In this episode of Property Investory, we are joined by property mentor and owner of Propdeveloper, David Kelly. Kelly has built his success from growing up in a small town of only 3000 people to being a qualified civil engineer, a registered master builder and having carpentry trade qualifications.
While exploring his journey, we will learn how Kelly’s natural sense of curiosity led to him becoming an engineer, which benefits him in the world of property development
. As well as this, he will detail his memorable trip to India which has had lasting effects on his life.
1:10 | Understanding the World
6:05 | Today’s Focus
7:20 | Where it All Began
15:43 | Entering the Professional World
22:37 | Travelling to India
1:10 | The Inspiration
9:06 | Challenging Moments
14:09 | Finding Success
21:57 | Holding Onto Properties
25:25 | Seek Out Opportunities
30:25 | Experience, Experience,Experience!
35:44 | The Value of Hard Work
Resources and Links:
[34:00] It was a very humbling experience and quite a curious thing but it just kind of enamoured, I think my love for travel and experiences with other cultures and through those experiences you can learn so much about yourself.
This is Property Investory where we talk to successful property investors to find out more about their stories, mindset and strategies.
I’m Tyrone Shum and in this episode, we’re joined by the owner of Propdeveloper, David Kelly. We will learn how his natural sense of curiosity led to him becoming a successful engineer, which benefits him in the world of property development. As well as this, Kelly will detail his memorable trip to India which has had lasting effects on his life and property.
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Understanding the World
Kelly has always had a natural curiosity about how the world works. This curiosity led him down a path with lots of twists and turns…
[0:43] My background is really from grassroots construction. I.e., I did, I went after high school I went to university and studied civil engineering in Melbourne at Swinburne Institute. And following that, I actually wanted to really understand what it was like to build stuff because I was always aligned much more to the structural side of engineering rather than the civil side — you know, pipes and roads and things.
[1:08] I like seeing things go up vertically. And so, I went off and I started doing some labouring work. I then went and did a full carpentry apprenticeship. So, I had this kind of unusual set of skills, where I had a Bachelor of Civil Engineering with a bit of experience. And then I went back and had no background and I got indentured as a carpenter and did that. And then I went on and became a builder and used that in various capacities.
[1:35] I then moved up from Melbourne up to the Gold Coast or to Brisbane [and I] was managing a business there. And then [I] got back into engineering, where we were designing steel frame buildings and then from there, I went on to become an engineer for a foundation engineering company. So, they were doing piling systems and I started a business because I always knew I could make it as a contractor. And so, I started a foundation engineering company, and it was using screw piles.
This technology was still new in the 90s and Kelly found this to be an advantage.
[2:22] It was very, very useful because we could come in and put piles down from anywhere between, you know, two metres and 15 metres, quite comfortably and affordably for the contractor.
[2:34] But because it was an emerging technology and the thing is, I always used to say to people, 'if you've got a problem with your foundations, you've got to actually fix it properly. Or else it's going to come back and always be in trouble'. So, because it was emerging, there was a reluctance to take that on completely. The price comparison to say drill piles was always very advantageous for screw piles because it was a cheaper method [and] faster method. But there were concerns about doing real, you know, bigger projects [such as] infrastructure type projects because they thought this is just some new idea, which really hasn't got a good engineering basis to it.
[3:05] So, that's where I really shone because I was able to incorporate my structural engineering understanding and give presentations and whether that be technical or whether that being conferences and things, talking about the merits of screw piles. And I always would say that 'hey, these are limited in what they can do but in a field where they operate and can be justified, then they're very good'.
So, that experience, that 10 years, we did 1000 projects all over Australia. But I also did projects in New Zealand — infrastructure type projects. I did projects in Singapore, Malaysia and then I did, then I participated in the largest joint venture project which had ever occurred in China at the time, which was a petrochemical plant east of Shenzhen, just over the Chinese border.
This deal in China was a $4.5 billion project and Kelly played an important role in designing a foundation system.
[4:00] We had the big heavy hitters in there. There was Bechtel Foster Wheeler, where the project managers were a shell China National offshore oil Corp. So, it really was probably the highlight of my career in that field because you were introducing an emerging technology which had never been used apparently in China at that time.
[4:19] And so, I had to be able to stump up with and be able to, from an engineering design point of view, justify what we were doing. And then also be able to get that done in real time and, you know, using the available resources and things we had there of labour and materials. So, I found it was probably the highlight of my career there. And I came back [and] I had a couple more years in the business [and] then I decided to sell the business and I got out of that and had a brief go at investment banking.
[4:52] I travelled around the world for a couple of years doing that and that was a buzz, that was good. I like the idea of leverage and I like the idea of leveraging money. And so, that was a terrific experience, we came as a real gutser actually. Like you're riding a motorbike flat out and then you render the back of a bus and that's what happened to us.
[5:09] We just got wiped out by the GFC, way back then. Then I went back into traditional piling, engineering design, etc. And then from there, I went on to property development, really accumulating, like putting all those skills together as a property developer of my own projects. And then for Toyota Australia I was probably their main consultant for property development in Australia for 10 years. And that was a great experience, doing different projects.
All of this experience has built up to Kelly becoming a very successful property developer and this is where his focus lies.
[5:55] At the moment, I've been doing a couple of things. I'm refinancing some properties I have in Brisbane to pull out some equity and do another active property development. So, a little bit of time in that sort of realm. I'm also managing seven medium sized construction projects and rectification projects on high rise buildings here on the Gold Coast.
[6:16] So, a whole smattering of clients and also different experiences where probably, I'm doing one project on the largest building in Surfers Paradise. So, I'm finding that it's a great, it's an interesting field. You're doing the same sort of work that you would do in normal construction but you're getting a lot of love.
[6:37] Getting love from body corporate, getting love from their building managers. Which is something that often doesn't happen in our trade at all. You're getting, often you're getting booted from dusk to dawn and it's an interesting opportunity to be able to perform well, do a decent job but then get lots of feedback and lots of positive feedback from all these different stakeholders.
Where it All Began
It has taken a lot of hard work for Kelly to build his success. Let’s take a look at where it all began.
[7:37] I grew up in country [in] New South Wales, in a small place called Corowa. It was a population of about 3000 people then and it's about 6000 people now 40 years later. So, it hasn't grown a lot. But, you know, grassroots town. Football and cricket were the only things that really existed throughout the year and we're always outside playing sports of one sort or another.
From a young age, Kelly always displayed his sense of curiosity.
[13:04] I summarise it as just wanting to understand how the world worked and how things worked. You know whether that be buildings or cars or motors or whatever. And my mum used to say that just as a two year old, I would grab a knife and I would, we had a kitchen table, our dining table had this beading running around it and it had screws in at certain distances. Foot centres I guess, or something.
[12:55] And somehow, I'd worked out that let's undo that thing. So, completely unprompted as a two year old, here I am with a makeshift screwdriver, a bread and butter knife, undoing this beading and they came in and the things like half undone. My dad probably looked at and thought, oh my God, what am I going to do now? Because he, I'm not sure he would have known how to put it back. With all due respect to dad, he just wasn't like, you know, that wasn't his thing.
This trait of curiosity and innovation continued into Kelly’s teenage years…
[14:43] In my year 10 at school, I did metalwork. And part of metalwork was that you had to do a project. And so, I came up with this idea and the teacher said, at the start of the year he said, 'these are the things that people have made in the past'.
[15:05] And there were things like a metal toolbox which was all folded up and whatever or I don't know, just have a little trinkets and things. And I said to him, 'hey, how about, I've got an idea’. I found these plans somehow. I think I'd wrote away to some magazine and I got these plans delivered from America of a go kart. And so, I said, 'I want to build a go kart'. And I showed him the plans and he was there, almost having kittens.
[15:32] He's thinking hallelujah. At last, I've got a real project for one of these kids and it was such a buzz to do that. And we stuck a, what I did, I bought a go kart from somewhere that had proper go kart wheels on it and the steering system. And then we literally bent using a pipe bender, a frame up to suit these plans which was like the traditional when you see racing go karts now. But the thing is, we made it out of like heavy as hell pipe. So, the thing was heavy, and we welded it up and got it all going, you know, put the wheels on it. I put a victor motor mower engine on it, and we had it's just a drive system rigged up.
[16:15] And I remember, it got to the crescendo which, and I'm looking at all my mates in the class and they've got like a little hammer that they've spent all year building or a little toolbox over here. And here's Dave with this go kart. And I completely captured the imagination of the teacher, just through that process. And it was very enthusiastic and all that. Anyway, I remember we got to the point where it was time to give it the trial out in the yard in the carpark and we took it out and the mount for the petrol tank. So, it was the petrol tank off the mower, and it was sitting up high. And it had a little just like [a] mild steel framework to support it. And one of those broke and so the tank was flapping around. So, it's a bit dangerous.
[16:58] So, he said, 'quick we're going to take it back in and weld it up'. I think it was on the last day of the term or something. It was some sort of time pressure. So, we took it back into the workshop and he was so enthusiastic he just flips it up, flicks the whole go kart on its side. And he gets the electric arc welder, and he starts welding this thing. And I was there holding it with a welding mask, and I was looking at the side of my welding mask and the fuel from the fuel tank, it started dripping on the floor of the workshop.
[17:33] One of the sparks ignited and so there's a pool, there's a fire going on. And I'm here elbowing him, and he realised that and have to put the fire out. And it was just all the enthusiasm of trying to finish this project in time and it was, maybe it was a bit of a near miss as well.
High School was also the time that Kelly decided he wanted to become an engineer.
[7:59] My next door neighbour was a; he was a carpenter for his whole life. And he was just a great guy. [He was] very hands on and [I] would always, I'd be over there, [I'm a] very inquisitive guy and still am very inquisitive person, trying to just understand how things work and particularly trying to understand how things were built and how you unbilled things, how you demolish things and actually understand how to put them back together.
[8:26] And that's what I found was my love of structural engineering and architecture, to really just admire that you can, at the end of the day, one of the most satisfying things I found as a carpenter was that at the end of the day, you could stand back and see that you'd actually created something real that once it was filled and painted and finished, it was going to sit there for maybe 30 or 40 or 50 years. And now there's a definite satisfaction with that.
[9:02] And then I had my, from my mom's side, my uncle and my first cousin were both civil engineers. And I guess my mum and dad weren't quite sure how to guide someone, in those days in a small country town like that there wasn't much career guidance because it was just, you know, it's just where we're up to with the development of careers, I guess.
[9:27] And so, I just, I went and did a couple of weeks or maybe one week’s work experience with my uncle, who was working for the Melbourne water board. And I saw great, big, huge plotting machines and engineers and architects looking very studious and smart and developing plans and everything else. And I thought, that looks like a pretty cool career.
At 17 years old, Kelly left home to pursue his dream career.
[10:05] [I] move to the big smoke three hours south of Corowa. And we, the reason, I think as much as being interested and a very curious sort of person, I also have noticed that I can have a quite short attention span. And when I looked at, I was offered a place in a couple of different universities which were straight four yearlong courses and that sounded like absolute murder to me.
[10:38] At Swinburne, they had what's called a sandwich course. Which is when you make a sandwich, you get a piece of bread and a piece of bread and then something in the middle. Well, in this course of civil engineering, we did two years full time and then you had like a sandwich, you had work, study, work, study. And so, it was a four and a half year course but within that four and a half years, we came out with a year of work experience in industry.
[11:04] And I thought that's gonna just break it up for me and I need that work experience to be able to be sure that, to know that what I was studying was actually going to be something that would interest me for a long time. So, the sandwich course really worked for me.
As Kelly lived in New South Wales, why did he decide to go to university in Victoria?
[12:08] We live, Corowa is on the Murray River. So, it's on the border. So, as the crow flies, it's about a, now it's about a three hour drive to Melbourne. Whereas it's a six hour drive to Sydney. And my mum was, my dad was from that town. My mum was from Melbourne. So, we would always be going to Melbourne catching up with cousins and the cousin and Uncle I mentioned. So, I was much very familiar with Melbourne whereas really, I'd only been to Sydney once or twice. So, it made more sense to go across the border and go to Victoria.
Entering the Professional World
Evidently, Kelly worked hard at school and university. This carried through to his professional life, which started at a young age.
[18:32] I worked as a kid doing a paper round. Which was like a 5am start as a 12 year old, that was pretty brutal. And we get cold winters down there. I remember riding the paper round in a balaclava which my mum had knitted with a little eye pocket here, but the thing would get so wet because you'd [be] riding through this mist, and it would drape down and so my whole face is getting cold. And then you get to the paper shop, take all that stuff off outside, leave it there, come back and the whole mask was frozen.
[19:08] Just from the amount of moisture in there. So, with that, I mean there’s colder situations where people go through and stuff but that was one of the things I remembered and it wasn't that pleasant. So, I got out of that job, and I became, I did work at Woolworths as a fruit and veggie guy there. And doing that sort of stuff. In my uni holidays, I worked as a builder's labour with a bricklayer and I did a couple of other university type jobs.
[19:36] We used to, that's a big wheat sheet area. So, every year there's a big harvest of wheat. And in those days I used to work on the wheat silos, receiving the grain from farmers. They'd come in and we would have to receive that and document it etc. And then just keep an eye on the truck with discharging it into the right spot. So, things like that but it was just a good country, honest, honest people and honest experiences where you're doing hard work.
After completing his university degree, Kelly got his first engineering job and his career really took off.
[21:40] I went out, I got a job as a structural engineer for a small engineering company. And we were designing a lot of tilt panel buildings and factory buildings and commercial stuff, not residential but commercial in Melbourne. Yeah, so, I did that for a while, then I went on a trip to India, my first overseas trip. And when I came back from that, I really took off with the carpentry and building and more, a bit more labouring but I was working with a guy who had a handyman repair business.
[22:12] And we were doing all sorts of different jobs. New jobs and fixing up this, that and the other. And a lot of timber frame buildings in Melbourne and houses. So, we'd be restumping houses, repairing anything from wind jammed windows, to new doors, to insulating houses. So, ripping off all the weatherboards, insulating it, re whether boarding it, building a couple of new houses with builders. All sorts of just all good hands-on experiences.
[22:41] And I felt that was really serving that kind of desire to understand because the best way of understanding how things are built is to build it and to build it from the grassroots. And I found that as a builder that that experience, really, I think qualified me to really understand how the processes worked and the different trades — what their responsibilities were and how it all went together. You know, I've always had the opinion that the best qualified tradesmen to be a builder is the carpenter because they see all the different processes and normally, they're the leading.
[23:45] And I feel that even as a development manager myself, managing projects for Toyota for example. You know, bigger projects and things where you've got really organised professional subcontractors working on jobs, you can have residential work, you can get a whole range of different professionalism from different trades. But generally, in commercial work, you're getting guys who are better organised, they're running bigger accounts, they're used to acting in a more professional way.
[24:17] And I know that I feel that it's very, very unlikely that anyone's going to be BS me on a project because I've had sufficient experience to know what the trade and what the end result is and how you get from where you are to that end result in terms of construction methodology in terms of those specific trades. And if I don't, so, I know the way to navigate that path.
[24:40] But also, I know what questions to ask to get the answers. And I find that as a development manager, and even the projects I'm running now, and all through my career, I've been able to get the attention. People know that I'm experienced and when they know you're experienced, then you're less likely to get the war pulled over your eyes.
Travelling to India
In the first year of Kelly’s engineering career, he took off to India for six weeks.
[25:54] Well, it was wonderful. I actually, at that time in my life [I] was involved in a church in Melbourne. And they had a sister church in Madras, India, Southern India. Madras is now called Chennai. And that church had 12 branch churches all around the city. And they were all in the slum areas. So, very poor people and we went there to do whatever they wanted us to do.
[26:18] And people, the Indian people were blown away that we would have come. First of all, we look different. We, they were just honoured and blown away that we would come, we would have spent our money and our time and left our families to come and be with them for six weeks and do and serve them. And so, we did these little mini missions, if you like, at the 12 different churches over the six weeks.
[26:41] And we stayed as a group. There was about a dozen of us, guys and girls. We stayed at a YWCA. And we slept there, have breakfast there and then we'd get picked up in a bus and then taken to the next one of the places, churches where there was going to be some events happening. They'd pre organised events and everything. And they would cook lunch for us and then we'd probably have a snooze and then go out and hold some sort of event in the evening. And then we'd have dinner and they would cook.
[27:17] So, I enjoyed, in terms of an experience that was very real and very grassroots. You know, it was just something else. When I came to leave, I cried and cried because I was just so, felt that I built such great relationships with those people and they loved me. And I was so enthusiastic, I guess that they just kind of took me under their wing.
Throughout the six weeks, Kelly built strong relationships that continued into the future.
[28:15] They sent three of the young men over the next like three or four years, five years maybe, they would come to us. Our church in Hawthorne in Australia paid for them to come out to Hawthorn and they lived. And I was living in group houses at the time with two or three other people. And they would come and inevitably, I was asked to look after these guys.
[28:42] So, they come and I'd help them get oriented. These are Indian fellows who'd never been probably out of their state apart from coming to another whole country. They spoke English. And so, therefore, there was more contribution connection with those guys and I built these really great relationships with them. And I think I've always been very multicultural. I'm really quite a, I guess I would say I'm an international guy. I'm very interested in that and have done a fair bit of travel now.
[29:10] So, I build up those relationships and then, fast forward, I then moved up to Queensland. I had, by that stage [I] had three daughters. And I was living here and I started my screw pile business and I became, I was developing some really good projects. And I went on a trade mission, a Queensland Government construction trade mission to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, the UAE and Qatar. And we were pitching our business there and it was all very interesting and stimulating. The ex-premier of Queensland was Mika Hern and he was running the mission.
[29:46] And because we're close to Dubai, sorry close to India, I decided to fly back. So, I'm by that stage, relatively successful in the business world and I flew back to India. So, and that would have been like 12 years later, 15 years later, something like that. So, I go back to the same family that had hosted us on my trip, my first trip away overseas 15 years earlier. And the family, they'd gone here there and everywhere but the main family, the mother of the family was there, her husband had passed away.
While Kelly was visiting his host family, he saw the lasting effect that they had on each other’s lives.
[30:21] And we went, I went with one of the couples, we went for dinner at her place. And after dinner in a very humble little shack. After dinner, the couple said, 'we have to go and do a job, we'll go to do that, and we'll come back and get you'. And I thought, okay, fine. So, they went off and we, I'm sitting there almost in because I wasn't speaking Tamil, any Tamil. She was speaking no English. So, it was kind of, it was gestures and communication in that way. She walked over to me, she grabbed my hand and sort of lifted me as if to say come with me.
[30:59] So, I stood up from the kitchen table, she takes me into a room and we sit on the bed. She's sitting next to me. And I didn't think anything strange was at all, would ever happen in that context and nothing did. But I was kind of thinking, oh, this is interesting, what's going on here? So, she sat me down and after a couple of like, 30 seconds of that, I'm thinking okay, what's next? Should I be saying something? Am I not getting something?
[31:26] And I started then looking around the room. And it was just a, it was a not a pristine environment. But it was her environment, it was neat and tidy. And I'm looking around and in front of us was a fireplace and above that was this photograph of some sort, which had a very dirty glass front on the photograph, you know, smudged. And it was really hard to make out what that was. And so, the silence kind of went on for a few, what felt like a few minutes. And in the end, I'm thinking, I really don't know what's next or what's, if something is expected of me now or what's going on.
[32:03] Anyway, I looked up and I then took an actual look at this photograph that was on the wall. It was large, it was a big format. And I was looking at it thinking and because it was so dirty, it was hard to see what it was. But I started to look and then I had this amazing sense of Deja vu and I'm looking, and the photograph was a photograph of me and my family.
From this moment, Kelly had a big realisation.
[32:32] I then recalled what happened. I, because these young guys had come back to, they come to Australia for a year, they were doing a bible study course and I was looking after them. They, the families were all very interested in David and what he was doing and everything. And because I had a great connection with him while I was there, I remember getting one of my family photos, getting it blown up and sending it back there. And I'm talking [about] my family photo of me and my kids and my wife at the time.
[33:09] And so, this large format photo goes back with one of the guys when he heads back to India and they got it framed and it's sitting up there. I guess over the time with dirt and dust and things, it just got filthy. So, she took me into the room to sit me there and just so that I could see that she was trying to show me that.
[33:31] And when I finally recognized what was in front of me, she grabbed my hand and she said to me, 'every day we pray for you'. And I have to say that it was an incredibly humbling thing to go through because I know that was true. You know, she wasn't there just saying they would have been praying for me and my family every day.
In our previous episode with Kelly, we explored his personal journey. Now, let’s explore his property development journey, starting with the inspiration behind it.
[0:19] I met up here in Queensland on the Gold Coast, two guys who were colleagues of mine at university from Swinburne University, same as me but they were a year ahead of me. Peter and Stuart and [they are] both great guys. And anyway, we discover, I kind of just re-met them here. I had been here on the Gold Coast for about a year and we met. And then we started catching up [and] hanging out. We realised that we had three, I had three daughters, Peter had three daughters, Stuart had a son and a daughter. And one of our daughters, each of us, they're all in the same year at school at the same school.
[0:57] So, all those similarities and these guys were very experienced in property development. They had worked for listed companies and anyway, we started to think and talk about the idea of doing projects together — property development management projects and things like that, and even development projects. So, that's what we started doing and it was a great experience. And we got things underway, we started doing some of these Toyota Australia projects.
[1:25] Essentially, Stewart knew one of the operators of a Toyota dealership that was getting a big revamp, or a new building being built, etc. And just because of that relationship, we started discussing with him the idea of managing that project for him. So, that went on for that was a project that lasted a couple of years. And that really got me, and that's when I built my relationship with Toyota Australia. The facilities manager there was a great guy and he just appreciated how we manage that project. And then he got us in to look at different other problems they had [and] other projects they had. They would then refer us on to go on little fact finding missions and sort out problems for them and also then carry out the development management for other dealership projects.
Working with Toyota Australia led Kelly to new opportunities.
[2:15] That then led on to building audits where they were having dealers with a whole arrangement of different energy usage problems. And I worked with some other consultants, and we worked out how to do an audit on one of their facilities and then come up with the most efficient way in which to run the facility. And from a cost point of view and also just efficiency. I rewrote some of the standards for Toyota in their energy efficiency manual that they use for their developments and for their stakeholders.
[2:47] So, it was all those sorts of experiences came in as well and so, it blew out to quite a portfolio of things we did with Toyota Australia. And they were just, it's just good working with a tier one company like that. [It was] professional and you could get well paid, properly paid for your services. And it was a great experience and just more experiences about developing the processes involved in property development. And Stewart and Peter, both had done small developments himself.
They both moved on to do pretty large development. And I did the same thing. I went off and I did projects of my own — land subdivisions, built a number of houses for my family, I had the contracting business that I did 1000 projects, and I would certify all those projects as an engineer. And just had the building knowledge to understand how those projects, how you would manage them and get them done efficiently.
[3:37] And so, it's a whole different lot of experiences in at different levels, if you like. From trade work up to development management and then developments where you're putting your own money at risk and reaping the rewards. You know, both Stewart and Peter are smart guys who have done significant things and projects, some really interesting stuff. But [it's] just great to have colleagues like that on the journey to learn from and contribute to.
[4:10] So, I found that development was where I wanted to be. I didn't, [I] never mind risking my own money on a project. The other part of that equation is, of course, is that when you're the developer, you’re probably the last one to get fed and everything's got to go right for there to be some left for you to get fed on. When I say fed, you are getting the profit. And that was something that I was always comfortable with and a lot of those processes come down to if you can be confident that you’ve taken into account everything that might happen from a financial point of view and if you haven't, have you got any reserves? And if you haven't, have you got any creativity to be able to get yourself out of trouble? And I felt that I always could back myself in projects and was able to do projects without getting hurt.
Throughout his time developing, Kelly has been involved in both residential and commercial spaces. His background in engineering proves to be valuable in both scenarios.
[5:42] If I talk about the foundation engineering business, that was across all sectors — infrastructure projects, residential projects, small and large [projects], and commercial projects, factories, just really pretty much anything. We also come up with some pretty unique solutions. I was driving back from Brisbane to the Gold Coast on Sunday with a mate and near Mount Gravatt shopping centre, I'm not sure if you're familiar but there's a big cutting there that's probably about eight metres tall. And I remember this back when I had the screw pile business, we were getting approached by main roads because they had a problem there. They had a big cut, as they extended the widen the motorway, they had a vertical cut. And the geology in that particular area meant that there was the land was wanting to slip, it was an eight metre cut.
[6:32] So, it's a very deep cut for a start and they had a problem with needing to nail back or soil nail back the embankment itself. And the normal technologies that we use were going to be time prohibitive and so, they came to us, they came to me and we started exploring the idea of using screw piles. And anyway, we did that project. It was about a $1,000,000 project back then. And we worked the night shift and really stabilised this embankment. And the reason I noticed it as I was driving back from Brisbane is that they're now building, four or five storey homes there have been demolished and they're building infill multi-level construction work.
[7:15] So, yeah, that was infrastructure work like that. I did that same sort of project in New Zealand, and I talked about the one in China as well. So, I found that that technology had great application and I hope to take that further and really build an international business out of it. And I just, I think personally, I just didn't have the horsepower to work out how to do that at the time. But anyway, I had great experiences along the way.
[7:42] In terms of my own experience as a developer, I’ve done everything. I've, I mean I've built houses with my own hands as a carpenter and then built different houses as we graduated, built a luxury home here at Nobby Beach which I sold a few years ago. And then I did land subdivisions. I did small ones, as I said my colleagues Peter and Stuart have both done big projects. You know, 100 [or] 200 lots where they've had their own money in them and their own risk, this sort of stuff. But really, a lot of those skills are transferable. Once you know how to run a small project arguably you can run a bigger project. It's just everything gets bigger — the numbers get bigger, the time gets bigger, the problems could also get bigger, as well.
While developing properties, it is inevitable to come across some challenges. Kelly shares one of his most memorable teaching moments.
[10:28] I started a project [of] 11 townhouses in Annalee in Brisbane, with just my own money in that and then the bank money. So, we started that in 2016 and I remember, so, I did this project and then I moved overseas and went to America. I did start to get into property development there as well and got caught by this Coronavirus pandemic thing two years ago. So, prior to that, my last project in Brisbane was this one. It was about a $7 million project. I'd borrowed $4 million from the bank. And it was by far and away the largest project I've done.
[11:05] And I went through the commercial funding route, which was difficult then, I mean it's probably much, much more difficult now after the banking Royal Commission. But I borrowed the $4 million and got approved. So, we got started and did so much deliberation, a lot of time and we demolished two houses. And I wasn't the builder on this job, the bank wouldn't let me be the builder [because] I had too much invested there. So, I got an external builder. Anyway, I remember getting a call. It was in March or maybe April, it was stinking hot up here. And I get a call from the foreman on the job saying, 'Dave, we've got a real problem here, you need to come up to Brisbane'. And so, I think I'd already been up like two days earlier and I thought, 'oh, really'.
[11:47] So, anyway, I get in my car [and] drive up there. And I knew that [they] knew what they were doing. I had a camera on site. So, I could see photographs every day of what was going on and I can't imagine what's going on. What would require me dropping everything and going up there? It's stinking hot, I get up there and I see that we had a couple of machines on site which were stopped, had about seven or eight guys just standing around obviously waiting for me to come in and understand what's going on to give some direction. And I thought, as I walked up there, I thought I'm the man. I knew that whatever the problem was, [it] was just a problem that needed a solution. And I thought, 'oh, here we go. This is great. Let's work it out and hopefully do it for the least cost possible'.
When Kelly walked onto the site, he came across a very unusual problem…
[12:33] What had happened was as they cut the pads for the second townhouse, we had 60 on one side and five down the other. And the second townhouse, they were cutting the pad and they come across a stormwater manhole which when they overlaid it on the plan, it was coming up through the lounge room of that particular unit, the ground floor and so that was a problem. Because this was Council infrastructure, the council had never picked up on their plan. The surveyors couldn't pick it up because it was covered in dirt, and it was built underneath the old house that was there.
[13:11] But I looked [and] I thought, 'jeez, that's going to be a problem because somebody will got to convince Council, well, this is your infrastructure and now your infrastructure, we've designed our project and your infrastructure is in the wrong place'. And I just knew it was going to be time and time is money when you've got projects going. So, anyway, but I remember rocking up to the site and as I said, it was hot as hell. And they explained the situation to me, and I just thought, 'oh, man, I'd kill for an ice cream right now'. I just, it's all I could think of.
[13:50] It wasn't so much, like I think I just had by that stage, I thought, 'well, yes it might be a bit painful, but I've got contingency there in my fund to cover any reasonable amount of extra costs'. And so, it wasn't a big deal breaker and they’ve got all these guys standing around like probably wanting to see me melt. Not only melting the heat but melt in the pressure of that situation. And I just thought, 'oh, man, choc wedge, or a Magnum?'
Remaining calm allowed for Kelly and his team to come up with a good solution.
[16:03] We didn't move it. We redesigned that apartment slightly and so what, it was coming up in the, I probably said before [that] it was in the middle of the lounge room. It turned out not to be in the middle, it was on the side of a wall and on the other side of the wall was a garage. So, we shrunk that room a little bit which made it actually come up through the garage itself.
So, I then had to make that, change that garage design so that it was more like a carport, an enclosed carport, so that Council could get access to it if it was ever blocked in the future. It was still an operating sewer, stormwater [drain]. So, we just reduced the, had to bring it up in heights but we reduced it. So, the manhole cover was a smaller size and that sort of stuff. So, yeah, we got round it that way.
Although this project had its challenges, finishing it was one of Kelly’s biggest successes.
[18:21] I think finishing that project was a buzz. It was definitely an accomplishment to finish that. So, there's some other challenging personal circumstances happening at that time but I was able to just remain focused. And so that was an accomplishment and that was cool. And what I did actually, I developed [or] I designed that whole project around keeping two of those townhouses and then running them as a rooming house. So, I've got two townhouses. They're four beds, they're a studio apartment on the ground floor and then living, so and that's self-contained. They're separately meted. So, those people live there and they are just independent to the rest of the townhouse.
[19:01] On level two, [the townhouse] is the standard like three story design. Level two or level one, first level up is the living kitchen area. And then above that, you've got three bedrooms. So, one of which is unsuited. So, you have a situation where I've got three tenants at the top and then I've got a studio apartment at the bottom. And I own two of these. So, in other words I’ve got eight separate tenancies. And what they do [is] they give me about a, I get about a 60% greater rent on that project than I would if it was a standard three bedroom townhouse. Because all the other townhouses in that development are three bedrooms. So, I've got three bedrooms plus a studio and because I'm renting by the room, I'm getting much 60% more rent. So, that makes it a very, it was all it was conceived like that. It was a lot of hurdles to get there. But it was very successful in that regard.
As well as this, Kelly has another success story but this one involves a project in America.
[19:50] The other thing I would say is that when I, I then went and lived in America in 2018. And I started, I had to get a working permit there, which I did. And I worked for an electrical contractor which wasn't a great deal. That wasn't a great situation because I was just, I was running the project I was running before that but then the next gig I got was under my own company. I was building a $5 million beach house in Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles. And I remember rocking up to sight on the first day thinking, 'feet and inches. Holy hell, I'm not even'. You know, I grew up at the tail end of the imperial unit phase when it was getting phased out but I knew feet and inches.
[20:43] My dad would always talk in terms of feet and inches but I was a kid, you know, a decimal kid. So, I knew that one inch was 25.4 millimetres. But when you got to building instead of building plans, and you've got 104 foot, two and a half inches and three eighths, and you're having to convert that and get a feeling for it, it was. And that was on day one and I was thinking, 'oh, gee, I'm gonna have to wing it here until I really get a hold of this'. And I remember that project gets set out by a surveyor and all that. So, there's no risk to me but you got to look like you know what you're doing when you're doing those things.
[21:21] And I remember thinking that as I got into it, I realised the imperial system is so nuts, it's not easy to work with. People are used to it and that's one of the ... that Americans have. It is the imperial unit system; metric makes far more sense. Metres and litres versus inches and gallons but the Americans stick to it. And I remember getting to the third level on this and we had maximum height on this project, you couldn't do it any higher. If you're one inch higher, the council would come back and tell you to rip down the roof or lower it or whatever. And we got to the last, the top floor and I realised we need to get a level on that floor, to then be able to build the — so that we know when we've pitched the roof, that the roof is the maximum height and no greater.
To make sure there were no complications, a surveyor checked the height however Kelly was not on site at the time which filled him with some doubt.
[22:11] I came back the next day and I said, 'have you done the level?' 'Yeah, I put a level right on the floor in spray paint'. I go and check it out and it's 109.32 feet. And I'm saying 109.32. Why wouldn't it be 109 foot? This is above sea level, 109 foot six inches and five eighths of an inch or something like that because, but 109.32 feet is like a hybrid of decimal and imperial.
[22:41] And it made no sense to me and I was a bit embarrassed. And I thought, I'm gonna get caught out here because obviously there's a language here that the surveyor works in that I don't even know. I'm gonna make a goose of myself if I go. And so, I went to the carpenter and I said, 'mate, you know, they put the level over there, you're right to work with that?' And he looked at it, the carpenter, he’s been doing this work all his life. He says, 'what the hell does that mean?'
[23:09] I realised I wasn't the only one and then I kind of worked out what it was. So, I worked that .32 or whatever it was, the fraction, the part of the reading back to what was in feet and inches. And I went to the surveyor and said, 'hey, you've written this level but do you mean this?' And he said, 'yeah, that's what I mean. Yeah'. I said, 'what do you do with that?' He said, 'well, because the imperial system sucks. It's too hard to work with'.
While in America, Kelly had a great time filled with exciting opportunities.
[24:44] [I] met lots of fantastic people [and had] a lot of great experiences. [It was a] pretty tough environment. Not as friendly. Sorry, not as, commercially everyone's very clear in the big centres like Los Angeles and New York like it's commerce and everything can feel like it's all transactional. I think Aussies are a bit more laid back. But I love the American go, go, go, go and entrepreneurial spirit. There's not that same, what do you call it, the tall poppy syndrome that we have here. And I love those aspects about America.
[25:17] I really stayed there until the financial crisis. This building, I was doing the $5 million beach house was coming to an end and unfortunately, the financial crisis, sorry, the pandemic started in March of 2020. And it was about this day, I think it was on the 26th of March of 2020 when I came back to Australia. So, and when the pandemic hit LA, it just went to a pretty toxic environment, very fear, everyone's fearful. And I just decided to pack up and come back to Australia for a bit and so I felt that my time in America kind of got caught short and finished up early. [I've] still got a car and other reasons to go back there [like] friends and things. And I might go back but at the moment I'm just happy to be in Australia.
[26:09] It's relatively easy going and living here on the Gold Coast is a great place to live. It's a very amenable atmosphere and weather for my lifestyle. And yeah, there's a big world though. From then, I then did a, I did a lap of the world Tyrone during the pandemic. I literally travelled around the world and took photographs of myself on the subway in New York. You know, a selfie like this with no one for three carriages that way and no one for three carriages that way. And my friends who I was staying with, they said, 'are you crazy going on the subway?' I said 'well, the good thing is there's no one else on the subway'. So, that was a moment in time.
Holding Onto Properties
Kelly has developed a lot of properties, but he has only decided to hold onto a small amount.
[27:37] I'm only holding two in Brisbane. As I said, I sold up some assets before I moved to America. So, and then I, whilst in America, you know, it's interesting because I met some really interesting people and great opportunities and property as part of the investing landscape. For sure in America. I know some Australians who have gone there and really done extremely well, incredibly well, in developing big portfolios and as managers and leading sponsors, they call it for some of these big multifamily developments and things.
[28:14] But there's also a lot of other investment opportunities, direct investment into the stock market. And also, other emerging companies and I took the opportunity to invest a chunk of money over about four or five different companies, which really are technology companies, pre IPO. Some of them, we have one of those companies at a founder level. So, a very small part of what I think my assessment would be that these are big opportunities.
[28:44] And so, property in Australia is very, Australia's very property centric, as you know. Everyone talks about property and lives and breathes it. And it is in this country, it's absolutely critical to be part of it or else you'd be, you know, be the inflation would be throttling you if you weren't unfortunately. But I'm also pretty happy with the risks I've taken in terms of some other investments and believe that they're going to, you know, in a year or two, I think I'm in the right with the right group of people in the right sectors and it’s an exciting ride.
Seek Out Opportunities
At the beginning of his property development journey, Kelly learned a lot from different courses as well as simply doing things.
[30:11] But a lot of that was just I did things. There were different courses being launched at the time about learning about feasibilities. You know, I wrote my own feasibility program. I then started teaching feasibilities and a small property development course that I created. And I because my life now is about freedom and it's about contribution. And that's, I look for those opportunities to be able to contribute to others in whatever way that is and some of it is professionally through property development education and things like that. And I guess that I've done many different courses over the years and each one of them can help give you something that you weren't familiar with before.
[30:51] It might be marketing. You know, market as an engineer and a pretty grassroots topic guy, I've always found that marketing, I just had no skills in that area. And now I'm getting [or] I'm accumulating some of those skills and I'll give you an example. Like, I wrote a book, I was involved in the Brisbane floods in 2011. And I wanted to get into that industry because I realised what great cash flow it is.
And I met, I found an insurance builder and I started interviewing a few of these guys and said, 'hey, listen, I'm here. I'm a registered builder. I'm keen to get into this field if the opportunity arises'. And I met a guy in Melbourne in the Christmas of 2010 [and] 2011. A friend of mine introduced me to him. And he said, 'Dave, really good to meet you all that but you're in Queensland and I'm down here. And what's ever going to happen in, what's ever going to need me to go off to Brisbane as a builder?'
[31:51] And I thought fair point. About one week later, the Brisbane floods occurred and I get a call from this builder. He says, 'hey, we've been asked by Suncorp to head up to Brisbane. Would you run the program for us?' And I said, 'well, I'll do it on one chance'. I said, 'will this give me a chance to get registered as an insurance builder with Suncorp?' And he said, 'I think so'. So, I thought, okay, that's good enough for me. So, I ran a project there for 18 months. We did 74 projects in Brisbane and I wrote a book about what you do as a homeowner to recover from flood. And I wrote the book [and] it was pretty good.
From here, Kelly’s book became a valuable resource for some but he struggled to reach a large audience base.
[32:30] The insurance companies started giving that out to their clients because it's got technical stuff in there and then it just talks about how to do various things. How to sanitise the place, how to deal with electrical, plumbing, carpentry, what to look for all this sort of stuff. And it's a very small book, but and then I thought, I don't know what to do with this book because I don't know how to do any internet marketing or anything. And so, it pretty much sat on my website for 10 years doing nothing.
And then in these recent floods, I started going out and I went with my daughter, and we did some relief work down in Lismore. And then I offered, I put myself out there to do inspections of houses which have been flood damaged because people are there and some of those people have no insurance and they're looking at their house thinking, 'I think the house is buggered. I don't know what I'm going to do. Is it a serious, real serious problem? Or how do we fix this problem?'
[33:19] So, I just put myself out there to do some inspections. I'm doing three in Murwillumbah on this Sunday. And then I thought now that I understand how to do a bit of marketing, I created a new funnel and I put that book out to my list of people. Which is just my legacy list of contacts. I then was interviewed by ... who runs a big Property Group. He put it out to all his people, it's a free download. And the whole thing was just about contributing, putting that book out and if it helps. So, I've got that book for download now, if anyone was interested in that or pass it on to someone who is interested, it's just on my website.
[34:30] Could I just say one point on that too. Whoever's listening, I was in contact just two days ago with a relief centre at Murwillumbah and she rang and I said, 'hey, listen, I'm happy to do more of these inspections'. And so, she's found two more people. I'm doing those on Sunday. And I said, 'how's it going there?' And she said, 'you know, the need is just as great, but all the volunteers have forgotten about it or they've moved on to the next part of their life'. Which I understand, I get that.
[34:58] But I just say to people, even though those floods seem a distant and since then we've had things like unfortunately Shane Warne dying, we've had a war breakout and mostly a lot of people have forgotten that there's people in those centres in Sydney, in Lismore [and] in Murwillumbah who have been badly flood affected and their lives are still upside down. So, I just asked people to remember that that's the case and maybe there's a way in which you could reach out and give some money. You know, don't forget that there's other people doing it tough and there's people doing it really tough.
Experience, Experience, Experience!
Coming back to Kelly’s property development journey, let’s take a look at what he would say to himself ten years ago.
[35:57] I would have said get the best experience you can. Work for someone and go as far as you possibly can with that company and accumulate all the knowledge and understanding that that company's got in their sector. I've encouraged my daughters to do this. I've got two daughters who are both lawyers. I said just work for, if you want to work for yourself later on but go as hard as you can now to get all that accumulation of knowledge and skill that has come to that company.
Understand those processes [and] develop relationships so that then later on if you want to pull back and work and develop your own company, you can do that. That's what I'd say to myself. I found that I didn't, that's what I would have done differently is probably tried to accumulate greater experience at a higher level and maybe even work around the world in construction projects and things. So, I would have said that.
[36:47] The other thing I'd say is that there's lots of bright shiny things out there and I noticed that with myself, I've been, I could say that myself I've sometimes been attracted by these bright, shiny things. You know, something new. I've done such an array of things. And I look at some of my mates who have just stuck to their core business, no matter what that business was — whether it was accounting, whether it was property or whether it was property sales or something.
Then cycles have a way of repeating, as you are in a sector for certain, for longer and longer. You build those relationships and networks, you become better at your skill, you become better [and] widely known and you can really start to reap the benefits of longevity, as you go further into your career.
On the flip side, this is what Kelly is excited for in the future.
[37:57] With the experience I've had and this whole thing I have about freedom and contribution, I want to coach people in property development and just in getting their mind right to achieve whatever it is they want to do in their life. And really, you know, see that actually happen on the ground, on the playing field.
And so, I'm developing some programs in that way to help people and just as a downlow almost from the experience I've had. My whole career has been in property in one form or another apart from two years. And the confidence that comes from being at a sector and focusing on things for a long time is, you know, it can be a great advantage to younger people as they start off, just to guide them and to give specific direction.
[38:45] I know that, I mean, I'm in coaching groups and I've been in different sorts of coaching groups for some time. And often because there's an arrangement of ways to do stuff, I get a bit bamboozled by that because I see all the options, opportunities and I see the risks. And then I can kind of get stuck in, what's it called, where you procrastinate. And I realised that about myself. Sometimes I've hired coaches in the past and said, 'hey, listen, I see all these potential distractions. Forget about it, just show me what's going to work or show me something. Just tell me something and I'll do it'.
[39:21] And that's why my coaching relationships have worked really well. I mean, I'm having one of those right now, where I've got a coach and he says, 'Dave forget about all that. We'll do that later. Let's just do this right now'. And I get on and work like a Trojan and get that bit done and come back and say sometimes Tyrone, it's been interesting because I've been doing things and particularly in this marketing field, doing stuff that I don't understand. And it's really been a big challenge for me because as I said before, most of the things I've done I've really worked out [and] understood how building and construction and property development occurs.
[39:55] I've been very comfortable in that field and now I'm doing some marketing exercises and I don't know what I'm doing. And I'll tell you what, it's been very, it's been very threatening because I'm doing stuff that I'm committing money, I'm committing time to something [or] a sector that I'm not quite sure of. And so, I would have been bamboozled, completely locked up, probably unable to move forward but so I've got a coach and he says, 'Dave, we'll handle that later. Just sit down, shut up, do this that we agreed to, just do that'. And then we'll assess what the results are.
Although it is difficult, Kelly’s experience with coaching has been a great experience.
[40:29] Now I'm kind of over the hump and I'm feeling like I actually can navigate my way around a little bit. And I think that getting to your market, you know, I started a podcast a couple of years ago called Man Schit, spelled Man S C H I T. And the podcast, the gut of the podcast is to help men get their shit together. And so, if they have, if men have problems and barriers in their life. And I found that I was, I did 18 versions of the podcast and I've just stopped it for the moment.
[41:02] But the podcast was, I was getting great feedback, but my market was very small. And I kind of thought, what's the point of producing the best podcast I can, if I can't get to the marketplace and no one knows about it. Whereas you might have someone who does a half-baked thing but if they can get to the market, then they're more effective. And I want to be effective at a bigger scale. So, I halted that podcast for the time being and I just want to learn to get my message out there and have an effect that affects many people in a positive way.
The Value of Hard Work
[41:36] I've learned so much just from what you said because it's really interesting. It's the mindset, it's the thoughts that run through to be able to lead you to where you are. I mean, you've achieved great success in the property journey and I think that's invaluable knowledge that can be passed on to a lot of people. So, yeah, I'm gonna say you're doing really, really well. And I guess last question then for you Dave, is you've achieved a lot, as I mentioned and you shared an amazing story. How much of that success is due to intelligence, skill, hard work, and how much of it is due to luck?
[42:19] She says, 'people always say to me I'm lucky. I've been lucky throughout my career'. And she says, 'I don't believe in luck. My definition of luck is where preparation meets opportunity'. And she said, she was always, always getting prepared. You know, she's asking herself and also asking for some inspiration, what do I need to do next so I can be prepared for the next part of my opportunity? And then for the next part of my life, and then the opportunities would come. But you can't take hold of opportunities unless you're prepared.
[42:54] And I think that would be, I've taken that on as a thing for myself. Where the hard work is definitely part of it. I think that we're living in an age Tyrone, where there's images around us at all times. It's kind of giving us the perception that and some people are able to do it and good on them, but that you don't have to work and you don't have to work hard. I had a 12 month, I really had a 18 month sabbatical up until September of last year, when I was travelling. I left Los Angeles in March and really didn't work until September the year following. So, 18 months and I travelled around the world and all that stuff.
[43:32] But when I got back into the work and I started the relationships, connecting with old colleagues, doing work and getting valued, I thought, I'm enjoying this. I'm really enjoying working and I'm working hard. And I'm building these products and things for other people. And so, I think that you're just tapping into what you were, getting a sense of what your purpose is in life is really important. Not that easy to do for some people.
[44:17] Whether that be just other people's perceptions, their limitations of you, your own limitations of yourself and see ourselves from you know, as we truly are. Which is a bright light of love and joy and power and where we can contribute to others and really, really invest something about us into the lives of others. That's what it's about. That's for me, that's been the most satisfying thing in my life is in relation to others. It's not just been in the accumulation of things or money at all. It's only got a context and only makes sense for me in the context of family and relationships that are valued.
Thank you to David Kelly, our guest on this episode of Property Investory.