When it comes to assets, few enjoy the supremely tangible value of property. As the saying goes, stocks may rise and fall, utilities and transportation systems will come and go, but people will always need land – for one reason or another.
With Australian house prices seemingly made of Teflon, many have come to view property as the ultimate retirement nest egg. Property has always appeared to be a sound investment for buyers of all ages; it lacks the high-risk volatility of the share market and is a much more known entity than the emerging cryptocurrency industry.
When you buy property, you’re buying something you can see and feel, adjust and improve. It’s the embodiment of ownership. It’s also a market that’s less approachable than ever for first-time investors.
An abundance of apps, programs and tutorials designed to help newbies can more often than not overwhelm, while the market itself has been dominated by foreign investors and high-flyers who have driven prices beyond the reach of more grounded would-be buyers. Those who hold home ownership as a dream are at risk of having it remain so.
And it was that exact conundrum that attracted the attention of financial planner Joshua Boctorani, who began his career with investment banks and property management firms. It quickly became apparent to him that there was a gap in the market. “There are a lot of people out there who claim to be property gurus,” he says.
“They’ll have a list of properties they need to sell, so they’ll just send the same property out to as many people as possible.” This spray-and-pray approach is good for the agent, although for potential buyers looking to invest in their future, not so much.
We’ve always had the belief that if you want to grow your business, you need to invest in it.
“Every individual person is different; they’re in different situations, so an agent really should take the time to get to know them, get an understanding of their goals and objectives, and then recommend the best piece of real estate for them,” Joshua points out.
“Instead of, ‘Hey, buy this amazing property,’ it should be, ‘Hey, let’s get to know you first, build a plan together and then execute that plan.’ There wasn’t anyone doing that, so we saw an opportunity to help.”
It was a similar story for Nathan Lewes. After a start in local real estate and high-end property development, Nathan now plays in the investment space. After experiencing the pitfalls of larger firms, Nathan sees the advantages that boutique firms offer, ensuring clients are not just a number but a long-term relationship.
“We are the sounding board for our clients’ investment decisions long-term,” he says. Together, the pair founded AssetBase in 2017. The business was built on a simple premise: to help everyday Australians get a foothold in the property market.
“We wanted to do something a bit different,” Joshua explains. By offering bespoke property investment guidance at no cost to the potential buyer, AssetBase has done just that; the duo lean on their sizeable network of contacts within the real estate industry to get their clients the best outcome.
“We’ve reached out to a lot of different mortgage brokers, and they’ve all said, ‘There’s no-one who actually does this, so we’re really happy we can refer to someone who’s executing this properly,’” Nathan says. “At the same time, I think we’ve ruffled a few feathers in the industry.”
At the time AssetBase was founded, the Australian housing market was in the midst of turbulence. “People were very hesitant to continue to invest in real estate,” Joshua remembers.
“Then you also had the Banking Royal Commission, which made people very hesitant with regards to lending because they were concerned about the banks’ behaviour, so there were certainly some challenges.”
One such challenge was convincing a potential client base of people approaching retirement that property investment was a safe use of their hardearned savings. “For mums and dads looking to retire, it’s no small decision to invest, but if done properly, it can genuinely give you financial freedom,” Joshua says.
“What we want to do is have our clients come back to us and say, ‘That was an amazing experience; I’ve experienced so much financial growth because of your advice. Let’s buy another property.’ So the more successful our clients are, the more benefits we can offer as we continue to grow.”
Another challenge was COVID-19, which threw the industry into uncertainty. “People were of the belief that the property market would decrease by up to 40% in a short space of time,” Joshua reflects.
“That didn’t eventuate, but until that was clear, we had to educate people.” It was the same strategy the pair employed during the 2019 federal election, when negative gearing was a hot topic, and in the wake of the Banking Royal Commission. “We seek to empower people through education,” Joshua says.
“During COVID-19, it was about letting people know that it was actually a great opportunity to buy.” In fact, both Nathan and Joshua bought property during the height of the pandemic. “We were firm believers that it was a small window where opportunity was presenting itself, so we’re very thankful we did that,” Joshua says.
“The trust our long term clients and seasoned investors have in AssetBase also allowed for them to take advantage of our expertise in a topsy turvy market. With negative press on every corner and talk of huge drops, they understood that property isn’t a one-off transaction and that there are always opportunities to build your portfolio.
The more successful our clients are, the more benefits we can offer as we continue to grow.-Joshua Boctorani
Nathan adds: “With multiple properties under their belts, jumping in on our advice has made some over $300,000 during the pandemic. Our biggest advantage over competitors is our ability to source hidden opportunities tailored to the clients’ strategy, not just the one-size-fits-all approach.”
From first-time investors to high-net-worth clients looking at aggressive growth and tax minimisation, the strategy is always slightly different. Patience has its virtues, Joshua says, but not in the ways many investors might think.
“Sometimes, people need space. They’re keen to invest, but they’re not in a position to do so. We nurture those people for three to six months until they’re ready to make a purchase.” One aspect of AssetBase that helps acclimatise hesitant investors is the fact that for Nathan and Joshua, the business itself is an investment.
“We’ve always had the belief that if you want to grow your business, you need to invest in it,” Nathan shares. “You need to invest in the people in that business, so we decided early on we’re not going to downsize in the tough times; we’re going to do the opposite and take on more people.” So far, the AssetBase saga has been one of success.
“Word of mouth is very, very strong. Between 30 and 40% of our inquiries come through referrals from existing clients; that’s because they have been so successful in their investment journey,” Joshua confirms. A referral, he believes, is an extension of that person’s reputation.
“We understand what a gesture that is, so we’re really proud that people have done it for us.” Additionally, the duo have been included in The Property Investor magazine’s top 10 list of property specialists in Australia three years in a row, thanks to their unorthodox method of shaking up the system.
“That’s great, but our biggest takeaway is really being able to help people,” Nathan insists. “I think we’ve helped 300–400 couples on their investment journey. It’s been very rewarding.” Joshua says the education process makes his business a pleasure.
“My youngest investor is 20 years old. He sat in every single meeting with his mum, who doesn’t even own a house. They rent, so that was a huge achievement,” he says. At the other end of the spectrum is a 59-year-old single mum.
“She wanted to make the most of her divorce settlement. Two very different investors with different concerns, but both of them were very nervous. I’ve got all the patience in the world for people like that, and today they’re both very thankful they made the commitment.”