Eimear Gourley is a seasoned property investor who’s mastered the art of multitasking – alongside being a full-time Mum, she can regularly be found managing multi-million pound construction projects and sourcing investment properties.
At the start of the first Lockdown, Eimear decided to bundle her passion for bricks and mortar into a business, with the goal of helping others get their foot into property investing and developing a passive income stream. If you ask Eimear, mindset is everything. In fact it could even be the ‘secret ingredient’ behind her success!
So with that, we invited Eimear to take a seat at PPO HQ (socially distanced, of course) and quizzed her on her property ethics, strategy and 8+ years in property management…
We see you’re quite the investor… and Mum – out of all the industries out there, why did you choose property?
“I think property was always going to be a chosen route for me. I come from a family of builders, tradesmen and my Dad has been investing for many years. I went to university and became a Civil Engineer, which I absolutely adore. This led me into project management within the utilities sector in Northern Ireland. Over the years, I’ve managed various multi million pound projects, so decided to set myself a new challenge and branch off into residential. There’s just something about property that makes me tick. Whether it’s the stress of finding the deals or hunting down the investors, or of course, the bit that everyone looks forward to – the refurbs.
“Being a Mum of three under six years old isn’t easy, so I’m not going to dress it up. Property is not a 9-5 profession. Most nights I’m on Zoom calls, networking or working to promote myself on social media. Not that it’s a bad thing. I’ve used this opportunity to educate my kids. You know what they say, ‘start them young’. They come with me to refurbs and are my second pair of eyes on a viewing, when they’re not at school of course.
“With Covid, finding the balance is tricky to say the least, but I love being able to share my journey with them. That’s the thing with me. I’m not just an entrepreneur to be an entrepreneur. I am who I am to inspire my kids”
What would be your advice be to a first timer who’s looking to maximise their return using property?
“I’d advise any first timer to educate themselves in whatever they choose to do. Just like any business, property can be complicated and costly if not done right. While investing in your education may seem like a big cost now, it’ll more than pay itself back in the long run. The better educated you are, typically the less costly mistakes you make. While you can find everything you’re after on the internet, to save yourself time and effort, I’d opt for a specific property investment course. These are also good ways for you to build your network – a vital tool for when you start investing.
“In business, your network is your net worth. If people don’t know who you are, then they aren’t going to be too keen to do business with you, so get your face out there! Conquer LinkedIn and you’ll be amazed by the response. Most people are just consumers on social media, so if you’re the one who’s creating content then you stand out.
“Another thing I would urge you to consider is, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Waiting for perfection means waiting forever as sadly perfection doesn’t exist. Business is like a rollercoaster and you need to be prepared for it. I train my mind just like my body. Do so yourself and I believe you’ll be well equipped to weather the storms that come with business.”
Eimear, what was your first EVER investment?
“I won’t hide it – my first ever property investment was a complete nightmare. I ended up in huge negative equity after the 2008 crash and to top things off, I had an absolute disaster of a tenant. Vetting tenants is so important, but sometimes you just don’t know what is going to happen. This tenant was expecting her first child and everything checked out – she was lovely. A local girl with family nearby. Yet very quickly things started to go wrong.
“She stopped paying rent. She broke the boiler. It took me nine months to get her out! The house was trashed with half the floors up, cat hair in the fridge – there was dirt everywhere. Safe to say it was a costly repair and yet she was never liable for a penny as she had no income. This ‘failure’ really put me off investing in property and as a result I sold up. However, it’s what I took from it that mattered. Buy at the right price and are able to add value.”
If you had just 150k to invest in any local property market across the UK, where would you put the money and why?
“Obviously I am a little biased but I think that Northern Ireland is ‘the’ place to invest within the UK. We have some of the lowest house prices, which more than often leads to great returns! It’s possible that Brexit has also presented NI with a great opportunity, with us now being seen as an up-and-coming business destination due to our trade access to the UK and the EU. If you’re in Britain, Northern Ireland is a great place to diversify your portfolio and protect against any house price falls.”
So now we know where you’d put your 150k, how would you invest it? What investment strategy would you opt for?
“Personally, I love to buy, refurbish and refinance. With £150k I’d expect to buy at least 2 properties and subject them to this model. I would buy in cash, refurbish to add value and then withdraw my equity by mortgaging them six months down the line. This would allow me to pull a good chunk of my money back out of the property and reinvest it in another house down the line. A deal we’re working on now has seen me source the property for £46k with a £12k refurb required. When completed the property would be worth approximately £75k, allowing the owner to pull all of their money out within 12 months.
“But while it sounds pretty simple, at the moment it’s actually quite tricky, what with the market being quite crazy. Hence why it’s more important than ever to buy at the right price and be sure that you can add enough value. On market properties are nearly impossible to find at this price , which is why I have great relationships with estate agents and other industry pros, who offer us the chance to bid before the property hits Rightmove and Zoopla etc.”
Are you the ‘hands on’ or ‘hands off’ type when it comes to renovations?
“Yes – I’m totally hands-off in terms of refurbs and don’t get my hands dirty at all. I tend to take the role of the project manager coordinating what needs to be done and sourcing the next investment. Being a structural engineer I have a solid knowledge of a property’s structure and have been involved in large scale developments where I was the one completing the drawings and doing all the calculations that go with them. Not that I do this anymore. This is also something I outsource, all so I can concentrate solely on the business.”
For you which tends to be the best investment? Commercial premises or residential?
“While I have worked in commercial, I haven’t touched commercial investment yet. However, I would say there are amazing opportunities to be had by converting commercial to residential. In fact it’s one of the areas I’m brushing up on in my spare time. I like the thought of bringing our towns back to life – the decline of the high street, what with Lockdown has been a sad sight to see. But I am fantasising with the idea of bringing the beautiful period buildings of the city centres back to their former glory. At the moment it’s only a dream, but you know what they say, dreams can become a reality… watch this space.”
Where do you see the property market heading in the future?
“Oh how much I’d love to know the answer to this! Everyone got 2020 wrong and now I don’t think there’s a solid way of determining what will happen in 2021 and beyond as the effects of Covid are that varied. Then again, I still think Northern Ireland is in a strong position. In fact, I’d say we’re underrated. Salaries and commercial rental rates are relatively low, we boast the lowest prime office rental costs in Europe and open renting costs are up to 30% lower too. Belfast has 2 world class universities and with the university of Ulster now moving into the city centre, this can only be good for the local economy, which in turn should influence the local housing market.
“And with the extension of Stamp Duty Holiday as well as the reintroduction of 95% mortgages, I cannot see the market dipping anytime soon. It’s clear to me that the government are trying to keep the economy moving, with the property and construction sectors leading the way. If I had to take a gamble on the market for 2021, I would say that prices will continue to increase.”
We all learn from our mistakes – what’s the biggest one you’ve ever made and what did it teach you?
“For me, the biggest mistake was sitting on the side-lines for years, wishing I could get into business, when all I had to do was do it. I know I am only 31 but I should have started this a LONG time ago. If you have a dream or an idea bubbling, don’t wait around – take action, get moving and see where it leads you. Also, be open to change as it’s through which that we grow into a better version of ourselves. I’ve never been one to dwell on mistakes though I prefer to scrap the word ‘mistake’ altogether. The word I use is ‘challenges’, as providing you learn from them, you haven’t slipped at all. Merely learnt something about your yourself.”
Have you got any recent events or opportunities that we should be aware of?
“I do indeed.
“As a woman in property, I’m very passionate about encouraging other women to take the leap. So to spread awareness I’ll be hosting an online event with Kim Borrington from Reset Focus. The event is called Women and Property.
Yes, I have a few things coming up this year. I am very passionate about women getting involved in property and as such I am doing an online event with the inspiring It’s a professional growth workshop where we’ll be discussing ways to build a property business around a full time job… and kids. Vital knowledge to have if you don’t want to be shackled to the workplace until you’re 67.
Are you a property professional like Eimear who’s got a story to tell? Reach out to our editor today – we’re all ears!