How I became mortgage free at 34

From a 1970’s two-bedder south of Sydney to an enviable family pad in Coffs Harbour, Cath Fowler’s smart property choices have left her mortgage-free at 34. Here’s how she did it.

Last month, my husband and I picked up the keys to our family home. It was such an amazing feeling walking through the doors knowing the place was all ours – not the bank’s. We had finally achieved our goal.

While owning our home outright was never in my short-term plan, it was something I thought would happen eventually. My more immediate focus was on building a portfolio of properties to provide a future income stream. My husband had little superannuation, so we needed other assets that could help fund our retirement.

The 2-bedder in Sydney

The 2-bedder in Sydney

purchase was a 1970s two-bedroom unit, south of Sydney, purchased for $353,000. With its yellow benchtop and dated bathroom, it was nothing flash. But we didn’t mind, as it was just the start for us. We had been saving the deposit for 18 months prior while I was on a graduate-level wage and my husband worked part time as a chef.

When the time came to find a
, we had our work cut out for us. My husband’s casual income was not taken into account and I was on a small wage. After being turned away from our usual bank, we found a mutual bank that offered a 40-year loan term. This was the only way we were able to secure funding.

We could have given up when we first got turned down, but we knew from how aggressively we had saved that the loan was well within our means to pay back.

As it turns out, I moved on to better paying roles over the next couple of years and my husband changed careers to become a carpenter.

Growing our portfolio

Growing our portfolio

to our portfolio each year. A small one-bedroom fibro house down the South Coast of NSW for $160,000 was not a pretty place, but the sums worked to make it a good investment. The holding cost was around $50 a month for us before tax breaks.

In 2012, we used a buyer’s agent to purchase a three-bedroom house in Sydney’s Blacktown for $389,000. With my husband’s carpentry skills, we added a granny flat making it a dual-income property. This meant that from day one the property was cash-flow positive.

Growing our portfolio
Growing our portfolio

We purchased a four-bedroom home for $720,000 the following year. It was already set up as two separate dwellings, so we lived upstairs and rented out the bottom. This helped us pay off a portion of the mortgage.

Growing our portfolio

and used the equity in our other properties to fund the new house.

We were far from the wealthy property speculators you might imagine. We were simply a young, newly married couple on fairly modest wages who saw the benefits of investing early on.

's calculator to estimate your savings.

Starting a family changed everything

By this point, all our investment properties were cash flow neutral, bar the one we lived in. This was important for us as we wanted to start a family and knew we couldn’t rely on our incomes to prop up our investments.

It was not until we had our two daughters that we realised how hard we were working just to pay off the mortgage on our $720,000 home. We sat down to work out how much of our income was needed to keep the place and came to the realisation that spending more time with our girls was a greater priority for us.

We did the math and worked out that if we sold our south coast property and our principal place of residence, we would have enough cash in the bank to purchase a home mortgage-free.

In order to do this, however, we needed to leave Sydney. We decided to move to the regional NSW city of Coffs Harbour – where my husband grew up.

Work opportunities are harder to come by up here, but with our new-found mortgage-free status and a lower cost of living, we now have far less pressure to earn a high wage.

By choosing to make sacrifices and go without certain luxuries in our earlier years of marriage, we can now enjoy the choices those decisions afforded us.

We’ve found the happy balance between owning our own home and still keeping a foothold in the Sydney market with our two remaining investments.

My 5 top tips for building your portfolio:

  • Take the time to explore your finance options. We have always used a mortgage broker and found this invaluable in helping us structure our loans and grow our portfolio quite quickly.
  • Get the right team on board. Besides the right broker, we had a great financial planner. They are a successful property investor themselves, so that was important for us as they understood what our goals were. Using a buyer’s agent for one of our purchases was also one of the best decisions we made.
  • Leave emotion out of it. The places we bought were quite average and didn’t always look aesthetically pleasing, but they still made for great investments.
  • Explore your options with dual income properties. This was the key to success for us in being able to service our loans on modest wages.
  • Learn as much as you can from experts. Back when I first became interested in property, I read every book and magazine I could find on the topic. I became a member of a property investing online forum and absorbed as much information as I could – so I understood what I was investing in.

Book Call Now

UNO home loans

Need help with your home loan?

UNO Brokers are available night and day for a quick review or your situation and bring expertise that will support better decision making that will save you time and money. Book in a quick call when it suits your busy schedule

Get Started

Related Articles


What our customers are saying

Sally Mackenzie
February 19, 2024
We chose Uno Home Loans from their impressive web site knowing we were going to find it hard, on many fronts, to qualify for a home loan. We were incredibly fortunate to be assigned Mike Parsons as right from the get-go, despite the complexities, he hit the ground running for us. He was incredibly knowledgeable, with years of experience but what was immediately apparent and impressive was that he was totally invested in getting us over the line, doing absolutely everything possible, including working around the clock. Despite it being a relatively small loan in the order of things, Mike never missed a beat, getting docs ready, following up and answering every request from the proposed funder immediately. He kept us informed on progress the minute anything happened, and again if anything needed to be done, he was right on it. In short, we highly recommend Uno, and Mike, knowing what a remarkable job he did, over many weeks, to get us our loan. He got us a great deal, with far better rates than we expected, so we couldn't be happier. In fact, without doubt, you'd be hard pressed to find a more personable, sharp, hard working, dedicated professional who clearly prides himself on getting his customers standout results.
Read more
February 13, 2024
Scott and his team were just A-mazing. We felt supported through the whole process with the greatest quality and care. Every question answered right in time, or even before we asked. The process was smooth and we got the best outcomes we could have wished for.
Read more
Angela Biddle
February 6, 2024
Our mortgage recently came up for renewal, and with interest rates skyrocketing we were looking for ways to minimise the impact. Michael and his team were proactive and attentive. Michael spent time with us to understand our circumstances. He found mortgage options that worked with our current financial situation and longer investment plans. He presented clear options, providing guidance where needed. He and his team were helpful and responsive - streamlining the process and keeping us updated through the negotiations. In the end, Uno did the heavy lifting and secured a significantly better rate than our current bank offered, all with friendly, personal service. We would highly recommend UNO Home Loans.
Read more
Fotis Bikas
January 15, 2024
I cannot help but congratulate Scott Wilkinson of UNO Home Loans for being an absolute credit to both his company and the entire loans industry. Scott is a truly rare gem of a broker in that he will not only go the extra mile to achieve for each customer the very best deal, but his knowledge of all and sundry within the industry is unsurpassed (you will see what I mean if you speak to him). Additionally, Scott has a clear passion for imparting his wealth of information with each customer, whereas the conversation with most other brokers would simply be over if they could not get you the best deal. For me, Scott Wilkinson of UNO Home Loans stands head and shoulders above the competition and I feel privileged to benefit both from his expertise and professionalism whenever it is time for a refinance or new loan.
Read more
Tomoharu Matsui
January 11, 2024
Michael Parsons helped me a lot when it's difficult to establish my capabilities in loan.
Read more
Gillian Kearon
January 9, 2024
I highly recommend Mike Parsons as a mortgage broker. I couldn't fault the service provided by UNO. Thanks Mike!
Read more
Taner T
December 20, 2023
Thank you Eren Tan for the amazing service and support. Our Loan was a little tricky and complex for other lenders but Eren managed to get it over the line in record time. His professionalism and dedication to our needs was exceptional. If you need a Loan no matter how complex your situation, make sure you contact Eren at UNO Home Loans.
Read more
Karaipu Brown
December 20, 2023
Buying & selling a house at the same time is very stressful but Scott Wilkinson from UNO home loans made sure we knew what was happening & took most of the stress away. He always kept us up to date and if we had a concern or wanted clarification on something we were able to call him, if he didn’t know the answer straight away he will find out and contact us back.. now we are enjoying our new house and turning it into a home :)
Read more
Chris Anderson
December 18, 2023
Just completed my first loan with UNO which was so much easier than with other other brokers I have used in the past. Our broker MIKE PARSONS always had time for me and broke things down for me in the simplest of terms and was very patient with my silly questions and my constant changing of plans. I wish I had used them in the past as I wouldn't be in the situation I'm in now. Can't recommend them highly enough. Thanks UNO and Thanks MIKE 😊
Read more
Stephen Broomfield
December 11, 2023
To be able to recommend Scott Wilkinson for your mortgage broker was a privilege. We had deals fall through but Scott supported, guided and stuck with us, proper partnership. The whole team at UNO helped us and supported us right through to after settlement. Made sure everything was correct and how we are progressing. Communication was amazing and straightforward and easy to understand. Transparent. We can not Recommend Scott and the team as Uno high enough. Use UNO with confidence.
Read more
Tarek Hussain
December 6, 2023
Can't thank Amy enough for her hard work, dedication and determination on getting multiple loans completed for me. I wouldn't hesitate in recommending Amy and the Uno team to any of my associates. Will definitely be back in the near future!
Read more
November 3, 2023
If you’re looking for a trustworthy, thorough, reliable & knowledgeable Mortgage Broker then you must call Anita Callaghan! I can’t even imagine how stressful this process would’ve been without her. Anita went above and beyond to make sure she answered every question, responded to every text (even on weekends/after hours), and followed up on every detail to ensure we had all the info we needed. Anita is a true people person who is warm, empathetic, kind and supportive. You can tell she loves helping people and loves what she does, which is probably why she’s so good at it! Can’t thank you enough Anita, or recommend you more highly! You’re the best!
Read more