The Daily Telegraph Thinks This Young Woman With Six Properties Is “Proof” That Anyone Can Do It
"Making it on your own" with wealthy parents, private-school education and rent-free living is NOT MAKING IT ON YOUR OWN.
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The vast and growing gap between the lived realities of Australia’s haves and have-nots has been in the spotlight recently, thanks to an issue that has lodged itself in the public imagination and doesn’t seem to be letting go: property prices.
That buying (and, increasingly, renting) property in Australia’s major cities is practically unfeasible for all but the wealthiest Australians has been hammered home again and again over the last few weeks; a new Flatmates.com.au report has found that 44 of Australia’s 50 most unaffordable suburbs are in inner Sydney, while a Fairfax investigation published on Tuesday detailed the underground black market slum-room industry operating in Sydney’s CBD, with landlords cramming dozens of renters into tiny, filthy and unsafe spaces. Incredibly, a car space in Kirribilli went for $120,000 at auction last week, making joke headlines about house prices seem distressingly plausible.
Along with an acceptance of this reality has come a growing awareness that it’s not something that’s happened neutrally, or by accident; our unequal property market is largely the result of government policies that favour wealthy, settled investment property owners over poorer, often younger people trying to find a place to live. Yesterday in the Herald, economist Ross Gittins outlined the ways in which governments pander to Baby Boomer property investors through tax concessions and practices that cut young would-be homeowner’s feet out from under them, and wrote that “most young people have only a vague inkling of the extent to which successive governments have been screwing them.”
It’s also become apparent that many in government have no conception of how skewed toward the wealthy the system is, largely because — being rich themselves — they happen to be beneficiaries of it. Joe Hockey’s now-infamous “advice” for young people looking to buy a house backfired all the more because the Treasurer has a property portfolio worth millions of dollars, not to mention the fact that he charges taxpayers $1,000 a month to sleep in a Canberra house owned by his wife. Hockey’s tone-deafness perfectly illustrated how a relatively small group of wealthy property owners have gamed the system in their favour so successfully that they can’t even recognise how privileged they have become compared to everybody else, and assume everybody else must be unable to buy their own houses (plural) because of laziness, stupidity or both. Put simply, people recognised gold-plated bullshit when they saw it.
Enter, with its always-impeccable timing, the Daily Telegraph, who this morning ran a feature (originally published in the Manly Daily) that sought to challenge the idea that property ownership has become a luxury of the very rich by profiling a young woman who’s built an impressive property portfolio. I’ll let them take it from here:
“Stephanie Brennan, from Belrose, has six properties worth more than $2.3 million — including three on Sydney’s northern beaches, and two in Queensland. Not only that, but the entrepreneur has built her enviable portfolio in just under three years. Miss Brennan has neither been to university nor been given any cash by her parents. She is even aiming to retire by 30.”
The feature goes on to argue that Brennan’s “success and attitude” put her in a different camp from those who complained about Hockey’s “get a good job” comments and Sydney housing in general — a view Brennan herself endorsed on the Facebook page of her property business, Step Loans.
It all sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it? Good on her! Someone who managed to grab a piece of Sydney’s notorious property market through sheer hard work and gumption — it’s the kind of story everyone loves to hear. If she can do it anyone can, right?
Well, no, as it turns out. Not at all. Seems that Brennan isn’t the typical young person the Telegraph is so keen to make her out as; a fact that becomes overwhelmingly, hilariously apparent as the article goes on:
“And while Miss Brennan admits her family is wealthy, she said she never received any financial help.
‘I was privileged in the sense that my sister and I were educated at one of Sydney’s finest private schools and we never struggled,’ she said.
‘However that doesn’t mean I was handed everything. In fact, that drove me further to succeed on my own two feet.'”
Okay, so she was born into a wealthy family and got a blue-ribbon education. That puts her in the upper range of people socio-economically, and gave her some advantages that meant she’d be more likely to buy a house quicker. But her parent’s wealth doesn’t really matter if she did it all herself, right? In her own words, she wasn’t handed everything — she did it on her own.
Unfortunately, that’s not exactly true either, as her career path right out of school makes abundantly clear — Brennan did a few typical high-school jobs before getting a gig at politician Bronwyn Bishop’s office and moving into real estate, all while receiving pocket money from her parents:
“Miss Brennan said she learned the value of money at an early age and started working aged 14 while at Pymble Ladies’ College doing everything from cleaning to working at Pizza Hut.
She saved most of her wages, along with $125 a month pocket money and birthday money — though she has indulged in travelling more recently and has visited 23 countries.
Aged just 20, she became a policy adviser to politician Bronwyn Bishop before starting her own business consultancy.
It was when she worked with a property investment firm and saw their returns that she decided she wanted a slice of the action.
Miss Brennan took a $55,000 a year job at a real estate agent to learn as much as she could and bought her first property on her 22nd birthday in October 2012, in Manly Vale, for $386,000, after originally being turned down for a mortgage.”
Talk about “a good job that pays good money”.
Okaaaay, so she wasn’t exactly battling that whole time pre-home ownership — twenty-year-olds don’t get jobs as policy advisors for Bronwyn Bishop without just a smidge of who-you-know, and your average Sydney uni student would give their eyeteeth for a bit of “pocket money” courtesy of Mum and Dad to help pay rent, let alone live rent-free. But she still cobbled together the money to put a deposit on a house, right? I don’t care if your parents are running Saudi Arabia, that’s a huge achievement for any young person to pull off on their own.
Only hold on. Wait. Waaaait, what’s this now:
“Though she had around $100,000 in savings she persuaded her mother to go guarantor for $60,000 with the Belrose family home — meaning she didn’t pay any deposit at all.
Four months later she put $80,000 of her savings on her second place in Collaroy.”
So by virtue of her parent’s property wealth, Brennan was able to leapfrog the all-important deposit hurdle — the one that most people will spend decades of their lives trying to clear — and join the elite, members-only Home Ownership Club. That is slightly less impressive than the hard-luck story the Tele tried to paint — much like Drake, Brennan started from the bottom only because of a profound misunderstanding of where the bottom actually is.
Once you’ve got that first property, everything is pure gravy — housing policy is designed that way, to encourage existing homeowners to buy more properties — but even for someone who owns the house they live in Brennan had an insanely charmed run from there on out.
At this point, shit just starts getting funny:
“Next, she bought a plot of land on a nature reserve in Glencoe, Scotland, with $50,000 left to her by her grandparents. She’s never visited but land in Scotland comes with a title, which makes her a Lady.”
But the article never gets funnier than when Lady Brennan turns around and generously gives the toiling masses of the Australian housing underclass some advice on how they too can conquer the property pyramid. Alongside some sensible tips, like paying off one property at a time and inspecting houses for bugs, come these pearlers:
It’s hard to pinpoint the most out-of-touch moment in all this — the advice to give up Foxtel in favour of “cheaper versions” of pay TV instead of, you know, free-to-air; the assumption that paying $400 a week for housing is a small amount of money — but the kicker has to be Tip #1. Buy in a cheap suburb and wait, because “prices will go up as people are pushed out”. For what it’s worth, that is bang on the money; people all over Sydney, Melbourne and Australia are being “pushed out” of their homes by the aggressive buying practices of the wealthy. But what those people are to do and where they are to live once they’re “pushed out” doesn’t seem to occur to Brennan or the Tele.
None of this is to say that Brennan didn’t work hard, or doesn’t have an eye for real estate and business — she clearly did, and does. She’s also 24, and at 24 people don’t know a huge amount about the world that they haven’t directly experienced; I know because I’m 24 too, and I’m an idiot. Going after Brennan for being a product of the system she has spent all her life in would be like yelling at a fish for swimming. She’s not fair game.
But those in charge of that system — those who have the knowledge and the means to either change it or preserve it — cannot be excused. There is now one reality for the Stephanie Brennans of the world and another — harsher, less stable, characterised by varying degrees of doubt and punishment and drudgery — for everyone else. Not only is the gap between those two realities great and growing; institutions like the Daily Telegraph are running the idea that this is the natural order of things — that people in the first reality are somehow smarter, more hardworking, more persevering, better, than the people in the second.
It’s an idea plenty of people are all too ready to believe — including the people running the county at the moment — because it’s always tempting to think you got to where you are by yourself, without anyone else’s help. But it’s an idea based on a fantasy. Those two realities have been created for political reasons, to serve political purposes, and the longer they go unchallenged, let alone championed, the more entrenched they will become.
Brennan’s not the enemy. The system that created and celebrates her is.
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Feature image via Manly Daily.