“The only person who would give me money was me”

Being financially self-sufficient was important to television news reader Sandra Sully from an early age. She knew no one was going to leave her any money and was determined to make her own. And she can empathise with today’s 20-something investors daunted by the prospect of raising a deposit in a property market that has experienced an amazing boom.

Sully bought her first property at the age of 20 and banded together with her brother and sister to do so. Together they spent $65,000 on a unit in Brisbane. The sibling partnership gave her the leg-up she needed. But she cautions you need to be completely confident in the relationships to make this work.

“I have always been fascinated by property since I was in my late teens. I realised unless my siblings and I pooled our resources, we would never be able to own a property,” Sully says.

“I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone because you really have to be confident of the relationship. You can buy a property together if you are in a relationship, but on one condition – you have to trust your partner. If the relationship ends, you must trust the person enough to be able to sell the property and share the proceeds.”

By the time she was 30, Sully had bought and sold three more homes. As she admits, she had developed a taste for property investment.

“Money was not freely available when I was growing up. We were a working-class family. My father worked as a stevedore and my mother was a kindergarten assistant,’’ Sully says.

“We were not flush with money. My father budgeted the family finance and was very generous. But as a woman, I always remember the indignity of my mother having to ask Dad for money and she also had to account for how she spent it.

“For seven years, my mother was homebound as she had to look after a family of four children. She only gained some financial independence when she had a part-time job as a kindergarten assistant.’’

It was a salutatory lesson. Sully decided she never wanted to be in the same position. She has a financial adviser and an accountant who has been working with her for two decades.

“The only person who would give me money was me. I always knew I had to be financially independent and not depend on a man.’’

At 51 and with 26 years experience at the Ten Network, Sully has seen the ups and downs of a volatile stock market and the painful ramifications of the global financial crisis (GFC), and has come to the conclusion that property has been her best investment.

However, she cautions anyone entering the real estate market to do so with their eyes open.

“On occasions when I bought a property with a previous partner, I did all the financing and conveyancing. We did okay, we did not lose money. I’ve always looked on mortgages as forced savings.”

Her worst investment was to get a margin loan to buy shares just prior to the GFC. “My share portfolio and managed funds took a bit hit because of the GFC. I was badly burnt so I told my financial adviser to get me out of managed funds and shares and held cash instead.’’

Today her self-managed super fund has a portfolio of high-yield bluechip stock and she is happy with the returns. “I am fortunate that I have a good accountant who has been with me for more than 20 years.’’

In 2011, Sully married Symon Brewis-Weston, the chief executive of FlexiGroup. It was a second marriage for both of them.

Last year, they decided to sell their properties in Sydney and are now renting instead. “We are relishing the freedom of renting. We just pay the rent and do not have to worry about anything else.”

While they are both out of the property market in Sydney, Sully still owns a small unit in Brisbane.

“We do not feel comfortable about rushing back into the property market right now. At the moment, we are simply building up our cash reserves. Cash is king.’’

While they have joint finances, Sully believes women are entitled to have their own secret stash of money – in case of a rainy day. And she has no plans to give it up.
This article originally appeared in issue 02 of The Really Simple Guide to Money on sale now. To find your nearest newsagent or to subscribe click here.

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