When Jo Powell was young, she could think of nothing she enjoyed more than reorganising her bedroom: shifting the furniture, putting her belongings in new places, changing her style.
She's now built a thriving business putting into practice those early self-taught lessons. Her 3 Pea's Property Styling takes the canvas of an existing home and adds the colour and taste Powell has developed both from her own passion and from five years of hard work.
Powell is standing inside a property that, for all intent, could be a tastefully restored late 19th Century cottage in the city. In fact it's a new building, constructed to replace a cottage on the site which was beyond repair. Powell has styled it to meet and match the past and present.
Jo Powell thinks she got the bug for interior decorating from her mother. If that is the case, then her mother was a fine teacher because Powell has recently been named Australia's best property stylist.
The Ballarat-based Powell says the award, while a great achievement for her business in its own right, is also a great recognition of the growing maturity of the regional property market.
"Competing against metropolitan businesses for those sorts of awards is always going to be very difficult, so it's thrilling," Ms Powell said.
Powell says she had sensed an opportunity to try styling in a regional city after seeing how successful the practice had been in the capitals, adding value and interest to properties for sale.
"Most homes that are being sold in those cities are being styled in some capacity; there wasn't an equivalent service being offered in Ballarat. So people weren't getting the same financial benefits as those metropolitan properties were realising.
Most homes that are being sold in cities are being styled in some capacity; there wasn't an equivalent service being offered in Ballarat. So people weren't getting the same financial benefits as those metropolitan properties were realising.Jo Powell, 3 Pea's Property Styling
"Initially people were saying there wasn't the value in property here to warrant what they termed 'the expense' - rather than 'the investment' - in the service; but over time people have come to understand that, as long as what you spend is relative to what the property value is, it can be very worthwhile.
"I mean, it's no good spending $20,000 styling a $350,000 house. You have to know what you are doing and how to direct those funds."
But what goes into styling a house in order to realise its best features for the market? It's surprisingly simple and yet a complex series of decisions, Jo Powell says.
"It can be advising a person about what kind of property maintenance to undertake, or if they actually need improvements. It's surprising how many people will say, 'Oh we don't think we could possibly sell the house without a new kitchen in it.'
"Now that may be correct in one case, but it's very hard to be objective about your own property. People think, 'Where do I start?' and it's a difficult question to answer.
So what the vendor sees as an urgent issue - be it from one loose door handle to tiling a bathroom - will often not be what a buyer is seeing or seeking. And the stylist's job, she says, is to draw attention to a property's strong points, without being deceitful about any flaws.
"I want to deliver a house for sale that looks as good as it can, so that a prospective purchaser will notice the good features.
"Highlighting how to use an awkward spaces or awkward floor plans is one aspect," Powell says.
"Decorating small spaces: in Ballarat we have a lot of houses that are still small, individual rooms, which is quite different from how we typically live now; we prefer a big open-plan area at the back. So I want to be able to show people how they can live in a house as it is, so they'll be more comfortable making an offer, before they alter if they wish."
Jo Powell says the cost of property styling depends upon what people are hoping to achieve with their sale.
"Look, there's a trade-off," Powell says.
"I can start with a complete wishlist and say to people,'If money were no object; if we didn't have to tailor this to the value of the house, we could do this... but ultimately I'm going to tailor it so someone gets the best bang for the buck."
The high number of heritage houses in Ballarat provides a pleasant challenge for Jo Powell, who admits to having both a warehouse full of furniture to use for different home styles - and a happy liking for antiques.
"There are some stylists who are pretty much one-size-fits-all, this lot of furniture comes out of one house and goes into another house, then into another house.
"That's not what I do, and I think that's contributed to winning the award. Every house is individual, and every house owner is individual, as is every purchaser. And I'm about catering to that.
"Of course I don't own everything. I styled a house up at Insignia that had a tremendous entry-way with a huge staircase coming off it. So I hired a baby grand piano from Melbourne to put in there.
"It just needed something special."
3 Pea's Property Styling was named Australia's best stylist by property investment magazine Your Investment Property in the 2019 Property Investors Awards.
The independent judging panel included representatives from Real Estate Institute of Australia; the REIV in each state, REA Group, Property Investors Council of Australia, Bricks and Mortar Media, Australian Broker Magazine, Mortgage Professionals Australia Magazine and the Property Investment Professionals of Australia.