Money & Me: ‘Investing in experiences enriches you’

Michael Widgery, co-founder of real estate inspection website Property Check, learnt the value of money at the age of five, collecting and returning supermarket trolleys to play arcade games

Money & Me. Michael Widgery, Grout King.
Antonie Robertson/The National
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Michael Widgery is the co-founder of Property Check, a Dubai-based company that runs detailed home inspections for buyers and tenants looking to invest in UAE real estate.

Using a combination of advanced technology and state-of-the-art equipment, the company issues “property report cards” to identify pre-existing home problems, whether these are small snags or critical technical problems.

The former advertising agency executive set up Property Check with a friend after one of them moved into a new apartment and subsequently had major issues.

Mr Widgery, 40, an Australian, is married and lives on Umm Suqeim Street in Dubai.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I grew up in Newcastle, Australia, when it was still on the back end of being an industrial coal and steel mining town.

Money was always something that had to be worked for. There were no free handouts and, as they say, no such thing as a free lunch.

What age did you start working?

I was only five years old. It wasn’t an official job, I simply turned up and started doing it.

I used to collect and return trolleys in the carpark of the local supermarket. I received 20 cents for each trolley I returned.

It paid for an arcade addiction to [the game] Street Fighter!

What was the earliest lesson you learnt about money?

Only risk what you are prepared to lose.

My father always taught me that. He was not a big borrower and did not take out credit cards, only ever dealing with the money in his pocket.

How did you go about launching Property Check?

Property Check was born out of a common frustration between myself and co-founder Liam.

I run another business called Grout King. Every day, we see people running into maintenance trouble with properties after they have committed to a long-term lease or purchase.

We wanted to save people money and their sanity by making them aware of these problems before making that commitment.

How much capital did you need to start Property Check?

We used our own capital to launch the business.

We invested heavily into a custom-made app tailored to the region’s needs, as well as significant investment in the latest technology and quality staff.

What early results have you seen so far?

We are booked out and expanding.

Was managing finances a struggle during the launch phase?

The launch of my first company, Grout King, cut finances fine. The start-up capital was purely from personal savings.

In the early days, I was so concerned about what was in the bank account [that] I would avoid the Salik gates down Sheikh Zayed Road.

It was really more about being careful with our outgoings rather than about the amount we saved.

Michael Widgery owns investment homes in Dubai and in his home country, Australia. Antonie Robertson / The National

Where do you own homes?

I have investment homes in Dubai and in my home country, Australia.

Who or what has been your biggest financial inspiration?

There is a poem by Rudyard Kipling. A verse of it is written on one of the walls in our shop.

I think it rings true for anyone who has tossed their hat in the ring, be it entrepreneurially, investment wise or even in Vegas!

If you can make one heap of all your winnings,

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings,

And never breathe a word about your loss;

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And — which is more — you’ll be a man, my son!

What has been your biggest investment? How did it perform?

I have taken equity in a local financial app for schoolchildren. It is early days but the interest in the company has been very strong.

What was your greatest financial challenge?

Cash flow in the early days of a start-up is always a problem.

No matter the size of the company or the investment required, keeping cash ticking over is always a common problem among entrepreneurs.

It is only through hard work, personal sacrifice and dedication that you will come out successfully on the other side.

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I rarely spend on myself. The last T-shirt I bought was probably four years ago
Michael Widgery, co-founder of Property Check

What asset classes do you invest in?

Technology, property, stocks in the mining industry and cryptocurrency. I like tech and cryptocurrency because of the high risk and reward.

I like property and shares because of their long-term security.

Do you use any investment or trading apps?

Yes, only the common ones.

What are your financial worries about a recession going forward?

People stopping spending. War. The price of oil. Wage spirals. The cost of living. A crash in the real estate market.

They are all real concerns that everyone is talking about. But Dubai has proven to be resilient and always seems to overcome these problems.

How have you consolidated your financial position since the pandemic?

Fortunately, the businesses I am involved in never really dropped off during the pandemic.

If anything, they grew as more people stayed at home, spending less on holidays and more on their own properties.

In that time, we have had organic growth but always tried to keep that growth controlled.

Are you financially independent yet?

Financial independence is still some time away.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I spend money to try and make money through business.

I rarely spend on myself. The last T-shirt I bought was probably four years ago!

Where and how do you save?

I try to save each month from the businesses I run, but am always reinvesting into them to make them stronger.

What is your most cherished purchase?

My wedding ring. All the money in the world doesn’t count for a thing if there is no one with you.

What has been your proudest financial moment?

Building a team of 25 without any outside financial investment.

What is your biggest financial goal?

I don’t have a figure value or a particular number of assets I would like to own.

I would like to keep things simple and end up running a little beach bar somewhere without the need of having to make a profit.

If you could live your life again, what financial decision would you change?

It is actually one that I wouldn’t change, but a decision that I believe most people don’t take.

I have always believed in investing in yourself, not only in your own education but also experiences.

I completed university and other educational courses, but also travelled a lot and got up to a lot of fun when I was younger.

I believe that everything you experience in life will somehow manage to come through in a richer you.

How much do you have in your wallet right now?

Embarrassingly, I don’t carry a wallet. My pocket is a bunch of scrunched up receipts and random notes.

What car do you drive?

A 2014 Ford Fiesta. The boss always gets the worst car!

Updated: January 02, 2023, 4:25 AM
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