After 30 years of savings disappeared from the face of the earth, this Sydney couple raced to save their quality of life.

A couple in south-west Sydney were devastated in 2008 when they saw their retirement plans go up in smoke.

Marc and Susan Pickering used a self-managed superannuation fund they had built up over their 30 years on the job, but 45% of their money was wiped out during the global financial crisis.

“It was like a punch,” Mr Pickering recalled to

“It takes you years to develop a base level of money in the stock market.

“[I realised] there is not enough time in my professional life to recover if I lose half of it. I thought, ‘How am I going to get this money back?’

The father turned to the real estate market, realizing it might be the only way to save their retirement plans.

Now, in the space of 14 years, he has amassed a portfolio of five properties worth $3.4 million and is set to retire “comfortably” next year.

Mr Pickering, now 64, decided ownership was his best bet to save his future.

The former electrician apprentice, who called himself “just a regular guy”, has raised enough money to buy an apartment building in Leumeah, just three miles from his home.

He bought the place in 2012 – he would have been 54 at the time.

For two years, he fitted out the premises, while reading books on investments and renovations.

He eventually sold the property and conceded “we did pretty well”.

“When I sold that one, it gave me a base amount of money to feel comfortable putting some skin in the game,” he said.

However, when Mr. Pickering read hard on investing in real estate, he realized he had made a huge mistake.

“You’re not supposed to buy one near you,” he explained.

Diversifying your portfolio is key, according to the books he had read, so he looked much further afield for his next purchase.

In 2014, the Pickerings shelled out around $290,000 for a 499m² empty lot in Greenvale, Melbourne.

They spent another $240,000 to build housing and quickly found tenants.

According to the latest data available, this property is now worth approximately $775,000.

Over the next few years, the couple made another purchase in Melbourne and three more in Brisbane with similar returns.

Each time, it was a block of land on which they built a house.

They built homes in the Brisbane suburbs of Mango Hill, Warner Lakes and Heathwood as well as the Melbourne suburbs of Craigieburn.

In July last year, during the national real estate craze that saw homes explode to levels not seen since the mid-1980s, the Pickerings decided to sell their home in Craigieburn.

The cost of the land and construction was $488,000, but when they sold it, they got $540,000.

In total, their real estate portfolio had cost them $2.5 million in loans, but they would earn just under a million dollars in profit if they cashed it all in now.

Mrs Pickering managed to retire a few years ago and he plans to stop working next year.

“I probably started building my portfolio a little later in life than is ideal,” he said as advice to aspiring real estate investors.

“Start investing in real estate as soon as you can, don’t procrastinate.”

He added: “The other aspect is the exit strategy.

“My goal is to last as long as possible because time adds value.

“At some point I’m going to sell them to give myself some cash to play with.”

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