Don Ha

PHOTO: STUFF Don Ha says he was 27 when he first made $1 million.

Stuff’s series How I Made My First Million talks to millionaires about how they got there. This week, it’s property expert and Re/Max New Zealand owner and chief executive Don Ha.

In 1995,  Ha was selling homes in South Auckland for $49,000. In 2020, he is controls more than $1 billion worth of housing developments, apartments and land throughout New Zealand.

How did you make your first $1m, how old were you?

I was 27 when I made my first million. I came to New Zealand as a migrant from Vietnam at 12, and I had set the goal to become a millionaire by age 30.

I was self-employed from the time I left school. The funny thing is that I formally got into real estate at 26 but had actually been investing in property before that, when I was the owner of two bakeries. I was working 72 hours a week in the bakery trade, and I thought if I got into real estate properly I would learn about investment. I also figured that the harder I worked, the more I would earn.

I realised later that my first million might have been a technicality; I met a man who had been divorced three times, and he told me I was only half a millionaire because my wife would take the other half! This motivated me to make my second million, which I achieved two years later. Making the first million is the hardest, but once you know how it gets easier from there.

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Do you follow any personal finance rules?

Since the GFC, one of the best financial rules you can apply is to focus on building equity in your property. Most people revalue their property to borrow more money, but when a crisis hits, the value drops so you lose equity and are left with debt. The rule I follow now is have more equity and less debt – so you can sell a property to keep your business going if you need to.

Another, related rule is you have to have enough money to keep your family functioning no matter what happens. As we’ve seen in the Covid crisis, many Kiwis now don’t have enough savings for even a few weeks, which is a wake-up call. We must never put ourselves in this position ever again. When people come to my office for potential careers I ask them, could you write a cheque on the spot for $10,000 to $20,000 if you had to for a family emergency? Most say no. At this point most will have a wake-up call and be inspired to create change so they can provide security to their family.

A third rule is to stick to what you know best. Only do business with people you trust and get on with, and get reference checks on them. Not everyone who walks through your front door is who they claim to be.