out a life of financial freedom for himself and one in which he may never need “report to a boss”.

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