The best people I know have had more than one career. But few have been as successful as my next guest. Join me this week as I chat with former Dancing With The Stars star, professional dancer, and choreographer, Mark Hodge, about how he pivoted to property and became a short stay expert.
A lifetime of wear and tear on his body, plus a hit and run car accident and two hip replacements meant Mark needed to find a new path. His passion for property, born out of a lifetime of travel, lead Mark to become a short stay Airbnb investor and boutique hosting agency. His story is fascinating and his property strategy is inspiring
About Mark Hodge
Mark Hodge is the founder and the face behind MaisonNets. Following a 30 year career in the performing arts as a professional dancer, choreographer, and international model working in Europe, Asia, and Australia, Mark is now utilising his creative talents in helping people unlock the potential in their lives by capitalising on the inherent wealth in their homes. Traveling abroad and working in these highly pressurised fields among luminaries such as Baz Luhrmann, Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor has given Mark an innate understanding of the requirements, and comforts, needed by professionals for their work, and for their downtime.
Voice Over (00:00:02): Thanks for joining us for this small talk, big ideas podcast … A podcast to enrich your soul, where we have conversations with inspiring people about all things, property, business, and life. And now the host of small talk, big ideas. Ian Ugarte
Ian Ugarte (00:23):
Hey, there. Welcome to Small Talk, Big Ideas podcast and today, we’re talking to a mate of mine, Mark Hodge, who comes from the dance industry. Now, we’ve got quite a few friends that work in there, plus my daughter has gone in pretty hard as well. He talks about how he’s pivoted from dancing full time, choreography and into property. Today’s podcast talks a lot about how Mark has had [inaudible 00:00:45] and incredible that he’s actually still walking. I hope you enjoy today’s podcast, and for any of you that are listening and want to know more about what we do, just subscribe to this podcast or follow us on all the social media channels. Enjoy today’s podcast and the amazing Mark Hodge. Hey, Mark. How are you?
Mark Hodge (01:02):
Hey, Ian. Thank you. Nice to be here and-
Ian Ugarte (01:07):
We met quite a few years ago. I was on a stage.
Mark Hodge (01:10):
Ian Ugarte (01:10):
We actually know each other by default. You had made your life in the dancing industry. Do you want to talk about, you were a professional dancer.
Mark Hodge (01:19):
Ian Ugarte (01:19):
Not a pole professional dancer. It wasn’t [inaudible 00:01:22].
Mark Hodge (01:23):
Ian Ugarte (01:25):
You were looking, tell me how you got into dancing. And when you decided that professionalism was the full time gig that you want to go for.
Mark Hodge (01:35):
Right. Yeah. Well, my father was in show business for his early life. He traveled around the world for about eight years and did a grand performance for the queen in 1956, was on the Ed Sullivan show for three times in one year, actually as a comic acrobat. So this is back in the fifties and sixties. And one of his partners in the act, there was three of them, was one of the first television choreographers. His name was Joe Latona. And apparently when I was young, I used to get up and want to mum to put music on. And I apparently have a dance before I could walk. So it was really because of him that they got me started and I did ballroom and Latin for a long period of time. But then when I left school I realized I had a few partners that weren’t as dedicated and boys and babies got in the way. One baby actually did get in way and we had to stop dancing.
So I decided that I wanted to go down another route and that was into the performance art. So contemporary, I started doing contemporary and jazz, and then somebody said, “Look, you really need classical to help strengthen your technique.” So then I did that and I got carried away and ended up in the Australian ballet company and then did about 17 years. Although I had done Cats before I joined the ballet company, I did about 17 years of musical theater, but then ballroom came back again when Dancing With the Stars started, there was a show in the UK called Celebrity Come Dancing. And I was asked if I would be interested in auditioning.
They hadn’t actually picked the name. Then it was called, well, obviously it’s called Dancing With the Stars now, but it was very successful and I did a couple of seasons with that, went back into musical theater and was the dance captain for Priscilla, the Australian musical. And obviously with all of the wear and tear on my body, it has a time limit. So I I had a couple of hip replacements, well actually I had one first. I just had the other one done about 12 weeks ago. And, but I needed to find something else. And that’s when my interest has always been in property. And that’s when I met you, when I was doing one of the courses.
Ian Ugarte (04:14):
Now we’ve got a very different to both of us, Penny Martin, who’s also in musical theater and still doing it. I think she was, she did Dirty Dancing just recently as the mother of what’s her name? What’s the lead anyway, the mother.
Mark Hodge (04:25):
Ian Ugarte (04:26):
You’ll get it.
Mark Hodge (04:27):
I get, it’s not-
Ian Ugarte (04:27):
So you said that you were dance captain. That sounds amazing. Especially if you said dance captain while doing spirit fingers, can you do that? How awesome. So you had always been interested in property. You did have property. I had met you. You were actually helping out a business basically as a BDM, a business development manager for a modular building company.
Mark Hodge (04:57):
Ian Ugarte (04:58):
And that didn’t go quite so well. They weren’t very good business people.
Mark Hodge (05:03):
No. And it’s obviously being in the performance world and stepping out into some would say the real world or the corporate world, you can’t always trust everyone that you come across. And I had somebody that was obviously not as honest as I’d hoped, but I was working for a modular building company and they were doing a lot of granny flats and builds. And I found myself in America on a break. I was also teaching at [inaudible 00:05:37] at the time. And I had been involved in a hit and run accident. And while I was in the hospital, I found out that this company, which owed me a lot of money, but also a lot of clients a lot of money and builds, went into voluntary administration.
Ian Ugarte (05:56):
Yeah. So, let’s take a step back here because there’s quite a few incidents for you that would lead most people down a path of complete destruction. But to me, it actually, while there was a small amount of fragility physically, I saw the mental state of you building and getting back to where you were. And even stronger than you were beforehand. Now we’re not talking about a really simple hit and run where you got hit and you got knocked over and maybe you broke a leg or something. You actually broke your back. You stepped out and someone hit you. You flew over the top of the pretty heavy vehicle. We’re talking about a pretty big Ute, F-150 chevs type Ute. To leave you stranded on the ground, you were over there with a former partner and he had to put you in hospital. What were the injuries you sustained from that?
Mark Hodge (06:45):
When I came to, I don’t really, I don’t remember much about it. There was three of us that walked across the road. We’d got out into the middle of the road. One person was on the other side. My partner at the time was behind me. Luckily they didn’t get hit, but I was in the middle and I came to and they were stitching up my elbow. And then they told me that nearly every rib was broken. They actually couldn’t count how many were broken. I had a broken scapula, my right shoulder blade was broken. I had a fracture to my L3, my number three vertebra. And I had a compression fracture to L2 and that was split right down the middle and through the center. So my vertebra was actually in four pieces. I was very lucky to do that. It stayed together, but I was in a back brace for a little bit longer than I’d hoped, it was about six months, but it took me a good year to sort of get back to doing what I am now.
Ian Ugarte (07:51):
What I find really noticeable, having seen you a few times since then, obviously we live in [inaudible 00:07:56] from each other, is that you would not be able to tell that. So many people would carry that as a war wound and would walk around and you would see the grimaces on there on my face about the injury. But to me, it seems like you are pain free, but is that actually the case? Are you pain free? Because you don’t seem to be showing much of it?
Mark Hodge (08:15):
No, I mean, my shoulders, it’s a different story. My shoulders, I’ve got no cartilage left in my shoulders. I had surgery on those after Priscilla, that’s just wear and tear. They were a lot worse after the accident, but my lower back is pretty good if I don’t do much or if I overdo certain things, it’ll flare up, but it’s generally pretty good. And I do find that it’s really important for me to keep exercising, to keep everything moving. So I’m pretty lucky in that most of that is pretty much okay. Yeah.
Ian Ugarte (08:53):
I presume your fitness levels and the fact that you’ve always been fairly agile in the dance industry, because you still dance. I mean, you do the occasional bitten piece of some sort of choreography and put it together as well. Don’t you?
Mark Hodge (09:06):
Occasionally. I haven’t done any for a while, but I did something just recently for Sydney Theater Company, which actually never got on because of COVID, but that’s actually, that’s what exacerbated my hips. I ended up having to get that one done. It caught with me.
Ian Ugarte (09:20):
Right. So all, [inaudible 00:09:22] and ready.
Mark Hodge (09:23):
Ian Ugarte (09:24):
Now we started talking about the high income real estate system had just started off and we were talking about a short stay section. We knew back then. We’re talking a five, six, seven years ago where short-stay had started to evolve and started to make its impact on the marketplace. Obviously, people didn’t want to stay in hotels with such high rates. People had houses, they could get more income from the normal everyday rentals. And you realized that you had a property that could have a similar outcome. Tell us about your Sydney property.
Mark Hodge (09:57):
Yep. So it would have been, well it’s about eight months before this accident happened that I had a lot of problems with longterm property managers and one manager had not given me enough notice of someone moving out. And it was right before Christmas. And I had friends of mine that were paying down their mortgage on Airbnb at the time. This is going back five years ago now. And I decided to put mine on and I had another agent there waiting to take it after Christmas. And I had to ring him four weeks later and give him the bad news, good news for me, but bad news for him, I had pretty much booked out the property for the next six months with only a few days empty at the time. Yeah.
So I’d gone from this property was earning $520 a week, fully furnished. It was quite a large studio, 43 square meters in Surrey Hills. It was in a good spot. But the rent I received from Airbnb at that time was between $900 to $1100 a week.
Ian Ugarte (11:07):
So, you basically doubled your income by using short [inaudible 00:11:10]. Which is not too bad.
Mark Hodge (11:10):
That’s right. And then it just went on from there.
Ian Ugarte (11:12):
Yeah. And that’s not too bad. And then you realized, clearly there’s a marketplace for this. We had a chat. You decided that you were going to go mainstream and you were going to offer a service. And then you started a business that specializes in the concierge service of actually taking the booking platform, booking for your clients, meeting people at the front door for those guests that are coming. So effectively giving it a hands free sort of outcome where you do all the hard work for them. Do you want to explain your business model?
Mark Hodge (11:44):
That’s right. Yes. So what we do is we actually do all of the marketing for the property as well. We would go in, analyze it. I have people ask me if they think it’s viable, we have teams of stylists. That is an option for them as well. We’ve got people that can renovate if they need cosmetic renovations. The foundation of the property and the location works. Then we can actually help set that up. Then from that, we obviously, we put it up on a multitude of sites, not just Airbnb. And we do the meet and greets. We fill the property with amenities, we handle all the reviews. We follow up on guests to see if there’s anything else they might need, chauffer driving from the airport and any other extra services. And we are obviously organize the cleaning and the linen, so that the owners don’t have to manage any of this.
Ian Ugarte (12:43):
So effective, I mean you take a percentage, obviously that allows your business to grow. Now you started in Sydney and you’ve actually gone national now, you offer services in a lot of areas.
Mark Hodge (12:56):
That’s right. Yeah. So we started in Sydney. Brisbane was the next port of call, but Melbourne went after that and now Melbourne is actually on par with Sydney and Adelaide has taken off. Adelaide’s actually a really, really good market, which surprises me because I’m actually from Adelaide. And I didn’t think that would happen. But when I asked our account manager from [inaudible 00:13:16], he said that that was actually a hotspot, we’re also in Perth and of course, we’ve got your property in Hobart.
Ian Ugarte (13:24):
Yeah. And you got Gold Coast as well you got something on the Gold Coast?
Mark Hodge (13:27):
Ian Ugarte (13:27):
Yeah. And Pembroke.
Mark Hodge (13:28):
At the moment. Yeah. We’ve only got a couple on the Gold Coast, but Canberra as well. We’ve got a couple. Yeah.
Ian Ugarte (13:34):
So, you’ve got a team that’s remote that can handle bits and pieces. You’ve also got a team on the ground to be able to meet. You’re big about meeting people at the front door because this evolution of putting a key pad lock or a padlock around the gate to be able to get into the house. It’s not your style.
Mark Hodge (13:54):
No, it’s not. Although I do like the key padlocks and in Adelaide, just about every property that we have.
Ian Ugarte (14:01):
Sorry. So what I meant by key padlocks is those padlocks, they put around the gates, the actual front door keypad locks, no problem. I have no problem with that.
Mark Hodge (14:08):
Oh, yes. Yeah.
Ian Ugarte (14:10):
But the actual way where you walk up to a block of flats at Surrey Hills, and you see all these padlocks all over the place, that’s disgraceful.
Mark Hodge (14:16):
Exactly. It’s terrible. It’s really impersonal. I’ve got a picture of a lane way in Melbourne that has. You can’t even count how many that are there. And I don’t know how a guest would find the right padlock or the right log to get into any property. But also if you’ve got a relationship with somebody at the front door, you’ve got much more respect for the property that they’re about to walk into.
Ian Ugarte (14:42):
Mark Hodge (14:42):
And that’s really important for our owners.
Ian Ugarte (14:44):
Yeah. For sure. Now you obviously, have been doing astoundingly well in the the short stay marketplaces had the hit of COVID. Now there’s two parts to this. Firstly, I’ve been saying for a couple of years now, if you’re going to go in the short stay, you really have to have a team like yours in the background, because if you’re coming in to make money in short stay, you basically missed the boat, you need to have a really good efficient system in the background, which is what you provide. However, COVID made a big impact to your business. Talk about the downturn and how you’ve actually made a change and how you pivoted the business.
Mark Hodge (15:22):
Yeah. So we have lost a lot of property. And obviously with what’s happened over the last few months, people are scared. They wanted to put their Airbnbs, their short stay back into the longterm arena, that hasn’t worked. There was an article just two nights ago saying that there’s 30,000 empty rental properties across Sydney right now. The vacancy rate in Sydney CBD normally sits at 2% to 3%. Right now it’s at 14.8% in Sydney and doubled and tripled in some of the other States, other capital cities as well. So we did lose a lot of property. We had to think outside the square, I had to get in touch with health ministers. I also put up Facebook pages to help for self isolation.
We tried to get medical professionals into a lot of our properties. We’ve dropped the rates and we’ve got a lot of long stays in there. We’ve got a lot of experts that have come back and obviously, their properties are full. So they need fully furnished properties. We’ve managed to keep a lot of those going, but it has been difficult. I mean the recent downturn in Melbourne again has seen us have six cancellations yesterday. But interestingly enough, we actually had a couple of bookings, long bookings in Melbourne last night. So I think people are wanting to stay away from hotels and maybe find private accommodation.
Ian Ugarte (16:51):
Right. Yeah. Certainly more homely to be in somewhere in a place where you can actually cook and clean and get to the shops and stuff. Now a lot of people. So there’s two statements I want to make to start with, I suppose [inaudible 00:17:02] question. Most people think that the booking platforms are available to you are Airbnb and Stays. Do you want to talk about the fact that there’s many, many more and the software that you’ve got in the background?
Mark Hodge (17:15):
There’s something like 250 or more booking platforms out there that a lot of people don’t realize. We had up to about 70 that are now. Yep.
Ian Ugarte (17:32):
And it’s [crosstalk 00:17:32] Inclusive, [inaudible 00:17:29], eHoliday, Perfect Visit, Canada Stay. And you know, the majority of we’re in the, obviously, in the Asian area of the world, they hardly use Airbnb.
Mark Hodge (17:44):
That’s right. Yep. That’s exactly right. I mean that there’s Agoda, which is owned by Booking.com. They there’s Cbus, which is a big Chinese company, but Expedia owns probably 20, 25 different booking platforms and actually Expedia bought HomeAway, which actually bought Stays. So Expedia own a lot. You’ve got booking.com, TripAdvisor there’s five or six different platforms within TripAdvisor. And then we’re also working with [inaudible 00:18:17] at the only Australian booking platform. And all of these booking platforms actually charge a fee. So what we try and do is we adjust the price accordingly so that the owner doesn’t lose out on the margin. But the great thing with [inaudible 00:18:32] is that they don’t actually charge a host fee. They charge that fee to the guests that’s booking
Ian Ugarte (18:39):
So effectively with your business if someone lists a property with you, you are effectively going to 70 different reps to other than three or four at tops where most people would only go to three or four of them. And the majority of your bookings obviously, are Airbnb stays, but you’ve, there’s almost 50% I think that from what you told me, come from other avenues, yeah?
Mark Hodge (18:59):
Yeah. It used to be more heavily geared towards Airbnb, but now it’s really starting to cross. We’re getting a lot of direct bookings, which is great, but we’re getting a lot through Booking.com as well and Stays. Some through Expedia. But that’s a much smaller amount.
Ian Ugarte (19:18):
Now we’re talking about Airbnb being one of the biggest booking platforms in the world. They’ve actually, they actually contacted you and you were very emotional about this, that they contacted you and then had you and only a few others in their main office in Sydney.
Mark Hodge (19:33):
Yeah. They actually reached out, because they obviously see what we do as property managers and that we try and do the right thing by the guests as well as our owners. And they gave us the hotline. At the moment I don’t think they’re in the office now with COVID, but they gave us the hotline. So if we have any problems at all, we could go directly to them. And the last couple of years, they’ve taken us out for dinner for Christmas to nice restaurants and a great team, really great team, but they’ve suffered too. They’ve lost a few while this is happening in the Sydney office, unfortunately.
Ian Ugarte (20:11):
Yeah. It’s a tough gig right now. And seeing you come out of the back end, we’ve now got lock downs only in one state. And you seem to be doing really, really well out of that. I’ve got one final question. What’s the name of your famous dance move that has to go in every choreography?
Mark Hodge (20:28):
Oh my god. Haven’t thought about that. I guess I’m kind of right.
Ian Ugarte (20:35):
How if I was watching because I was talking to Penny Martin about this one. If I’m watching choreography, or she said, if I’m watching choreography and I see something, I know who the choreographer is because of that move or because of that style. What’s your style, what’s your move?
Mark Hodge (20:49):
Yeah. I want to say, did Pen say a body roll at all?
Ian Ugarte (20:54):
Mark Hodge (20:58):
Oh, I don’t know. Maybe a pas de bourreé.
Ian Ugarte (20:58):
Get you on this [crosstalk 00:20:59].
Mark Hodge (20:58):
Ian Ugarte (21:01):
What? What do you call that?
Mark Hodge (21:02):
A pas de bourreé, that goes in just about every routine, whether it’s classical jazz.
Ian Ugarte (21:07):
Tell me what that is. Explain what that is.
Mark Hodge (21:09):
It’s three steps. It’s you either go under ball change or over ball change.
Ian Ugarte (21:19):
Under ball, under ball, kickball change.
Mark Hodge (21:20):
Yeah. That’s the balls on your feet by the way.
Ian Ugarte (21:25):
Yeah. Right. Awesome. Mark Hodge, thank you for being with us today. Thank you for telling everyone about your story and obviously the properties that you’ve got around the country.
Mark Hodge (21:25):
Thank you, Ian. Thanks everyone.
Ian Ugarte (21:36):
We didn’t really talk on the fact that you actually rent other properties and make money out of those too. So thanks for joining us and we’ll catch you next time.
Mark Hodge (21:43):
Ian Ugarte (21:44):
So there you have it, Mark Hodge, amazing story and amazing man. And I’m just absolutely in awe with what he’s done in his professional life as a dancer and what he continues to do to help out other people in investing and creating cashflow through different means in property. As always, if you want to know more about what we do head over to Ianugarte.com.au that’s U G A R T E. And you’ll find out lots of information, subscribe to this podcast and we’ll see you next time.
Voice Over (22:15):
Thanks for tuning in to the Small Talk, Big Ideas podcast. We hope we’ve succeeded in our goal to inspire and challenge you. And we look forward to catching you on the next episode of small talk, big ideas with Ian Ugarte-