Located mid-Gold Coast, the inimitable boutique resort Surfers Horizons is accurately described as “a unique piece of treasure washed up to the high-tide line”.
Deb and Gary Tapiolas are the enthusiastic new managers, having purchased the management rights approximately two years ago.
Surfers Horizons was purchased as a deceased estate drastically in need of both maintenance and business recovery. “Both Gary and I had managed far more difficult roles and were definitely up for the challenge,” Deb revealed.
Gary’s interests always included property sales and development but they both have very varied and interesting backgrounds. Deb said: “We originally trained as teachers. Gary trained as a physical education teacher and I trained in special education. After a couple of years spent teaching, I completed dance studies at QUT and secured a contract with QLD Ballet.
“Gary moved from teaching to owning and operating fitness centres throughout Brisbane. We used our joint background in education to establish a registered training organisation (RTO) for the fitness industry that we operated for over 15 years throughout the 1990s, as well as a registered magazine and membership subscription base. When we sold our fitness industry businesses in around 2000, we were both in our 40s and welcomed the opportunity to take fresh paths.
“I embarked on an IT degree and later, secured a management position with IBM. Gary’s interest remained in property. He completed his real estate (principal’s) training with REIQ and transitioned back into real estate.”
Around this time, the idea of property management occurred but slowly at first. Deb said: “We believe that work should be an enjoyable part of life and should not be regarded as ‘separate’ from life itself. If work consumes eight hours per day, five days each week, then it seems an awfully large proportion of life is wasted, especially if the working part is viewed with contempt. We are pleased to say that our venture into property management, despite challenging moments, remains a pleasure – just as we had hoped!”
You can see why Deb and Gary are so happy and passionate, this is an undeniably delightful and truly beachfront resort just 10 metres from the sand, with every apartment enjoying direct ocean views. It is a breathtakingly unique Gold Coast property, “We will never be straight-up and high-rise,” remarked Deb, “but we are incredibly quirky and iconic.”
There is a distinct variety of apartments as they are all individually owned and styled, some are penthouse-style, split-level with an internal staircase and two oceanfront balconies. The top-level balcony is mainly open to the sky and large enough for a large family table seating for eight to 10 people as well as sun lounges.
Lifts are not needed at this resort. It is easy to bait up the fishing rod and head out for a quick cast, without negotiating lifts and reception area. This resort can be accurately described as a delightful, easy and safe environment, one to relax or let the kids run free from their unit to the pool, friends or family in other units.
When investigating the industry, Deb and Gary mused over many opportunities; some included the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane. They also contemplated both permanent and holiday management rights profiles. Gary said: “As much as we studied the viable business formula, we also searched for a property with the potential for a truly quality lifestyle. We considered the location and outlook of the manager’s residence, as well as office work area. All were important requirements for us and it was difficult to find something with a combination of all the right attributes.
“Typically, we nearly overlooked Surfers Horizons because we were searching for a high-rise. So, like many of our holiday guests, we discovered Surfers Horizons accidently, rather than by intent. This resort with a beachfront manager’s residence and office was perfect, plus we were surprised to discover that the building although over 20 years old and in need of improvements, boasted a fair proportion of newly renovated units.
“Apart from a beachfront lifestyle, we realised that the property was potentially big enough to provide a viable return, while small enough to be managed by a couple, without having to employ additional staff. We thoroughly investigated tidal history and existing rock wall structure, as well as the usual financial and legal consultation. With all the foundation work complete, we dived in.”
And dive in they did! Taking over Surfers Horizons on the first day of school holidays, September 2014, with minimum handover because they purchased ‘a deceased estate’. This could have been a disaster but they quickly realised that they needn’t have worried. Deb disclosed: “To our relief, we were met by long-term guests who had been booking year-on-year for over 20 years and they were kind to us, encouraging, interested in our ideas and actually far more familiar with the property than we were, at the time.
“Our new-found friends told us stories of their family holidays, previous managers and all the reasons why they grew to love this place. At the end of their stay, they booked again for the following year and somehow we felt at home and confident in our new investment.”
Deb and Gary’s first major task was to rebuild the “clunky old website from scratch”. They managed to launch a fantastic new website within three months of takeover and they are building a database of guests.
But, they revealed, their biggest challenge was to modernise the presentation of the apartments to meet the high expectation of modern guests, who operate in an online world. This is a world, according to Deb, “where every holiday accommodation property is referred to as ‘hotel’, by the booking channels”.
Of course, it was also essential to develop a good working relationship with the unit owners. Deb added: “It is important for to us to achieve optimum financial outcome for all who have placed their property in our rental pool. We have been diligent in seeking quality, cost efficient suppliers and most of our unit owners have listened to our advice with regards to small improvements or the large renovations that have been undertaken since we took over.
“Because of our joint project management experience, we have managed most of the renovations which have occurred here over the last two years at no charge to our unit owners. As a result, each renovation seems to have run smoothly, without the owners having to be onsite. We have developed some great relationships with a very strong group of trade people who remain our preferred suppliers.
“And, we communicate at least monthly with our unit owners, providing them with updates of any actions specific to their unit and also a newsletter specifically geared to unit owners,” Deb said.
On top of this, Deb and Gary managed a large painting project (external and internal) at the resort, which was approved and undertaken by the body corporate in 2015. It was mainly managed onsite by Gary in co-operation with the painting team and the appointed project management entity. The project started at end of October 2015 and was completed at end of March 2016, with a break for peak Christmas season. “This was a significant management challenge to ensure guests were not impacted by the sanding machines, painters in big dusty boots, abseilers rectifying the roof structure, security and so on.”
It sounds like the last two years have certainly been a wild ride for this couple! Do they have any advice for prospective managers? “First, research and read to ensure you understand the terminology and scope of different types of property management arrangements. We found it helpful to speak to property managers who had previously been our hosts when we were holiday makers,” Gary imparted.
“Also, seek the recommended level of legal and accounting due diligence but realise that the ultimate responsibility is your own. Understand the value of the online presence that may be part of the sale. It seems that these days, your platform should include capacity to compete in an online environment. Place value on documentation of processes that can be provided by outgoing managers because advice such as this took time to learn as well as document for your benefit.”
Happily, the current feedback from guests is now “overwhelmingly good” and guests are delighted with the refreshed presentation of the apartments overall, as well as an increasing number of newly renovated apartments throughout the complex. The “new approach to bed presentation style and linen (e.g. hotel grade blankets) that is now more standardised and professional has been particularly well received”.
Deb and Gary are thrilled with their change in career, property choice and new business venture. “It is a total pleasure to know most of our guests and unit owners. Our unit owners are a quirky bunch and they motivate us to work hard and achieve good results. Needless to say, breakfasting and ‘wine-o-clock’ on our balcony in the afternoon is also top of our daily appreciation list.” Deb and Gary savour the changes they have made and feel enchanted by the uniqueness of their boutique resort.
Some come to enjoy a romantic weekend with their partner and others arrive with extended family, having booked two or three apartments to play family cricket on the beach in the cool of the afternoon. But the time when Deb and Gary feel most gratified is when visitors remark that Surfers Horizons is like coming home. Deb concluded: “We like to think that ‘coming home’ is the highest compliment we can get.”