Since starting Hodara Real Estate Group in 2009, Alex Hodara has brokered millions in real estate sales, was named to Businessweek’s Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25, and graduated from Boston University. Today I had the pleasure of interviewing this up and coming tycoon to discuss the development and future of his business.
About a year ago you were on CNBC discussing how you started the first student run real estate brokerage in America. At the time you were doing mostly student rentals, is that still the case?
We are still brokering rentals for students, but our business model has evolved. We now primarily concentrate on brokering and managing high-yielding, off market multifamily investments around Boston. Although we have changed our focus, we have continued building our rental brokerage by expanding our rentals from students in the Boston University area to a broader variety of clientele throughout Greater Boston.
Why do you deal with off market deals rather than on market deals?
I focus on finding deals that are off market because the returns on these properties tend to outperform on market deals. Almost any on market deal that is not taken within a few days of becoming public knowledge is most likely over priced. On market deals are available for anyone to see, so it has been reviewed by the savviest investors in the area, and they decided it was not worth their while.
How do you find off market deals?
I worked my tail off brokering deals for four years and have established close relationships with the majority of landlords in the Boston area. Because of the trust I have earned from them by doing deals for them in the past, they let me know when they need to free up cash or liquidate properties to invest in other deals.
Who are your clients?
Real estate funds and individuals. Most of the deals I have done sell between $1 Million and $3 Million, so my clients have at least $250,000 cash to invest up front.
What types of returns are you seeing on the properties you are brokering?
Most of our clients look for returns above 10%, so that’s what we generally look for, however it is a case-by-case scenario. Sometimes we find properties that need to be torn down and rebuilt, so while the return the first year is negative, the IRR over 10 years could be well above 10%.
I thought the real estate market was down, how do your deals yield such a high return?
A: I focus on finding deals in Allston/Brighton, just outside of Boston University, and Mission Hill, which is closer to Northeastern University, Wentworth University and other colleges. The universities grow each year, so there’s always an increase in the demand for housing, keeping rents high and ensuring stable investments – even in a down economy.
What separates you from your competitors?
Almost all of my deals are off market. I find properties that nobody knows are for sale and get them sold quickly to investors looking for high returns. Investors trust me because I know this market inside and out. I have spent my last four years as a student at Boston University and a real estate broker, so I know the market (housing, rules, clientele, etc.) better than anyone. I know what I can rent units for, how and when to get them rented, and most importantly, I have the track record to prove it.
Okay so you’re saying your deals get high returns, but aren’t students just going to trash the place?
It is possible, but owners get a security deposit of up to one month’s rent, so any damage up to that amount will be covered. Also, all tenants and cosigners are jointly and severally bound to the lease. This means the owner has multiple people to go after in case there is a serious problem. Thankfully, we haven’t had to go after any tenants or co-signers yet for damaged units.
Are students really willing to pay a lot for housing?
On-campus housing at Boston University and Northeastern is between $1,100 and $1,500 per month. So, while students pay a lot for the houses we deal with, it’s still less than living on campus. Also, students typically don’t want to live on-campus because of dorm restrictions and having to share a room with others.
How do you ensure your places get rented? Do you ever have vacancies?
We have yet to have a vacancy at any of the properties we exclusively rent and manage. This is due to the external factor that there is high demand for all off campus student housing due to limited on campus student housing, and our rental brokerage’s savvy. We know all the right moves to get places rented quickly and for the highest possible rent. We typically rent our units in January or February for September 1st.
How do you attract people in Boston to rent with you?
We have built a reputation as being an honest and reliable brokerage that is in tune with the market. Also, we hired a full time videographer in the office who creates virtual tours of apartments and films a reality show about the business-related and sometimes not-so-business-related happenings at Hodara Real Estate, which helps clients get to know us before they come in. You can see the episodes at http://WatchMakingMoves.com. We get tens of thousands of views on each episode. We actually had a client last week come in and rent through us because they saw our show which was really exciting.
What has been your biggest challenge in the past year with building Hodara Real Estate Group and how have you handled it?
It is important that we are constantly finding new landlords and new properties, which can be a challenge because it literally involves knocking on doors and networking non-stop. With the help of colleagues Vin Vomero and Julian Jung, we schedule time each week to contact new owners to make sure we have the best listings.
Is this company your future or will you eventually move on to another business?
Hodara Real Estate Group is my future. We’re just getting started. We will always have the best investment, rental, and property management business in Boston, and one day, in due time, venture our business model to other areas.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs today thinking about trying to get into the real estate business?
If you want to get into real estate, start from the ground level to learn the ropes (i.e. getting your real estate license or managing property). Starting in these positions will eventually lead to finding rare investment deals for yourself or your clients.
If someone wants to read more about your company, where can they find you?
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