Alex Hodara is not your typical business owner. Founding Hodara Real Estate Group while still in college without a penny of outside investment, he’s since grown a successful business and launched an academy, a development arm, a property management company, a record label and realty TV show. Alex is a prime example of what can be done on pure sweat equity. No matter how many people tell him he’s too young and too inexperienced, he continues to defy the odds and make moves. Here’s his story:
Alex, your path to success at such a young age is inspirational to all us aspiring entrepreneurs. How, while still in college, amidst one of the most difficult economic climates in history and with no funding, were you able to start a successful real estate brokerage?
I have been able to be successful thus far because I refuse to quit and have taken advantage of my position in life.
Let me first say that I never really considered myself a “real estate person”; in fact I really knew nothing about real estate when I got my license freshman year. I have always been very entrepreneurial and when I got to school I just wanted to do something… different. So I went out, got the license, and decided I would make real estate into a passion project.
I took incredible risks when I started freshman year. I didn’t have a car to take my clients out on showings (and my parents wouldn’t let me bring my car up because they thought the whole real estate idea was ridiculous) so I spent almost every penny I had saved up in high school on taking cabs out for showings. At one point I almost bankrupt myself, but I planned it out so I would be paid my first big commission before I ran out of money.
I was incredibly fortunate during college that I had parents who were paying for my tuition and a meal plan for me. If you think about it, as a college student that is all you need, right? So, sure they did not give me any money for my business, but they provided me with an opportunity to turn this dream into a reality. Say I never did a single deal when I was a freshman and I lost all the money that I had saved during high school – who cares! I would all of a sudden become just another broke college kid going to class and eating in the dining hall. Having the safety of being a college student was what gave me the ability to go out and take risks. Had I become a real estate agent the day I left college without any support behind me I would not have been able to take the “risks” I have taken.
So, my Freshman and Sophomore years I rented real estate in the Boston University area, and then my Junior year I got my second level of licensing and started the first student run real estate brokerage. I knew I had two years to build a cash cow which could support me (the rental and sales brokerage), so when I graduated I could have the freedom to follow any dreams I wanted (creating a reality show, starting a record label, a property management company, a real estate academy, a green building company) – and that is exactly what I did.
The economy has not affected me really because I am in a very recession proof real estate market (by luck – I am not that smart!). During a recession more students go back to school so they do not have to enter the job market. More students equals more demand for off campus student housing – ipso facto more business for us. Now, that is just on the rental side – on the investment sales side, the high demand for housing makes the CAP rates for investment properties go up! So it is really a win/win for us.
Honestly though, this business could have been anything, it did not have to be real estate. I could have started any other business and I would have put as much heart into it. I am glad I fell into the real estate world though, it is very rewarding!
How have you leveraged Boston University (alumni network/professors/resources) to help you achieve your goals?
I tried so hard to leverage Boston University while I was there, but very few people cared about what I was doing. No idea why. It was SO frustrating.
I often wonder what it would have been like to go to a smaller school where teachers/alumni interacted more with the students, but I really cannot say I am unhappy with my experience at Boston University. I made the best of my situation there.
There were a few BU people that cared about what I was doing and were helpful such as my real estate finance professor, the Dean of Students….but that is really it.
I have two funny stories actually that sum up my experience pretty well.
1. My worst grade in college was a C+ which I received in the class “Personal Selling”. I missed maybe one class the entire semester, got an A on the midterm, always participated – thought I was getting an A! Nope. I had tried to reach out to this teacher many times during the semester to get help with my business… never a response! How’s that for mentorship?
2. I never openly talked about my business during classes….EVER. However, many teachers and students knew about what I was doing, and many students in my classes rented from me during their time at BU. During my Senior year I was in a class with a professor and he was absolutely going off on how much he hates real estate agents. This hurt my feelings, but I bit my tongue though everyone who has ever worked with me or any of my agents knows we are not like the real estate agent stereotype; I figured he just did not know about my business so it was not a jab at me in any way. Flash forward 5 minutes after his rant, he asks a real estate question and nobody answers so he turns to me and says, “Alex, you’re a real estate broker you must have an answer for this.” I responded that I was just a stupid real estate broker what did I know.
It is frustrating that I tried so hard to find mentors during my time at BU and really did not get much help, but I had mentors in other places that guided me. Something you should know about me is I do not really consider myself super intelligent and if I do not know something I will not double talk you, I will just straight up tell you I have no idea. Because of this, I am VERY open to suggestions and mentorship – I love learning from people who know what they are talking about. My biggest mentors have been my father (who is a VERY cautious lawyer; so I have no idea where I got my risky entrepreneurial-ness from) and Craig Leonard who is the former COO of Century 21 International Headquarters. Both mentors are incredibly honest and brilliant – it is so awesome to get feedback from them on a regular basis.
You started the web series “Making Moves” which follows some of the day to day activities of the office, what’s your intention with this reality show?
A lot of people do not really get why I started the reality show, but in my eyes it was the best move I have ever made. A LOT of people say to me, “couldn’t you be making more money if you just focus on real estate” or “are you even making any money from this?” These people just do not get it; this show is a present to myself. I deserve it. I have worked so hard during college to get good grades and build a business I can continue; I deserve to have a little fun and spend my earnings on a passion project. Sure I could focus everyday on doing deals and make a ton more money, but there is plenty of time for that. I have set myself up to follow a passion project, and so far it has been an unbelievable experience (and FYI I am still making money I have a whole staff of real estate agents doing deals).
I made the show for a few reasons (and these are ranked in order of importance):
1. Open doors – In the two months I have started this show I have expanded my network to an entirely new level. The show lets people get a real feel for what we have accomplished and shows them we are very average people with big dreams and a crazy work ethic. This is just a short list of cool doors that have been opened: we were tweeted out by B.o.B, featured in the Boston Globe, featured as a tab on Under30CEO.com, I was called by the star of an HGTV show, and of course getting to do this interview!
2. Get the word out about what we have accomplished to inspire entrepreneurs. Everyday I wake up to emails from young entrepreneurs looking for advice and telling me what I have done is inspiring to them, do you know how rewarding that is!? It means the world to me. I love that the majority of people look at the show and say, “hey I could do that too!” Because it is true, anyone can do what we have done, you just have to stop thinking about doing it and make moves already.
3. Improve my businesses – We have gotten rental and sales customers who saw our show and decided “hey I want to rent through them!” Real estate agents have a really bad reputation – especially in our area. By showing that we not only know what we are doing, but have a laid back, fun atmosphere in the office, we are prepping customers before they even walk in the door. Also, we have a lot more people coming through the academy because they want to make moves!
4. Get on a network – The show “as is” is not really a mainstream TV type show, but it would be awesome if a network saw promise in what we are doing and decided to create a show based around it.
Many of the readers here at ASotREG are interested in development. You and your partner Vinny recently launched Hodara Real Estate Development. Have you done any development deals? If so, what kind and how have you gone about financing these deals?
Hit up Vinny for this question, let’s get him involved in an interview!
Enter Vinny – Alex and I have taken a very untraditional approach to starting a development company. But first to answer your question, we have yet to land our first development deal and as you know one of our motto’s is no investors, no loans. So then how do you start a development company without a crew or financing? The answer is partner with another company. When we began Hodara Real Estate Development we had just begun looking into a company called OceanSafe, based out of New Orleans, LA. They are also a fairly young company and are just getting ready to take off. HRED has since become distributors for OceanSafe and we are currently working on several sales leads in the New England and Tri-State area. OceanSafe has resources, like experienced labor, that we can take advantage of. As we begin to make sales, build revenue and take hold, primary in the Northeast where HRED is based, we can have a crew, that we choose, trained onsite by experienced OceanSafe employees. This will allow us to build a crew of the best, albeit slowly, so when HRED has the resources to begin development of its own we are ready to shine.
Where do you see Hodara Real Estate Group going in the future?
HREG will always be a breeding ground for young entrepreneurs to learn the rental and sales game. I hope to open brokerages in other college towns very soon – but I do not really want to reveal too much about my plans just yet. HREG will definitely get more involved in investment deals (those are my favorite deals to do by far).
If you won the $100MM megamillion jackpot today, how would you spend the money?
I would need more time to answer this question really accurately, but almost all of the money would be put to work in a very systematic way… I would probably start many, many businesses or buy struggling businesses and find well deserving people who are out of work to run them. Each of these businesses would have a specific charitable tie (like HREG does to One Year for Cancer and Habitat for Humanity).
I would sponsor an architectural design competition to build up a lot of press behind the product Vin and I sell called OceanSafe (which is a structural insulated panel which can be used to build any structure). I would then either flip these houses or rent them out. It would be really cool to get involved with Section 8 housing (something Vin and I have done a lot of research on), so maybe rent it all out as Section 8 housing.
Those are just two examples, I would do a lot more….I would not waste one dollar, I would take full advantage of that opportunity.
What’s one piece of advice would you offer an aspiring entrepreneur?
Make moves. And email me anytime: [email protected]
How are you making moves?