Headshot - Serene Teoh

Women and property ownership: How Serene Teoh is building forever homes

The following blog post is general in nature only and does not constitute personal financial advice. Please consult a financial expert to determine if any of the information presented is appropriate for you.

For some, property is the Canberra bubble that seems like it’s never going to burst. For women in particular, entering the housing market can be especially challenging, as recent research by Core Logic indicates there is a gender gap in property ownership. This quarter, housing prices surged 10.4%, bringing the average cost of a home up to $1,015,833, well-above the national average. According to Serene Teoh, owner and sales director of Trusted Realtors, many of the new homes aren’t being built up to scratch. We sat down with Serene to discuss Canberra’s housing market and how she’s changing it, and what the coming months and years may look like for Canberra women.

Gender gaps in housing

At the CBR Gals Network, we aim to provide women with the tools they need to succeed at any stage of their lives, including how they may overcome potential barriers to home ownership.

While we have made significant strides towards gender equality, there is still a gender-based wealth gap. This disparity is often solely understood in terms of the pay gap between men and women, but evidence draws attention to another aspect of the problem: the gender gap in property ownership.

In their March 2021 report, Women and Property State of Play, Core Logic found higher rates of property ownership among men than women. Based on the gender pay gap across Australia, there generally appears to be a greater barrier for entry into the property market among women than men. Among single households, there is also a large discrepancy in ownership rates, which highlights the challenge of property ownership on a single income. To understand how these statistics affect Canberra women, we sat down with Serene Teoh, owner and sales director of Trusted Realtors. 

Trusted Realtors is a Canberra-based firm which provides project marketing, and established sales and property management throughout ACT. When Serene is not selling custom-designed homes, she’s designing her own tapware line, perfecting her banana bread recipe, binge-watching The Local Project, or playing her guitar or piano.

Serene’s work at Trusted Realtors straddles the arts of selling and construction, but she admits that the reason she started developing property with the partnership of her builder panel was to solve a problem in Canberra’s existing housing market: the homes being built weren’t high quality, and when buyers found problems in the new homes she had sold them, the builders refused to remedy the shoddy builds. “When I came to Canberra six years ago,” remembers Serene, “there were so many dodgy builders whose product I couldn’t bring myself to back, and I realised I couldn’t deal with this forever. I couldn’t deal with being used as the tool to hurt someone else. So slowly, I strategised to build my building network: my own builders, suppliers, and I put together a team and then started buying other businesses, developing and partnering. All of these efforts are just to do the right thing for our buyers.” 

In her journey to verticalising her supply chain, Serene’s passion for creating housing as an asset to women grew. With her twelve years of real estate sales experience, she noticed that when a couple is buying a property, most of the time the decision maker is the woman. However, women in different family setups also tend to be more vulnerable financially especially in a ruthless market. “I overheard a single mum literally begging one of my agents in one of their open inspections, ‘Can you please hold onto the property for me — my loan approval is on the way. It is coming soon. I am only a single mum and I really need to buy this townhouse’. It broke my heart”, says Serene. 

Photo shows Serene signing paperwork with two people.

Wearing both these hats as real estate agent and developer gives Serene the opportunity to take on multi-approach solutions to rebuild, renovate, remodel, extend, touch-up a client’s greatest asset to achieve her property goals, whereas a traditional real estate agent follows the buy-sell-rent formula.

However, in a male-dominated workforce, at the start, Serene faced challenges in materialising her builds. “Male [Construction professionals] tend to discount me because I’m not a tradie experienced on tools. Sometimes, they just discount me because number one: I’m Asian — or should I say, I’m a new migrant. Number two: I’m female. I have to work extra hard to win them over, show them what I know. It was hard. But now it’s getting better. The younger builders are not only talented with new ideas, they also listen to the overall vision. I love seeing a client’s face when they get into the house and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect it to look this way, it’s so much better than what I imagined’ that makes me really, really happy.”

Housing in Canberra is changing

Serene forecasts that housing prices will drop in the next few months. “Housing prices have become quite unsustainable compared to the money that people are making from their jobs”, admits Serene. The “average couple” will be able to get around $800,000 for a loan but the average house they want is about 1.2 million. So where is this $400,000 [gap] coming from? I don’t see salaries increasing at the same rate. They are literally being priced out of the market, and so I think that prices have to come down, or people will have to adjust their expectations, because otherwise no one will be able to afford housing”. 

With the creation of more new subdivisions, the market may taper off and settle in the coming year. “People are short-sighted creatures. When the market is good, they think it will keep going up. When the market is this bad they think that it’s forever going to be bad”, says Serene. Housing markets can be volatile and can change at any moment. Even if the prices in Canberra continue to soar, Serene believes they could change in the coming months. Her inside sources tell her that the current market is unsustainable, and a plan to cool the market may be in progress.

Image: supplied

Making the property market more accessible for young women

According to Serene, one way young women can access property even in a market like Canberra’s is through a ‘tenants in common’ structure, where two or more people co-own a property in defined shares that they can dispose of as they wish. The shares owned by each tenant in common can be equal or unequal.

This type of home ownership allows people who would not be able to own property on their own to co-own it with another party. It is an investment, and according to Serene, to be successful, “you have to view it as kind of like a share that you purchase from the stock market, with no emotions attached. It’s actually quite easy. If people are willing to cooperate, it can be very mutually beneficial”. Rather than a traditional method of home-ownership, this structure is more of an investment that requires cooperation and forward planning from co-owners. Both owners can agree to sell after a number of years, and it can be stipulated in the contract so there will be no conflict on when to sell. After both co-owners have made their money, they can each easily afford their own property.

Serene believes that property can alleviate some of the stress associated with the Great Resignation. “Property,” says Serene, “is the most stable asset that we can ever have”. According to Serene, investing in property is a viable route to financial freedom, and Serene advocates for women especially to start investing in property as soon as they can, of course, after seeking the right advice. “Housing is just getting more and more expensive. And if you can create an asset that brings you consistent cash flow, you could be both emotionally and financially secure. That would be the perfect set up. If everyone had that, they wouldn’t be doing jobs that they hate, it would be an ideal world. And that is what I want for every woman.”  

To follow Serene’s property adventure, visit TrustedRealtors.com.au and visit their newly launching office in Dickson at U7, 31-39 Woolley Street, coming in Feb 2022.

The CBR Gals Network
Author: The CBR Gals Network

The CBR Gals Network is a feminist not-for-profit organisation established in 2018.