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Case study: 'I was inspired to invest in property'

David Whitburn gave up a career as a lawyer after seeing his grandmother prosper in property.

9 March 2022

While he was a student, David Whitburn used to help his grandmother by stripping wallpaper in the rental properties built by his grandfather in the 1950s.

“Later, as her eyesight and her body started to fail, I drove her round as a property manager and she would explain to me the benefits of positive cashflow.”

He says that early inspiration was what led him to a path as a property investor and, later, a developer.

“One of the good things about property investing is that your money can work harder than you can. Your money can work 24 hours, 7 days a week, for 365 days a year.”

Whitburn bought a couple of properties while he was starting out as a lawyer.

“It was fun doing property investing,” he says. “I used to leave work at 6pm and then work till midnight on renovations.

“To slash labour costs, I’d give pizza and drinks to friends and family who wanted to help me.”

Despite having a good salary in his 20s, it soon became clear that he was making more money from his rentals.

“That’s when I realised that I enjoyed it more, so I so I left to become a property consultant.”

He would advise people on the benefits of property investments, if property was the right vehicle, and how to build a portfolio.

“I helped property investors with tax structures, trusts, partnerships, and security agreements for funding.”

Soon he moved on to property developing, infill housing, small-scale subdivisions, and minor dwellings.

The business became a family team when his wife Bridget left her job as an auditor at KPMG to join him in the world of property investing.

“She was able to manage renovations and our portfolio – and, of course, our accounts are fantastic!”

Whitburn has completed well over 500 dwellings and everything he’s started has been finished.

“I’m now working on 74 terraced houses in West Auckland as a joint venture with a friend. All of them sold off the plans. And I’m doing eight terraced houses near the Mangere town centre for long-term rental.”

Over the years, he’s seen resource consents go from a concise 12 pages to close to 400 pages.

“They’ve made it a lot harder, and it’s more time-consuming. You need a big team behind you to make it work well.”

Whitburn says he considers himself a property investor more than a property developer.

“I’m both, but I’d say property investing gets you a really good return on your time and it’s the lifestyle it creates. You can get out of your office and deal with lots of different people.

“I like that, as opposed to just doing the one thing.”

He says his grandmother taught him to “invest and prosper”.

She said: “You’ve got to have a bit more money in your back pocket at the end of every month than you had at the start of the month.”

You’d be planting seeds that will grow into amazing trees.

“She’s able to give examples of properties done decades before. At the time they were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and now they’re worth millions.

“Nurture them, they grow, and then the cash flow that comes from them is the apples. Basically, you can have a tree, have a few trees, or have an orchard!”

He says it does take some sacrifices and discipline, and you do have to know the rules of the game.

That’s why he’s a big supporter of property investor groups.

He was the youngest president of the Auckland Property Investors’ Association when he was elected in 2010, serving until 2014 and becoming a life member.

“It’s great be part of a network of like-minded people who are passionate about what they do.

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