Dr Dionne Payn is the CEO and founder of High Impact Property Investments. Originally from the UK, she moved to Australia when she was 25 years old to take up an opportunity that aligned with her value of sustainability. She now focuses her passion of sustainability towards property development and wrote the successful book ‘Ethical Property Investing’.
In this episode, Dr. Payn will share the stories of how she went from partying in university, to her getting a PHD in sugarcane chemistry. As well as this, learn about how she got involved in property development
and her passion behind sustainability!
3:09 | Growing Up in the UK
9:34 | Making Goals a Reality
13:19 | Joining the Workforce
15:45 | Aligning Your Values
20:54 | Getting Into Property
32:15 | Finding Your Niche
37:04 | Making Double Digit Returns
1:06 | Sustainably Developing Properties
7:47 | Combine Your Heart and Head
10:33 | Raising $1,000,000,000
14:51 | Personal and Property Development Go Together
18:25 | Helpful Courses
21:28 | Wouldn’t Change a Thing
Resources and Links:
Dr Dionne Payn:
[1:14] I really believe that we've got an opportunity at the moment where house prices are skyrocketing and there's a real lack of affordable housing. This is a really great opportunity to not only contribute to the solution, but also to make money as well. So, I think it's all really important.
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 CEO and founder of High Impact Property Investments, Dr Dionne Payn. She will share the stories of how she went from partying in university and to her getting a PHD in sugarcane chemistry. Learn about how she got involved in property development and her passion behind sustainability.
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Dr. Payn has a passion for investing in a sustainable fashion. After doing this herself, she now helps others to do the same.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[0:40] I am the CEO and founder of a company called High Impact Property Investments. And we specialise in partnering investors that are looking for double digit returns, with projects that provide affordable and sustainable homes.
[0:56] I am going to brag; I'm going to tell you about my book. I've written a book called Ethical Property Investing, and that's really about my journey into creating affordable homes as a developer and now supporting other developers that are creating affordable and sustainable homes.
How does Dr. Payn go about reaching this goal of sustainable housing in her everyday life?
Dr Dionne Payn:
[2:11] I'll share my typical day and then I'll share with you the best days. My typical day goes like this. You know, I'll have, I'll get up fairly early in the morning because I tend to do exercise and meditation and all of that. And then I'll have a meeting with somebody in the US because I'm expanding my business over there. I'll do the mum thing and you know, sort of pack my kids off to school and shout at them to make sure that they've got their clothes on and they've brushed their teeth and they're taking their lunch and they get out the door.
[2:46] And then I try and get some work done between nine till one where it's just me focus time. I've got a team, so I always like to make sure that I delegate tasks to them as well. And then in the afternoon, I will have meetings. And that is actually a typical day and my ideal day.
[3:08] Sometimes what happens is that in the morning, I sort of try and slide an extra meeting in or I have a few too many meetings. So, then I get frustrated that I haven't got the work done that I need to get done. But generally, the more I'm talking to people, the happier I am. The more I'm sharing ideas, the happier I am. If it's over tea and cake as well, [that is] even better.
Growing up in the UK
Dr. Payn has built a lot of success in Australia but that is not where her story began.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[5:06] I grew up in a sort of small suburban area of the UK. It's nine miles away from Birmingham. Yeah, about nine miles. Yeah, it's actually equidistant. Nine miles away from Birmingham and Wolverhampton. So, we're slap bang in the middle of that and the area is called the West Midlands and the location that I'm from is called Tividale.
[5:46] It was really interesting. It was cool. It was fairly quiet. Um, but you know, I don't know, it always felt a little bit too small for me. Like, there was a big wide world outside of that, that really needed to be explored. And I remember, oh, we have the most amazing public transport system and so you could get on the bus and, you know, I don't even know how much it would cost in comparison in Australia. But it was a very low amount of money, maybe like, it was five pounds, so maybe $10 or something like that in today's money.
[6:22] And so, you could go from the south of the West Midlands, all the way to the north of the West Midlands in that sort of Cheyenne, you'd call it. And so, you could go really far. So, you could go from Kanak, which was above North of Wolverhampton, and down to as far as almost Stratford upon Avon. Which is, you know, it's still in the Midlands but, you know, sort of [a] bit further down.
[6:45] So, you could get on at any train [or] any bus in that area. So, we just, me and my friends from school used to just go and explore. We'd go to Birmingham; we'd hang out in Birmingham. We could go to the airport. I don't know why we wanted to go to the airport, there were some cool shops there. It wasn't like we were travelling anyway at that point. But, you know, we could travel there. We could travel to Stoke on Trent.
[7:08] And it was just, yeah, I've always just had that the world is my oyster kind of feel. But, you know, just because I was in one location, didn't mean that I couldn't travel and see other places. And the interesting thing about the UK as well is that even in a very short sort of area, small area, the dialects are different, the accents are different, the way people are quite different. So, a great way of people spotting actually, I really enjoyed that.
Dr. Payn’s parents rarely joined her on these trips, but they still managed to have eyes on her.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[7:56] It was pre mobile phone days. But you used to have the public telephones, pay phones. So, if I ever needed to get a hold of my parents, and you could do reverse charges in those days as well.
[8:18] So that's it. If I ever got into trouble, not that I did, I was a pretty good kid. But I just knew that that was an option. And also, like my heritage is West Indian. So, there was quite a big West Indian migration to the UK, particularly around the Midlands and London and that sort of thing. But it just seemed that, you know, I couldn't escape. I couldn't really escape, you know, sort of family members or friends that my parents would know.
[8:46] So, there was this, you know, sort of extended network of sort of semi relatives. Where I couldn't really get into that much trouble because I knew that there were always eyes on me. Which at the time, I kind of hated because it was like I want to get a bit naughty but now, I really appreciate it. Because knowing that there was that community that was there to hold me in whatever happened was actually, it felt good. It felt really good.
While growing up, Dr. Payn attended her local schools.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[10:41] I went to a local primary school, which was literally just up the road from where I lived. I could walk there in five minutes. I went to a secondary school, which was about a kilometre and a half away. And so, I was there until I was 16 and then when I finished there, I went to a sixth form college, as we called it then. And so, that was when I was 17 [and] 18 before I went off to university.
[11:06] And that was in Wolverhampton. So, that was nine miles away and was probably the first time that I did public transport to get to school. Because it was a significant distance and there was lots of traffic and that sort of thing. But I really enjoyed it. It was nice to do something different and the secondary school that I went to was probably a bit more, you know, I just went to a regular secondary school whereas the sixth form college was just a bit more, I'm going to say up market.
[11:50] Very, like [it] had amazing results. One of my Auntie's told me that I should go, and I love my Auntie Fay, so I went and had a look at it and I really liked it. But yeah, it was much more structured and much more focused on results and getting good results. And so, yeah, as a result, I probably did a lot better than I would have done if I just stayed at my local comprehensive school.
Dr. Payn had wonderful experiences throughout her time at school and although there’s a lot to choose from, there is one memory that she will never forget.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[12:28] I don't know why this memory sticks in my head but one of the favourite times of the year for me in the UK is autumn. Because it's one of the times of the year, the leaves are falling off the trees and it's that sort of back to school time and it's just, you know, it's getting a little bit cooler but it's still a little bit sunny.
[12:48] Anyway, myself and my friend Robert Grimes, I think we'd actually skipped school to go to the town centre and we were on our way back. And there was this big pile of leaves that was there that had fallen off the tree. Lovely autumn colours. Anyway, I was just about to go and jump in it and he pushed me out of the way and he jumped in it. There was a big dog pat underneath the leaves, which he stepped in.
[13:23] It's just one of those things. Every time I think of him. Every once in a while, he'll be, you know because we're Facebook friends. Every once in a while, he’ll come up in my Facebook feed and I just have this big chuckle. It's like, oh, my friend Robert Grimes.
[14:03] And it's funny, it's like one of the most silliest stories. You know, with kids, it's always like, bum jokes. I'm a 44 year old woman and I still laugh at that. Some of those things never leave you.
Making Goals a Reality
After completing school, Dr. Payn went off to university with a specific goal in mind.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[14:36] I had a specific course in mind. I wanted to be a, initially I wanted to be a doctor. And I knew that, sort of by the time I went to sixth form, I knew that I wasn't going to be a doctor. I hadn't studied hard enough. And so, I sort of lowered my sights a little bit and wanted to do pharmacy. But again, it was that age where I was going to school and I wanted to get good grades but I also started partying. So, I had competing priorities.
[15:03] So, by the time I left sixth form, my grades were okay but they weren't crash hot really. And so, I went to the University of Portsmouth to do a degree which was half pharmacy and half chemistry. Because I did quite well at chemistry at school. And the plan was that at the end of the year, if my grades were good enough, it was the top 10%, then I could move into the pharmacy degree. And now I think there were like 20 students in my cohort.
[15:32] So, that meant being the, one of the top two. That came to me a little bit later. By the time I did my master's, I was much more diligent. But really, the partying just took over. I wasn't in the top two and so I didn't do pharmacy, which I actually really appreciate because that would have been a completely different trajectory all over again.
[15:54] But, you know, pharmaceutical chemistry, I absolutely loved it. I love the study of it. I did a placement year in year three. So, it was a four year degree. So, year three I did a placement year and I worked in the Agro chemical industry. The company was called Cyanamid, which they've merged and became BASF. And it was the application of what I'd been learning that made it all made sense up until that point.
[16:23] So, it's kind of just going through the motions and learning and staying up late and revising and in between partying. But the actual application of it and being in a lab and working with people and understanding the different projects and what was required, it was so cool. It's so cool. I really loved it. Now, there's no way I would work in an Agro chemical industry but at the time, it was such [a] great experience. And then when I went back for year four, I just because I had that understanding and that hands-on experience, I got a much better grade than I would have done if I hadn't have done that work experience.
Although she did not achieve the perfect balance, Dr. Payn believes in having a well-rounded experience while studying and working.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[17:53] It's something that I'm sort of grappling with, well I'm not grappling with it anymore. It's something I have been grappling with recently, just in terms of what I want for my kids. And I want them to be challenged. I want them to love learning but I also want them to be well rounded people as well. So, for me, it's not all about the academics or the academic progress of a particular school.
[18:22] Because I know, being in academia as well, I know how all of that can be fudged. For me, what's more important is that, obviously there's a certain level of intelligence but there's the sort of head intelligence but also the emotional intelligence. Because there's so much that's happening in the world right now. I think if you're too much in your head, that you're not going to be able to solve the big problems.
[18:47] Actually I think the big problems have been created because a lot of people have been too much in their heads and not so much in their hearts. So, for me, it's really important to make sure that there is that balance between head and heart. So, that yes we can have like really creative solutions to problems. But there's also the, you know, how is this going to impact my fellow human citizens?
Joining the Workforce
After finishing her placement, Dr. Payn finished the fourth year of her degree. From there, she joined the workforce.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[19:28] I went to work in the pharmaceutical industry. And that was fun but I was working for a large pharmaceutical company. And I realised that I didn't enjoy being the small cog in the big machine. And my department was great. I really loved the team that I worked with. But it really was that it just felt really impersonal. And I remember one Christmas time where there was a big address on a screen and I just, I don't know, it just felt really impersonal and I didn't feel very valued.
[20:03] Because I couldn't be very valued because there was so many other employees as well. So, I just wanted a more intimate experience and to know who my boss was, you know. So, I went and, I'm just thinking that I think I lived in Jersey for a little while after that because I also met my husband at university. He was from Jersey, which is a small island off the south coast of the UK. And so, we went and lived there together for a while and had an amazing time. But I still felt that hankering for getting back into science, going to use my skills again.
[20:40] So, I left Jersey and went to do a master's and then we both decided that we would come away. So, we went to New Zealand first of all. I really liked being in Auckland but we had an experience where we came to see a friend. So, we'd moved to New Zealand and shipped all of our stuff over. It hadn't arrived yet but we went to Australia and stayed with a friend in Brisbane, who had been a friend at uni. And he just, you know, his friends instantly became our friends. They were beautiful. And we went down to Byron Bay. My husband realised that he could study at Byron Bay at the School of audio engineering, and that was really significant for him.
[21:20] I realised that I could study in Australia and be sponsored to do a PhD. And that PhD was in sugarcane chemistry. Which by that point, I'd sort of done the agrochemical industry, I'd done the pharmaceutical industry, and then I was more into natural products chemistry. So, I could do a PhD that aligned with my values around sustainability and health and all of that. Yeah, it was fun, it was so much fun.
Aligning Your Values
Dr. Payn moved to Australia when she was around 25 years old to do her PHD.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[21:47] So, that I completed that and that gave us enough points to stay in Australia. The one thing about the PhD though, was that during the time I was there, I could see all of the colleagues and the professionals that were around me that had years and years of research experience. And what I thought was a very stable position turned out not to be. It turned out to be lots of short term contracts and very competitive to get grants.
[22:12] There's a saying in the academic community. Publish or perish. And it's very, to me it just felt really icky. For some people, they love it. For me, I didn't like it. So, I decided that, I was at the age then, I was in my early 30s. I was gonna have children instead and then figure out later what I was gonna do. So, that's what I did and then Atticus and Malia came along.
A PHD in sugarcane chemistry is not something that you hear about every day. Let’s hear what it entailed.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[22:54] So, [it is] really, really, really funny how this happened. So, the Cooperative Research Centre for sugar, so big research organisation, money from the government, money from industry as well. And the whole point was to increase the value of sugar cane. So, normally sugar cane is harvested, it's pressed, the sugar gets taken away, you have molasses for animal feed and that's about it. But the idea was to increase the value of sugar cane through using the waste materials for more things.
[23:31] So, with the bughouse, which is the sugar cane that's leftover, that can be burned, and it's seen as a renewable resource. There was also talk about biofuels as well. My research was actually looking at sugar cane as a source of medicines for diabetes, which sounds really counterintuitive until we recognize that when you strip a plant and just basically focus on one aspect of the plant and discard everything else, then it makes things out of balance.
[24:00] If you consider that sugar cane has compounds in there that not only reduce the insulin spikes, so you know, preventing diabetes also contains compounds that inhibit the bacteria that cause tooth decay and lots of other things like that as well. So, you strip that away and you're left with a sugar which is quite damaging but not without the other things that balance it out. So, that was the conclusion that I had in my research. If we didn't refine sugar cane in the first place, maybe we wouldn't have diabetes.
[24:33] But in the process of that research as well, I did manage to find a couple of compounds that hadn't been found before and also some compounds that did have that medicinal effect against the enzymes that are that implicated in the diabetes disease. So, that was really cool. As part of the research team, we got some patents that were taken out over those compounds.
[25:01] And then the job of the CRC was to actually sell that to a pharmaceutical industry, which then would have sort of meant money trickling down. Unfortunately, nothing came of it. You know, if you've sort of search on the internet and look for compounds from sugarcane, you'll find my name come up but we never managed to commercialise it.
Getting Into Property
We’ve explored Dr. Payn’s personal journey. Now, let’s explore her property journey and how it started.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[28:30] It was at the time that I had kids and I wanted to be home for my kids as well. Because I just after doing all of that research, I just loved the change from being in my head to being more in my heart around my beautiful little munchkins. So, I really enjoyed that. But the problem was that I wasn't working.
So, then we were on one income and we were trying to buy a property and we couldn't on one income. Because where I live just outside of Byron Bay, properties were already unaffordable on that one income. I mean, I look at it now, we could have purchased something that was $400,000 which is now $1.5 million. So, it's affordable is a shifting perspective, definitely.
[29:38] I mean, you know, that was our thing and so, for us it was about a need. It was how do we do property in a creative way, so that we can get onto the property ladder. And so, my husband and I did some courses [and] did some mentoring. We found a joint venture partner as a result of one of these courses. And that JV partner, he had money but not the time to do developments. And we had the time but not the money to go in and do that by ourselves.
[30:08] So, that was our first partnership. We did a couple of projects with him, made money and I just, I was blown away by the fact that I had [or] that we had, so myself and my husband, that we had some agency over the direction of our life. It wasn't just that we were relying on a job, it was that we could actually create money for ourselves. And I could see that if we were able to scale this, and that we would do really well financially. So, that was how we got into property in the first place.
One of Dr. Payn’s most memorable property moments was one of her first developments.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[30:40] The story that I always tell is that I saw a piece of vacant land and in ocean shores, which is opposite the shopping centre. I just kept walking past it and it had a for sale sign. And by that point, I’d done a few projects and I it was bigger than what I thought, it was bigger than what I’d done. But, you know, [I was] a bit I was like, yeah, I’ll give it a go.
[31:04] I did the business case, I did the feasibility and I was like, yeah that all works. And so, I bought joint venture partners in to help with that and to help fund that. And then I went a long, merry way to get the bills. And what I, initially I was just in it for the money, really. I just thought we’re gonna make matzah, like we were going to make a lot. So, it was gonna be awesome. And a few things happened. One, my very, like I just put a post on Facebook because part of the due diligence process was do people actually want these 60 square metres one bedroom townhouses?
[31:43] So, I did a small campaign with the local real estate agent and put something on Facebook, just saying, look, I’m looking into this I think that it could be good, is anybody interested? And the first person that replied said, this looks amazing, I want to be part of that. How can we make it work? So, we had a meeting, and I was really honest. I was like, I’ve never done anything like this before but if you’re willing to come on the journey with me, then great.
For the joint venture partner, it was her first time being involved in property development but Dr. Payn still had trust in her.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[32:08] As well for her, her dad had passed away. She had a small amount of deposit and for her, it was like I’ve never bought a house before but I’m really interested in doing this. And I think it was the, she was a partner in a dance troupe that I was part of at the time. So, we’d had quite a few experiences and some crazy wild nights of partying and dancing and things like that. So, we were friends in that sense but that level of trust from her, it was part of the driving factor of when things weren’t as easy as I thought they were going to be, it was like a okay, I’ve got to keep going because I don’t want to let my friend down.
[32:48] And then, it wasn’t just one friend, it was other members of the community because by that point I realised, well if she was saying, well, I wouldn’t be able to stay in the community and be able to afford renting long term if something like this didn’t exist. So, as an example, the average price of those townhouses was $350,000. And the median house price in the area was $650,000. So, it was a really significant steppingstone for somebody to give them that level of security and affordability.
[33:24] Now, three of those houses were managed by a community housing provider as well. And they were, the community housing provider had the head lease over the property. So, they were able to rent them at 80% of the market rent. And I remember with my joint venture partner just going, partners because there were three of us altogether, and just going how are we going to sell these to investors if they’re only getting 80% of the market rent.
[33:48] But we did a case study. It was one of my joint venture partners was an accountant, she did a whole spreadsheet on if the community housing provider is taking on the head lease and there’s no vacancy rates and there’s no repairs to be done and there were a whole load of other things that we could put numbers to. So, when the spreadsheet spat out this number, it was like for anybody that’s investing in this, they’d been mad to not invest in this one because they’ve got all that security from the community housing provider and the return that they’re going to get is pretty close to the return that they would get if they sold one of the regular units.
[34:27] So, once we got our heads around that, we were then able to sell them and they all sold like hotcakes. And I recognise that we could actually sell them [and] sell that development many times over. It was just a shame that we didn’t have the stock. Although I have to say that that project was really, really, really stressful. If we’d have had more stock, it would have been a disaster.
From this project, Dr. Payn had multiple learning experiences.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[34:53] One of them was that the builder went broke. I'd chosen the wrong builder. There were three builders. One of them kind of dropped off the face of the earth and the other two. I chose the one that I chose [but] there was not much in them except that this one that I did choose didn't have as much experience as the other one. But he was really dynamic and I was like, I could see that we could be friends. So, I kind of went for the friend option rather than steady, stable, reliable builder. Who is still building whereas the other builder is not.
[35:28] But yeah, I mean, look, he did over promise and unfortunately, under delivered. The other thing about that development was that just in that process of the joint venture partners, I really got blindsided by we can make money from this and there were certain things that were red flags but I just let them slide because I was like, we're not going to be in this project for very long, we can get over this, we're gonna be fine.
[35:57] And those little irritating things then became these really big sort of things that blew up out of proportion. But if I'd have tackled them head on in the first place, it probably wouldn't have been an issue. So, again, that was a lesson for me too. It's like number one, work with people that are, that have aligned values and be courageous enough to call something out if it's not working right from the get-go. I mean the relationship between the builder and the joint venture partner as well, was not good. And even before we signed contracts it was bad. And I was trying to just go along and go it'll be alright, it'll be alright, it'll be right and it wasn't.
[36:39] So, yeah. So, big, big, big learnings around that. But from those learning experiences, it was valuable because I then got to see if I want to continue doing property development. Because that very nearly took me out of the game but if I want to continue doing property development, I've got to do it in a way where it works for everybody.
[37:00] One of the challenges that we faced was that the JV partner, one of them, really wanted to push things down on price. And I didn't really like that because it was to my benefit, I didn't, I just let it slide. Whereas now I just see that if it's not a win win, it's not gonna work. It's not gonna work. So, there's no point. So, yeah, it just means that sort of moving forward, it was a great testing ground. Great, great, great testing ground. So many lessons. But moving forward, it has to be the win for the investor, the win for the developer, the win for the builder, the win for all the contractors and the win for the end user as well. If it's not, there's no point in doing it because it's going to come back and bite you in the ass.
When she took on this project, it already had approved DA which influenced the type of build.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[0:51] I remember in right at the beginning of the project just thinking, okay, can we do anything with these townhouses? Can we add an extra room? There was some real challenges as well in the, getting the valuations. So, because there wasn't any comparable stock, the only stock that was, you know, one bedroom townhouses was 30 years old and in really rubbish conditions.
[1:16] So, getting a valuer to come and value it like. They actually, the valuer actually came back and said based on the cost and based on our report, this land is worth $70,000. Whereas we'd got a contract on it for $79,900. And I was like, well, that doesn't make sense. And it's just, for them, it's because they couldn't see the potential but that's valuers. Valuers don't necessarily see that. They just have to work by the numbers and the framework that they're given. They're not entrepreneurs in that sense.
[1:50] So, that, I mean that that was challenging, just trying to get the finance sorted initially. And so, in that process as well, we really investigated but what if we did a different design? What if you made it two bedrooms instead of one? And all of those sorts of things but it came down to this is the highest and best use for the site and we just had to get on with it.
[2:13] But also part of it was just doing our due diligence and like I said before, making sure that there was a market for it. And that became really apparent. We had about three sales initially which meant that we could start the project and start with a stage of four of the units. So, break it down into stages and then the construction started in the September [or] October and by Christmas, they had all sold. So, that again for me was just proving the market demand, which is cool.
Finding Your Niche
This project also allowed for her to find what she was good at.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[3:18] I wouldn't say I carved my niche only because I never been went ahead and replicated that on my own steam as a developer. I always really wanted to but I found a different track after which I'll talk about later. But your point about the one and two bedroom homes, it's not traditionally been the way that we've been building. We've been building the three and the four bedroom sort of mega mansions. But it's actually the way that we are moving towards because family sizes are getting smaller.
[3:54] And people are looking to live on their own. I'm trying to think of the statistics and it's been a while since I've looked at them but there are certainly more and more people that are looking to live in one and two bedroom homes and have that smaller space. So, for example, older people where families have moved away, they're stuck in their three bedroom large homes because they can't find anything. Like, they want to downsize but they can't find anything to downsize to which then locks up those three bedroom homes for, takes them out of the market for families that are looking for something as well.
[4:33] So, it's challenging. There's definitely more of a move towards those one or two and smaller space living as well. Which is why I believe that co-living is taking off because it's a more affordable way to live. Which then means for younger people, it provides a more affordable rental for them so that they can save up their money to be able to help them to thrive. And whether that's to save the deposit for their own home or which is getting more challenging and these days. Or whether it's to do investments and so that they can grow their wealth without having to pay 80% of their income on rent, which is what I know people in this area are having to do because of the housing crisis. So, yeah, smaller homes is a good thing.
From recent events, Dr. Payn has observed the value of smaller homes.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[7:25] We've got the government saying, okay, well, people can take money out of their super for their home deposit. I mean, we did this during COVID and the government did this during COVID. And all that happened was that the prices went up because demand went up and the supply, you know there was more demand than there was supply.
[7:48] So, in a very, very recent history, we're seeing that this, making it more possible for people to buy homes isn't working. So, I think, I mean there's part of me that thinks, oh, God, this is really bad and what can we do? Obviously if you've got a bad broken business model, that's not going to work but I sort of look at it and go, okay, well, in this, there's opportunities. And I think one of the opportunities is actually to build smaller, use less resources, use space more wisely, and create more affordable homes as a result of doing that.
[8:26] And also, I wonder, and I'm not, you know, I'm an ex developer. I'm not a builder. I'm not, I wasn't particularly good at the construction aspect of it, which is why I relied on my team members for that. But I wonder if there's an opportunity to build more simply as well. So, even in the opportunity to build more simply, do people actually want that? Or do they want the fancy pants homes with the fancy pants kitchens and all of that? So, I don't know what the answer is but I suspect that there is definitely an opportunity here and I'm really interested in the conversations to explore what that opportunity is.
[9:01] What I can say, though, is that the need for affordable housing, the need for co-living, the need for these smaller dwelling places, that need isn't going away. So, we do have a really good opportunity for that and certainly as investors, investing into projects that are giving double digit returns, that's a win. For the developers that are creating these developments and as long as they're being innovative and creative and using space as well as they can, then they can win too. And then the end users can win as well because they actually get homes that suit the way that they want to live.
[9:39] So, rather than having lots and lots of dead space and having to heat and cool it and having these really badly insulated properties that are costing an arm and a leg to heat and cool because of rising energy prices. Maybe this is the opportunity to just bring it all in and be able to do more with less. Maybe this is the lesson in all of this.
Making Double Digit Returns
This project was also when Dr. Payn had an ‘aha’ realisation.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[11:18] I think that the really key thing for me was in that particular development was and I've alluded to this all the way through the conversation but as an investor, I was able to make double digit returns on the money that I put into the project. And I was able to do something that was really spectacular for the community and really helped out the community. Albeit on a small scale and I would have loved to have done more under my own steam.
[11:46] But I think that there's a myth that you can't create affordable and sustainable homes and make money. If you're going to do that then you're basically relying on charity. Well, the opposite is absolutely true. The opposite of that is the truth. The opposite of that is you can provide affordable and sustainable homes; you can do it in a way that benefits the communities around you and you can make money doing that as well.
And I think that that myth is actually robbing us of the opportunity to create more affordable and sustainable homes and to do that in a way that helps people and the planet to thrive. Because if you've got the impression that if I put my money into this affordable housing project, I'm not going to make much money so, therefore I put it into a traditional housing project where I'm going to get much more and then more of that is going to be built and then more of the inequality that we're seeing is going to be present.
When talking about inequality, Dr. Payn does not just mean housing affordability.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[12:48] I'm talking about homes for people with disabilities. There's a lot of young people with disabilities that are living in hospitals, which is absolutely not the right place for them, or even old people's homes, because they can't find property that is accessible for them that they've got full use of that where they can move around, that's specifically designed to meet their needs. So, that's an opportunity where there is definitely money to be made in that.
[13:17] And then you've got, you know, we talk about the climate crisis. The construction industry and the way that we build our homes and maintain our homes is a really big contributor to climate change. So, if we can build in a way that we're producing homes that are really energy efficient, where they produce more energy in the homes than they consume, then we've got like a decent chance of actually getting through what's happening in the world right now.
[13:44] You know, as somebody that lives in the Byron Shire, we've been very heavily impacted by the recent rains and devastation by floods. Thankfully, where I live wasn't affected, not by the flooding anyway. I'm dealing with mould at the moment. So, I'm demoulding my house and that's been boring, I have to say. But I'm very grateful that I wasn't flood impacted. So, I will definitely say that but I can see very clearly that we're dealing with the effects of climate change. And there's a whole city of Lismore where I think like 22,000 residents are basically living in mouldy, mud covered houses and the city centre itself is dead, there's no shops that are there.
[14:35] So, I put a post on Facebook a little while ago saying are we seeing our first climate refugees? I know people that have just packed up and gone, I can't stay here and I can't be here. They, there was a flood in 2017 and a flood this year as well and it was so much bigger than what it was before. It's happening, it's here. We're sort of seeing, we're at the effect of it and so I think we've got a real opportunity rather than to shy away from it and go, oh, God, it's all too hard. We've got a really good opportunity to make this work and I think it's probably the last opportunity that we have.
In our last conversation with Dr. Payn, we learned about her passion for sustainability and for developing properties. Now, let’s explore the strategy that she uses.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[17:59] I'm an ex developer. I'm very happy to say that. Just in terms of my temperament, I'm much better at the relationship side than the development and the project management side. Project management is very detailed. There's a lot of moving parts and for me, there are other developers out there that are doing what it is that I want to see happen in the world in creating more affordable and sustainable homes. So, I'm much happy to support them.
[18:34] So, now I raise capital for developers that are doing that, and I have an investor network. So, when I, I actually I'm on the side of the investors but I'm funnelling money into developers that I believe are genuinely doing the right thing when it comes to creating homes that have that social and environmental impact. So, when I work with investors, I talk about how they can achieve double digit returns, they can be part of the solution and they can invest in alignment with their values.
To be able to find investors that share the same values as Dr. Payn, networking is crucial.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[19:06] I do that through what I call the investor network, where we bring the investors in and we'll talk to them about the different projects. But there's a lot of oversight in those projects. So, I always want investors to be not just invested in with their money but invested in with themselves as well. So, as an example, we've got a project at the moment where we do monthly webinars. And so, they're monthly webinars with the developer. So, the investors [and] I've got one tonight actually.
[19:37] So, the investors will get on the call, the developer will be there. They'll give the project report and the investors will be able to ask questions. Now, the developer could just give a written report. They'd be fulfilling their duty but for me, it's just important that the investors get to be part of that journey. And there was an experience that I had in one call, that we had I should say, where on one of the projects, the developers say, well, we're selling the units but this one unit we're not able to sell. And so, there was lots of feedback and suggestions from the investors as to how we could market this particular property to sell. And then they all got sold and that was great and the investors got a great return.
[20:23] So, it's that level of collaboration and bringing investors on a journey because the property development industry is one of the least trusted industry. So, if you can shine a light and sort of have some transparency into the moving parts that happen throughout the process, then people get more, they have more trust in the process and they want to be part of it. And particularly if there is the social and environmental impact aspect as well.
[20:48] Then those stories are measured and recorded. Then people have more trust in the whole thing and we can get some really great outcomes as a result of that. So, that's what excites me and like I said, I work with the investors but we support developers that we believe are doing the right thing and we can see and be part of that journey with them as well.
Through strong networking, Dr. Payn was able to find her first developer to work with.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[21:28] I remember finding my first developer and he, at the time we were business partners, we became business partners. And I remember saying to him, look, I want to raise capital for you. You're clearly a better developer than I am and I want to raise capital for you. But if I'm going to do it, then it has to be for creating affordable and sustainable homes. Because I know that if I'm not 100% behind something, like, it's just not gonna happen.
[21:58] And so, for him he said, well look actually, I've been thinking about creating an ethical investment fund for a long time and maybe we could do that together. So, we started down that journey together and then he is now building more of these affordable and sustainable homes. And I'm super happy to be supporting him through the work that I do.
[22:17] And so, a lot of it is networking, a lot of it is word of mouth. I had a conversation with somebody today, who is creating affordable homes for women over 55. That was a beautiful conversation [and] really inspiring. I know that we're going to end up doing great work together and that was a recommendation from somebody else that is part of that developer community as well.
[22:39] So, I think that there's, like, as I talk about what I do and part of writing the book actually was to just put that on a bigger stage and say, look, this is what I'm doing. Who's in? And as I sort of shared that message and more people have been attracted. And, you know, it's funny. Again, last night, I went to a networking event and just happened to be sitting opposite somebody and it's like what do you do? What do you do? And she is a social enterprise that works with other social enterprises and knows people that are in the building industry and that are doing exactly what it is that I'm looking for in developers.
[23:20] So, I think that when I set this business up, High Impact Property Investments, it was with a purpose that was beyond the money and beyond the financial return. It was like, the question was, how do we create something where we can raise a billion dollars for these ethical property projects? And because that purpose is there and because it's really in service of the people that need it, there's this driving force which I'm just like, okay, I'll just go where I'm directed to go.
[23:54] Then, you know, it's funny because what happened last night was that somebody invited me to go to this event and because I liked the person, I was just like, yeah, of course. And then I realised that my husband was going to be out and I was going to be out and then it was like, oh, my kids aren't old enough to, they're not old enough to be alone by themselves at that time of the night. So, then I was like, okay, well, I've got to get a babysitter but am I really going to pay for a babysitter? But the thing was, where I got to was like, no, it feels right. Okay, I'm gonna pay for the babysitter. And I reckon I'm gonna get way more business out of that one meeting, then the cost of the babysitter. Like that's inconsequential.
Combine Your Heart and Head
Experiences like this only confirm Dr. Payn’s belief that you have to follow your heart as well as your head.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[24:37] I've learned that if I have too much head, that's not a good thing. If I have too much heart, that's not a good thing either. But if I can combine the both of them then things are good. So, yeah, I think that's the, sort of wrapping that up, it's like having a purpose that's bigger than just the money. Having a purpose that's really about well, how can I serve the people that I want to serve? And having that first and foremost, in any decision that I make. Is what I'm doing actually going to benefit the people that I want it to benefit? No, I'll leave it. Yes, okay well let's do it.
[25:14] And a very interesting thing that happened, I met with a couple of developers because I'm trying to bring more developers into the fold. And I met with a couple of developers and a part of me was like, this doesn't feel right, I wonder what it is. And I have quite a rigorous process when I'm screening developers because at the end of the day, I'm working for the investors and we don't want to be losing money unnecessarily. It's not to say that every project is going to work. There's definitely risks in property development, and they're clearly defined. But there was just something in this, that they weren't willing to commit to the process and eventually, it became apparent that they weren't the right developers to be working with.
[25:58] And initially, I was like, oh, I was really kind of, I sense that but I was willing to work with them to try and make it work. And then I just recognised that actually, the process that I've got in place to screen developers is good because it's screened out and there's time and energy that is involved in getting to the stage where investors will [and] are confident enough to invest into a project. And if I'd wasted my time with these people and no disrespect to them as people, but it just wasn't the right deal. But if I had, in the old days, that old me would have gone no, no, no, we'll try and make it work. And bend myself in knots to try and make it work.
[26:37] Whereas the new me is like, well, actually, no. That doesn't work. We've put a process in place, they're not willing to follow that process. Therefore, we walk away and I use my energy and time and attention on people that are a fit. And then I had the most beautiful conversation with somebody today, who is absolutely a fit for what we're doing. So, it's using the skills that I have in doing property development and using the skills that I have in building those relationships. And also, sort of knowing in my heart when it's time to walk away and just going, oh, this isn't working. And also having the process in place to screen that out.
One of Dr. Payn’s goals is raising $1 billion for ethical property projects but how is she going about approaching it?
Dr Dionne Payn:
[27:44] Well, I was very, very, very systematic. And I remember when the billion dollars came up and I was ranting to a friend and that's how it came up. I was like, right, so I'm gonna raise, I don't like this whole coal mining thing and I don't like how money's going over there. What if we move some of that money over here and put it into products that help people and the planet to thrive? And property is my thing. I love property. I love the creative nature of property. So, what if we do that?
[28:12] So, that's where that billion dollars came from and I remember when it kind of, it was just this like bar, and it came out and I was like, I did not think that, that just came out. And so, I remember initially when I was talking to people about it, and I'd say a billion dollars and I'd almost be like a billion dollars, you know, sort of a bit embarrassed about the number. And I remember a few people or a couple of people at the start, they were like I wouldn't say that. Like, you just don't sound very credible but for me, it was like I'm gonna say it because I believe it.
[28:47] I remember at one point that I was talking to somebody, and I obviously told him about my goal and he repeated it back to me. He was like, oh, yeah, I'm gonna help you get to a billion dollars. So, it was like, okay, other people believe in it, as well. And there's something about that. Like, speaking something into existence. And now I'm actually at the stage that a billion dollars, like, I think that I'm shooting too low. And I have to say, it's not about me. Like I couldn't raise a billion dollars on my own. But I can bring a community of people together to create that and that's the exciting thing.
[29:20] So, going back to your question about how are we going to get to a billion dollars, well I realised that the best way that I work is through finding [or] creating partnerships with people that have a database of investors or that have fund managers, that sort of thing. And so, finding the people that already have that resource before I do and creating partnerships with them. And those partnerships are based on relationships and the relationship is easy because there's a bigger purpose, rather than okay we're going to make a matzah, let's just do it. It's like we're actually working in service of the need here. How are we going to make this work? And those are the exciting conversations to have.
Personal and Property Development Go Together
We have followed Dr. Payn’s journey from childhood to raising $1 billion. Hers is a story of great success, so, let’s take a look at what resources she used along the way.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[31:05] I made the connection quite early on that property development and personal development go hand in hand. On that project, the 40 townhouse project that I mentioned, we hit a roadblock and it was around the value or actually, it wasn't just the value. There was something else that happened and I just, the solicitor that we used, was really not very good and to the point where I was approaching joint venture partners with the paperwork that I'd spent a lot of money on and they were like, this is a scam. Their solicitors were saying this doesn't seem right.
[31:46] So, I'd wasted a lot of money and time and I just happened to be sitting next to somebody in a networking event and she was a facilitator for a personal development course. And there was something about it, she didn't really talk about what it was that she did but there was just something about her where I felt, I'm going to follow this thread because I know that somehow I'm going to get to the answer that I need. And so, I did a weekend course and then got really into the personal development journey because I was like, this is amazing because I really got to see what my limiting beliefs were. And a lot in those days was around my value and what I had to offer.
[32:33] And so, I remember having gone on that personal development course and I'd had all these roadblocks and I was really trying to make it work with these JV partners. Going on the course blowing away these limiting beliefs. Within the week, the deal was done on that property and I had joint venture partners, I had the bank finance, and it was all there. And it wasn't that it wasn't there before. It was all there; I just couldn't see it because I had this kind of mess of beliefs about my self worth and all other kinds of crap going on. So, once that cleared, it was like, okay, join the dots. Okay, off we go. And so, the personal development aspect of it kept me going all the way through that project, even in the spectacular, it wasn't a collapse but it was a spectacular, dysfunctional relationship.
There was a personal development course that helped her to reflect on her role in that project.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[33:28] Like, obviously the tendency or not obviously, but my tendency was to blame the builder and blame the joint venture partner and go it was all their fault. But then the personal development part of it was like, what did I do? And just being really honest with that bought so many revelations and it was wonderful. And I just, if it wasn't for that personal development journey, I wouldn't be here now. And it's not even, it's not over. Like it's continuing.
[33:54] But the beauty of it is that, you know, in being able to let go of all of those limiting beliefs, it's not that there's not any anymore, there certainly are but being able to let go of those, I've moved to the next stage where I can actually consider how I can help humanity. Whereas before, it's like how can I help myself? And feeling like I was failing quite miserably but now it's like, okay, well, the limiting beliefs are different because it's like, okay, well what's stopping me from being the best that I can be to support others to be the best that they can be? And that, like, I prefer this phase.
She will share specifically what courses she has found helpful along her journey.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[34:45] Look, there were a few things that I did that I feel that I need to credit. So, the first one was Stuart Zadel. He's a property educator and not so much property nowadays but you know. He used to do these two or three day events and do a lot of work around mindset. So, that kind of got me started and then the course that I did for that weekend and then I got quite heavily into that, was called the Avatar course. And that was great. So many things came up as a result of doing that. So, it was really beneficial. I really believe that if I hadn't have done that course, I probably wouldn't be here now.
[35:27] But then there was another course that I did called Money and You. So, where's the Avatar course was really about the personal responsibility aspect. The Money and You was examining my, well, anybody that takes the course, their relationship to money and the games that we play in our life. Which games really show what your behavioural patterns are and the money in your course is all about games. So, that was amazing and then the Money and You franchise, I guess you call it, they have other courses as well. So, you get deeper and deeper and deeper into it. And one of those deeper courses was, after the I spent a few years in the wilderness just going I don't know what to do or how I'm going to make this work this development journey after my initial project.
[36:15] And I just, initially I was like, okay, I'm gonna go it alone. But if I can't rely on anybody else, I'm gonna go it alone. And that other course that I was just mentioning, had an experience where I realised that I really needed to collaborate, like I wasn't gonna get anywhere unless I collaborated. And then my business partner, my old business partner walked into my life, shortly afterwards. So, and that was amazing.
[36:40] And then he, I'm happy to tell you about him, his name's Simon Peters. His organisation is the 360 Collective. He was the most amazing mentor to me. So, I did all this personal development but then got mentored out of the property development side of things because I had quite a few projects on the go and I was just like I don't really want to be doing it but I don't know how to step out of it. He helped me through that stage to be able to be in a position where I could go, okay, I'm just raising capital for developers. And that's my sweet spot.
[37:10] So, yeah. So, lots of amazing mentors through those courses and lots of amazing courses and lots of amazing learnings about myself and my past and being able to look at my past as an asset to where I am now, rather than what I was like, you know, God, this is so shameful, I can't really talk about this. Like, who would want to, you know, people will really judge me if they know this. And it's like, it's not that bad. I had in my head rather than the reality of it.
Wouldn't Change a Thing
With all of the lessons that Dr. Payn has learned along her journey, she would not change a thing.
Dr Dionne Payn:
[38:34] So, I don't know that I'd say anything. Because I feel that everything that's happened has happened for a reason and I feel that in a sense that my journey has been predetermined from probably even before I was born.
[39:22] Just live your life because it's all gonna make sense in the end.
[39:40] And I really don't think there's any necessarily wrong choices. I just not, as long as you learned from them. That's it. I think that that's it. I think that we do things in our life and we make mistakes. So, I was listening to the Hamilton the musical soundtrack. I don't know if you've come across that. It's an amazing, amazing, amazing production and I love the soundtrack. And it's just thinking about the different characters in there and if they should have done things differently but just recognizing that they all had their part in history, and the role that they played was all really important
[40:33] You've achieved so much in your life and you've also been a great role model for your kids but also to, for social entrepreneurship and ethical development and so forth. How much of that success do you think has been due to skill and intelligence and hard work? And how much of that has been due to luck?
Dr Dionne Payn:
[40:59] I think we make our own luck. I do. Um, I think. Yeah, I mean, I go back to the what happened last night and I just happened to sit across the table from somebody who I really believe is going to be influential to my business and that's not the only experience that I've had. I've had many, many of those.
[41:27] So, I think it comes back to, like if anything, the luck comes because you’ve set an intention, you set a goal. And then life arranges itself to meet that intention. So yeah, I do think that we create that luck by having the intention and setting the intention in the first place.
[41:49] And also another thing to add to that. Setting the intention but then clearing the barriers out of the way, which is where the personal work comes in, to make sure that you can meet that.
Thank you to Dr Dionne Payn, our guest on this episode of Property Investory.