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How I achieved my Great Australian Dream – with Leonie Fitzgerald, founder of Wealthology

An insurance payout at 11 landed Leonie Fitzgerald enough money to go halves in her first property at age 18. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing from there. In the first of uno’s Great Australian Dream series, we chat to the investment strategist about her property highs and lows.


My mum and dad bought the family home when I was 12. My dad’s a tradie and my mum’s a nurse. We didn’t come from a financially savvy background. I was in a car accident the year before and received a third party insurance payout, which was held in a trust fund until I turned 18.

One day I went to the ATM and discovered there was $50,000 in the bank! I’d actually forgotten all about it as my family hadn’t really planned for it. We didn’t really think about what we could do with it when it came.

Dad was working with a friend, Brendan, and we sat down and had a chat with him about what we could do with $50,000 – because it wasn’t enough to do something on my own. At the time, Brendan was looking to buy an old house and put it on a block of land he’d bought out in Forest Hill, which is just near Gatton in Queensland. He had bought a block of land for 20 grand and then he, his friend and I, bought an old house here in Brisbane, which meant I ended up owning 40% of the property.

We put it on a truck, drove it out to Forest Hill and put it up on stilts, because the area had flooded in the ’70s. After some minor renovations, we rented it out to students at the uni [University of Queensland, Gatton], which was only five kilometres or so down the road. That was 1993 and we owned it for 12 years.

WHEN I was 21, I went backpacking around the world. I came home for 12 months and then left at the age of 23 and lived in London for 10 years. Every couple of years I’d come home and Brendan, my fellow property partner, would give me my share of the rent. Then I’d head off again, backpacking enroute to London: there was no real strategy or plan around creating wealth with that property. I was just enjoying life and too young to be thinking like that. 

In fact I was quite naïve about it all and with Dad and Brendan both being from the country there was a gentlemen’s handshake, with a lot of trust involved. Thankfully Brendan is a good guy, a family friend to this day and both he and my Dad work together occasionally – sometimes helping my clients with home renovations.

I bought a flat in London around 2001. Then I adopted a little Jack Russell so the flat didn’t work because it was on the first floor. So, at the same time we were selling the house in Gatton, I was buying a house in London with a garden, for the dog. That would have been in 2003. I used the proceeds [from the sale of the Forest Hill property] to buy and renovate my house in London, so it was really good timing. I had doubled my money on the Gatton house in 12 years. The London house was a two-bedroom and cost about £235,000.

ON Christmas Eve, 2008, I flew back to Australia, coming home to live. The GFC had been going on all year and as I owned my place with a partner we decided to keep it because the prices had dropped. I probably owned it for another couple of years before we then sold it.

“You must have the right mindset to create real wealth. They say the majority of people who win the lottery lose it all within three years: they simply don’t know how to handle it.”

In Australia, I couldn’t find a job for three months: it was challenging to find employment because nobody was hiring because of the GFC so I ended up staying with my auntie, uncle and two cousins in Melbourne. I was sleeping on a single bed mattress on the floor under a Winnie the Pooh doona. At that time, I was a personal assistant and I couldn’t even find a receptionist role – I was deemed overqualified because I’d been working at a high level for blue chip corporates in London for 10 years.

Not only did I have to rely on my family financially, I was also trying to pay a mortgage in London and had about $85,000 worth of debt on five or six credit cards because of the renovation. And then I fractured my wrist. My aunt had to do my bra up every morning because I just physically couldn’t get my hand around! Talk about depressing. I remember lying there one day in my little bed on the floor thinking, ‘this is as bad as my life is ever going to get!’

I found a job at a company specialising in property investing. I started as a personal assistant and events manager and saw the great success our clients were having. I asked my boss, ‘how do I do this for myself?’ I could see all these clients had three, four, five, six properties. These people were retiring sooner, making good money – and the properties pretty much take care of themselves. It seemed pretty easy.

And he said, ‘well, just pay off your debts, save for your deposit and then come and see me.’ And that’s exactly what I did. I’d been there 18 months when one of the sales guys resigned and the CEO offered me the role. It was like a duck to water; helping people just came naturally to me as I love helping people discover a better way.

Read: Where to invest in Australia in 2018

I was teaching people about their mindset and helping them understand that the property is purely the vehicle but you must have the right mindset to create real wealth. You know, they say the majority of people who win the lottery lose it all within three years: they simply don’t know how to handle it.

In 2013, I bought an investment property here in Brisbane – a duplex (two-bedrooms on one side; three-bedrooms on the other) in Mango Hill near North Lakes. I actually saved the deposit for that property: I worked my butt off and got $73,000 together. I bought that, then I bought another duplex in Logan Reserve in 2014. A few months later, I bought another home in Balmoral with my partner – now my husband – and we still live there. So, within about 12 months I bought three properties in Brisbane.

AS a wealth coach and a property investment specialist, I help my clients understand how to improve their financial lifestyle by investing in property in a smarter way. I take them on a journey, educating them how to buy the ‘right’ kind of property in the ‘right’ area at the ‘right’ time. I also ensure they structure their finance correctly which is very important and sadly, one of the most common mistakes investors make. I then source a property for them in line with our very strict criteria, guide them through the build stage and assist in getting the property rented with great tenants.

I like to work closely with clients on their mindset as it can be a challenging experience, particularly for those who have never invested before. We look at limiting beliefs, working closely together over time until the client gets to a point where they are comfortable to take the next step forward.

In 2009, I created a strategic plan to build a property portfolio for myself and have spent more than $100,000 working with coaches and mentors developing myself. I regularly hear from clients that they like that I’m doing what I say they should do.

MY plan was always to return to Australia so when we brought the house with a garden for the dog we thought we would do a complete renovation, turning it in to a 3-bedroom house (rather than 2-bedroom). We were also going to build a second house in the garden, sell both, come home to Australia and settle down, have kids – all that kind of stuff. Unfortunately we didn’t get planning permission and everything that could go wrong with a renovation did. When the GFC hit we lost all our profit, and 12 months later my partner and I separated.

Returning home in 2008 with $85k in debt with my tail between my legs was a scary position to be in, particularly as a single woman. Taking the steps to get myself in to a better financial position has been very freeing because I’ve now set myself up for financial success.

That means freedom of choice, not being restricted with life decisions or things I’d like to do, go, be in life. If my best friend rings me up and says, ‘babe, there’s a sale on in Bali in two weeks. Let’s go,’ I can say ‘yay I’m there’ because I want to go rather than worry about whether or not I can afford it.

I’d also like to have a family and show my kids how to be wildly successful with money so they can also create the life they desire. Things my mum and dad were unable to show me because they were never taught by their parents.”

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Hannah Tattersall worked as a journalist in Sydney, New York and Edinburgh before joining uno as its Content Editor. She has written for The Australian Financial Review, The Sydney Morning Herald, Qantas The Australian Way and In The Black, among other titles, and worked for 21st Century Fox and News Corp. She writes content aimed at buyers, investors, refinancers and anyone interested in the home loan process and welcomes feedback on how we can make uno's content better for you.

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