Investor In Focus - Nigel Booker
On deployment in the hills of Kosovo, Nigel Booker realised he needed to get on the property ladder: he's now achieved that goal with an investment philosophy that prioritises helping others.
Years in the army showed Nigel Booker the best and worst humanity had to offer, instilling a deep sense of empathy that’s reflected in his overriding property investment philosophy. British-born Nigel trained at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and served in major conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan before transferring to the Australian Army in 2008. Having built an investment property portfolio throughout his career, Nigel’s gratitude for his own good fortune enables him to prioritise helping others. Prizing the relationships he’s developed by remaining true to this belief, being there when his tenants need him is what’s brought the most riches: friendships, loyalty and respect.
In a bleak army post high in the Kosovo hills surrounded by 6 feet of snow and temperatures below 40 degrees Celsius, Nigel first realised he needed to get on the property ladder. He couldn’t get past, however, exactly where: he was officially stationed in Germany, but if he was transferred to another base he could end up buying in the wrong place. Meanwhile, house prices back home in the United Kingdom had gone through the roof.
“Based on my army salary, I was only able to buy a small shed somewhere,” Nigel says.
The more he thought about it, Nigel realised a French “bolthole” made perfect sense - he didn’t need an everyday home, just somewhere to spend holidays and share with friends and family. When he opened the door to a 400 year old solid granite property and saw a massive fireplace, Nigel knew he’d found “the one”. Despite everyone thinking he was mad to buy it at the time, 15 years later it’s hosted numerous parties and become the gathering place for his now-scattered family.
And though it was never bought as an investment, Nigel says this decision is what’s helped him to follow the courage of his convictions when people tell him otherwise. Take for his example, his first investment over here - a Defence Housing Australia (DHA) property in Queanbeyan. Paying higher rates for management, Nigel’s expectation was that the property would be well cared for but an inspection proved otherwise.
“They cost more than a regular property manager as it’s their responsibility for upkeep,” he says. “You expect a higher service.”
Nigel knew the only way he could force the DHA’s hand was to sell - this way it would have to be returned to its original condition.
“I’m not a slumlord,” he says. “Having an investment property isn’t a right and it’s not just about making money.”
He’s held tight to this belief throughout his role as landlord, relying on instinct to guide his choice of tenant rather than what appears on paper. When a young single mother without any rental references indicated her interest in one of his properties, Nigel recognised someone in need. Despite his property manager’s objections, Nigel went ahead. With a steady roof over her head, it was just the start she needed to get her life on track.
“She’s probably the best tenant I’ve ever had,” he says.
With people at the heart of everything Nigel does, as he’s built his Australian portfolio he’s spent years developing relationships with a team that’s become central to his success. Referred to as his consigliere, this counsel of minds is what he draws on to make the best investment decisions possible. Quoting a phrase often used by his godfather - a businessman who introduced him to the world of investment - Nigel says a professional advisory team is essential for all wealth builders.
“In life, you need to be more of a librarian, you don’t need to know the contents of the books, just where they are on the shelves,” he says.
Married to Nurfarhani and the father of two children, shoring up the younger generation’s financial future has become the focus of his investment strategy. He’s purchased properties with the intent to transfer ownership when they reach 25, an age Nigel says when they should be able to get a good start without blowing their fortunes.
The first of these investments was bought “emotionally ring-fenced” for their son. To all intents and purposes it was Nigel’s property, but with the understanding, any profits would be rolled over until whatever date in the future it would eventually be handed down. Secured post the Global Financial Crisis for $280k, this Noosa townhouse has already been successfully on-sold and reinvested into another property.
Keen to maximise profits on this subsequent investment, Nigel was referred to Property Queensland chief executive officer Graeme Shiels who helped find a high return dual occupancy property in Brisbane. “He was fantastic from start to finish,” Nigel says. “He lets you make your own decisions based what’s best for your own intentions.”
Almost ready to complete a separate townhouse that will one day become his daughter’s, Nigel says property investment has allowed him to set his children up for a comfortable future. With school fees covered and the ability to travel overseas to visit his family back in the UK, Nigel remains aware of the privileges he’s enjoyed throughout his life. “Sometimes you have to share your hard work and good fortune,” he says.